NOMADS OF GOR
(Volume four of the Chronicles of Counter-Earth)
by John Norman
THE PLAINS OF TURIA
“Run!” cried the woman. “Flee for your life!”
I saw her eyes wild with fear for a moment above the rep-cloth veil and she had sped past me.
She was peasant, barefoot, her garment little more than coarse sacking. She had been carrying a wicker basket containing vulos, domesticated pigeons raised for eggs and meat.
Her man, carrying a mattock, was not far behind. Over his left shoulder hung a bulging sack filled with what must have been the paraphernalia of his hut.
He circled me, widely. “Beware,” he said, “I carry a Home Stone.”
I stood back and made no move to draw my weapon. Though I was of the caste of warriors and he of peasants, and I armed and he carrying naught but a crude tool, I would not dispute his passage. One does not lightly dispute the passage of one who carries his Home Stone.
Seeing that I meant him no harm, he paused and lifted an arm, like a stick in a torn sleeve, and pointed backward. “They’re coming,” he said. “Run, you fool! Run for the gates of Turia!”
Turia the high-walled, the nine-gated, was the Gorean city lying in the midst of the huge prairies claimed by the Wagon Peoples.
Never had it fallen.
Awkwardly, carrying his sack, the peasant turned and stumbled on, casting occasional terrified glances over his shoulder.
I watched him and his woman disappear over the brown wintry grass.
In the distance, to one side and the other, I could see other human beings, running, carrying burdens, driving animals with sticks, fleeing.
Even past me there thundered a lumbering herd of startled, short-trunked kailiauk, a stocky, awkward ruminant of the plains, tawny, wild, heavy, their haunches marked in red and brown bars, their wide heads bristling with a trident of horns; they had not stood and formed their circle, shes and young within the circle of tridents; they, too, had fled; farther to one side I saw a pair of prairie sleen, smaller than the forest sleen but quite as unpredictable and vicious, each about seven feet in length, furred, six-legged, mammalian, moving in their undulating gait with their viper’s heads moving from side to side, continually testing the wind; beyond them I saw one of the tumits, a large, flightless bird whose hooked beak, as long as my forearm, attested only too clearly to its gustatory habits; I lifted my shield and grasped the long spear, but it did not turn in my direction; it passed, unaware; beyond the bird, to my surprise, I saw even a black larl, a huge catlike predator more commonly found in mountainous regions; it was stalking away, retreating unhurried like a king; before what, I asked myself, would even the black larl flee; and I asked myself how far it had been driven; perhaps even from the mountains of Ta-Thassa, that loomed in this hemisphere, Gor’s southern, at the shore of Thassa, the sea, said to be in the myths without a farther shore.
The Wagon Peoples claimed the southern prairies of Gor, from the gleaming Thassa and the mountains of Ta-Thassa to the southern foothills of the Voltai Range itself, that reared in the crust of Gor like the backbone of a planet. On the north they claimed lands even to the rush-grown banks of the Cartius, a broad, swift flowing tributary feeding into the incomparable Vosk. The land between the Cartius and the Vosk had once been within the borders of the claimed empire of Ar, but not even Marlenus, Ubar of Ubars, when master of luxurious, glorious Ar, had flown his tarnsmen south of the Cartius.
In the past months I had made my way, afoot, overland, across the equator, living by hunting and occasional service in the caravans of merchants, from the northern to the southern hemisphere of Gor. I had left the vicinity of the Sardar Range in the month of Se`Var, which in the northern hemisphere is a winter month, and had journeyed south for months; and had now come to what some call the Plains of Turia, others the Land of the Wagon Peoples, in the autumn of this hemisphere; there is, due apparently to the balance of land and water mass on Gor, no particular moderation of seasonal variations either in the northern or southern hemisphere; nothing much, so to speak, to choose between them; on the other hand, Gor’s temperatures, on the whole, tend to be somewhat fiercer than those of Earth, perhaps largely due to the fact of the wind-swept expanses of her gigantic land masses; indeed, though Gor is smaller than Earth, with consequent gravitational reduction, her actual land areas may be, for all I know, more extensive than those of my native planet; the areas of Gor which are mapped are large, but only a small fraction of the surface of the planet; much of Gor remains to her inhabitants simply terra incognita.
For some minutes I stood silently observing the animals and the men who pressed toward Turia, invisible over the brown horizon. I found it hard to understand their terror.
Even the autumn grass itself bent and shook in brown tides toward Turia, shimmering in the sun like a tawny surf beneath the fleeing clouds above; it was as though the unseen wind itself, frantic volumes and motions of simple air, too desired its sanctuary behind the high walls of the far city.
Overhead a wild Gorean kite, shrilling, beat its lonely way from this place, seemingly no different from a thousand other places on these broad grasslands of the south.
I looked into the distance, from which these fleeing multitudes, frightened men and stampeding animals, had come. There, some pasangs distant, I saw columns of smoke rising in the cold air, where fields were burning. Yet the prairie itself was not afire, only the fields of peasants, the fields of men who had cultivated the soil; the prairie grass, such that it might graze the ponderous bosk, had been spared.
Too in the distance I saw dust, rising like black, raging dawn, raised by the hoofs of innumerable animals, not those that fled, but undoubtedly by the bosk herds of the Wagon Peoples.
The Wagon Peoples grow no food, nor do they have manufacturing as we know it. They are herders and it is said, killers. They eat nothing that has touched the dirt. They live on the meat and milk of the bosk. They are among the proudest of the peoples of Gor, regarding the dwellers of the cities of Gor as vermin in holes, cowards who must fly behind walls, wretches who fear to live beneath the broad sky, who dare not dispute with them the open, windswept plains of their world.
The bosk, without which the Wagon Peoples could not live, is an ox like creature. It is a huge, shambling animal, with a thick, humped neck and long, shaggy hair. It has a wide head and tiny red eyes, a temper to match that of a sleen, and two long, wicked horns that reach out from its head and suddenly curve forward to terminate in fearful points. Some of these horns, on the larger animals, measured from tip to tip, exceed the length of two spears.
Not only does the flesh of the bosk and the milk of its cows furnish the Wagon Peoples with food and drink, but its hides cover the domelike wagons in which they dwell; its tanned and sewn skins cover their bodies; the leather of its hump is used for their shields; its sinews forms their thread; its bones and horns are split and tooled into implements of a hundred sorts, from awls, punches and spoons to drinking flagons and weapon tips; its hoofs are used for glues; its oils are used to grease their bodies against the cold. Even the dung of the bosk finds its uses on the treeless prairies, being dried and used for fuel. The bosk is said to be the Mother of the Wagon Peoples, and they reverence it as such. The man who kills one foolishly is strangled in thongs or suffocated in the hide of the animal he slew; if, for any reason, the man should kill a bosk cow with unborn young he is staked out, alive, in the path of the herd, and the march of the Wagon Peoples takes its way over him.
Now there seemed to be fewer men and animals rushing past, scattered over the prairie; only the wind remained; and the fires in the distance, and the swelling, nearing roll of dust that drifted into the stained sky. Then I began to feel, through the soles of my sandals, the trembling of the earth. The hair on the back of my neck seemed to leap up and I felt the hair on my forearms stiffen. The earth itself was shaking from the hoofs of the bosk herds of the Wagon Peoples.
They were approaching.
Their outriders would soon be in sight.
I hung my helmet over my left shoulder with the sheathed short sword; on my left arm I bore my shield; in my right hand I carried the Gorean war spear.
I began to walk toward the dust in the distance, across the trembling ground.
I MAKE THE ACQUAINTANCE OF THE WAGON PEOPLES
As I walked I asked myself why I did so — why I, Tarl Cabot — once of Earth, later a warrior of the Gorean city of Ko-ro-ba, the Towers of the Morning, had come here.
In the long years that had passed since first I had come to the Counter-Earth I had seen many things, and had known loves, and had found adventures and perils and wonders, but I asked myself if anything I had done was as unreasoning, as foolish as this, as strange.
Some years before, perhaps between two and five years before, as the culmination of an intrigue enduring centuries, two men, humans from the walled cities of Gor, had, for the sake of Priest-Kings, undertaken a long, secret journey, carrying an object to the Wagon Peoples, an object bestowed on them by Priest-Kings, to be given to that people that was, to the Goreans’ knowledge, the most free, among the fiercest, among the most isolated on the planet — an object that would be given to them for safekeeping.
The two men who had carried this object, keeping well its secret as demanded by Priest-Kings, had braved many perils and had been as brothers. But later, shortly after the completion of their journey, in a war between their cities, each had in battle slain the other, and thus among men, save perhaps for some among the Wagon Peoples, the secret had been lost. It was only in the Sardar Mountains that I had learned the nature of their mission, and what it was that they had carried. Now I supposed that I alone, of humans on Gor, with the possible exception of some among the Wagon Peoples, knew the nature of the mysterious object which once these two brave men had brought in secrecy to the plains of Turia — and, to be truthful, I did not know that even I — should I see it — would know it for what I sought.
Could I — Tarl Cabot, a human and mortal, find this object and, as Priest-Kings now wished, return it to the Sardar — return it to the hidden courts of Priest-Kings that it might there fulfil its unique and irreplaceable role in the destiny of this barbaric world — Gor, our Counter-Earth?
I did not know.
What is this object?
One might speak of it as many things, the subject of secret, violent intrigues; the source of vast strifes beneath the Sardar, strifes unknown to the men of Gor; the concealed, precious, hidden hope of an incredible and ancient race; a simple germ; a bit of living tissue; the dormant potentiality of a people’s rebirth, the seed of gods — an egg — the last and only egg of Priest-Kings.
But why was it I who came?
Why not Priest-Kings in their ships and power, with their fierce weapons and fantastic devices?
Priest-Kings cannot stand the sun.
They are not as men and men, seeing them, would fear them.
Men would not believe they were Priest-Kings. Men conceive Priest-Kings as they conceive themselves.
The object — the egg — might be destroyed before it could be delivered to them.
It might already have been destroyed.
Only that the egg was the egg of Priest-Kings gave me occasion to suspect, to hope, that somehow within that mysterious, presumably ovoid sphere, if it still existed, quiescent but latent, there might be life.
And if I should find the object — why should I not myself destroy it, and destroy thereby the race of Priest-Kings, giving this world to my own kind, to men, to do with as they pleased, unrestricted by the laws and decrees of Priest-Kings that so limited their development, their technology? Once I had spoken to a Priest-King of these things. He had said to me, “Man is a larl to man; if we permitted him, he would be so to Priest-Kings as well.”
“But man must be free,” I had said.
“Freedom without reason is suicide,” had said the Priest-King, adding, “Man is not yet rational.”
But I would not destroy the egg — not only because it contained life — but because it was important to my friend, whose name was Misk and is elsewhere spoken of; much of the life of that brave creature was devoted to the dream of a new life for Priest-Kings, a new stock, a new beginning; a readiness to relinquish his place in an old world to prepare a mansion for the new; to have and love a child, so to speak, for Misk, who is a Priest-King, neither male nor female, yet can love.
I recalled a windy night in the shadow of the Sardar when we had spoken of strange things, and I had left him and come down the hill, and had asked the leader of those with whom I had travelled the way to the Land of the Wagon Peoples.
I had found it.
The dust rolled nearer, the ground seemed more to move than ever.
I pressed on.
Perhaps if I were successful I might save my race, by preserving the Priest-Kings that might shelter them from the annihilation that might otherwise be achieved if uncontrolled technological development were too soon permitted them; perhaps in time man would grow rational, and reason and love and tolerance would wax in him and he and Priest-Kings might together turn their senses to the stars.
But I knew that more than anything I was doing this for Misk — who was my friend.
The consequences of my act, if I were successful, were too complex and fearful to calculate, the factors involved being so numerous and obscure.
If it turned out badly, what I did, I would have no defence other than that I did what I did for my friend for him and for his brave kind, once hated enemies, whom I had learned to know and respect.
There is no loss of honour in failing to achieve such a task, I told myself. It is worthy of a warrior of the caste of Warriors, a swordsman of the high city of Ko-ro-ba, the Towers of the Morning.
Tal, I might say, in greeting, I am Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba; I bring no credentials, no proofs; I come from the Priest-Kings; I would like to have the object which was brought to you from them; they would now like it back; Thank you; farewell.
I would say little or nothing.
The object might not even be with the Wagon Peoples any longer.
And there were four Wagon Peoples, the Paravaci, the Kataii, the Kassars, and the dreaded Tuchuks.
Who knew with which people the object might have been placed?
Perhaps it had been hidden away and forgotten?
Perhaps it was now a sacred object, little understood, but revered — and it would be sacrilege to think of it, blasphemy to speak its name, a cruel and slow death even to cast one’s eyes upon it.
And if I should manage to seize it, how could I carry it away?
I had no tarn, one of Gor’s fierce saddle birds; I had not even the monstrous high tharlarion, used as the mounts of shock cavalry by the warriors of some cities.
I was afoot, on the treeless southern plains of Gor, on the Plains of Turia, in the Land of the Wagon Peoples.
The Wagon Peoples, it is said, slay strangers.
The words for stranger and enemy in Gorean are the same.
I would advance openly.
If I were found on the plains near the camps or the bosk herds I knew I would be scented out and slain by the domesticated, nocturnal herd sleen, used as shepherds and sentinels by the Wagon Peoples, released from their cages with the falling of darkness.
These animals, trained prairie sleen, move rapidly and silently, attacking upon no other provocation than trespass on what they have decided is their territory. They respond only to the voice of their master, and when he is killed or dies, his animals are slain and eaten.
There would be no question of night spying on the Wagon Peoples.
I knew they spoke a dialect of Gorean, and I hoped I would be able to understand them.
If I could not I must die as befitted a swordsman of Ko-ro-ba.
I hoped that I would be granted death in battle, if death it must be. The Wagon Peoples, of all those on Gor that I know, are the only ones that have a clan of torturers, trained as carefully as scribes or physicians, in the arts of detaining life.
Some of these men have achieved fortune and fame in various Gorean cities, for their services to Initiates and Ubars, and others with an interest in the arts of detection and persuasion. For some reason they have all worn hoods. It is said they remove the hood only when the sentence is death, so that it is only condemned men who have seen whatever it is that lies beneath the hood.
I was surprised at the distance I had been from the herds, for though I had seen the rolling dust clearly, and had felt and did feel the shaking of the earth, betraying the passage of those monstrous herds, I had not yet come to them. But now I could hear, carried on the wind blowing toward distant Turia, the bellowing of the bosks. The dust was now heavy like nightfall in the air. The grass and the earth seemed to quake beneath my tread.
I passed fields that were burning, and burning huts of peasants, the smoking shells of Sa-Tarna granaries, the shattered, slatted coops for vulos, the broken walls of keeps for the small, long-haired domestic verr, less belligerent and sizeable than the wild verr of the Voltai Ranges.
Then for the first time, against the horizon, a jagged line, humped and rolling like thundering waters, seemed to rise alive from the prairie, vast, extensive, a huge arc, churning and pounding from one corner of the sky to the other, the herds of the Wagon Peoples, encircling, raising dust into the sky like fire, like hoofed glaciers of fur and horn moving in shaggy floods across the grass, toward me.
And then I saw the first of the outriders, moving toward me, swiftly yet not seeming to hurry. I saw the slender line of his light lance against the sky, strapped across his back.
I could see he carried a small, round, leather shield, glossy, black, lacquered; he wore a conical, fur-rimmed iron helmet, a net of coloured chains depending from the helmet protecting his face, leaving only holes for the eyes. He wore a quilted jacket and under this a leather jerkin; the jacket was trimmed with fur and had a fur collar; his boots were made of hide and also trimmed with fur; he had a wide, five-buckled belt. I could not see his face because of the net of chain that hung before it. I also noted, about his throat, now lowered, there was a soft leather wind scarf which might, when the helmet veil was lifted be drawn over the mouth and nose, against the wind and dust of his ride.
He was very erect in the saddle. His lance remained on his back, but he carried in his right hand the small, powerful horn bow of the Wagon Peoples and attached to his saddle was a lacquered, narrow, rectangular quiver containing as many as forty arrows. On the saddle there also hung, on one side, a coiled rope of braided boskhide and, on the other, a long, three-weighted bola of the sort used in hunting tumits and men; in the saddle itself on the right side, indicating the rider must be right-handed, were the seven sheaths for the almost legendary quivas, the balanced saddle knives of the prairie. It was said a youth of the Wagon Peoples was taught the bow, the quiva and the lance before their parents would consent to give him a name, for names are precious among the Wagon Peoples, as among Goreans in general, and they are not to be wasted on someone who is likely to die, one who cannot well handle the weapons of the hunt and war. Until the youth has mastered the bow, the quiva and the lance he is simply known as the first, or the second, and so on, son of such and such a father.
The Wagon Peoples war among themselves, but once in every two hands of years, there is a time of gathering of the peoples, and this, I had learned, was that time. In the thinking of the Wagon Peoples it is called the Omen Year, though the Omen Year is actually a season, rather than a year, which occupies a part of two of their regular years, for the Wagon Peoples calculate the year from the Season of Snows to the Season of Snows; Turians, incidentally, figure the year from summer solstice to summer solstice; Goreans generally, on the other hand, figure the year from vernal equinox to vernal equinox, their new year beginning, like nature’s, with the spring; the Omen Year, or season, lasts several months, and consists of three phases, called the Passing of Turia, which takes place in the fall; the Wintering, which takes place north of Turia and commonly south of the Cartius, the equator of course lying to the north in this hemisphere; and the Return to Turia, in the spring, or, as the Wagon Peoples say, in the Season of Little Grass. It is near Turia, in the spring, that the Omen Year is completed, when the omens are taken usually over several days by hundreds of haruspexes, mostly readers of bosk blood and verr livers, to determine if they are favourable for a choosing of a Ubar San, a One Ubar, a Ubar who would be High Ubar, a Ubar of all the Wagons, a Ubar of all the Peoples, one who could lead them as one people.
The omens, I understood, had not been favourable in more than a hundred years. I suspected that this might be due to the hostilities and bickerings of the peoples among themselves; where people did not wish to unite, where they relished their autonomy, where they nursed old grievances and sang the glories of vengeance raids, where they considered all others, even those of the other Peoples, as beneath themselves, there would not be likely to exist the conditions for serious confederation, a joining together of the wagons, as the saying is; under such conditions it was not surprising that the “omens tended to be unfavourable”; indeed, what more inauspicious omens could there be? The haruspexes, the readers of bosk blood and verr livers, surely would not be unaware of these, let us say, larger, graver omens. It would not, of course, be to the benefit of Turia, or the farther cities, or indeed, any of the free cities of even northern Gor, if the isolated fierce peoples of the south were to join behind a single standard and turn their herds northward — away from their dry plains to the lusher reaches of the valleys of the eastern Cartius, perhaps even beyond them to those of the Vosk. Little would be safe if the Wagon Peoples should march.
A thousand years ago it was said they had carried devastation as far as the walls of Ar and Ko-ro-ba.
The rider had clearly seen me and was moving his mount steadily toward me.
I could now see as well, though separated by hundreds of yards, three other riders approaching. One was circling to approach from the rear.
The mount of the Wagon Peoples, unknown in the northern hemisphere of Gor, is the terrifying but beautiful kaiila. It is a silken, carnivorous, lofty creature, graceful, long-necked, smooth-gaited. It is viviparous and undoubtedly mammalian, though there is no suckling of the young. The young are born vicious and by instinct, as soon as they can struggle to their feet, they hunt. It is an instinct of the other, sensing the birth, to deliver the young animal in the vicinity of game. I supposed, with the domesticated kaiila, a bound verr or a prisoner might be cast to the newborn animal. The kaiila, once it eats its fill, does not touch food for several days.
The kaiila is extremely agile, and can easily outmanoeuvre the slower, more ponderous high tharlarion. It requires less food, of course, than the tarn. A kaiila, which normally stands about twenty to twenty-two hands at the shoulder, can cover as much as six hundred pasangs in a single day’s riding.
The head of the kaiila bears two large eyes, one on each side, but these eyes are triply lidded, probably an adaptation to the environment which occasionally is wracked by severe storms of wind and dust; the adaptation, actually a transparent third lid, permits the animal to move as it wishes under conditions that force other prairie animals to back into the wind or, like the sleen, to burrow into the ground. The kaiila is most dangerous under such conditions, and, as if it knew this, often uses such times for its hunt.
Now the rider had reined in the kaiila.
He held his ground, waiting for the others.
I could hear the soft thud of a kaiila’s paws in the grass, to my right.
The second rider had halted there. He was dressed much as the first man, except that no chain depended from his helmet, but his wind scarf was wrapped about his face. His shield was lacquered yellow, and his bow was yellow. Over his shoulder he, too, carried one of the slender lances. He was a black. Kataii, I said to myself.
The third rider placed himself, reining in suddenly, pulling the mount to its hind legs, and it reared snarling against the bit, and then stood still, its neck straining toward me. I could see the long, triangular tongue in the animal’s head, behind the four rows of fangs. The rider, too, wore a wind scarf. His shield was red. The Blood People, the Kassars.
I turned and was not surprised to see the fourth rider, motionless on his animal, already in position. The kaiila moves with great rapidity. The fourth rider was dressed in a hood and cape of white fur. He wore a flopping cap of white fur, which did not conceal the conical outlines of the steel beneath it. The leather of his jerkin was black. The buckles on his belt of gold. His lance had a rider hook under the point, with which he might dismount opponents.
The kaiila of these men were as tawny as the brown grass of the prairie, save for that of the man who faced me, whose mount was a silken, sable black, as black as the lacquer of the shield.
About the neck of the fourth rider there was a broad belt of jewels, as wide as my hand. I gathered that this was ostentation. Actually I was later to learn that the jewelled belt is worn to incite envy and accrue enemies; its purpose is to encourage attack, that the owner may try the skill of his weapons, that he need not tire himself seeking for foes. I knew, though, from the belt, though I first misread its purpose, that the owner was of the Paravaci, the Rich People, richest of the wagon dwellers.
“Tal!” I called, lifting my hand, palm inward, in Gorean greeting.
As one man the four riders unstrapped their lances.
“I am Tarl Cabot,” I called. “I come in peace!”
I saw the kaiila tense, almost like larls, their flanks quivering, their large eyes intent upon me. I saw one of the long, triangular tongues dart out and back. Their long ears were laid back against the fierce, silken heads.
“Do you speak Gorean?” I called.
As one, the lances were lowered. The lances of the Wagon Peoples are not couched. They are carried in the right fist, easily, and are flexible and light, used for thrusting, not the battering-ram effect of the heavy lances of Europe’s High Middle Ages. Needless to say, they can be almost as swift and delicate in their address as a sabre. The lances are black, cut from the poles of young tem trees. They may be bent almost double, like finely tempered steel, before they break. A loose loop of boskhide, wound twice about the right fist, helps to retain the weapon in hand-to-hand combat. It is seldom thrown.
“I come in peace!” I shouted to them.
The man behind me called out, speaking Gorean with a harsh accent. “I am Tolnus of the Paravaci.” Then he shook away his hood, letting his long hair stream behind him over the white fur of the collar. I stood stock still, seeing the face.
From my left came a cry. “I am Conrad, he of the Kassars.” He threw the chain mask from his face, back over the helmet and laughed. Were they of Earth stock, I asked myself. Were they men?
From my right there came a great laugh. “I am Hakimba of the Kataii,” he roared. He pulled aside the wind scarf with one hand, and his face, though black, bore the same marks as the others.
Now the rider in front of me lifted the coloured chains from his helmet, that I might see his face. It was a white face, but heavy, greased; the epicanthic fold of his eyes bespoke a mixed origin.
I was looking on the faces of four men, warriors of the Wagon Peoples.
On the face of each there were, almost like corded chevrons, brightly coloured scars. The vivid colouring and intensity of these scars, their prominence, reminded me of the hideous markings on the faces of mandrills; but these disfigurements, as I soon recognized, were cultural, not congenital, and bespoke not the natural innocence of the work of genes but the glories and status, the arrogance and prides, of their bearers. The scars had been worked into the faces, with needles and knives and pigments and the dung of bosks over a period of days and nights. Men had died in the fixing of such scars. Most of the scars were set in pairs, moving diagonally down from the side of the head toward the nose and chin. The man facing me had seven such scars ceremonially worked into the tissue of his countenance, the highest being red, the next yellow, the next blue, the fourth black, then two yellow, then black again. The faces of the men I saw were all scarred differently, but each was scarred. The effect of the scars, ugly, startling, terrible, perhaps in part calculated to terrify enemies, had even prompted me, for a wild moment, to conjecture that what I faced on the Plains of Turia were not men, but perhaps aliens of some sort, brought to Gor long ago from remote worlds to serve some now discharged or forgotten purpose of Priest-Kings; but now I knew better; now I could see them as men; and now, more significantly, I recalled what I had heard whispered of once before, in a tavern in Ar, the terrible Scar Codes of the Wagon Peoples, for each of the hideous marks on the face of these men had a meaning, a significance that could be read by the Paravaci, the Kassars, the Kataii, the Tuchuks as clearly as you or I might read a sign in a window or a sentence in a book. At that time I could read only the top scar, the red, bright, fierce cordlike scar that was the Courage Scar. It is always the highest scar on the face. Indeed, without that scar, no other scar can be granted. The Wagon Peoples value courage above all else. Each of the men facing me wore that scar.
Now the man facing me lifted his small, lacquered shield and his slender, black lance.
“Hear my name,” cried he, “I am Kamchak of the Tuchuks!”
As suddenly as he had finished, as soon as the men had named themselves, as if a signal had been given, the four kaiila bounded forward, squealing with rage, each rider bent low on his mount, lance gripped in his right hand, straining to be the first to reach me.
THE SPEAR GAMBLING
One, the Tuchuk, I might have slain with a cast of the heavy Gorean war spear; the others would have had free play with their lances. I might have thrown myself to the ground as the larl hunters from Ar, once their weapon is cast, covering myself with the shield; but then I would have been beneath the clawed paws of four squealing, snorting kaiila, while the riders jabbed at me with lances, off my feet, helpless.
So gambling all on the respect of the Wagon Peoples for the courage of men, I made no move to defend myself but, heart pounding, blood racing, yet no sign visible of agitation on my face, without a quiver of a muscle or tendon betraying me, I stood calmly erect.
On my face there was only disdain.
At the last instant, the lances of four riders but a hand’s breadth from my body, the enraged, thundering kaiila, hissing and squealing, at a touch of the control straps, arrested their fierce charge, stopping themselves, tearing into the deep turf with suddenly emergent claws. Not a rider was thrown or seemed for an instant off balance. The children of the Wagon Peoples are taught the saddle of the kaiila before they can walk.
“Aieee” cried the warrior of the Kataii.
He and the others turned their mounts and backed away a handful of yards, regarding me.
I had not moved.
“My name is Tarl Cabot,” I said. “I come in peace.
The four riders exchanged glances and then, at a sign from the heavy Tuchuk, rode a bit away from me.
I could not make out what they were saying, but an argument of some sort was in progress.
I leaned on my spear and yawned, looking away toward the bosk herds.
My blood was racing. I knew that had I moved, or shown fear, or attempted to flee, I would now be dead. I could have fought. I might perhaps then have been victorious but the probabilities were extremely slim. Even had I slain two of them the others might have withdrawn and with their arrows or bolas brought me to the ground. More importantly, I did not wish to introduce myself to these people as an enemy. I wished, as I had said, to come in peace.
At last the Tuchuk detached himself from the other three warriors and pranced his kaiila to within a dozen yards of me.
“You are a stranger,” he said.
“I come in peace to the Wagon Peoples,” I said.
“You wear no insignia on your shield,” he said. “You are outlaw.”
I did not respond. I was entitled to wear the marks of the city of Ko-ro-ba, the Towers of the Morning, but I had not done so. Once, long, long ago, Ko-ro-ba and Ar had turned the invasion of the united Wagon Peoples from the north, and the memories of these things, stinging still in the honest songs of camp skalds, would rankle in the craws of such fierce, proud peoples. I did not wish to present myself to them as an enemy.
“What was your city?” he demanded.
But to such a question, as a warrior of Ko-ro-ba, I could not but respond.
“I am of Ko-ro-ba,” I said. “You have heard of her.”
The Tuchuk’s face tightened. Then he grinned. “I have heard sing of Ko-ro-ba,” he said.
I did not reply to him.
He turned to his fellows. “A Koroban!” he cried.
The men moved on their mounts, restlessly, eagerly said something to one another.
“We turned you back,” I said.
“What is your business with the Wagon Peoples?” demanded the Tuchuk.
Here I paused. What could I tell him? Surely here, in this matter, I must bide my time.
“You see there is no insignia on my shield or tunic,” I said.
He nodded. “You are a fool,” he said, “to flee to the Wagon Peoples.”
I had now led him to believe that I was indeed an outlaw, a fugitive.
He threw back his head and laughed. He slapped his thigh. “A Koroban! And he flies to the Wagon Peoples!” Tears of mirth ran from the sides of his eyes. “You are a fool!” he said.
“Let us fight,” I suggested.
Angrily the Tuchuk pulled back on the reins of the kaiila, causing it to rear, snarling, pawing at the sky. “And willingly would I do so, Koroban sleen,” he spit out. “Pray thou to Priest-Kings that the lance does not fall to me!”
I did not understand this.
He turned his kaiila and in a bound or two swung it about in the midst of his fellows.
Then the Kassar approached me.
“Koroban,” said he, “did you not fear our lances?”
“I did,” I said.
“But you did not show your fear,” said he.
“Yet,” said he, “you tell me you feared.” There was wonder on his face.
I looked away.
“That,” said the rider, “speaks to me of courage.”
We studied each other for a moment, sizing one another up. Then he said, “Though you are a dweller of cities — a vermin of the walls — I think you are not unworthy — and thus I pray the lance will fall to me.”
He turned his mount back to his fellows.
They conferred again for a moment and then the warrior of the Kataii approached, a lithe, strong proud man, one in whose eyes I could read that he had never lost his saddle, nor turned from a foe.
His hand was light on the yellow bow, strung taut. But no arrow was set to the string.
“Where are your men?” he asked.
“I am alone,” I said.
The warrior stood in the stirrups, shading his eyes.
“Why have you come to spy?” he asked.
“I am not a spy,” I said.
“You are hired by the Turians,” he said.
“No,” I responded.
“You are a stranger,” he said.
“I come in peace,” I said.
“Have you heard,” he asked, “that the Wagon Peoples slay strangers?”
“Yes,” I said, “I have heard that.”
“It is true,” he said, and turned his mount back to his fellows.
Last to approach me was the warrior of the Paravaci, with his hood and cape of white fur, and the glistening broad necklace of precious stones encircling his throat.
He pointed to the necklace. “It is beautiful, is it not?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“It will buy ten bosks,” said he, “twenty wagons covered with golden cloth, a hundred she-slaves from Turia.”
I looked away.
“Do you not covet the stones,” he prodded, “these riches?”
“No,” I said.
Anger crossed his face. “You may have them,” he said.
“What must I do?” I asked.
“Slay me!” he laughed.
I looked at him steadily. “They are probably false stones,” I said, “amber droplets, the pearls of the Vosk sorp, the polished shell of the Tamber clam, glass coloured and cut in Ar for trade with ignorant southern peoples.”
The face of the Paravaci, rich with its terrible furrowed scars, contorted with rage.
He tore the necklace from his throat and flung it to my feet.
“Regard the worth of those stones!” he cried. I fished the necklace from the dust with the point of my sword, it in the sun. It hung like a belt of light, sparkling with a spectrum of riches hundred merchants.
“Excellent,” I admitted, handing it back to him on the tip of the spear.
Angrily he wound it about the pommel of the saddle.
“But I am of the Caste of Warriors,” I said, “of a high city and we do not stain our spears for the stones of men — not even such stones as these.”
The Paravaci was speechless.
“You dare to tempt me,” I said, feigning anger, “as if I were of the Caste of Assassins or a common thief with his dagger in the night.” I frowned at him. “Beware,” I warned, “lest I take your words as insult.”
The Paravaci, in his cape and hood of white fur, with the priceless necklace wrapped about the pommel of his saddle, sat stiff, not moving, utterly enraged. Then, furiously, the scars wild in his face, he sprang up in the stirrups and lifted both hands to the sky. “Spirit of the Sky,” he cried, “let the lance fall to me — to me!” Then abruptly, furious, he wheeled the kaiila and joined the others, whence he turned to regard me.
As I watched, the Tuchuk took his long, slender lance and thrust it into the ground, point upward. Then, slowly, the four riders began to walk their mounts about the lance, watching it, right hands free to seize it should it begin to fall.
The wind seemed to rise.
In their way I knew they were honouring me, that they had respected my stand in the matter of the charging lances, that now they were gambling to see who would fight me, to whose weapons my blood must flow, beneath the paws of whose kaiila I must fall bloodied to the earth.
I watched the lance tremble in the shaking earth, and saw the intentness of the riders as they watched its Lightest movement. It would soon fall.
I could now see the herds quite clearly, making out individual animals, the shaggy humps moving through the dust, see the sun of the late afternoon glinting off thousands of horns. Here and there I saw riders, darting about, all mounted on the swift, graceful kaiila. The sun reflected from the horns in the veil of dust that hung over the herds was quite beautiful.
The lance had not yet fallen.
Soon the animals would be turned in on themselves, to mill together in knots, until they were stopped by the shaggy walls of their own kind, to stand and graze until the morning. The wagons would, of course, follow the herds. The herd forms both vanguard and rampart for the advance of the wagons. The wagons are said to be countless, the animals without number. Both of these claims are, of course, mistaken, and the Ubars of the Wagon Peoples know well each wagon and the number of branded beasts in the various herds; each herd is, incidentally, composed of several smaller herds, each watched over by its own riders. The bellowing seemed now to come from the sky itself, like thunder, or from the horizon, like the breaking of an ocean into surf on the rocks of the shore. It was like a sea or a vast natural phenomenon slowly approaching. Such indeed, I suppose, it was. Now, also, for the first time, I could clearly smell the herd, a rich, vast, fresh, musky, pervasive odour, compounded of trampled grass and torn earth, of the dung, urine and sweat of perhaps more than a million beasts. The magnificent vitality of that smell, so offensive to some, astonished and thrilled me; it spoke to me of the insurgence and the swell of life itself, ebullient, raw, overflowing, unconquerable, primitive, shuffling, smelling, basic, animal, stamping, snorting, moving, an avalanche of tissue and blood and splendour, a glorious, insistent, invincible cataract of breathing and walking and seeing and feeling on the sweet, flowing, windswept mothering earth. And it was in that instant that I sensed what the bosk might mean to the Wagon Peoples.
“Ho!” I heard, and spun to see the black lance fall and scarcely had it moved but it was seized in the fist of the scarred Tuchuk warrior.
THE OUTCOME OF SPEAR GAMBLING
The Tuchuk warrior lifted the lance in triumph, in the same instant slipping his fist into the retention knot and kicking the rowelled heels of his boots into the silken flanks of his mount, the animal springing towards me and the rider in the same movement, as if one with the beast, leaning down from the saddle, lance slightly lowered, charging.
The slender, flexible wand of the lance tore at the seven-layered Gorean shield, striking a spark from the brass rim binding it, as the man had lunged at my head.
I had not cast the spear.
I had no wish to kill the Tuchuk.
The charge of the Tuchuk, in spite of its rapidity and momentum, carried him no more than four paces beyond me. It seemed scarcely had he passed than the kaiila had wheeled and charged again, this time given free rein, that it might tear at me with its fangs.
I thrust with the spear, trying to force back the snapping jaws of the screaming animal. The kaiila struck, and then withdrew, and then struck again. All the time the Tuchuk thrust at me with his lance. Four times the point struck me drawing blood, but he did not have the weight of the leaping animal behind his thrust; he thrust at arm’s length, the point scarcely reaching me. Then the animal seized my shield in its teeth and reared lifting it and myself, by the shield straps, from the ground. I fell from some dozen feet to the grass and saw the animal snarling and biting on the shield, then it shook it and hurled it far and away behind it.
I shook myself.
The helmet which I had slung over my shoulder was gone.
I retained my sword. I grasped the Gorean spear.
I stood at bay on the grass, breathing hard, bloody.
The Tuchuk laughed, throwing his head back.
I readied the spear for its cast.
Warily now the animal began to circle, in an almost human fashion, watching the spear. It shifted delicately, feinting, and then withdrawing, trying to draw the cast.
I was later to learn that kaiila are trained to avoid the thrown spear. It is a training which begins with blunt staves and progresses through headed weapons. Until the kaiila is suitably proficient in this art it is not allowed to breed. Those who cannot learn it die under the spear. Yet, at a close range, I had no doubt that I could slay the beast. As swift as may be the kaiila I had no doubt that I was swifter. Gorean warriors hunt men and larls with this weapon. But I did not wish to slay the animal, nor its rider.
To the astonishment of the Tuchuk and the others who observed, I threw away the weapon.
The Tuchuk sat still on his mount, as did the others. Then he took his lance and smote it on the small, glossy shield, acknowledging my act. Then so too did the others, even the white-caped man of the Paravaci.
Then the Tuchuk drove his own lance into the dirt and hung on the lance his glossy shield.
I saw him draw one of the quivas from a saddle sheath, loosen the long, triple-weighted bola from his side.
Slowly, singing in a guttural chant, a Tuchuk warrior song, he began to swing the bola. It consists of three long straps of leather, each about five feet long, each terminating in a leather sack which contains, sewn inside, a heavy, round, metal weight. It was probably developed for hunting the tumit, a huge, flightless carnivorous bird of the plains, but the Wagon Peoples use it also, and well, as a weapon of war. Thrown low the long straps, with their approximate ten-foot sweep, almost impossible to evade, strike the victim and the weighted balls, as soon as resistance is met, whip about the victim, tangling and tightening the straps. Sometimes legs are broken. It is often difficult to release the straps, so snarled do they become. Thrown high the Gorean bola can lock a man’s arms to his sides; thrown to the throat it can strangle him; thrown to the head, a difficult cast, the whipping weights can crush a skull. One entangles the victim with the bola, leaps from one’s mount and with the quiva cuts his throat.
I had never encountered such a weapon and I had little notion as to how it might be met.
The Tuchuk handled it well. The three weights at the end of the straps were now almost blurring in the air and he, his song ended, the reins in his left hand, quiva blade now clenched between his teeth, bola in his swinging, uplifted right arm, suddenly cried out and kicked the kaiila into its charge.
He wants a kill, I told myself. He is under the eyes of warriors of the other peoples. It would be safest to throw low. It would be a finer cast, however, to try for the throat or head. How vain is he? How skilful is he?
He would be both skilful and vain; he was Tuchuk.
To the head came the flashing bola moving in its hideous, swift revolution almost invisible in the air and I, instead of lowering my head or throwing myself to the ground, met instead the flying weighted leather with the blade of a Koroban short sword, with the edge that would divide silk dropped upon it and the taut straps, two of them, flew from the blade and the other strap and the three weights looped off into the grass, and the Tuchuk at the same time, scarcely realizing what had occurred, leaped from the kaiila, quiva in hand, to find himself unexpectedly facing a braced warrior of Ko-ro-ba, sword drawn.
The quiva reversed itself in his hand, an action so swift I was only aware of it as his arm flew back, his hand on the blade, to hurl the weapon.
It sped toward me with incredible velocity over the handful of feet that separated us. It could not be evaded, but only countered, and countered it was by the Koroban steel in my hand, a sudden ringing, sliding flash of steel and the knife was deflected from my breast.
The Tuchuk stood struck with awe, in the grass, on the trembling plains in the dusty air.
I could hear the other three men of the Wagon Peoples, the Kataii, the Kassar, the Paravaci, striking their shields with their lances. “Well done,” said the Kassar.
The Tuchuk removed his helmet and threw it to the grass. He jerked open the jacket he wore and the leather jerkin beneath, revealing his chest.
He looked about him, at the distant bosk herds, lifted his head to see the sky once more.
His kailla stood some yards away, shifting a bit, puzzled, reins loose on its neck.
The Tuchuk now looked at me swiftly. He grinned. He did not expect nor would he receive aid from his fellows. I studied his heavy face, the fierce scarring that somehow ennobled it, the black eyes with the epicanthic fold. He grinned at me. “Yes,” he said, “well done.”
I went to him and set the point of the Gorean short sword at his heart.
He did not flinch.
“I am Tarl Cabot,” I said. “I come in peace.”
I thrust the blade back in the scabbard.
For a moment the Tuchuk seemed stunned. He stared at me, disbelievingly, and then, suddenly, he threw back his head and laughed until tears streamed down his face. He doubled over and pounded on his knees with his fist. Then he straightened up and wiped his face with the back of his hand.
Suddenly the Tuchuk bent to the soil and picked up a handful of dirt and grass, the land on which the bosk graze, the land which is the land of the Tuchuks, and this dirt and this grass he thrust in my hands and I held it.
The warrior grinned and put his hands over mine so that our hands together held the dirt and the grass, and were together clasped on it.
“Yes,” said the warrior, “come in peace to the Land of the Wagon Peoples.”
I followed the warrior Kamchak into the encampment of Tuchuks.
Nearly were we run down by six riders on thundering kaiila who, riding for sport, raced past us wildly among the crowded, clustered wagons. I heard the lowing of milk bosk from among the wagons. Here and there children ran between the wheels, playing with a cork ball and quiva, the object of the game being to strike the thrown ball. Tuchuk women, unveiled, in their long leather dresses, long hair bound in braids, tended cooking pots hung on tem-wood tripods over dung fires. These women were unscarred, but like the bosk themselves, each wore a nose ring. That of the animals is heavy and of gold, that of the women also of gold but tiny and fine, not unlike the wedding rings of my old world. I heard a haruspex singing between the wagons; for a piece of meat he would read the wind and the grass; for a cup of wine the stars and the flight of birds; for a fat-bellied dinner the liver of a sleen or slave.
The Wagon Peoples are fascinated with the future and its signs and though, to hear them speak, they put no store in such matters, yet they do in practice give them great consideration. I was told by Kamchak that once an army of a thousand wagons turned aside because a swarm of rennels, poisonous, crablike desert insects, did not defend its broken nest, crushed by the wheel of the lead wagon. Another time, over a hundred years ago, a wagon Ubar lost the spur from his right boot and turned for this reason back from the gates of mighty Ar itself.
By one fire I could see a squat Tuchuk, hands on hips, dancing and stamping about by himself, drunk on fermented milk curds, dancing, according to Kamchak, to please the Sky.
The Tuchuks and the other Wagon Peoples reverence Priest-Kings, but unlike the Goreans of the cities, with their castes of Initiates, they do not extend to them the dignities of worship. I suppose the Tuchuks worship nothing, in the common sense of that word, but it is true they hold many things holy, among them the bosk and the skills of arms, but chief of the things before which the proud Tuchuk stands ready to remove his helmet is the sky, the simple, vast beautiful sky, from which falls the rain that, in his myths, formed the earth, and the bosks, and the Tuchuks. It is to the sky that the Tuchuks pray when they pray, demanding victory and luck for themselves, defeat and misery for their enemies. The Tuchuk, incidentally, like others of the Wagon Peoples, prays only when mounted, only when in the saddle and with weapons at hand; he prays to the sky not as a slave to a master, nor a servant to a god, but as warrior to a Ubar; the women of the Wagon Peoples, it might be mentioned, are not permitted to pray; many of them, however, do patronize the haruspexes, who, besides foretelling the future with a greater or lesser degree of accuracy for generally reasonable fees, provide an incredible assemblage of amulets, talismans, trinkets, philters, potions, spell papers, wonder-working sleen teeth, marvellous powdered kailiauk horns, and coloured, magic strings that, depending on the purpose, may be knotted in various ways and worn about the neck.
As we passed among the wagons I leaped back as a tawny prairie sleen hurled itself against the bars of a sleen cage, reaching out for me with its six-clawed paw. There were four other prairie sleen in the cage, a small cage, and they were curling and moving about one another, restlessly, like angry snakes. They would be released with the fall of darkness to run the periphery of the herds, acting, as I have mentioned, as shepherds and sentinels. They are also used if a slave escapes, for the sleen is an efficient, tireless, savage, almost infallible hunter, capable of pursuing a scent, days old, for hundreds of pasangs until, perhaps a month later, it finds its victim and tears it to pieces.
I was startled by the sound of slave bells and saw a girl, stripped save for bells and collar, carrying a burden among the wagons.
Kamchak saw that I had noticed the girl and chuckled, sensing that I might find it strange, seeing a slave so among the wagons.
She wore bells locked on both wrists, and on both ankles, thick cuffs and anklets, each with a double line of bells, fastened by steel and key. She wore the Turian collar, rather than the common slave collar. The Turian collar lies loosely on the girl, a round ring; it fits so loosely that, when grasped in a man’s fist, the girl can turn within it; the common Gorean collar, on the other hand, is a flat, snugly fitting steel band. Both collars lock in the back, behind the girl’s neck. The Turian collar is more difficult to engrave, but it, like the flat collar, will bear some legend assuring that the girl, if found, will be promptly returned to her master. Bells had also been afflicted to her collar.
“She is Turian?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Kamchak.
“In the cities,” I said, “only Pleasure Slaves are so belled, and then customarily for the dance.”
“Her master,” said Kamchak, “does not trust her.”
In his simple statement I then understood the meaning of her condition. She would be allowed no garments, that she might not be able to conceal a weapon; the bells would mark each of her movements.
“At night,” said Kamchak, “she is chained under the wagon.”
The girl had now disappeared.
“Turian girls are proud,” said Kamchak. “Thus, they make excellent slaves.”
What he said did not surprise me. The Gorean master, commonly, likes a spirited girl, one who fights the whip and collar, resisting until at last, perhaps months later, she is overwhelmed and must acknowledge herself his, utterly and without reservation, then fearing only that he might tire of her and sell her to another.
“In time,” said Kamchak, “she will beg for the rag of a slave.”
I supposed it was true. A girl could take only so much, and then she would kneel to her master, her head to his boots, and beg for a bit of clothing, even though it be only to be clad Kajir.
Kajira is perhaps the most common expression for a female slave. Another frequently heard expression is Sa-Fora, a compound word, meaning, rather literally, Chain Daughter, or Daughter of the Chain. Among the Wagon Peoples, to be clad Kajir means, for a girl, to wear four articles, two red, two black; a red cord, the Curla, is tied about the waist; the Chatka, or long, narrow strip of black leather, fits over this cord in the front, passes under, and then again, from the inside, passes over the cord in the back; the Chatka is drawn tight; the Kalmak is then donned; it is a short, open, sleeveless vest of black leather; lastly the Koora, a strip of red cloth, matching the Curla, is wound about the head, to hold the hair back, for slave women, among the Wagon Peoples, are not permitted to braid, or otherwise dress their hair; it must be, save for the Koora, worn loose. For a male slave, or Kajirus, of the Wagon Peoples, and there are few, save for the work chains, to be clad Kajir means to wear the Kes, a short, sleeveless work tunic of black leather. As Kamchak and I walked to his wagon, I saw several girls, here and there, clad Kajir; they were magnificent; they walked with the true brazen insolence of the slave girl, the wench who knows that she is owned, whom men have found beautiful enough, and exciting enough, to collar. The dour women of the Wagon Peoples, I saw, looked on these girls with envy and hatred, sometimes striking them with sticks if they should approach too closely the cooking pots and attempt to steal a piece of meat.
“I will tell your master!” screamed one.
The girl laughed at her and with a toss of her auburn hair, bound in the Koora, ran off between the wagons.
Kamchak and I laughed.
I gathered that the beauty had little to fear from her master, saving perhaps that she might cease to please him.
The wagons of the Wagon Peoples are, in their hundreds and thousands, in their brilliant, variegated colours, a glorious sight. Surprisingly the wagons are almost square, each the size of a large room. Which is drawn by a double team of bosk, four in a team, with each team linked to its wagon tongue, the tongues being joined by tem-wood crossbars. The two axles of the wagon are also of tem-wood, which perhaps, because of its flexibility, joined with the general flatness of the southern Gorean plains, permits the width of the wagon.
The wagon box, which stands almost six feet from the ground, is formed of black, lacquered planks of tem-wood. Inside the wagon box, which is square, there is fixed a rounded, tent like frame, covered with the taut, painted, varnished hides of bosks. These hides are richly coloured, and often worked with fantastic designs, each wagon competing with its neighbour to be the boldest and most exciting. The rounded frame is fixed somewhat within the square of the wagon box, so that a walkway, almost like a ship’s bridge, surrounds the frame. The sides of the wagon box, incidentally, are, here and there, perforated for arrow ports, for the small horn bow of the Wagon Peoples can be used to advantage not only from the back of a kaiila but, like the crossbow, from such cramped quarters. One of the most striking features of these wagons is the wheels, which are huge, the back wheels having a diameter of about ten feet; the front wheels are, like those of the Conestoga wagon, slightly smaller, in this case, about eight feet in diameter; the larger rear wheels are more difficult to mire; the smaller front wheels, nearer the pulling power of the bosk, permit a somewhat easier turning of the wagon. These wheels are carved wood and, like the wagon hides, are richly painted. Thick strips of boskhide form the wheel rims, which are replaced three to four times a year. The wagon is guided by a series of eight straps, two each for the four lead animals. Normally, however, the wagons are tied in tandem fashion, in numerous long columns, and only the lead wagons are guided, the others simply following, thongs running from the rear of one wagon to the nose rings of the bosk following, sometimes as much as thirty yards behind, with the next wagon; also, too, a wagon is often guided by a woman or boy who walks beside the lead animals with a sharp stick.
The interiors of the wagons, lashed shut, protected from the dust of the march, are often rich, marvellously carpeted and hung, filled with chests and silks, and booty from looted caravans, lit by hanging tharlarion oil lamps, the golden light of which falls on the silken cushions, the ankle-deep, intricately wrought carpets. In the centre of the wagon there is a small, shallow fire bowl, formed of copper, with a raised brass grating. Some cooking is done here, though the bowl is largely to furnish heat. The smoke escapes by a smoke hole at the dome of the tent like frame, a hole which is shut when the wagons move.
There was the sudden thud of a kaiila’s paws on the grass between the wagons and a wild snorting squeal. I jumped back avoiding the paws of the enraged, rearing animal.
“Stand aside, you fool!” cried a girl’s voice, and to my astonishment, astride the saddle of the monster I espied a girl, young, astonishingly beautiful, vital, angry, pulling at the control straps of the animal.
She was not as the other women of the Wagon Peoples I had seen, the dour, thin women with braided hair, bending over the cooking pots.
She wore a brief leather skirt, slit on the right side to allow her the saddle of the kaiila; her leather blouse was sleeveless; attached to her shoulders was a crimson cape; and her wild black hair was bound back by a band of scarlet cloth. Like the other women of the Wagons she wore no veil and, like them, fixed in her nose was the tiny, fine ring that proclaimed her people.
Her skin was a light brown and her eyes a charged, sparkling black.
“What fool is this?” she demanded of Kamchak.
“No fool,” said Kamchak, “but Tarl Cabot, a warrior, one who has held in his hands with me grass and earth.”
“He is a stranger,” she said. “He should be slain!”
Kamchak grinned up at her. “He has held with me grass and earth,” he said.
The girl gave a snort of contempt and kicked her small, spurred heels into the flanks of the kaiila and bounded away.
Kamchak laughed. “She is Hereena, a wench of the First Wagon,” he said.
“Tell me of her,” I said.
“What is there to tell?” asked Kamchak.
“What does it mean to be of the First Wagon?” I asked.
Kamchak laughed. “You know little of the Wagon Peoples,” he said.
“That is true,” I admitted.
“To be of the First Wagon,” said Kamchak, “is to be of the household of Kutaituchik.”
I repeated the name slowly, trying to sound it out. It is pronounced in four syllables, divided thus: Ku-tai-tu-chik.
“He then is the Ubar of the Tuchuks?” I said.
“His wagon,” smiled Kamchak, “is the First Wagon — and it is Kutaituchik who sits upon the grey robe.”
“The grey robe?” I asked.
“That robe,” said Kamchak, “which is the throne of the Ubars of the Tuchuks.”
It was thus I first learned the name of the man whom I understood to be Ubar of this fierce people.
“You will sometime be taken into the presence of Kutaituchik,” said Kamchak. “I myself,” he said, “must often go to the wagon of the Ubar.”
I gathered from this remark that Kamchak was a man of no little importance among the Tuchuks.
“There are a hundred wagons in the personal household of Kutaituchik,” said Kamchak. “To be of any of these wagons is to be of the First Wagon.”
“I see,” I said. “And the girl — she on the kaiila — is perhaps the daughter of Kutaituchik, Ubar of the Tuchuks?”
“No,” said Kamchak. “She is unrelated to him, as are most in the First Wagon.”
“She seemed much different than the other Tuchuk women,” I said.
Kamchak laughed, the coloured scars wrinkling on his broad face. “Of course,” said Kamchak, “she has been raised to be fit prize in the games of Love and War.”
“I do not understand,” I said.
Did you not see the Plains of a Thousand Stakes?” asked Kamchak.
“No,” I said. “I did not.”
I was about to press Kamchak on this matter when we heard a sudden shout and the squealing of kaiila from among the wagons. I heard then the shouts of men and the cries of women and children. Kamchak lifted his head intently, listening. Then we heard the pounding of a small drum and two blasts on the horn of a bosk.
Kamchak read the message of the drum and horn.
“A prisoner has been brought to the camp,” he said.
TO THE WAGON OF KUTAITUCHIK
Kamchak strode among the wagons, toward the sound, and I followed him closely. Many others, too, rushed to the sound, and we were jostled by armed warriors, scarred and fierce; by boys with unscarred faces, carrying the pointed sticks used often for goading the wagon bosk; by leather-clad women hurrying from the cooking pots; by wild, half-clothed children; even by enslaved Kajir-clad beauties of Turia; even the girl was there who wore but bells and collar, struggling under her burden, long dried strips of bosk meat, as wide as beams, she too hurrying to see what might be the meaning of the drum and horn, of the shouting Tuchuks.
We suddenly emerged into the centre of what seemed to be a wide, grassy street among the wagons, a wide lane, open and level, an avenue in that city of Harigga, or Bosk Wagons.
The street was lined by throngs of Tuchuks and slaves. Among them, too, were soothsayers and haruspexes, and singers and musicians, and, here and there, small peddlers and merchants, of various cities, for such are occasionally permitted by the Tuchuks, who crave their wares, to approach the wagons. Each of these, I was later to learn, wore on his forearm a tiny brand, in the form of spreading bosk horns, which guaranteed his passage, at certain seasons, across the plains of the Wagon Peoples. The difficulty, of course is in first obtaining the brand. If, in the case of a singer, the song is rejected, or in the case of a merchant, his merchandise is rejected, he is slain out of hand. This acceptance brand, of course, carries with it a certain stain of ignominy, suggesting that those who approach the wagons do as slaves.
Now I could see down the wide, grassy lane, loping towards us, two kaiila and riders. A lance was fastened between them, fixed to the stirrups of their saddles. The lance cleared the ground, given the height of the kaiila, by about five feet. Between the two animals, stumbling desperately, her throat bound by leather thongs to the lance behind her neck, ran a girl, her wrists tied behind her back.
I was astonished, for this girl was dressed not as a Gorean, not as a girl of any of the cities of the Counter-Earth, not as a peasant of the Sa-Tarna fields or the vineyards where the Ta grapes are raised, not even as a girl of the fierce Wagon Peoples.
Kamchak stepped to the centre of the grassy lane, lifting his hand, and the two riders, with their prize, reined in their mounts.
I was dumbfounded.
The girl stood gasping for breath, her body shaking and quivering, her knees slightly bent. She would have fallen except for the lance that kept her in place. She pulled weakly at the thongs that bound her wrists. Her eyes seemed glazed. She scarcely could look about her. Her clothing was stained with dust and her hair hung loose and tangled. Her body was covered with a sparkling sheen of sweat. Her shoes had been removed and had been fastened about her neck. Her feet were bleeding. The shreds of yellow nylon stockings hung about her angles. Her brief dress was torn by being dragged through brush.
Kamchak, too, seemed surprised at the sight of the girl, for never had he seen one so peculiarly attired. He assumed, of course, from the brevity of her skirt, that she was slave. He was perhaps puzzled by the absence of a metal collar about her throat. There was, however, literally sewn about her neck, a thick, high leather collar.
Kamchak went to her and took her head in his hands. She lifted her head and seeing the wild, fearsome scarred face that stared into hers, she suddenly screamed hysterically, and tried to jerk and tear herself away, but the lance held her in place. She kept shaking her head and whimpering. It was clear she could not believe her eyes, that she understood nothing, that she did not comprehend her surroundings, that she thought herself mad.
I noted that she had dark hair and dark eyes, brown.
The thought crossed my mind that this might lower her price somewhat.
She wore a simple yellow shift, with narrow orange stripes, of what must once have been crisp oxford cloth. It had long sleeves, with cuffs, and a button down collar, not unlike a man’s shirt.
It was now, of course, torn and soiled.
Yet she was not an unpleasing wench to look on, slim, well-ankled, lithe. On the Gorean block she would bring a good price.
She gave a little cry as Kamchak jerked the shoes from about her neck.
He threw them to me.
They were orange, of finely tooled leather, with a buckle. They had heels, a bit more than an inch high. There was also lettering in the shoe, but the script and words would have been unfamiliar to Goreans. It was English.
The girl was trying to speak. “My name is Elizabeth Cardwell,” she said. “I’m an American citizen. My home is in New York City.”
Kamchak looked in puzzlement at the riders, and they at him. In Gorean, one of the riders said, “She is a barbarian. She cannot speak Gorean.”
My role, as I conceived it, was to remain silent.
“You are all mad!” screamed the girl, pulling at the straps that bound her, struggling in the bonds. “Mad!”
The Tuchuks and the others looked at one another, puzzled.
I did not speak.
I was thunderstruck that a girl, apparently of Earth, who spoke English, should be brought to the Tuchuks at this time — at the time that I was among them, hoping to discover and return to Priest-Kings what I supposed to be a golden spheroid, the egg, the last hope of their race. Had the girl been brought to this world by Priest-Kings? Was she the recent victim of one of the Voyages of Acquisition? But I understood them to have been curtailed in the recent subterranean War of Priest-Kings. Had they been resumed? Surely this girl had not been long on Gor, perhaps no more than hours. But if the Voyages of Acquisition had been resumed, why had they been resumed? Or was it actually the case that she had been brought to Gor by Priest-Kings? Were there perhaps — others — somehow others? Was this woman sent to the Tuchuks at this time — perhaps released to wander on the plains — inevitably to be picked up by outriders — for a purpose — and if so, to what end — for whose purpose or purposes? Or was there somehow some fantastic accident or coincidence involved in the event of her arrival? Somehow I knew the latter was not likely to be the case.
Suddenly the girl threw back her head and cried out hysterically. “I’m mad! I have gone mad! I have gone mad!”
I could stand it no longer. She was too piteous. Against my better judgment I spoke to her. “No,” I said, “you are sane.”
The girl’s eyes looked at me, she scarcely believing the words she had heard.
The Tuchuks and others, as one man, faced me.
I turned to Kamchak. Speaking in Gorean, I said to him, “I can understand her.”
One of the riders pointed to me, crying out to the crowd, excitedly. “He speaks her tongue!”
A ripple of pleasure coursed through the throng.
It then occurred to me that it might have been for just this purpose that she had been sent to the Tuchuks, to single out the one man from among all the thousands with the wagons who could understand her and speak with her, thus identifying and marking him.
“Excellent,” said Kamchak, grinning at me.
“Please,” cried the girl to me. “Help me!”
Kamchak said to me. “Tell her to be silent.”
I did so, and the girl looked at me, dumbfounded, but remained silent.
I discovered that I was now an interpreter.
Kamchak was now, curiously, fingering her yellow garment. Then, swiftly, he tore it from her.
She cried out.
“Be silent,” I said to her.
I knew what must now pass, and it was what would have passed in any city or on any road or trail or path in Gor. She was a captive female, and must, naturally, submit to her assessment as prize; she must also be, incidentally, examined for weapons; a dagger or poisoned needle is often concealed in the clothing of free women.
There were interested murmurs from the crowd when, to the Gorean’s thinking, the unusual garments underlying her yellow shift were revealed.
“Please,” she wept, turning to me.
“Be silent,” I cautioned her.
Kamchak then removed her remaining garments, even the shreds of nylon stockings that had hung about her ankles.
There was a murmur of approval from the crowd; even some of the enslaved Turian beauties, in spite of themselves, cried out in admiration.
Elizabeth Cardwell, I decided, would indeed bring a high price.
She stood held in place by the lance, her throat bound to it with the wood behind her neck, her wrists thonged behind her back. Other than her bonds she now wore only the thick leather collar which had been sewn about her neck.
Kamchak picked up the clothing which lay near her on the grass. He also took the shoes. He wadded it all up together in a soiled bundle. He threw it to a nearby woman. “Burn it,” said Kamchak.
The bound girl watched helplessly as the woman carried her clothing, all that she had of her old world, to a cooking fire some yards away, near the edge of the wagons.
The crowd had opened a passage for the woman and the girl saw the clothing cast on the open fire.
“No, no!” she screamed. “No!”
Then she tried once more to free herself.
“Tell her,” said Kamchak, “that she must learn Gorean quickly — that she will be slain if she does not.”
I translated this for the girl.
She shook her head wildly. “Tell them my name is Elizabeth Cardwell,” she said. “I don’t know where I am — or how I got here — I want to get back to America — I’m an American citizen — my home is in New York City — take me back there — I will pay you anything!”
“Tell her,” repeated Kamchak, “that she must learn Gorean quickly — and that if she does not she will be slain.”
I translated this once more for the girl.
“I will pay you anything,” she pleaded. “Anything!”
“You have nothing,” I informed her, and she blushed. “Further,” I said, “we do not have the means of returning you to your home.”
“Why not?” she demanded.
“Have you not,” I pressed, “noted the difference in the gravitational field of this place — have you not noted the slight difference in the appearance of the sun?”
“It’s not true!” she screamed.
“This is not Earth,” I told her. “This is Gor — another earth perhaps — but not yours.” I looked at her fixedly. She must understand. “You are on another planet.”
She closed her eyes and moaned.
“I know,” she said. “I know — I know — but how — how — how?”
“I do not know the answer to your question,” I said. I did not tell her that I was, incidentally, keenly interested — for my own reasons — in learning the answer to her question.
Kamchak seemed impatient.
“What does she say?” he asked.
“She is naturally disturbed,” I said. “She wishes to return to her city.”
“What is her city?” asked Kamchak.
“It is called New York,” I said.
“I have never heard of it,” said Kamchak.
“It is far away,” I said.
“How is it that you speak her language?” he asked.
“I once lived in lands where her language is spoken,” I said.
“Is there grass for the bosk in her lands?” asked Kamchak.
“Yes,” I said, “but they are far away.”
“Farther even than Thentis?” asked Kamchak.
“Yes,” I said.
“Farther even than the islands of Cos and-Tyros?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
Kamchak whistled. “That is far,” he said.
I smiled. “It is too far to take the bosk,” I said.
Kamchak grinned at me.
One of the warriors on the kaiila spoke. “She was with no one,” he said. “We searched. She was with no one.”
Kamchak nodded at me, and then at the girl.
“Were you alone?” I asked.
The girl nodded weakly.
“She says she was alone,” I told Kamchak.
“How came she here?” asked Kamchak.
I translated his question, and the girl looked at me, and then closed her eyes and shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said.
“She says she does not know,” I told Kamchak.
“It is strange,” said Kamchak. “But we will question her further later.”
He signalled to a boy who carried a skin of Ka-la-na wine over his shoulder. He took the skin of wine from the boy and bit out the horn plug; he then, with the wineskin on his shoulder, held back the head of Elizabeth Cardwell with one hand and with the other shoved the bone nozzle of the skin between her teeth; he tipped the skin and the girl, half choking, swallowed wine; some of the red fluid ran from her mouth and over her body.
When Kamchak thought she had drunk enough he pulled the nozzle from her mouth, pushed back the plug and returned the skin to the boy.
Dazed, exhausted, covered with sweat, dust on her face and legs, wine on her body, Elizabeth Cardwell, her wrists thonged behind her and her throat bound to a lance, stood captive before Kamchak of the Tuchuks.
He must be merciful. He must be kind.
“She must learn Gorean,” said Kamchak to me. “Teach her ‘La Kajira’.”
“You must learn Gorean,” I told the girl.
She tried to protest, but I would not permit it.
“Say ‘La Kajira’,” I told her.
She looked at me, helplessly. Then she repeated, “La Kajira.”
“Again,” I commanded.
“La Kajira,” said the girl clearly, “La Kajira.”
Elizabeth Cardwell had learned her first Gorean.
“What does it mean?” she asked.
“It means,” I told her, “I am a slave girl.”
“No!” she screamed. “No, no, no!”
Kamchak nodded to the two riders mounted on kaiila. “Take her to the wagon of Kutaituchik.”
The two riders turned their kaiila and in a moment, moving rapidly, the girl running between them, had turned from the grassy lane and disappeared between the wagons.
Kamchak and I regarded one another.
“Did you note the collar she wore?” I asked.
He had not seemed to show much interest in the high, thick leather collar that the girl had had sewn about her neck.
“Of course,” he said.
“I myself,” I said, “have never seen such a collar.”
“It is a message collar,” said Kamchak. “Inside the leather, sewn within, will be a message.”
My look of amazement must have amused him, for he laughed. “Come,” he said, “let us go to the wagon of Kutaituchik.”
The wagon of Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks, was drawn up on a large, flat-topped grassy hill, the highest land in the camp.
Beside the wagon, on a great pole fixed in the earth, stood the Tuchuk standard of the four bosk horns.
The hundred, rather than eight, bosk that drew his wagon had been unyoked; they were huge, red bosk; their horns had been polished and their coats glistened from the comb and oils; their golden nose rings were set with jewels; necklaces of precious stones hung from the polished horns.
The wagon itself was the largest in the camp, and the largest wagon I had conceived possible; actually it was a vast platform, set on numerous wheeled frames; though at the edges of the platform, on each side, there were a dozen of the large wheels such as are found on the much smaller wagons; these latter wheels turned as the wagon moved and supported weight, but could not of themselves have supported the entire weight of that fantastic, wheeled palace of hide.
The hides that formed the dome were of a thousand colours, and the smoke hole at the top must have stood more than a hundred feet from the flooring of that vast platform. I could well conjecture the riches, the loot and the furnishing that would dazzle the interior of such a magnificent dwelling.
But I did not enter the wagon, for Kutaituchik held his court outside the wagon, in the open air, on the flat-topped grassy hill. A large dais had been built, vast and spreading, but standing no more than a foot from the earth. This dais was covered with dozens of thick rugs, sometimes four and five deep.
There were many Tuchuks, and some others, crowded about the dais, and, standing upon it, about Kutaituchik, there were several men who, from their position on the dais and their trappings, I judged to be of great importance.
Among these men, sitting cross-legged, was Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks.
About Kutaituchik there were piled various goods, mostly vessels of precious metal and strings and piles of jewels; there was silk there from Tyros; silver from Thentis and Tharna; tapestries from the mills of Ar; wines from Cos; dates from the city of Tor. There were also, among the other goods, two girls, blonde and blue-eyed, unclothed, chained; they had perhaps been a gift to Kutaituchik; or had been the daughters of enemies; they might have been from any city; both were beautiful; one was sitting with her knees tucked under her chin, her hands clasping her ankles, absently staring at the jewels about her feet; the other lay indolently on her side, incuriously regarding us, her weight on one elbow; there was a yellow stain about her mouth where she had been fed some fruit; both girls wore the Sirik, a light chain favoured for female slaves by many Gorean masters; it consists of a Turian-type collar, a loose, rounded circle of steel, to which a light, gleaming chain is attached; should the girl stand, the chain, dangling from her collar, falls to the floor; it is about ten or twelve inches longer than is required to reach from her collar to her ankles; to this chain, at the natural fall of her wrists, is attached a pair of slave bracelets; at the end of the chain there is attached another device, a set of linked ankle rings, which, when closed about her ankles, lifts a portion of the slack chain from the floor; the Sirik is an incredibly graceful thing and designed to enhance the beauty of its wearer; perhaps it should only be added that the slave bracelets and the ankle rings may be removed from the chain and used separately; this also, of course, permits the Sirik to function as a slave leash.
At the edge of the dais Kamchak and I had stopped, where our sandals were removed and our feet washed by Turian slaves, men in the Kes, who might once have been officers of the city.
We mounted the dais and approached the seemingly somnolent figure seated upon it.
Although the dais was resplendent, and the rugs upon it even more resplendent, I saw that beneath Kutaituchik, over these rugs, had been spread a simple, worn, tattered robe of grey boskhide. It was upon this simple robe that he sat. It was undoubtedly that of which Kamchak had spoken, the robe upon which sits the Ubar of the Tuchuks, that simple robe which is his throne.
Kutaituchik lifted his head and regarded us; his eyes seemed sleepy; he was bald, save for a black knot of hair that emerged from the back of his shaven skull; he was a broad-backed man, with small legs; his eyes bore the epicanthic fold; his skin was a tinged, yellowish brown; though he was stripped to the waist, there was about his shoulders a rich, ornamented robe of the red bosk, bordered with jewels; about his neck, on a chain decorated with sleen teeth, there hung a golden medallion, bearing the sign of the four bosk horns; he wore furred boots, wide leather trousers, and a red sash, in which was thrust a quiva. Beside him, coiled, perhaps as a symbol of power, lay a bosk whip. Kutaituchik absently reached into a small golden box near his right knee and drew out a string of rolled kanda leaf.
The roots of the kanda plant, which grows largely in desert regions on Gor, are extremely toxic, but, surprisingly, the rolled leaves of this plant, which are relatively innocuous, are formed into strings and, chewed or sucked, are much favoured by many Goreans, particularly in the southern hemisphere, where the leaf is more abundant.
Kutaituchik, not taking his eyes off us, thrust one end of the green kanda string in the left side of his mouth and, very slowly, began to chew it. He said nothing, nor did Kamchak. We simply sat near him, cross-legged. I was conscious that only we three on that dais were sitting. I was pleased that there were no prostrations or grovellings involved in approaching the august presence of the exalted Kutaituchik. I gathered that once, in his earlier years, he might have been a rider of the kaiila, that he might have been skilled with the bow and lance, and the quiva; such a man would not need ceremony; I sensed that once this man might have ridden six hundred pasangs in a day, living on a mouthful of water and a handful of bosk meat kept soft and warm between his saddle and the back of the kaiila; that there might have been few as swift with the quiva, as delicate with the lance, as he; that he had known the wars and the winters of the prairie; that he had met animals and men, as enemies, and had lived; such a man did not need ceremony; such a man, I sensed, was Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks.
And yet was I sad as I looked upon him, for I sensed that for this man there could no longer be the saddle of the kaiila, the whirling of the rope and bola, the hunt and the war. Now, from the right side of his mouth, thin, black and wet, there emerged the chewed string of kanda, a quarter of an inch at a time, slowly. The drooping eyes, glazed, regarded us. For him there could no longer be the swift races across the frozen prairie; the meetings in arms; even the dancing to the sky about a fire of bosk dung.
Kamchak and I waited until the string had been chewed.
When Kamchak had finished he held out his right hand and a man, not a Tuchuk, who wore the green robes of the Caste of Physicians, thrust in his hand a goblet of bosk horn; it contained some yellow fluid. Angrily, not concealing his distaste, Kutaituchik drained the goblet and then hurled it from him.
He then shook himself and regarded Kamchak.
He grinned a Tuchuk grin. “How are the bosk?” he asked.
“As well as may be expected,” said Kamchak.
“Are the quivas sharp?”
“One tries to keep them so,” said Kamchak.
“It is important to keep the axles of the wagons greased,” observed Kutaituchik.
“Yes,” said Kamchak, “I believe so.”
Kutaituchik suddenly reached out and he and Kamchak, laughing, clasped hands.
Then Kutaituchik sat back and clapped his hands together sharply twice. “Bring the she-slave,” he said.
I turned to see a stout man-at-arms step to the dais, carrying in his arms, folded in the furs of the scarlet larl, a girl.
I heard the small sound of a chain.
The man-at-arms placed Elizabeth Cardwell before us, and Kutaituchik, and drew away the pelt of the scarlet larl.
Elizabeth Cardwell had been cleaned and her hair combed. She was slim, lovely.
The man-at-arms arranged her before us.
The thick leather collar, I noted, was still sewn about her throat.
Elizabeth Cardwell, though she did not know it, knelt before us in the position of the Pleasure Slave.
She looked wildly about her and then dropped her head. Aside from the collar on her throat she, like the other girls on the platform, wore only the Sirik.
Kamchak gestured to me.
“Speak,” I said to her.
She lifted her head and then said, almost inaudibly, trembling in the restraint of the Sirik. “La Kajira” Then she dropped her head.
Kutaituchik seemed satisfied.
“It is the only Gorean she knows,” Kamchak informed him.
“For the time,” said Kutaituchik, “it is enough.” He then looked at the man-at-arms. “Have you fed her?” he asked.
The man nodded.
“Good,” said Kutaituchik, “the she-slave will need her strength.”
The interrogation of Elizabeth Cardwell took hours. Needless to say, I served as translator.
The interrogation, to my surprise, was conducted largely by Kamchak, rather than Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks. Kamchak’s questions were detailed, numerous, complex. He returned to certain questions at various times, in various ways, connecting subtly her responses to one with those of another; he wove a sophisticated net of inquiry about the girl, delicate and fine; I marvelled at his skill; had there been the least inconsistency or even hesitation, as though the girl were attempting to recollect or reconcile the details of a fabrication, it would have been instantly detected.
During all this time, and torches had been brought, the hours of the night being burned away, Elizabeth Cardwell was not permitted to move, but must needs retain the position of the Pleasure Slave, knees properly placed, back straight, head high, the gleaming chain of the Sirik dangling from the Turian collar, falling to the pelt of the red larl on which she knelt.
The translation, as you might expect, was a difficult task, but I attempted to convey as much as I could of what the girl, piteously, the words tumbling out, attempted to tell me.
Although there were risks involved I tried to translate as exactly as I could, letting Miss Cardwell speak as she would, though her words must often have sounded fantastic to the Tuchuks, for it was largely of a world alien to them that she spoke — a world not of autonomous cities but of huge nations; not of castes and crafts but of global, interlocking industrial complexes; not of barter and tarn disks but of fantastic systems of exchange and credit; a world not of tarns and the tharlarion but of aircraft and motor buses and trucks; a world in which one’s words need not be carried by a lone rider on the swift kaiila but could be sped from one corner of the earth to another by leaping through an artificial moon.
Kutaituchik and Kamchak, to my pleasure, tended to restrain judgment on these matters; to my gratification they did not seem to regard the girl as mad; I had been afraid, from time to time, that they might, losing patience with what must seem to them to be the most utter nonsense, order her beaten or impaled.
I did not know then, but Kutaituchik and Kamchak had some reason for supposing that the girl might be speaking the truth.
What they were most interested in, of course, and what I was most interested in, namely, how and why the girl came to be wandering on the Plains of Turia — in the Lands of the Wagon Peoples — they, and I, did not learn.
We were all, at last, satisfied that even the girl herself did not know.
At last Kamchak had finished, and Kutaituchik, too, and they leaned back, looking at the girl.
“Move no muscle,” I said to her.
She did not. She was very beautiful.
Kamchak gestured with his head.
“You may lower your head,” I said to the girl.
Piteously, with a rustle of chain, the girl’s head and shoulders fell forward, and though she still knelt, her head touched the pelt of the larl, her shoulders and back shaking, trembling.
It seemed to me, from what I had learned, that there was no particular reason why Elizabeth Cardwell, and not one of Earth’s countless others, had been selected to wear the message collar. As yet the collar had not been removed and examined. It was perhaps only that she was convenient, and, of course, that she was lovely, thus a fitting bearer of the collar, herself a gift with the message to please the Tuchuks, and perhaps better dispose them toward its contents.
Miss Cardwell was little different from thousands of lovely working girls in the great cities of Earth, perhaps more intelligent than many, perhaps prettier than most, but essentially the same, girls living alone or together in apartments, working in offices and studios and shops, struggling to earn a living in a glamorous city, whose goods and pleasures they could ill afford to purchase. What had happened to her might, I gathered, have happened to any of them.
She remembered arising and washing and dressing, eating a hurried breakfast, taking the elevator downstairs from her apartment, the subway, arriving at work, the routines of the morning as a junior secretary in one of the larger advertising agencies on Madison Avenue, her excitement at being invited to interview for the position of assistant secretary to the head of the art department, her last-minute concern with her lipstick, the hem of her yellow shift, then steno pad in hand, entering his office.
With him had been a tall, strange man, broad of shoulder with large hands, a greyish face, eyes almost like glass. He had frightened her. He wore a dark suit of expensive cloth and tailoring, and yet somehow it seemed not that he wore it as one accustomed to such garments. He spoke to her, rather than the man she knew, the head of the department, whom she had seen often. He did not permit her to take the seat by the desk.
Rather he told her to stand and straighten herself. He seemed to scorn her posture. Angry, she nevertheless did so until, embarrassed, she stood insolently erect before him. His eyes regarded her ankles with care, and then her calves and she was acutely aware, blushing, that standing as she did, so straight before him, the simple yellow, oxford-cloth shift ill concealed her thighs, the flatness of her belly, the loveliness of her figure. “Lift your head,” he said, and she did, her chin high, the lovely, angry head set proudly on her aristocratic delicate neck.
He then backed away from her.
She turned to face him, eyes flashing.
“Do not speak,” he said.
Her fingers went white with anger, clutching the steno pad and pencil.
He gestured to the far side of the room. “Walk there,” he said, “and return.”
“I will not,” she said.
“Now,” said the man.
Elizabeth had looked, tears almost in her eyes, at the department head, but he seemed suddenly to her soft, pudgy, distant, sweating, nothing. He nodded hastily, “Please, Miss Cardwell, do as he says.”
Elizabeth faced the tall, strange man. She was breathing rapidly now. She felt the pencil clutched in her sweating hand. Then it broke.
“Now,” said the man.
Looking at him she suddenly had the feeling, a strange one, that this man, in some circumstances and for some purpose or another, had assessed and judged many women.
This infuriated her.
It seemed to her a challenge that she would accept. She would show him a woman indeed — allowing herself for the instant to be insolently and fully female — showing him in her walk her contempt and scorn for him.
She would then leave and go directly to the personnel office, tendering her resignation.
She threw back her head. “Very well,” she said. And Elizabeth Cardwell walked proudly, angrily, to the far side of the room, wheeled there, faced the man, and approached him, eyes taunting, a smile of contempt playing about her lips. She heard the department head quickly suck in his breath. She did not take her eyes from the tall, strange man.
“Are you satisfied,” she asked, quietly, acidly.
“Yes,” he had said.
She remembered then only turning and starting for the door, and a sudden, peculiar odour, penetrating, that seemed to close about her face and head.
She had regained consciousness on the Plains of Gor. She bad been dressed precisely as she had been the morning she had gone to work save that about her throat she had found sewn a high, thick leather collar. She had cried out, she had wandered. Then, after some hours stumbling confused, terrified, hungry through the high, brown grass, she had seen two riders, mounted on swift, strange beasts. They had seen her. She called to them. They approached her cautiously, in a large circle, as though examining the grass for enemies, or others.
“I’m Elizabeth Cardwell,” she had cried. “My home is in New York City. What place is this? Where am I?” And then she has seen the faces, and had screamed.
“Position,” said Kamchak.
I spoke sharply to the girl. “Be as you were before.”
Terrified the girl straightened herself and again, knees placed, back straight and head high, knelt before us in the position of the Pleasure Slave.
“The collar,” said Kamchak, “is Turian.”
This was news to me, and I welcomed it, for it meant that probably, somehow, the answer to at least a part of the mystery which confronted me lay in the city of Turia.
But how was it that Elizabeth Cardwell, of Earth, wore a Turian message collar?
Kamchak drew the quiva from his belt and approached the girl. She looked at him wildly, drawing back.
“Do not move,” I told her.
Kamchak set the blade of the quiva between the girl’s throat and the collar and moved it, the leather collar seeming to fall from the blade.
The girl’s neck, where the collar had been sewn, was red and sweaty, broken out.
Kamchak returned to his place where he again sat down cross-legged, putting the cut collar on the rug in front of him.
I and Kutaituchik watched as he carefully spread open the collar, pressing back two edges. Then, from within the collar, he drew forth a thin, folded piece of paper, rence paper made from the fibres of the rence plant, a tall, long-stalked leafy plant which grows predominantly in the delta of the Vosk. I suppose, in itself, this meant nothing, but I naturally thought of Port Kar, malignant, squalid Port Kar, which claims suzerainty over the delta, exacting cruel tributes from the rence growers, great stocks of rence paper for trade, sons for oarsmen in cargo galleys, daughters for Pleasure Slaves in the taverns of the city. I would have expected the message to have been written either on stout, glossy-surfaced linen paper, of the sort milled in Ar, or perhaps on vellum and parchment, prepared in many cities and used commonly in scrolls, the process involving among other thing tile washing and liming of skins, their scraping and stretching, dusting them with sifted chalk, rubbing them down with pumice.
Kamchak handed the paper to Kutaituchik and he took it but looked at it, I thought, blankly. Saying nothing he handed it back to Kamchak, who seemed to study it with great care, and then, to my amazement, turned it sideways and then upside down. At last he grunted and handed it to me.
I was suddenly amused, for it occurred to me that neither of the Tuchuks could read.
“Read,” said Kutaituchik.
I smiled and took the piece of rence paper. I glanced at it and then I smiled no longer. I could read it, of course. It was in Gorean script, moving from left to right, and then from right to left on alternate lines. The writing was quite legible. It was written in black ink, probably with a reed pen. This again suggested the delta of the Vosk.
“What does it say?” asked Kutaituchik.
The message was simple, consisting of only three lines.
I read them aloud.
Find the man to whom this girl can speak.
He is Tarl Cabot.
“And who has signed this message?” asked Kutaituchik.
I hesitated to read the signature.
“Well?” asked Kutaituchik.
“It is signed,” I said, “— Priest-Kings of Gor.”
Kutaituchik smiled. “You read Gorean well,” he said.
I understood then that both men could read, though perhaps many of the Tuchuks could not. It had been a test.
Kamchak grinned at Kutaituchik, the scarring on his face wrinkling with pleasure. “He has held grass and earth with me,” he said.
“Ah!” said Kutaituchik. “I did not know.”
My mind was whirling. Now I understood, as I had only suspected before, why an English-speaking girl was necessary to bear the collar, that she might be the device whereby I would be singled out from the hundreds and thousands among the wagons, and so be marked for death.
But I could not understand why Priest-Kings should wish me slain. Was I not engaged, in a sense, in their work? Had I not come to the Wagon Peoples on their behalf, to search for the doubtless golden sphere that was the last egg of Priest-Kings, the final hope of their race?
Now they wished me to die.
It did not seem possible.
I prepared to fight for my life, selling it as dearly as possible on the dais of Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks, for what Gorean would dare reject the command of Priest-Kings? I stood up, unsheathing my sword.
One or two of the men-at-arms immediately drew the quiva.
A small smile touched the broad face of Kutaituchik.
“Put your sword away and sit down,” said Kamchak.
Dumbfounded, I did so.
“It is,” said Kamchak, “obviously not a message of Priest-Kings.”
“How do you know?” I asked.
The scarred face wrinkled again and Kamchak rocked back and slapped his knees. He laughed, “Do you think Priest-Kings, if they wished you dead, would ask others to do this for them?” He pointed at the opened collar lying before him on the rug. “Do you think Priest-Kings would use a Turian message collar?” He pointed his broad finger at Elizabeth Cardwell. “Do you think Priest-Kings would need a girl to find you?” Kamchak threw back his head and laughed loudly, and even Kutaituchik smiled. “No,” said Kamchak, slapping his knee, “Priest-Kings do not need Tuchuks to do their killing!”
What Kamchak had said then seemed to make a great deal of sense to me. Yet it seemed strange that anyone, no matter whom, would dare to use the name of Priest-Kings falsely. Who, or what, could dare such a thing? Besides, how did I know that the message was not from Priest-Kings? I knew, as Kamchak and Kutaituchik did not, of the recent Nest War beneath the Sardar, and of the disruption in the technological complexes of the Nest — who knew to what primitive devices Priest-Kings might now find themselves reduced Yet, on the whole, I tended to agree with Kamchak, that it was not likely the message came from Priest-Kings. It had been, after all, months since the Nest War and surely, by now, to some extent, Priest-Kings would have managed to restore-significant portions of the equipment, devices of surveillance and control, by means of which they had, for such long millennia, managed to maintain their mastery of this barbarian sphere. Besides this, as far as I knew, Misk, who was my friend and between whom and myself there was Nest Trust, was still the highest born of the living Priest-Kings and the final authority in matters of importance in the Nest; I knew that Misk, if no other, would not have wished my death. And finally, I reminded myself again, was I not now engaged in their work? Was I not now attempting to be of service to them? Was I not now among the Wagon Peoples, in peril perhaps, on their behalf?
But, I asked myself, if this message was not from Priest-Kings, from whom could it be? Who would dare this? And who but Priest-Kings would know that I was among the Wagon Peoples? But yet I told myself — someone, or something — must know — others, not Priest-Kings. There must be others — others, who did not wish me to succeed in my work, who wished Priest-Kings, the race, to die, others who were capable even of bringing humans from Earth for their purposes — technologically advanced — others who were, perhaps, I cautiously, invisibly, at war with Priest-Kings — who perhaps wished as prize this world, or perhaps this world and Earth as well, our sun and its planets — others, who perhaps stood on the margins of our system, waiting perhaps for the demise of the power of Priest-Kings, perhaps the shield which unknown to men, had protected them — perhaps from the time of the first grasping of stones, from the time even before an intelligent, prehensile animal could build fires in the mouth of its lair.
But these speculations were too fantastic, and I dismissed them.
There was remaining, however, a mystery, and I was determined to resolve it.
The answer possibly lay in Turia.
In the meantime I would, of course, continue my work. I would try, for Misk, to find the egg, and return it to the Sardar. I suspected, truly as it turned out, that the mystery and my mission were not utterly unconnected.
“What,” I asked Kamchak, “would you do if you thought the message were truly from Priest-Kings?”
“Nothing,” said Kamchak, gravely.
“You would risk,” I asked, “the herds — the wagons — the peoples?” Both Kamchak and I knew that Priest-Kings were not lightly to be disobeyed. Their vengeance could extend to the total and complete annihilation of cities. Indeed their power, as I knew, was sufficient to destroy planets.
“Yes,” said Kamchak.
“Why?” I asked.
He looked at me and smiled. “Because,” said he, “we have together held grass and earth.”
Kutaituchik, Kamchak and I then regarded Elizabeth Cardwell.
I knew that, as far as the interrogation was concerned, she had served her purpose. There was nothing more to be learned from her. She, too, must have sensed this, for she seemed, though she did not move, terribly frightened. Her fear could be read in her eyes, in the slight, tremulous movement of her lower lip. In the affairs of state she was now without value. Then uncontrollably, piteously, suddenly, trembling in the Sirik, she put her head down to the pelt of the larl. “Please,” she said, “do not kill me.”
I translated for Kamchak and Kutaituchik.
Kutaituchik addressed the question to her.
“Are you zealous to please the fancy of Tuchuks?”
With horror Elizabeth Cardwell lifted her head from the pelt and regarded her captors. She shook her head, wildly, “No, please no!”
“Impale her,” said Kutaituchik.
Two warriors rushed forward and seized the girl under the arms, lifting her from the pelt.
“What are they going to do?” she cried.
“They intend to impale you,” I told her.
She began to scream. “Please, please, please!”
My hand was on the hilt of my sword, but Kamchak’s hand rested on mine.
Kamchak turned to Kutaituchik. “She seems zealous,” he said.
Once again Kutaituchik addressed his question to her, and I translated it.
“Are you zealous to please the fancy of Tuchuks?”
The men who held the girl allowed her to fall to her knees between them. “Yes,” she said, piteously, “yes!”
Kutaituchik, Kamchak and I regarded her.
“Yes,” she wept, her head to the rug, “I am zealous to please the fancy of Tuchuks.”
I translated for Kutaituchik and Kamchak.
“Ask,” demanded Kutaituchik, “if she begs to be a slave girl.”
I translated the question.
“Yes,” wept Elizabeth Cardwell, “yes — I beg to be a slave girl.”
Perhaps in that moment Elizabeth Cardwell recalled the strange man, so fearsome, grey of face with eyes like glass, who had so examined her on Earth, before whom she had stood as though on a block, unknowingly being examined for her fitness to bear the message collar of Turia. How she had challenged him, how she had walked, how insolent she had been! Perhaps in that moment she thought how amused the man might be could he see her now, that proud girl, now in the Sirik, her head to the pelt of a larl, kneeling to barbarians, begging to be a slave girl; and if she thought of these things how she must have then cried out in her heart, for she would have then recognized that the man would have known full well what lay in store for her; how he must have laughed within himself at her petty show of female pride, her vanity, knowing it was this for which the lovely brown-haired girl in the yellow shift was destined.
“I grant her wish,” said Kutaituchik. Then to a warrior nearby, he said, “Bring meat.”
The warrior leapt from the dais and, in a few moments, returned with a handful of roasted bosk meat.
Kutaituchik gestured for the girl, trembling, to be brought forward, and the two warriors brought her to him, placing her directly before him.
He took the meat in his hand and gave it to Kamchak, who bit into it, a bit of juice running at the side of his mouth; Kamchak then held the meat to the girl.
“Eat,” I told her.
Elizabeth Cardwell took the meat in her two hands, confined before her by slave bracelets and the chain of the Sirik, and, bending her head, the hair falling forward, ate it.
She, a slave, had accepted meat from the hand of Kamchak of the Tuchuks.
She belonged to him now.
“La Kajira,” she said, putting her head down, then covering her face with her manacled hands, weeping. “La Kajira. La Kajira!”
If I had hoped for an easy answer to the riddles which concerned me, or a swift end to my search for the egg of Priest-Kings, I was disappointed, for I learned nothing of either for months.
I had hoped to go to Turia, there to seek the answer to the mystery of the message collar, but it was not to be, at least until the spring.
“It is the Omen Year,” had said Kamchak of the Tuchuks.
The herds would circle Turia, for this was the portion of the Omen Year called the Passing of Turia, in which the Wagon Peoples gather and begin to move toward their winter pastures; the second portion of the Omen Year is the Wintering, which takes place far north of Turia, the equator being approached in this hemisphere, of course, from the south; the third and final portion of the Omen Year is the Return to Turia, which takes place in the spring, or as the Wagon Peoples have it, in the Season of Little Grass. It is in the spring that the omens are taken, regarding the possible election of the Ubar San, the One Ubar, he who would be Ubar of all the Wagons, of all the Peoples.
I did manage, however, from the back of the kaiila, which I learned to ride, to catch a glimpse of distant, high-walled, nine-gated Turia.
It seemed a lofty, fine city, white and shimmering, rising from the plains.
“Be patient, Tarl Cabot,” said Kamchak, beside me on his kaiila. “In the spring there will be the games of Love War and I will go to Turia, and you may then, if you wish, accompany me.”
“Good,” I said.
I would wait. It seemed, upon reflection, the best thing to do. The mystery of the message collar, intriguing as it might be, was of secondary importance. For the time I put it from my mind. My main interests, my primary objective, surely lay not in distant Turia, but with the wagons.
I wondered on what Kamchak had called the games of Love War, said to take place on the Plains of a Thousand Stakes. I supposed, in time, that I would learn of this.
“After the games of Love War,” said Kamchak, “the omens win be taken.”
I nodded, and we rode back to the herds.
There had not been, I knew, a Ubar San in more than a hundred years. It did not seem likely, either, that one would be elected in the spring. Even in the time I had been with the wagons I had gathered that it was only the implicit truce of the Omen Year which kept these four fierce, warring peoples from lunging at one another’s throats, or more exactly put, at one another’s bosk. Naturally, as a Koroban, and one with a certain affection for the cities of Gor, particularly those of the north, particularly Ko-ro-ba, Ar, Thentis and Tharna, I was not disappointed at the likelihood that a Ubar San would not be elected. Indeed, I found few who wished a Ubar San to be chosen. The Tuchuks, like the other Wagon Peoples, are intensely independent. Yet, each ten years, the omens are taken. I originally regarded the Omen Year as a rather pointless institution, but I came to see later that there is much to be said for it: it brings the Wagon Peoples together from time to time, and in this time, aside from the simple values of being together, there is much bosk trading and some exchange of women, free as well as slave; the bosk trading genetically freshens the herds and I expect much the same thing, from the point of view of biology, can be said of the exchange of the women; more importantly, perhaps, for one can always steal women and bosk, the Omen Year provides an institutionalized possibility for the uniting of the Wagon Peoples in a time of crisis, should they be divided and threatened. I think that those of the Wagons who instituted the Omen Year, more than a thousand years ago, were wise men.
How was it, I wondered, that Kamchak was going to Turia in the spring?
I sensed him to be a man of importance with the wagons.
There were perhaps negotiations to be conducted, perhaps having to do with what were called the games of Love War, or perhaps having to do with trade.
I had learned, to my surprise, that trade did occasionally take place with Turia. Indeed, when I had learned this, it had fired my hopes that I might be able to approach the city in the near future, hopes which, as it turned out, were disappointed, though perhaps well so.
The Wagon Peoples, though enemies of Turia, needed and wanted her goods, in particular materials of metal and cloth, which are highly prized among the Wagons. Indeed, even the chains and collars of slave girls, worn often by captive Turian girls themselves, are of Turian origin. The Turians, on the other hand, take in trade for their goods — obtained by manufacture or trade with other cities — principally the horn and hide of the bosk, which naturally the Wagon Peoples, who live on the bosk, have in plenty. The Turians also, I note, receive other goods from the Wagon Peoples, who tend to be fond of the raid, goods looted from caravans perhaps a thousand pasangs from the herds, indeed some of them even on the way to and from Turia itself. From these raids the Wagon Peoples obtain a miscellany of goods which they are willing to barter to the Turians, jewels, precious metals, spices, coloured table salts, harnesses and saddles for the ponderous tharlarion, furs of small river animals, tools for the field, scholarly scrolls, inks and papers, root vegetables, dried fish, powdered medicines, ointments, perfume and women, customarily plainer ones they do not wish to keep for themselves; prettier wenches, to their dismay, are usually kept with the wagons; some of the plainer women are sold for as little as a brass cup; a really beautiful girl, particularly if of free birth and high caste, might bring as much as forty pieces of gold; such are, however, seldom sold; the Wagon Peoples enjoy being served by civilized slaves of great beauty and high station; during the day, in the heat and dust, such girls will care for the wagon bosk and gather fuel for the dung fires; at night they will please their masters. The Wagon Peoples sometimes are also willing to barter silks to the Turians, but commonly they keep these for their own slave girls, who wear them in the secrecy of the wagons; free women, incidentally, among the Wagon Peoples are not permitted to wear silk; it is claimed by those of the Wagons, delightfully I think, that any woman who loves the feel of silk on her body is, in the secrecy of her heart and blood, a slave girl, whether or not some master has yet forced her to don the collar. It might be added that there are two items which the Wagon Peoples will not sell or trade to Turia, one is a living bosk and the other is a girl from the city itself, though the latter are sometimes, for the sport of the young men, allowed, as it is said, to run for the city. They are then hunted from the back of the kaiila with bola and thongs.
The winter came fiercely down on the herds some days before expected, with its fierce snows and the long winds that sometimes have swept twenty-five hundred pasangs across the prairies; snow covered the grass, brittle and brown already, and the herds were split into a thousand fragments, each with its own riders, spreading out over the prairie, pawing through the snow, snuffing about, pulling up and chewing at the grass, mostly worthless and frozen. The animals began to die and the keening of women, crying as though the wagons were burning and the Turians upon them, carried over the prairies. Thousands of the Wagon Peoples, free and slave, dug in the snow to find a handful of grass to feed their animals. Wagons had to be abandoned on the prairie, as there was no time to train new bosk to the harness, and the herds must needs keep moving.
At last, seventeen days after the first snows, the edges of the herds began to reach their winter pastures far north of Turia, approaching the equator from the south. Here the snow was little more than a frost that melted in the afternoon sun, and the grass was live and nourishing. Still farther north, another hundred pasangs, there was no snow and the peoples began to sing and once more dance about their fires of bosk dung.
“The bosk are safe,” Kamchak had said. I had seen strong men leap from the back of the kaiila and, on their knees, tears in their eyes, kiss the green, living grass. “The bosk are safe,” they had cried, and the cry had been taken up by the women and carried from wagon to wagon, “The bosk are safe!”
This year, perhaps because it was the Omen Year, the Wagon Peoples did not advance farther north than was necessary to ensure the welfare of the herds. They did not, in fact, even cross the western Cartius, far from cities, which they often do, swimming the bosk and kaiila, floating the wagons, the men often crossing on the backs of the swimming bosk. It was the Omen Year, and not a year, apparently, in which to risk war with far peoples, particularly not those of cities like Ar, whose warriors had mastered the tarn and might, from the air, have wrought great destruction on the herds and wagons.
The Wintering was not unpleasant, although, even so far north, the days and nights were often quite chilly; the Wagon Peoples and their slaves as well, wore boskhide and furs during this time; both male and female, slave or free, wore furred boots and trousers, coats and the flopping, ear-flapped caps that tied under the chin; in this time there was often no way to mark the distinction between the free woman and the slave girl, save that the hair of the latter must needs be unbound; in some cases, of course, the Turian collar was visible, if worn on the outside of the coat, usually under the furred collar; the men, too, free and slave, were dressed similarly, save that the Kajiri, or he-slaves, wore shackles, usually with a run of about a foot of chain.
On the back of the kaiila, the black lance in hand, bending down in the saddle, I raced past a wooden wand fixed in the earth, on the top of which was placed a dried tospit, a small, wrinkled, yellowish-white peach like fruit, about the size of a plum, which grows on the tospit bush, patches of which are indigenous to the drier valleys of the western Cartius. They are bitter but edible.
“Well done!” cried Kamchak as he saw the tospit, unsplit, impaled halfway down the shaft of the lance, stopped only by my fist and the retaining strap.
Such a thrust was worth two points for us.
I heard Elizabeth Cardwell’s cry of joy as she leaped into the air, clumsy in the furs, clapping her hands. She carried, on a strap around her neck, a sack of tospits. I looked at her and smiled. Her face was vital and flushed with excitement.
“Tospit!” called Conrad of the Kassars, the Blood People, and the girl hastened to set another fruit on the wand.
There was a thunder of kaiila paws on the worn turf and Conrad, with his red lance, nipped the tospit neatly from the tip of the wand, the lance point barely passing into it, he having drawn back at the last instant.
“Well done!” I called to him. My own thrust had been full thrust, accurate enough but rather heavily done, in war, such a thrust might have lost me the lance, leaving it in the body of an enemy. His thrust was clearly, I acknowledged, worth three points.
Kamchak then rode, and he, like Conrad of the Kassars, deftly took the fruit from the wand; indeed, his lance entering the fruit perhaps a fraction of an inch less than had Conrad’s. It was, however, also a three-point thrust.
The warrior who then rode with Conrad thundered down the lane in the turf.
There was a cry of disappointment, as the lance tip sheared the fruit, not retaining it, knocking it from the wand. It was only a one-point thrust.
Elizabeth cried out again, with pleasure, for she was of the wagon of Kamchak and Tarl Cabot.
The rider who had made the unsatisfactory thrust suddenly whirled the kaiila toward the girl, and she fell to her knees, realizing she should not have revealed her pleasure at his failure, putting her head to the grass. I tensed, but Kamchak laughed, and held me back. The rider’s kaiila was now rearing over the girl, and he brought the beast to rest. With the tip of his lance, stained with the tospit fruit, he cut the strap that held the cap on her head, and then brushed the cap off; then, delicately, with its tip, he lifted her chin that she might look at him.
“Forgive me, Master,” said Elizabeth Cardwell.
Slave girls, on Gor, address all free men as master, though, of course, only one such would be her true master.
I was pleased with how well, in the past months, Elizabeth had done with the language. Of course, Kamchak had rented three Turian girls, slaves, to train her; they had done so, binding her wrists and leading her about the wagons, teaching her the words for things, beating her with switches when she made mistakes; Elizabeth had learned quickly. She was an intelligent girl.
It had been hard for Elizabeth Cardwell, particularly the first weeks. It is not an easy transition to make, that from a bright, lovely young secretary in a pleasant, fluorescently lit, air-conditioned office on Madison Avenue in New York City — to a slave girl in the wagon of Tuchuk warrior.
When her interrogation had been completed, and she had collapsed on the dais of Kutaituchik, crying out in misery “La Kajira. La Kajira!” Kamchak had folded her, still weeping, clad in the Sirik, in the richness of the pelt of the red larl in which she had originally been placed before us.
As I had followed him from the dais I had seen Kutaituchik, the interview ended, absently reaching into the small golden box of kanda strings, his eyes slowly beginning to close.
Kamchak, that night, chained Elizabeth Cardwell in his wagon, rather than beneath it to the wheel, running a short length of chain from a slave ring set in the floor of the wagon box to the collar of her Sirik. He had then carefully wrapped her, shivering and weeping, in the pelt of the red larl.
She lay there, trembling and moaning, surely on the verge of hysteria. I was afraid the next phase of her condition would be one of numbness, shock, perhaps of refusal to believe what had befallen her, madness.
Kamchak had looked at me. He was genuinely puzzled by what he regarded as her unusual emotional reactions. He was, of course, aware that no girl, Gorean or otherwise, could be expected to take lightly a sudden reduction to an abject and complete slavery, particularly considering what that would mean among the wagons.
He did, however, regard Miss Cardwell’s responses as rather peculiar, and somewhat reprehensible. Once he got up and kicked her with his furred boot, telling her to be quiet. She did not, of course, understand Gorean, but his intention and his impatience were sufficiently clear to preclude the necessity of a translation. She stopped moaning, but she continued to shiver, and sometimes she sobbed. I saw him take a slave whip from the wall and approach her, and then turn back and replace it on the wall. I was surprised that he had not used it, and wondered why. I was pleased that he had not beaten her, for I might have interfered. I tried to talk to Kamchak and help him to understand the shock that the girl had undergone, the total alteration of her life and circumstances, unexplained — finding herself alone on the prairie, the Tuchuks, the capture, the return to the Wagons, her examination in the grassy avenue, the Sirik, the interrogation, the threat of execution, then the fact, difficult for her to grasp, of being literally an owned slave girl. I tried to explain to Kamchak that her old world had not prepared her for these things, for the slaveries of her old world are of a different kind, more subtle and invisible, thought by some not even to exist.
Kamchak said nothing, but then he got up and from a chest in the wagon he took forth a goblet and filled it with an amber fluid, into which he shook a dark, bluish powder. He then took Elizabeth Cardwell in his left arm and with his right hand gave her the drink. Her eyes were frightened, but she drank. In a few moments she was asleep.
Once or twice that night, to Kamchak’s annoyance and my own loss of sleep, she screamed, jerking at the chain, but we discovered that she had not awakened.
I supposed that on the morrow Kamchak would call for the Tuchuk Iron Master, to brand what he called his little barbarian; the brand of the Tuchuk slave, incidentally, is not the same as that generally used in the cities, which for girls, is the first letter of the expression Kajira in cursive script, but the sign of the four bosk horns, that of the Tuchuk standard; the brand of the four bosk horns, set in such a manner as to somewhat resemble the letter “H,” is only about an inch high; the common Gorean brand, on the other hand, is usually an inch and a half to two inches high; the brand of the four bosk horns, of course, is also used to mark the bosk of the Tuchuks, but there, of course, it is much larger, forming roughly a six-inch square; following the branding, I supposed that Kamchak would have one of the tiny nose rings affixed; all Tuchuk females, slave or free, wear such rings; after these things there would only remain, of course, an engraved Turian collar and the clothing of Elizabeth Cardwell Kajir.
In the morning I awakened to find Elizabeth sitting, red-eyed, at the side of the wagon, leaning back against one of the poles that supported the wagon hides, wrapped in the pelt of the red larl.
She looked at me. “I’m hungry,” she said.
My heart leaped. The girl was stronger than I had thought. I was very pleased. On the dais of Kutaituchik I had feared that she might not be able to survive, that she was too weak for the world of Gor. I had been troubled that the shock of her radical transposition between worlds, coupled with her reduction to servitude, might disarrange her mind, might shatter her and make her worthless to the Tuchuks, who might then have simply cast her to the kaiila and herd sleen. I saw now, however, that Elizabeth Cardwell was strong, that she would not go mad, that she was determined to live.
“Kamchak of the Tuchuks is your master,” I said. “He will eat first. Afterward, if he chooses, you will be fed.”
She leaned back against the wagon pole. “All right,” she said.
When Kamchak rolled out of his furs Elizabeth, involuntarily, shrank back, until the pole would permit her to withdraw no further.
Kamchak looked at me. “How is the little barbarian this morning?” he asked.
“Hungry,” I said.
“Excellent,” he said.
He looked at her, her back tight against the wagon pole, clutching the pelt of the larl about her with her braceleted hands.
She was, of course, different from anything he had ever owned. She was his first barbarian. He did not know exactly what to make of her. He was used to girls whose culture had prepared them for the very real possibility of slavery, though perhaps not a slavery as abject as that of being a wench of Tuchuks. The Gorean girl is, even if free, accustomed to slavery; she will perhaps own one or more slaves herself; she knows that she is weaker than men and what this can mean; she knows that cities fall and caravans are plundered; she knows she might even, by a sufficiently bold warrior, be captured in her own quarters and, bound and hooded, be carried on tarnback over the walls of her own city. Moreover, even if she is never enslaved, she is familiar with the duties of slaves and what is expected of them; if she should be enslaved she will know, on the whole, what is expected of her, what is permitted her and what is not; moreover, the Gorean girl is literally educated, fortunately or not, to the notion that it is of great importance to know how to please men; accordingly, even girls who will be free companions, and never slaves, learn the preparation and serving of exotic dishes, the arts of walking, and standing and being beautiful, the care of a man’s equipment, the love dances of their city, and so on. Elizabeth Cardwell, of course, knew nothing of these things. I was forced to admit that she was, on almost all counts, pretty much what Kamchak thought — a little barbarian. But, to be sure, a very pretty little barbarian.
Kamchak snapped his fingers and pointed to the rug, Elizabeth then knelt to him, clutching the pelt about her, and put her head to his feet.
She was slave.
To my surprise Kamchak, for no reason that he explained to me, did not clothe Elizabeth Cardwell Kajir, much to the irritation of other slave girls about the camp. Moreover, he did not brand her, nor fix in her nose the tiny golden ring of the Tuchuk women, nor did he even, incomprehensibly, put her in the Turian collar. He did not permit her, of course, to bind or dress her hair; it must be worn loose; that alone, naturally, was sufficient to mark her slave among the wagons.
For clothing he permitted her to cut and sew, as well as she could, a sleeveless garment from the pelt of the red larl. She did not sew well and it amused me to hear her cursing at the side of the wagon, bound now only by a collar and chain to the slave ring, time after time sticking the bone needle into her fingers as it emerged through the hide, or fouling the leather-threaded stitches, which would either be too tight, wrinkling and bunching the fur, or too loose, exposing what might eventually lie beneath it. I gathered that girls such as Elizabeth Cardwell, used to buying machine-made, presewn garments on Earth, were not as skilled as they might be in certain of the homely crafts which used to be associated with homemaking, crafts which might, upon occasion, it seemed, come in handy.
At last she had finished the garment, and Kamchak unchained her that she might rise and put it on.
Not surprisingly, but to my amusement, I noted that it hung several inches below her knees, indeed, only about four inches or so above her ankles. Kamchak took one look and, with a quiva, shortened it considerably, indeed, until it hung even more briefly than had the quite short, delightful yellow shift in which she had been captured.
“But it was the length of the leather dresses of the Tuchuk women,” Elizabeth had dared to protest.
“But you are slave,” had said Kamchak.
I translated his remark.
She dropped her head, defeated.
Miss Cardwell had slim, lovely legs. Kamchak, a man, had desired to see them. Besides being a man, of course, Kamchak was her master; he owned the wench; thus he would have his desire. I will admit, if need be, that I was not displeased with his action. I did not particularly mind the sight of the lovely Miss Cardwell moving about the wagon.
Kamchak made her walk back and forth once or twice, and spoke to her rather sharply about her posture, then, to the surprise of both Miss Cardwell and myself, he did not chain her, but told her she might walk about the camp unattended, warning her only to return before dusk and the release of the herd sleen. She dropped her head shyly, and smiled, and sped from the wagon. I was pleased to see her that much free.
“You like her?” I asked.
Kamchak grinned. “She is only a little barbarian,” he said. Then he looked at me. “It is Aphris of Turia I want,” he said.
I wondered who she might be.
On the whole, it seemed to me that Kamchak treated his little barbarian slave notably well, considering that he was Tuchuk. This does not mean that she was not worked hard, nor that she did not receive a good drubbing now and then, but, on the whole, considering the normal lot of a Tuchuk slave girl, I do not think she was ill used. Once, it might be noted, she returned from searching for fuel with the dung sack, dragging behind her, only half full. “It is all I could find,” she told Kamchak. He then, without ceremony, thrust her head first into the sack and tied it shut. He released her the next morning. Elizabeth Cardwell never again brought a half-filled dung sack to the wagon of Kamchak of the Tuchuks.
Now the Kassar, mounted on his kaiila, his lance under the tip of the girl’s chin, who knelt before him, looking up at him, suddenly laughed and removed the lance.
I breathed a sign of relief.
He rode his kaiila to Kamchak. “What do you want for your pretty little barbarian slave?” he asked.
“She is not for sale,” said Kamchak.
“Will you wager for her?” pressed the rider. He was Albrecht of the Kassars, and, with Conrad of the Kassars, had been riding against myself and Kamchak.
My heart sank.
Kamchak’s eyes gleamed. He was Tuchuk. “What are your terms?” he asked.
“On the outcome of the sport,” he said, and then pointed to two girls, both his, standing to the left in their furs, “against those two.” The other girls were both Turian. They were not barbarians. Both were lovely. Both were, doubtless, well skilled in the art of pleasing the fancy of warriors of the Wagon Peoples.
Conrad, hearing the wager of Albrecht, snorted derisively.
“No,” cried Albrecht, “I am serious!”
“Done!” cried Kamchak.
Watching us there were a few children, some men, some slave girls. As soon as Kamchak had agreed to Albrecht’s proposal the children and several of the slave girls immediately began to rush toward the wagons, delightedly crying “Wager! Wager!”
Soon, to my dismay, a large number of Tuchuks, male and female, and their male or female slaves, began to gather near the worn lane on the turf. The terms of the wager were soon well known. In the crowd, as well as Tuchuks and those of the Tuchuks, there were some Kassars, a Paravaci or two, even one of the Kataii. The slave girls in the crowd seemed particularly excited. I could hear bets being taken. The Tuchuks, not too unlike Goreans generally, are fond of gambling. Indeed, it is not unknown that a Tuchuk will bet his entire stock of bosk on the outcome of a single kaiila race; as many as a dozen slave girls may change hands on something as small as the direction that a bird will fly or the number of seeds in a tospit.
The two girls of Albrecht were standing to one side, their eyes shining, trying not to smile with pleasure. Some of the girls in the crowd looked enviously on them. It is a great honour to a girl to stand as a stake in Tuchuk gambling. To my amazement Elizabeth Cardwell, too, seemed rather pleased with the whole thing, though for what reason I could scarcely understand. She came over to me and looked up. She stood on tiptoes in her furred boots and held the stirrup. “You will win,” she said.
I wished that I was as confident as she.
I was second rider to Kamchak, as Albrecht was to Conrad, he of the Kassars, the Blood People.
There is a priority of honour involved in being first rider, but points scored are the same by either rider, depending on his performance. The first rider is, commonly, as one might expect, the more experienced, skilled rider.
In the hour that followed I rejoiced that I had spent much of the last several months, when not riding with Kamchak in the care of his bosk, in the pleasant and, to a warrior, satisfying activity of learning Tuchuk weaponry, both of the hunt and war. Kamchak was a skilled instructor in these matters and, freely, hours at a time, until it grew too dark to see, supervised my practice with such fierce tools as the lance, the quiva and bola. I learned as well the rope and bow. The bow, of course, small, for use from the saddle, lacks the range and power of the Gorean longbow or crossbow; still, at close range, with considerable force, firing rapidly, arrow after arrow, it is a fearsome weapon. I was most fond, perhaps, of the balanced saddle knife, the quiva; it is about a foot in length, double edged; it tapers to a dagger like point. I acquired, I think, skill in its use. At forty feet I could strike a thrown tospit; at one hundred feet I could strike a layered boskhide disk, about four inches in width, fastened to a lance thrust in the turf.
Kamchak had been pleased.
I, too, naturally had been pleased.
But if I had indeed acquired skills with those fierce articles, such skills, in the current contests, were to be tested to the utmost.
As the day grew late points were accumulated, but, to the zest and frenzy of the crowd, the lead in these contests of arms shifted back and forth, first being held by Kamchak and myself, then by Conrad and Albrecht.
In the crowd, on the back of a kaiila, I noted the girl Hereena, of the First Wagon, whom I had seen my first day in the camp of the Tuchuks, she who had almost ridden down Kamchak and myself between the wagons. She was a very exciting, vital, proud girl and the tiny golden nose ring, against her brownish skin, with her flashing black eyes, did not detract from her considerable but rather insolent beauty. She, and others like her, had been encouraged and spoiled from childhood in all their whims, unlike most other Tuchuk women, that they might be fit prizes, Kamchak had told me, in the games of Love War. Turian warriors, he told me, enjoy such women, the wild girls of the Wagons. A young man, blondish-haired with blue eyes, unscarred, bumped against the girl’s stirrup in the press of the crowd. She struck him twice with the leather quirt in her hand, sharply, viciously. I could see blood on the side of his neck, where it joins the shoulder.
“Slave!” she hissed.
He looked up angrily. “I am not a slave,” he said. “I am Tuchuk.”
“Turian slave!” she laughed scornfully. “Beneath your furs you wear, I wager, the Kes!”
“I am Tuchuk,” he responded, looking angrily away.
Kamchak had told me of the young man. Among the wagons he was nothing. He did what work he could, helping with the bosk, for a piece of meat from a cooking pot. He was called Harold, which is not a Tuchuk name, nor a name used among the Wagon Peoples, though it is similar to some of the Kassar names. It was an English name, but such are not unknown on Gor, having been passed down, perhaps, for more than a thousand years, the name of an ancestor, perhaps brought to Gor by Priest-Kings in what might have been the early Middle Ages of Earth. I knew the Voyages of Acquisition were of even much greater antiquity. I had determined, of course, to my satisfaction, having spoken with him once, that the boy, or young man, was indeed Gorean; his people and their people before them and as far back as anyone knew had been, as it is said, of the Wagons. The problem of the young man, and perhaps the reason that he had not yet won even the Courage Scar of the Tuchuks, was that he had fallen into the hands of Turian raiders in his youth and had spent several years in the city; in his adolescence he had, at great risk to himself, escaped from the city and made his way with great hardships across the plains to rejoin his people; they, of course, to his great disappointment, had not accepted him, regarding him as more Turian than Tuchuk. His parents and people had been slain in the Turian raid in which he had been captured, so he had no kin. There had been, fortunately for him, a Year Keeper who had recalled the family. Thus he had not been slain but had been allowed to remain with the Tuchuks. He did not have his own wagon or his own bosk. He did not even own a kaiila. He had armed himself with cast-off weapons, with which he practiced in solitude. None of those, however, who led raids on enemy caravans or sorties against the city and its outlying fields, or retaliated upon their neighbours in the delicate matters of bosk stealing, would accept him in their parties. He had, to their satisfaction, demonstrated his prowess with weapons, but they would laugh at him. “You do not even own a kaiila,” they would say. “You do not even wear the Courage Scar.” I supposed that the young man would never be likely to wear the scar, without which, among the stern, cruel Tuchuks, he would be the continuous object of scorn, ridicule and contempt. Indeed, I knew that some among the wagons, the girl Hereena, for example, who seemed to bear him a great dislike, had insisted that he, though free, be forced to wear the Kes or the dress of a woman. Such would have been a great joke among the Tuchuks.
I dismissed the girl, Hereena, and the young man, Harold, from my mind.
Albrecht was rearing on his kaiila, loosening the bola at his saddle.
“Remove your furs,” he instructed his two girls.
Immediately they did so and, in spite of the brisk, bright chilly afternoon, they stood in the grass, clad Kajir,
They would run for us.
Kamchak raced his kaiila over to the edge of the crowd, entering into swift negotiation with a warrior, one whose wagon followed ours in the march of the Tuchuks. Indeed, it had been from that warrior that Kamchak had rented the girls who had dragged Elizabeth Cardwell about the wagons, teaching her Gorean with thong and switch. I saw a flash of copper, perhaps a tarn disk from one of the distant cities, and one of the warrior’s girls, an attractive Turian wench, Tuka, began to remove her fur.
She would run for one of the Kassars, doubtless Conrad.
Tuka, I knew, hated Elizabeth, and Elizabeth, I knew, reciprocated the emotion with vehemence. Tuka, in the matter of teaching Elizabeth the language, had been especially cruel. Elizabeth, bound, could not resist and did she try, Tuka’s companions, the others of her wagon, would leap upon her with their switches flailing. Tuka, for her part, understandably had reason to envy and resent the young American slave. Elizabeth Cardwell, at least until now, had escaped, as Tuka had not, the brand, the nose ring and collar. Elizabeth was clearly some sort of favourite in her wagon. Indeed, she was the only girl in the wagon. That alone, though of course it meant she would work very hard, was regarded as a most enviable distinction. Lastly, but perhaps not least, Elizabeth Cardwell had been given for her garment the pelt of a larl, while she, Tuka, must go about the camp like all the others, clad Kajir.
I feared that Tuka would not run well, thus losing us the match, that she would deliberately allow herself to be easily snared.
But then I realized that this was not true. If Kamchak and her master were not convinced that she had run as well as she might, it would not go easily with her. She would have contributed to the victory of a Kassar over a Tuchuk. That night, one of the hooded members of the Clan of Torturers would have come to her wagon and fetched her away, never to be seen again. She would run well, hating Elizabeth or not. She would be running for her life.
Kamchak wheeled his kaiila and joined us. He pointed his lance to Elizabeth Cardwell. “Remove your furs,” he said.
Elizabeth did so and stood before us in the pelt of the larl, with the other girls.
Although it was late in the afternoon the sun was still bright. The air was chilly. There was a bit of wind moving the grass.
A black lance was fixed in the prairie about four hundred yards away. A rider beside it, on a kaiila, marked its place. It was not expected, of course, that any of the girls would reach the lance. If one did, of course, the rider would decree her safe. In the run the important thing was time, the dispatch and the skill with which the thing was accomplished. Tuchuk girls, Elizabeth and Tuka, would run for the Kassars; the two Kassar girls would run for Kamchak and myself; naturally each slave does her best for her master, attempting to evade his competitor.
The time in these matters is reckoned by the heartbeat of a standing kaiila. Already one had been brought. Near the animal, on the turf, a long bosk whip was laid in a circle, having a diameter of somewhere between eight and ten feet. The girl begins her run from the circle. The object of the rider is to effect her capture, secure her and return her, in as little time as possible, to the circle of the whip.
Already a grizzled Tuchuk had his hand, palm flat, on the silken side of the standing kaiila.
Kamchak gestured and Tuka, barefoot, frightened, stepped into the circle.
Conrad freed his bola from the saddle strap. He held in his teeth a boskhide thong, about a yard in length. The saddle of the kaiila, like the tarn saddle, is made in such a way as to accommodate, bound across it, a female captive, rings being fixed on both sides through which binding fibre or thong may be passed. On the other hand, I knew, in this sport no time would be taken for such matters; in a few heartbeats of the kaiila the girl’s wrists and ankles would be lashed together and she would be, without ceremony, slung over the pommel of the saddle, it the stake, her body the ring.
“Run,” said Conrad quietly.
Tuka sped from the circle. The crowd began to cry out, to cheer, urging her on. Conrad, the thong in his teeth, the bola quiet at his side, watched her. She would receive a start of fifteen beats of the great heart of the kaiila, after which she would be about half way to the lance.
The judge, aloud, was counting.
At the count of ten Conrad began to slowly spin the bola. It would not reach its maximum rate of revolution until he was in full gallop, almost on the quarry.
At the count of fifteen, making no sound, not wanting to warn the girl, Conrad spurred the kaiila in pursuit, bola swinging.
The crowd strained to see.
The judge had begun to count again, starting with one, the second counting, which would determine the rider’s time.
The girl was fast and that meant time for us, if only perhaps a beat. She must have been counting to herself because only an instant or so after Conrad had spurred after her she looked over her shoulder, seeing him approaching.
She must then have counted about three beats to herself, and then she began to break her running pattern, moving to one side and the other, making it difficult to approach her swiftly.
“She runs well,” said Kamchak.
Indeed she did, but in an instant I saw the leather flash of the bola, with its vicious, beautiful almost ten-foot sweep, streak toward the girl’s ankles, and I saw her fall.
It was scarcely ten beats and Conrad had bound the struggling, scratching Tuka, slung her about the pommel, raced back, kaiila squealing, and threw the girl, wrists tied to her ankles, to the turf inside the circle of the boskhide whip.
“Thirty,” said the judge.
Tuka, as best she could, squirmed in the bonds, fighting them. Could she free a hand or foot, or even loosen the thong, Conrad would be disqualified.
After a moment or two, the judge said, “Stop,” and Tuka obediently lay quiet. The judge inspected the thongs. “The wench is secured,” he announced.
In terror Tuka looked up at Kamchak, mounted on his kaiila.
“You ran well,” he told her.
She closed her eyes, almost fainting with relief.
She would live.
A Tuchuk warrior slashed apart the thongs with his quiva and Tuka, only too pleased to be free of the circle, leaped up and ran quickly to the side of her master. In a few moments, panting, covered with sweat, she had pulled on her furs.
The next girl, a lithe Kassar girl, stepped into the circle and Kamchak unstrapped his bola. It seemed to me she ran excellently but Kamchak, with his superb skill, snared her easily. To my dismay, as he returned racing toward the circle of the boskhide whip the girl, a fine wench, managed to sink her teeth into the neck of the kaiila causing it to rear squealing and hissing, then striking at her. By the time Kamchak had cuffed the girl from the animal’s neck and struck the kaiila’s snapping jaws from her twice-bitten leg and returned to the circle, he had used thirty-five beats.
He had lost.
When the girl was released, her leg bleeding, she was beaming with pleasure.
“Well done,” said Albrecht, her master, adding with a grin, “— for a Turian slave.”
The girl looked down, smiling.
She was a brave girl. I admired her. It was easy to see that she was bound to Albrecht the Kassar by more than a length of slave chain.
At a gesture from Kamchak Elizabeth Cardwell stepped into the circle of the whip.
She was now frightened. She, and I as well, had supposed that Kamchak would be victorious over Conrad. Had he been so, even were I defeated by Albrecht, as I thought likely, the points would have been even. Now, if I lost as well, she would be a Kassar wench.
Albrecht was grinning, swinging the bola lightly, not in a circle but in a gentle pendulum motion, beside the stirrup of the kaiila.
He looked at her. “Run,” he said.
Elizabeth Cardwell, barefoot, in the larl’s pelt, streaked for the black lance in the distance.
She had perhaps observed the running of Tuka and the Kassar girl, trying to watch and learn, but she was of course utterly inexperienced in this cruel sport of the men of the wagons. She had not, for example, timed her counting, for long hours, under the tutelage of a master, against the heartbeat of a kaiila, he keeping the beat but not informing her what it was, until she had called the beat. Some girls of the Wagon Peoples in fact, incredible though it seems, are trained exhaustively in the art of evading the bola, and such a girl is worth a great deal to a master, who uses her in wagering. One of the best among the wagons I had heard was a Kassar slave, a swift Turian wench whose name was Dina. She had run in actual competition more than two hundred times; almost always she managed to interfere with and postpone her return to the circle; and forty times, an incredible feat, she had managed to reach the lance itself.
At the count of fifteen, with incredible speed, Albrecht, bola now whirling, spurred silently after the fleeing Elizabeth Cardwell. She had misjudged the heartbeat or had not understood the swiftness of the kaiila, never having before observed it from the unenviable point of view of a quarry, because when she turned to see if her hunter had left the vicinity of the circle, he was upon her and as she cried out the bola struck her in an instant binding her legs and throwing her to the turf. It was hardly more than five or six beats, it seemed, before Elizabeth, her wrists lashed cruelly to her ankles, was thrown to the grass at the judge’s feet.
“Twenty-five!” announced the judge.
There was a cheer from the crowd, which, though largely composed of Tuchuks, relished a splendid performance.
Weeping Elizabeth jerked and pulled at the thongs restraining her, helpless.
The judge inspected the bonds. “The wench is secured,” he said.
“Rejoice, Little Barbarian,” said Albrecht, “tonight in Pleasure Silk you will dance the Chain Dance for Kassar Warriors.”
The girl turned her head to one side, shuddering in the thongs. A cry of misery escaped her.
“Be silent,” said Kamchak.
Elizabeth was silent and, fighting her tears; lay quietly waiting to be freed.
I cut the thongs from her wrists and ankles.
“I tried,” she said, looking up at me, tears in her eyes. “I tried.”
“Some girls,” I told her, “have run from the bola more than a hundred times. Some are trained to do so.”
“Do you concede?” Conrad asked Kamchak.
“No,” said Kamchak. “My second rider must ride.”
“He is not even of the Wagon Peoples,” said Conrad.
“Nonetheless,” said Kamchak, “he will ride.”
“He will not beat twenty-five,” said Conrad.~
Kamchak shrugged. I knew myself that twenty-five was a remarkable time. Albrecht was a fine rider and skilled in this sport and, of course, this time, his quarry had been only an untrained barbarian slave, indeed, a girl who had never before run from the bola.
“To the circle,” said Albrecht, to the other Kassar girl.
She was a beauty.
She stepped to the circle quickly, throwing her head back, breathing deeply.
She was an intelligent looking girl.
Her ankles, I noted, were a bit sturdier than are thought desirable in a slave girl. They had withstood the shock of her body weight many times I gathered, in quick turnings, in leaps.
I wished that I had seen her run before, because most girls will have a running pattern, even in their dodging which, if you have seen it, several times, you can sense. Nothing simple, but something that, somehow, you can anticipate, if only to a degree. It is probably the result of gathering, from their running, how they think; then one tries to think with them and thus meet them with the bola. She was now breathing deeply, regularly. Prior to her entering the circle I had seen her moving about in the background, running a bit, loosening her legs, speeding the circulation of her blood.
It was my guess that this was not the first time she had run from the bola.
“If you win for us,” Albrecht said to her, grinning down from the saddle of the kaiila, “this night you will be given a silver bracelet and five yards of scarlet silk.”
“I will win for you, Master,” she said.
I thought that a bit arrogant for a slave.
Albrecht looked at me. “This wench,” he said, “has never been snared in less than thirty-two beats.”
I noted a flicker pass through the eyes of Kamchak, but he seemed otherwise impassive.
“She is an excellent runner,” I said.
The girl laughed.
Then, to my surprise, she looked at me boldly, though wearing the Turian collar; though she wore the nose ring; though she were only a branded slave clad Kajir.
“I wager,” she said, “that I will reach the lance.”
This irritated me. Moreover, I was not insensitive to the fact that though she were slave and I a free man, she had not addressed me, as the custom is, by the title of Master. I had no objection to the omission itself, but I did object to the affront therein implied. For some reason this wench seemed to me rather arrogant, rather contemptuous.
“I wager that you do not,” I said.
“Your terms!” she challenged.
“What are yours?” I asked.
She laughed. “If I win,” she said, “you give me your bola, which I will present to my master.”
“Agreed,” I said. “And if I should win?”
“You will not,” she said.
“But if so?”
“Then,” said she, “I will give you a golden ring and a silver cup.”
“How is it that a slave has such riches?” I asked.
She tossed her head in the air, not deigning to respond.
“I have given her several such things,” said Albrecht.
I now gathered that the girl facing me was not a typical slave, and that there must be a very good reason why she should have such things.
“I do not want your golden ring and silver cup,” I said.
“What then could you want?” asked she.
“Should I win,” I said, “I will claim as my prize the kiss of an insolent wench.”
“Tuchuk sleen!” she cried, eyes flashing.
Conrad and Albrecht laughed. Albrecht said to the girl, “It is permitted.”
“Very well, he-tharlarion,” said the girl, “your bola against a kiss.” Her shoulders were trembling with rage. “I will show you how a Kassar girl can run!”
“You think well of yourself,” I remarked. “You are not a Kassar girl — you are only a Turian slave of Kassars.”
Her fists clenched.
In fury she looked at Albrecht and Conrad. “I will run as I have never run before,” she cried.
My heart sank a bit. I recalled Albrecht had said that the girl had never been snared in less than thirty-two beats. Then she had doubtless run from the bola several times before, perhaps as many as ten or fifteen.
“I gather,” I said to Albrecht, casually, “that the girl has run several times.”
“Yes,” said Albrecht, “that is true.” Then he added, “You may have heard of her. She is Dina of Turia.”
Conrad and Albrecht slapped their saddles and laughed uproariously. Kamchak laughed, too, so hard tears ran down the scarred furrows of his face. He pointed a finger at Conrad. “Wily Kassar!” he laughed. This was a joke. Even I had to smile. The Tuchuks were commonly called the Wily Ones. But, though the moment might have been amusing to those of the Wagon Peoples, even to Kamchak, I was not prepared to look on the event with such good humour. It might have been a good trick, but I was in no state of mind to relish it. How cleverly Conrad had pretended to mock Albrecht when he had bet two girls against one. Little did we know that one of those girls was Dina of Turia, who, of course, would run not for the skilled Kamchak, but for his awkward friend, the clumsy Tarl Cabot, not even of the Wagon Peoples, new to the kaiila and bola! Conrad and Albrecht had perhaps even come to the camp of the Tuchuks with this in mind. Undoubtedly! What could they lose? Nothing. The best that we might have hoped for was a tie, had Kamchak beaten Conrad. But he had not; the fine little Turian wench who had been able to bite the neck of the kaiila, thereby risking her life incidentally, had seen to that. Albrecht and Conrad had come for a simple purpose, to best a Tuchuk and, in the process, pick up a girl or two; Elizabeth Cardwell, of course, was the only one we had on hand.
Even the Turian girl, Dina, perhaps the best slave among all the wagons in this sport, was laughing, hanging on the stirrup of Albrecht, looking up at him. I noted that his kaiila was within the whip circle, within which the girl stood. Her feet were off the ground and she had the side of her head pressed against his furred boot.
“Run,” I said.
She cried out angrily, as did Albrecht, and Kamchak laughed. “Run, you little fool,” shouted Conrad. The girl had released the stirrup and her feet struck the ground. She was off balance but righted herself and with an angry cry she sped from the circle. By surprising her I had gained perhaps ten or fifteen yards.
I took the binding thong from my belt and put it in my teeth.
I began to swing the bola.
To my amazement, as I swung the bola in ever faster circles, never taking my eyes off her, she broke the straight running pattern only about fifty yards from the whip circle, and began to dodge, moving always, however, toward the lance. This puzzled me. Surely she had not miscounted, not Dina of Turia. As the judge counted aloud I observed the pattern, two left, then a long right to compensate, moving toward the lance; two left, then right; two left, then right.
“Fifteen!” called the judge, and I streaked on kailla back from the circle of the boskhide whip.
I rode at full speed, for there was not a beat to lose. Even if by good fortune I managed to tie Albrecht, Elizabeth would still belong to the Kassars, for Conrad had a clear win over Kamchak. It is dangerous, of course, to approach any but a naive, straight-running, perhaps terrified, girl at full speed, for should she dodge or move to one side, one will have to slow the kaiila to turn it after her, lest one be carried past her too rapidly, even at the margins of bola range. But I could judge Dina’s run, two left, one right, so I set the kaiila running at full speed for what would seem to be the unwilling point of rendezvous between Dina and the leather of the bola. I was surprised at the simplicity of her pattern. I wondered how it could be that such a girl had never been taken in less than thirty-two beats, that she had reached the lance forty times.
I would release the bola in another beat as she took her second sprint to the left.
Then I remembered the intelligence of her eyes, her confidence, that never had she been taken in less than thirty-two beats, that she had reached the lance forty times. Her skills must be subtle, her timing marvellous.
I released the bola, risking all, hurling it not to the expected rendezvous of the second left but to a first right, unexpected, the first break in the two-left, one-right pattern. I heard her startled cry as the weighted leather straps flashed about her thighs, calves and ankles, in an instant lashing them together as tightly as though by binding fibre. Hardly slackening speed I swept past the girl, turned the kaiila to face her, and again kicked it into a full gallop. I briefly saw a look of utter astonishment on her beautiful face. Her hands were out, trying instinctively to maintain her balance; the bola weights were still snapping about her ankles in tiny, angry circles; in an instant she would fall to the grass; racing past I seized her by the hair and threw her over the saddle; scarcely did she comprehend what was happening before she found herself my prisoner, while yet the kaiila did still gallop, bound about the pommel of the saddle. I had not taken even the time to dismount. Only perhaps a beat or two before the kaiila leapt into the circle had I finished the knots that confined her. I threw her to the turf at the judge’s feet.
The judge, and the crowd, seemed speechless.
“Time!” called Kamchak.
The judge looked startled, as though he could not believe what he had seen. He took his hand from the side of the standing kaiila.
“Time!” called Kamchak.
The judge looked at him. “Seventeen,” he whispered.
The crowd was silent, then, suddenly, as unexpectedly as a clap of thunder, they began to roar and cheer
Kamchak was thumping a very despondent looking Conrad and Albrecht on the shoulders.
I looked down at Dina of Turia. Looking at me in rage, she began to pull and squirm in the thongs, twisting in the grass.
The judge allowed her to do so for perhaps a few Ihn, maybe thirty seconds or so, then he inspected her bonds. He stood up a smile on his face. “The wench is secured,” he said.
There was another great cry and cheer from the crowd. They were mostly Tuchuks, and were highly pleased with what they had seen, but I saw, too, that even the Kassars and the one or two Paravaci present and the Kataii were unstinting in their acclaim. The crowd had gone mad.
Elizabeth Cardwell was leaping up and down clapping her hands.
I looked down at Dina, who lay at my feet, now no longer struggling.
I removed the bola from her legs.
With my quiva I slashed the thong on her ankles, permitting her to struggle to her feet.
She stood facing me, clad Kajir, her wrists still thonged behind her.
I refastened the bola at my saddle. “I keep my bola, it seems,” I said.
She tried to free her wrists, but could not, of course, do so.
Helpless she stood waiting for me.
I then took Dina of Turia in my arms and, at some length, and with a certain admitted satisfaction, collected my winnings. Because she had annoyed me the kiss that was hers was that of master to a slave girl; yet was I patient because the kiss itself was not enough; I was not satisfied until, despite herself, I read in my arms her body’s sudden, involuntary admission that I had conquered. “Master,” she said, her eyes glazed, too weak to struggle against the thongs that encircled her wrists. With a cheerful slap I sped her back to Albrecht, who, angry, with the tip of his lance, severed the bonds that had confined her. Kamchak was laughing, and Conrad as well. And, too, many in the crowd. Elizabeth Cardwell, however, to my surprise, seemed furious. She had pulled on her furs. When I looked at her, she looked away, angrily.
I wondered what was the matter with her.
Had I not saved her?
Were not the points between Kamchak and I, and Conrad and Albrecht even?
Was she not safe and the match at an end?
“The score is tied,” said Kamchak, “and the wager is concluded. There is no winner.”
“Agreed,” said Conrad.
“No,” said Albrecht.
We looked at him.
“Lance and tospit,” he said.
“The match is at an end,” I said.
“There is no winner,” protested Albrecht.
“That is true,” said Kamchak.
“There must be a winner,” said Albrecht.
“I have ridden enough for today,” said Kamchak.
“I, too,” said Conrad. “Let us return to our wagons.”
Albrecht pointed his lance at me. “You are challenged,” he said. “Lance and tospit.”
“We have finished with that,” I said.
“The living wand!” shouted Albrecht.
Kamchak sucked in his breath.
Several in the crowd shouted out, “The living wand!”
I looked at Kamchak. I saw in his eyes that the challenge must be accepted. In this matter I must be Tuchuk.
Save for armed combat, lance and tospit with the living wand is the most dangerous of the sports of the Wagon Peoples.
In this sport, as might be expected, one’s own slave must stand for one. It is essentially the same sport as lancing the tospit from the wand, save that the fruit is held in the mouth of a girl, who is slain should she move or in any way withdraw from the lance.
Needless to say many a slave girl has been injured in this cruel sport.
“I do not want to stand for him!” cried out Elizabeth Cardwell.
“Stand for him, Slave,” snarled Kamchak.
Elizabeth Cardwell took her position, standing sideways, the tospit held delicately between her teeth.
For some reason she did not seem afraid but rather, to my mind, incomprehensibly infuriated. She should have been shuddering with terror. Instead she seemed indignant.
But she stood like a rock and when I thundered past her the tip of my lance had been thrust through the tospit.
The girl who had bitten the neck of the kaiila, and whose leg had been torn by its teeth, stood for Albrecht.
With almost scornful ease he raced past her lifting the tospit from her mouth with the tip of his lance.
“Three points for each,” announced the judge.
“We are finished,” I said to Albrecht. “It is a tie. There is no winner.”
He held his saddle on his rearing kaiila. “There will be a winner!” he cried. “Facing the lance!”
“I will not ride,” I said.
“I claim victory and the woman” shouted Albrecht.
“It will be his,” said the judge, “if you do not ride.”
I would ride.
Elizabeth, unmoving, faced me, some fifty yards away.
This is the most difficult of the lance sports. The thrust must be made with exquisite lightness, the lance loose in the hand, the hand not in the retaining thong, but allowing the lance to slip back, then when clear, moving it to the left and, hopefully, past the living wand. If well done, this is a delicate and beautiful stroke. If clumsily done the girl will be scarred, or perhaps slain.
Elizabeth stood facing me, not frightened, but seemingly rather put upon. Her fists were even clenched.
I hoped that she would not be injured. When she had stood sideways I had favoured the left, so that if the stroke was in error, the lance would miss the tospit altogether; but now, as she faced me, the stroke must be made for the centre of the fruit; nothing else would do.
The gait of the kaiila was swift and even.
A cry went up from the crowd as I passed Elizabeth, the tospit on the point of the lance.
Warriors were pounding on the lacquered shields with their lances. Men shouted. I heard the thrilled cries of slave girls.
I turned to see Elizabeth waver, and almost faint, but she did not do so.
Albrecht the Kassar, angry, lowered his lance and set out for his girl.
In an instant he had passed her, the tospit riding the lance tip.
The girl was standing perfectly still, smiling.
The crowd cheered as well for Albrecht.
Then they were quiet, for the judge was rushing to the lance of Albrecht, demanding it.
Albrecht the Kassar, puzzled, surrendered the weapon.
“There is blood on the weapon,” said the judge.
“She was not touched,” cried Albrecht.
“I was not touched!” cried the girl.
The judge showed the point of the lance. There was a tiny stain of blood at its tip, and too there was a smear of blood on the skin of the small yellowish-white fruit.
“Open your mouth, slave,” demanded the judge.
The girl shook her head.
“Do it,” said Albrecht.
She did so and the judge, holding her teeth apart roughly with his hands, peered within. There was blood in her mouth. The girl had been swallowing it, rather than show she had been struck.
It seemed to me she was a brave, fine girl.
It was with a kind of shock that I suddenly realized that she, and Dina of Turia, now belonged to Kamchak and myself.
The two girls, while Elizabeth Cardwell looked on angrily, knelt before Kamchak and myself, lowering their heads, lifting and extending their arms, wrists crossed. Kamchak, chuckling, leaped down from his kaiila and quickly, with binding fibre, bound their wrists. He then put a leather thong on the neck of each and tied the free ends to the pommel of his saddle. Thus secured, the girls knelt beside the paws of his kaiila. I saw Dina of Turia look at me. In her eyes, soft with tears, I read the timid concession that I was her master.
“I do not know what we need with all these slaves,” Elizabeth Cardwell was saying.
“Be silent,” said Kamchak, “or you will be branded.”
Elizabeth Cardwell, for some reason, looked at me in fury, rather than Kamchak. She threw back her head, her little nose in the air, her brown hair bouncing on her shoulders.
Then for no reason I understood, I took binding fibre and bound her wrists before her body, and, as Kamchak had done with the other girls, put a thong on her neck and tied it to the pommel of my saddle.
It was perhaps my way of reminding her, should she forget, that she too was a slave.
“Tonight, Little Barbarian,” said Kamchak, winking at her, “you will sleep chained under the wagon.”
Elizabeth stifled a cry of rage.
Then Kamchak and I, on kaiila-back, made our way back to our wagon, leading the bound girls.
“The Season of Little Grass is upon us,” said Kamchak. “Tomorrow the herds will move toward Turia.”
I nodded. The Wintering was done. There would now be the third phase of the Omen Year, the Return to Turia. It was now, perhaps, I hoped, that I might learn the answer to the riddles which had not ceased to disturb me, that I might learn the answer to the mystery of the message collar, perhaps the answer to the numerous mysteries which had attended it, and perhaps, at last, find some clue, as I had not yet with the wagons, to the whereabouts or fate of the doubtless golden spheroid that was or had been the last egg of Priest-Kings.
“I will take you to Turia,” said Kamchak.
“Good,” I said.
I had enjoyed the Wintering, but now it was done. The bosk were moving south with the coming of the spring. I and the wagons would go with them.
APHRIS OF TURIA
There was little doubt that I, in the worn, red tunic of a warrior, and Kamchak, in the black leather of the Tuchuks, seemed somewhat out of place at the banquet of Saphrar, merchant of Turia.
“It is the spiced brain of the Torian vulo,” Saphrar was explaining.
It was somewhat surprising to me that Kamchak and I, being in our way ambassadors of the Wagon Peoples, were entertained in the house of Saphrar, the merchant, rather than in the palace of Phanius Turmus, Administrator of Turia. Kamchak’s explanation was reasonably satisfying. There were apparently two reasons, the official reason and the real reason. The official reason, proclaimed by Phanius Turmus, the Administrator, and others high in the government, was that those of the Wagon Peoples were unworthy to be entertained in the administrative palace; the real reason, apparently seldom proclaimed by anyone, was that the true power in Turia lay actually with the Caste of Merchants, chief of whom was Saphrar, as it does in many cities. The Administrator, however, would not be uninformed. His presence at the banquet was felt in the person of his plenipotentiary, Kamras, of the Caste of Warriors, a captain, said to be Champion of Turia.
I shot the spiced vulo brain into my mouth on the tip of a golden eating prong, a utensil, as far as I knew, unique to Turia. I took a large swallow of fierce Paga, washing it down as rapidly as possible. I did not much care for the sweet, syrupy wines of Turia, flavoured and sugared to the point where one could almost leave one’s fingerprint on their surface.
It might be mentioned, for those unaware of the fact, that the Caste of Merchants is not considered one of the traditional five High Castes of Gor — the Initiates, Scribes, Physicians, Builders and Warriors. Most commonly, and doubtless unfortunately, it is only members of the five high castes who occupy positions on the High Councils of the cities. Nonetheless, as might be expected, the gold of merchants, in most cities, exercises its not imponderable influence, not always in so vulgar a form as bribery and gratuities, but more often in the delicate matters of extending or refusing to extend credit in connection with the projects, desires or needs of the High Councils. There is a saying on Gor, “Gold has no caste.” It is a saying of which the merchants are fond. Indeed, secretly among themselves, I have heard, they regard themselves as the highest caste on Gor, though they would not say so for fear of rousing the indignation of other castes. There would be something, of course, to be said for such a claim, for the merchants are often indeed in their way, brave, shrewd, skilled men, making long journeys, venturing their goods, risking caravans, negotiating commercial agreements, among themselves developing and enforcing a body of Merchant Law, the only common legal arrangements existing among the Gorean cities. Merchants also, in effect, arrange and administer the four great fairs that take place each year near the Sardar Mountains. I say “in effect” because the fairs are nominally under the direction of a committee of the Caste of Initiates, which, however, largely contents itself with its ceremonies and sacrifices, and is only too happy to delegate the complex management of those vast, commercial phenomena, the Sardar Fairs, to members of the lowly, much-despised Caste of Merchants, without which, incidentally, the fairs most likely could not exist, certainly not at any rate in their current form.
“Now this,” Saphrar the merchant was telling me, “is the braised liver of the blue, four-spired Cosian wingfish.”
This fish is a tiny, delicate fish, blue, about the size of a tarn disk when curled in one’s hand; it has three or four slender spines in its dorsal fin, which are poisonous; it is capable of hurling itself from the water and, for brief distances, on its stiff pectoral fins, gliding through the air, usually to evade the smaller sea-tharlarions, which seem to be immune to the poison of the spines. This fish is also some times referred to as the songfish because, as a portion of its courtship rituals, the males and females thrust their heads from the water and utter a sort of whistling sound.
The blue, four-spired wingfish is found only in the waters of Cos. Larger varieties are found farther out to sea. The small blue fish is regarded as a great delicacy, and its liver as the delicacy of delicacies.
“How is it,” I asked, “that here in Turia you can serve the livers of wingfish?”
“I have a war galley in Port Kar,” said Saphrar the merchant, “which I send to Cos twice a year for the fish.”
Saphrar was a short, fat, pinkish man, with short legs and arms; he had quick bright eyes and a tiny, roundish red-lipped mouth; upon occasion he moved his small, pudgy fingers, with rounded scarlet nails, rapidly, as though rubbing the gloss from a tarn disk or feeling the texture of a fine cloth; his head, like that of many merchants, had been shaved; his eyebrows had been removed and over each eye four golden drops had been fixed in the pinkish skin; he also had two teeth of gold, which were visible when he laughed, the upper canine teeth, probably containing poison; merchants are seldom trained in the use of arms. His right ear had been notched, doubtless in some accident. Such notching, I knew, is usually done to the ears of thieves; a second offence is normally punished by the loss of the right hand; a third offence by the removal of the left hand and both feet. There are few thieves, incidentally, on Gor. I have heard, though, there is a Caste of Thieves in Port Kar, a strong caste which naturally protects its members from such indignities as ear notching. In Saphrar’s case, of course, he being of the Caste of Merchants, the notching of the ear would be a coincidence, albeit one that must have caused him some embarrassment. Saphrar was a pleasant, gracious fellow, a bit indolent perhaps, save for the eyes and rapid fingers. He was surely an attentive and excellent host. I would not have cared to know him better.
“How is it,” I asked, “that a merchant of Turia has a war galley in Port Kar.”
Saphrar reclined on the yellow cushions, behind the low table covered with wines, fruits and golden dishes heaped with delicate viands.
“I did not realize Port Kar was on friendly terms with any of the inland cities,” I said.
“She is not,” said Saphrar.
“Then how?” I asked.
He shrugged. “Gold has no caste,” he said.
I tried the liver of the wingfish. Then another swig of Saga.
“Perhaps,” he suggested, “you would like a piece of roasted bosk meat?”
I replaced the golden eating prong in its rack beside my place, shoved back the glittering dish in which lay several theoretically edible objects, carefully arranged by a slave to resemble a bouquet of wild flowers sprouting from a rock outcropping. “Yes,” I said, “I think so.”
Saphrar conveyed my wishes to the scandalized Feast Steward, and he, with a glare in my direction, sent two young slaves scampering off to scour the kitchens of Turia for a slice of bosk meat.
I looked to one side and saw Kamchak scraping another plate clean, holding it to his mouth, sliding and shoving the carefully structured design of viands into his mouth.
I glanced at Saphrar, who was now leaning on his yellow cushions, in his silken pleasure robes, white and gold, the colours of the Caste of Merchants. Saphrar, eyes closed, was nibbling on a tiny thing, still quivering, which had been impaled on a coloured stick.
I turned away and watched a fire swallower perform to the leaping melodies of the musicians.
“Do not object that we are entertained in the house of Saphrar of the Merchants,” Kamchak had said, “for in Turia power lies with such men.”
I looked down the table a bit at Kamras, plenipotentiary of Phanius Turmus, Administrator of Turia. He was a large-wristed strong man with long, black hair. He sat as a warrior, though in robes of silk. Across his face there were two long scars, perhaps from their delicacy the scars of quiva wounds. He was said to be a great warrior, indeed, to be champion of Turia. He had not spoken with us nor acknowledged our presence at the feast.
“Besides,” Kamchak had told me, nudging me in the ribs, “the food and the entertainment is better in the house of Saphrar than in the palace of Phanius Turmus.”
I would still, I told myself, settle for a piece of bosk meat.
I wondered how the stomach of Kamchak could sustain the delightful injuries he was heaping into it with such gusto. To be sure, it had not. The Turian feast usually consumes the better part of a night and can have as many as a hundred and fifty courses. This would be impractical, naturally, save for the detestable device of the golden bowl and tufted banquet stick, dipped in scented oils, by means of which the diner may, when he wishes, refresh himself and return with eagerness to the feast. I had not made use of this particular tool, and had contented myself with merely taking a bite or two, to satisfy the requirements of etiquette, from each course.
The Turians, doubtless, regarded this as a hopelessly barbarian inhibition on my part.
I had, perhaps, however, drunk too much Paga.
This afternoon Kamchak and I, leading four pack kaiila, had entered the first gate of nine-gated Turia.
On the pack animals were strapped boxes of precious plate, gems, silver vessels, tangles of jewellery, mirrors, rings, combs, and golden tarn disks, stamped with the signs of a dozen cities. These were brought as gifts to the Turians, largely as a rather insolent gesture on the part of the Wagon Peoples, indicating how little they cared for such things, that they would give them to Turians. Turian embassies to the Wagon Peoples, when they occurred, naturally strove to equal or surpass these gifts. Kamchak told me, a sort of secret I gather, that some of the things he carried had been exchanged back and forth a dozen times. One small, flat box, however, Kamchak would not turn over to the stewards of Phanius Turmus, whom he met at the first gate. He insisted on carrying that box with him and, indeed, it rested beside his right knee at the table now.
I was very pleased to enter Turia, for I have always been excited by a new city.
I found Turia to match my expectations. She was luxurious. Her shops were filled with rare, intriguing paraphernalia. I smelled perfumes that I had never smelled before. More than once we encountered a line of musicians dancing single file down the centre of the street, playing on their flutes and drums, perhaps on their way to a feast. I was pleased to see again, though often done in silk, the splendid varieties of caste colours of the typical Gorean city, to hear once more the cries of peddlers that I knew so well, the cake sellers, the hawkers of vegetables, the wine vendor bending under a double verr skin of his vintage. We did not attract as much attention as I had thought we would, and I gathered that every spring, at least, visitors from the Wagon Peoples must come to the city. Many people scarcely glanced at us, in spite of the fact that we were theoretically blood foes. I suppose that life in high-walled Turia, for most of its citizens, went on from day to day in its usual patterns oblivious of the usually distant Wagon Peoples. The city had never fallen, and had not been under siege in more than a century. The average citizen worried about the Wagon Peoples, customarily, only when he was outside the walls. Then, of course, he worried a great deal, and, I grant him, wisely.
One disappointment to me in trekking through the streets of Turia was that a crier advanced before us, calling to the women of the city to conceal themselves, even the female slaves. Thus, unfortunately, save for an occasional furtive pair of dark eyes peering from behind a veil in a recessed casement, we saw in our journey from the gate of the city to the House of Saphrar none of the fabled, silken beauties of Turia.
I mentioned this to Kamchak and he laughed loudly.
He was right, of course. Among the Wagons, clad in a brief bit of cord and leather, branded, wearing nose ring and Turian collar, could be found many of the beauties of Turia. Indeed, to the annoyance of Elizabeth Cardwell, who had spent her nights under the wagon in the last weeks, there were two such in our own wagon, the girl Dina, whom I had snared in the contests of the bola, and her companion, the fine wench who had bitten the neck of Kamchak’s kaiila and had attempted to conceal her injury by the lance of Albrecht, Tenchika, a Tuchuk corruption of her Turian name, Tendite; she struggled to serve Kamchak well, but it was clear that she lamented her separation from Albrecht of the Kassars; he had, surprisingly, twice tried to buy his little slave back, but Kamchak was holding out for a higher price; Dina, on the other hand, served me skilfully and devotedly; once Albrecht, having a bola match planned, tried to buy her back, as well as Tenchika, but I had demurred.
“Does it mean,” Dina had asked me that night, head to boot, “that Dina’s master is pleased with her?”
“Yes,” I said, “it does.”
“I am happy,” she had said.
“She has fat ankles,” Elizabeth Cardwell had observed.
“Not fat,” I said, “— strong, sturdy ankles.”
“If you like fat ankles,” Elizabeth had said, turning about, perhaps inadvertently revealing the delightful slimness of her own ankles, and leaving the wagon.
Suddenly I became aware again of the banquet of Saphrar of Turia.
My piece of bosk meat, roasted, had arrived. I picked it up and began to chew on it. I liked it better cooked over the open-fires on the prairie, but it was good bosk. I sank my teeth into the juicy meat, tearing it and chewing on it.
I observed the banquet tables, laid out in an open-ended rectangle, permitting slaves to enter at the open end, facilitating the serving, and, of course, allowing entertainers to perform among the tables. To one side there was a small altar to Priest-Kings, where there burned a small fire. On this fire, at the beginning of the feast the feast steward had scattered some grains of meal, some coloured salt, some drops of wine. “Ta-Sardar-Gor,” he had said, and this phrase had been repeated by the others in the room. “To the Priest-Kings of Gor.” It had been the general libation for the banquet. The only one in the room who did not participate in this ceremony was Kamchak, who thought that such a libation, in the eyes of the sky, would not have been fitting. I partook of the libation out of respect for Priest-Kings, for one in particular, whose name was Misk.
A Turian sitting a few feet from me noted that I had partaken of the libation. “I see,” he said, “that you were not raised among the wagons.”
“No,” I said.
“He is Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba,” Saphrar had remarked.
“How is it,” I asked, “that you know my name?”
“One hears of such things,” he said.
I would have questioned him on this matter, but he had turned to a man behind him and was talking with him, some matter I gathered pertaining to the feast.
I forgot about it.
If there had been no women for us to view in the streets of Turin, Saphrar, merchant of the city, had determined to make that omission good at his banquet. There were several women present at the tables, free women, and several others, slaves, who served. The free women, shamelessly to the mind of the rather prudish Kamchak, lowered their veils and threw back the hoods of their Robes of Concealment, enjoying the feast, eating with much the same Gorean gusto as their men. Their beauty and the sparkle of their eyes, their laughter and conversation, to my mind, immeasurably improved the evening. Many were swift-tongued, witty wenches, utterly charming and uninhibited. I did think, however, that it was somewhat unusual that they should appear in public unveiled, particularly with Kamchak and myself present. The women in bondage present, who served us, each wore four golden rings on each ankle and each wrist, locked on, which clashed as they walked or moved, adding their sound to the slave bells that had been fixed on their Turian collars, and that hung from their hair; the ears of each, too, hall been pierced and from each ear hung a tiny slave bell. The single garment of these women was the Turian camisk. I do not know particularly why it is referred to as a camisk, save that it is a simple garment for a female slave. The common camisk is a single piece of cloth, about eighteen inches wide, thrown over the girl’s head and worn like a poncho. It usually falls a bit above the knees in the front and back and is belted with cord or chain. The Turian camisk, on the other hand, if it were to be laid out on the floor, would appear somewhat like an inverted “T” in which the bar of the “T” would be bevelled on each side. It is fastened with a single cord. The cord binds the garment on the girl at three points, behind the neck, behind the back, and in front at the waist. The garment itself, as might be supposed, fastens behind the girl’s neck, passes before her, passes between her legs and is then lifted and, folding the two sides of the T’s bar about her hips, ties in front. The Turian camisk, unlike the common camisk, will cover a girl’s brand; on the other hand, unlike the common camisk, it leaves the back uncovered and can be tied, and is, snugly, the better to disclose the girl’s beauty.
We had been treated to exhibitions of juggling, fire swallowing, and acrobats. There had been a magician, who particularly pleased Kamchak, and a man who, whip in hand, guided a dancing sleen through its paces.
I could pick up snatches of conversation between Kamchak and Saphrar, and I gathered from what was said that they were negotiating places of meeting for the exchange of goods. Then, later in the evening, when I was drunker on Paga than I should have permitted myself to become, I heard them discuss details which could only have pertained to what Kamchak had called the games of Love War, details having to do with specifications of time, weapons and judges, and such. Then I heard the sentence, “If she is to participate, you must deliver the golden sphere.”
Abruptly, it seemed, I came awake, no longer half asleep, more than half drunk. It seemed suddenly I was shocked awake and sober. I began to tremble, but held the table, and, I believe, betrayed no sign of my inward excitement.
“I can arrange that she is chosen for the games,” Saphrar was saying, “but it must be worth my while.”
“How can you determine that she is selected?” Kamchak was asking.
“My gold can determine that,” Saphrar was saying, “and further determine that she is ill defended.”
Out of the corner of my eye I could see Kamchak’s black eyes gleaming.
Then I heard the feast steward call out, his voice silencing all else, all conversation, even the musicians. The acrobats who were at the moment performing fled from between the tables. The feast steward’s voice was heard, “The Lady Aphris of Turia.”
I and all others turned our eyes to a wide, swirling marble stairway in the back and to the left of the lofty banquet hall in the house of Saphrar the merchant.
Down the stairway, slowly, in trailing white silk bordered with gold, the colours of the Merchants, there regally descended the girl who was Aphris of Turia.
Her sandals were of gold and she wore matching gloves of gold.
Her face could not be seen, for it was veiled, a white silken veil trimmed with gold, nor even her hair, for it was hidden in the folds of the free woman’s Robes of Concealment, in her case, of course, done in the colours of the merchants.
Aphris of Turia, then, was of the caste of merchants.
I recalled Kamchak had spoken of her once or twice.
As the woman approached I suddenly became aware again of Saphrar speaking. “Behold my ward,” he was saying, indicating the approaching girl.
“The richest woman in all Turia,” Kamchak said.
“When she reaches her majority,” Saphrar remarked.
Until then, I gathered, her means were in the doubtless capable hands of Saphrar the merchant.
This supposition was later confirmed by Kamchak. Saphrar was not related to the girl, but had been appointed by the Turian merchants, on whom he undoubtedly exercised considerable influence, the guardian of the girl following the death of her father in a Paravaci caravan raid several years before. The father of Aphris of Turia, Tethrar of Turia, had been the richest merchant in this city, itself one of the richest cities of Gor. There had been no surviving male heir and the considerable wealth of Tethrar of Turia was now that of his daughter, Aphris, who would assume control of these remarkable fortunes upon attaining her majority, which event was to occur this spring.
The girl, not unaware I am sure of the eyes upon her, stopped on the stairway and loftily surveyed the scene of the banquet. I could sense that she had almost immediately seen myself and Kamchak, strangers at the tables. Something in her carriage suggested that she might be amused.
I heard Saphrar whisper to Kamchak, whose eyes glowed as they rested on the figure in white and gold on the distant stairway.
“Is she not worth the golden sphere?” asked the merchant.
“It is hard to tell,” said Kamchak.
“I have the word of her serving slaves,” insisted Saphrar. “She is said to be marvellous.”
Kamchak shrugged, his wily Tuchuk trading shrug. I had seen him use it several times while discussing the possible sale of little Tenchika to Albrecht in the wagon.
“The sphere is actually not of much value, Saphrar was saying, “it is not truly of gold — but only appears so.”
“Still,” Kamchak said, “the Tuchuks are fond of it.”
“I would only wish it as a curiosity,” Saphrar was saying.
“I must think on the matter,” Kamchak was saying, not taking his eyes from Aphris of Turia.
“I know where it is,” Saphrar was saying, his lips pulled back, revealing the golden canines, “I could send men for it.”
Pretending not to listen I was, of course, as attentive as possible to their conversation. But few in that room would have noted my interest had I displayed it openly. All eyes, it seemed, were on the girl on the stairs, slim, said to be beautiful, veiled, clad in Robes of Concealment of white and gold. Even I was distracted by her. Even I, in spite of my preoccupation with the conversation of Kamchak and Saphrar, would have found it difficult, had I wished, to take my eyes from her. Now she descended the last three stairs and, stopping to nod her head and grace an eager fellow here and there along the tables with a word or gesture, she began to approach the head of the table. The musicians, at a signal from the feast steward, took up their instruments again and the acrobats rushed back among the tables, tumbling and leaping about.
“It is in the wagon of Kutaituchik,” Saphrar was saying. “I could send mercenary tarnsmen from the north, but I would prefer not to have war.”
Kamchak was still watching Aphris of Turia.
My heart was beating with great rapidity. I had learned now, if Saphrar was correct, that the golden sphere, undoubtedly the last egg of Priest-Kings, was in the wagon of Kutaituchik, said to be Ubar of the Tuchuks. At last, if Saphrar was correct, I knew its location.
I barely noticed, as Aphris of Turia made her way toward the head of the table, that she did not speak to nor acknowledge in any way any of the women present, though their robes suggested they must be of wealth and position. She gave them no sign that she recognized their existence. To a man here and there, however, she would nod her head or exchange a word or two. I thought perhaps Aphris was unwilling to acknowledge unveiled free women. Her own veil, of course, had not been lowered. Over the veil I could now see two black, deep, almond-shaped eyes; her skin, what I could see of it, was lovely and clear; her complexion was not so light as that of Miss Cardwell, but was lighter than that of the girl Hereena, of the First Wagon.
“The golden sphere for Aphris of Turia,” Saphrar whispered to Kamchak.
Kamchak turned to the small, fat merchant and his scarred, furrowed face broke into a grin, bearing down on the round, pinkish face of the merchant. “The Tuchuks,” he said, “are fond of the golden sphere.”
“Very well,” snapped Saphrar, “then you will not obtain the woman — I shall see to that — and somehow I shall have the sphere — understand that!”
Kamchak now turned to watch Aphris of Turia.
The girl now approached us, behind the tables, and Saphrar leaped to his feet and bowed low to her. “Honoured Aphris of Turia, whom I love as my own daughter,” he said.
The girl inclined her head to him, “Honoured Saphrar,” she said.
Saphrar gestured to two of the camisk-clad girls in the room, who brought cushions and a silken mat and placed them between Saphrar and Kamchak.
Aphris nodded her head to the feast steward and he sent the acrobats running and tumbling from the room and the musicians began to play soft, honeyed melodies. The guests at the banquet returned to their conversation and repast.
Aphris looked about her.
She lifted her head, and I could see the lovely line of her nose beneath the veil of white silk trimmed with gold. She sniffed twice. Then she clapped her little gloved hands two times and the feast steward rushed to her side.
“I smell bosk dung,” she said.
The feast steward looked startled, then horrified, then knowledgeable, and then bowed and spread his hands. He smiled ingratiatingly, apologetically. “I’m sorry, Lady Aphris,” said he, “but under the circumstances —”
She looked about, and then it seemed she saw Kamchak.
“Ah!” she said, “I see — a Tuchuk — of course.”
Kamchak, though sitting cross-legged, seemed to bounce twice on the cushions, slapping the small table, rattling dishes for a dozen feet on either side. He was roaring with laughter.
“Superb!” he cried.
“Please, if you wish, Lady Aphris, join us,” wheezed Saphrar.
Aphris of Turia, pleased with herself, assumed her place between the merchant and Kamchak, kneeling back on her heels in the position of the Gorean free woman.
Her back was very straight and her head high, in the Gorean fashion.
She turned to Kamchak. “It seems we have met before,” she said.
“Two years ago,” said Kamchak, “in such a place at such a time — you recall it was then you called me a Tuchuk sleen.”
“I seem to recall,” said Aphris, as though trying very hard to do so.
“I had brought you a five-belt necklace of diamonds,” said Kamchak, “for I had heard you were beautiful.”
“Oh,” said Aphris, “yes — I gave it to one of my slaves.”
Kamchak slapped the table in merriment again.
“It was then,” he said, “that you turned away, calling me a Tuchuk sleen.”
“Oh, yes!” laughed Aphris.
“And it was then,” said Kamchak, still laughing, “that I vowed I would make you my slave.”
Aphris stopped laughing.
Saphrar was speechless.
There was no sound at the tables.
Kamras, Champion of the City of Turia, rose to his feet. He addressed Saphrar. “Permit me,” he said, “to fetch weapons.”
Kamchak was now swilling Paga and acted as though he had not heard the remark of Kamras.
“No, no, no!” cried Saphrar. “The Tuchuk and his friend are guests, and ambassadors of the Wagon Peoples — they must not come to harm!”
Aphris of Turia laughed merrily and Kamras, embarrassed, returned to his seat.
“Bring perfumes!” she called to the feast steward, and he sent forth the camisk-clad slave who carried the tiny tray of exotic Turian perfumes. She took one or two of these small bottles and held them under her nose, and then sprinkled them about the table and cushions. Her actions delighted the Turians, who laughed.
Kamchak now was still smiling, but he no longer laughed.
“For that,” he said, smiling, “you will spend your first night in the dung sack.”
Again Aphris laughed merrily and was joined by those of the banquet.
The fists of Kamras were clenched on the table.
“Who are you?” asked Aphris, looking at me.
I was pleased to see that she, at least, did not know my name.
“I am Tarl Cabot,” I said, “— of the city of Ko-ro-ba.”
“It is in the far north,” she said. “Even beyond Ar.”
“Yes,” I said.
“How comes it,” asked she, “that a Koroban rides in the stinking wagon of a Tuchuk sleen?”
“The wagon does not stink,” I said, “and Kamchak of the Tuchuks is my friend.”
“You are an outlaw of course,” she said.
The girl turned to Saphrar. “Perhaps the barbarians would care to be entertained,” she suggested.
I was puzzled at this, for throughout much of the evening there had been entertainment, the jugglers, the acrobats, the fellow who swallowed fire to music, the magician, the man with the dancing sleen.
Saphrar was looking down. He was angry. “Perhaps,” he said. I supposed Saphrar was still irritated at Kamchak’s refusal to give up, or arrange the transfer, of the golden sphere. I did not clearly understand Kamchak’s motivations in this matter — unless, of course, he knew the true nature of the golden sphere, in which case, naturally, he would recognize it as priceless. I gathered he did not understand its true value, seeing that he had discussed its exchange with some seriousness earlier in the evening — only that, apparently, he wanted more than Saphrar was offering, even though that might be Aphris of Turia herself.
Aphris now turned to me. She gestured to the ladies at the tables, with their escorts. “Are the women of Turia not beautiful?” she asked.
“Indeed,” I admitted, for there were none present who were not, in their own ways, beautiful.
She laughed, for some reason.
“In my city,” I said, “free women would not permit themselves to be seen unveiled before strangers.”
The girl laughed merrily once more and turned to Kamchak. “What think you, my colourful bit of bosk dung?” she asked.
Kamchak shrugged. “It is well known,” he said, “the women of Turia are shameless.”
“I think not,” snapped the angry Aphris of Turia, her eyes flashing above the golden border of her white silicon veil.
“I see them,” said Kamchak, spreading his hands to both sides, grinning.
“I think not,” said the girl.
Kamchak looked puzzled.
Then, to my surprise, the girl clapped her hands sharply twice and the women about the table stood, and together, from both sides, moved swiftly to stand before us between the tables. The drums and flutes of the musicians sounded, and to my amazement the first girl, with a sudden, graceful swirl of her body lifted away her robes and flung them high over the heads of the guests to cries of delight. She stood facing us, beautiful, knees flexed, breathing deeply, arms lifted over her head, ready for the dance. Each of the women I had thought free did the same, until each stood before us, a collared slave girl clad only the diaphanous, scarlet dancing silks of Gor. To the barbaric music they danced.
Kamchak was angry.
“Did you truly think,” asked Aphris of Turia arrogantly, “that a Tuchuk would be permitted to look upon the face of a free woman of Turia?”
Kamchak’s fists were clenched on the table, for no Tuchuk likes to be fooled,
Kamras was laughing loudly and even Saphrar was giggling among the yellow cushions.
No Tuchuk, I knew, cares to be the butt of a joke, especially a Turian joke.
But Kamchak said nothing.
Then he took his goblet of Paga and drained it, watching the girls swaying to the caress of Turian melodies.
“Are they not delightful?” spurred Aphris, after a time.
“We have many girls among the wagons quite as good,” said Kamchak.
“Oh?” asked Aphris.
“Yes,” said Kamchak, “Turians — slaves — such as you will be.”
“You are aware, of course,” she said, “that if you were not an ambassador of the Wagon Peoples at this time I would order you slain.”
Kamchak laughed. “It is one thing to order the death of a Tuchuk,” he said. “It is another to kill him.”
“I’m sure both could be arranged,” remarked Aphris.
Kamchak laughed. “I shall enjoy owning you,” he said.
The girl laughed. “You are a fool,” she said. Then she added, unpleasantly, “But beware — for if you cease to amuse me — you will not leave these tables alive.”
Kamchak was swilling down another bolt of Paga, part of it running out at the side of his mouth.
Aphris then turned to Saphrar. “Surely our guests would enjoy seeing the others” she suggested.
I wondered what she meant.
“Please, Aphris,” said Saphrar, shaking his fat, pinkish head, sweating. “No trouble, no trouble.”
“Ho!” cried Aphris of Turia, summoning the feast steward to her, through the turning bodies of the girls dancing among the tables. “The others!” ordered Aphris, “— for the amusement of our guests!”
The feast steward turned a wary eye toward Saphrar, who, defeated, nodded his head.
The feast steward then clapped his hands twice, dismissing the girls, who rushed from the room; and then he clapped his hands twice more, paused a moment, then twice more.
I heard the sound of slave bells attached to ankle rings, to locked wrist bracelets, to Turian collars.
More girls approached rapidly, their feet taking small running steps in a turning line that sped forth from a small room in the back and to the right.
My hand clenched on the goblet. Aphris of Turia was bold indeed. I wondered if Kamchak would rise to do war in the very room.
The girls that now stood before us, barefoot, in swirling Pleasure Silks, belled and collared, were wenches of the Wagon Peoples, now, as could be determined even beneath the silks they wore, the branded slaves of Turians. Their leader, to her surprise, seeing Kamchak, fell in shame to her knees before him, much to the fury of the feast steward; the others did so as well.
The feast steward was handed a slave whip and stood towelling over the leader of the girls.
His hand drew back but the blow never fell, for with a cry of pain he reeled away, the hilt of a quiva pressed against the inside of his forearm, the balance of the blade emerging on the other side.
Even I had not seen Kamchak throw the knife, Now, to my satisfaction, another of the blades was poised in his finger tips. Several of the men had leaped from behind the tables, including Kamras, but they hesitated, seeing Kamchak so armed. I, too, was on my feet. “Weapons,” said Kamras, “are not permitted at the banquet.”
“Ah,” said Kamchak, bowing to him, “I did not know.”
“Let us sit down and enjoy ourselves, recommended Saphrar. “If the Tuchuk does not wish to see the girls, let us dismiss them.”
“I wish to see them perform,” said Aphris of Turia, though she stood within arm’s reach of Kamchak’s quiva.
Kamchak laughed, looking at her. Then, to my relief, and doubtless to the relief of several at the table, he thrust the quiva in his sash and sat back down.
“Dance,” ordered Aphris.
The trembling girl before her did not move.
“Dance!” screamed Aphris, rising to her feet.
“What shall I do?” begged the kneeling girl of Kamchak. She looked not too unlike Hereena, and was perhaps a similar sort of girl, raised and trained much the same. Like Hereena, of course, she wore the tiny golden nose ring.
Kamchak spoke to her, very gently. “You are slave,” he said. “Dance for your masters.”
The girl looked at him gratefully and she, with the others, rose to her feet and to the astounding barbarity of the music performed the savage love dances of the Kassars, the Paravaci, the Kataii, the Tuchuks.
They were magnificent.
One girl, the leader of the dancers, she who had spoken to Kamchak, was a Tuchuk girl, and was particularly startling, vital, uncontrollable, wild.
It was then clear to me why the Turian men so hungered for the wenches of the Wagon Peoples.
At the height of one of her dances, called the Dance of the Tuchuk Slave Girl, Kamchak turned to Aphris of Turia, who was watching the dance, eyes bright, as astounded as I at the savage spectacle. “I will see to it,” said Kamchak, “when you are my slave, that you are taught that dance.”
The back and head of Aphris of Turia was rigid with fury, but she gave no sign that she had heard him.
Kamchak waited until the girls of the Wagon Peoples had performed their dances and then, when they had been dismissed, he rose to his booted feet. “We must go” he said.
I nodded, and struggled to my feet, well ready to return to his wagon.
“What is in the box?” asked Aphris of Turia, as she saw Kamchak pick up the small black box which, throughout the banquet, he had kept at his right knee. The girl was clearly curious, female.
I remembered that two years before, as I had learned, he had brought Aphris of Turia a five-string diamond necklace, which she had scorned, and had, according to her report at least, given to a slave. It had been at that time that she had called him a Tuchuk sleen, presumably because he had dared present her with a gift.
But, I could see, she was interested in the box. Indeed, at certain times during the evening, I had seen her casting furtive glances at it.
“It is nothing,” said Kamchak, “only a trinket.”
“But is it for someone?” she asked.
“I had thought,” said Kamchak, “that I might give it to you.”
“Oh?” asked Aphris, clearly intrigued.
“But you would not like it,” he said.
“How do you know,” she said, rather airily, “I have not seen it.”
“I will take it home with me,” said Kamchak.
“If you wish,” she said.
“But you may have it if you wish,” he said.
“Is it other,” she asked, “than a mere necklace of diamonds?” Aphris of Turia was no fool. She knew that the Wagon Peoples, plunderers of hundreds of caravans, occasionally possessed objects and riches as costly as any on Gor.
“Yes,” said Kamchak, “it is other than a necklace of diamonds.”
“Ah!” she said. I then suspected that she had not actually given the five-string diamond necklace to a slave. Undoubtedly it still reposed in one of her several chests of jewellery.
“But you would not like it,” said Kamchak, diffidently.
“Perhaps I might,” she said.
“No,” said Kamchak, “you would not like it.”
“You brought it for me, did you not?” she said.
Kamchak shrugged and looked down at the box in his hand. “Yes,” he said, “I brought it for you.”
The box was about the size in which a necklace, perhaps on black velvet, might be displayed.
“I want it,” said Aphris of Turia.
“Truly?” asked Kamchak. “Do you want it?”
“Yes,” said Aphris. “Give it to me!”
“Very well,” said Kamchak, “but I must ask to place it on you myself.”
Kamras, the Champion of Turia, half rose from his position. “Bold Tuchuk sleen!” he hissed.
“Very well,” said Aphris of Turia. “You may place it on me yourself.”
So then Kamchak bent down to where Aphris of Turia knelt, her back straight, her head very high, before the low table. He stepped behind her and she lifted her chin delicately. Her eyes were shining with curiosity. I could see the quickness of her breath marked in the soft silk of her white and gold veil.
“Now,” said Aphris.
Kamchak then opened the box.
When Aphris heard the delicate click of the box lid it was all she could do not to turn and regard the prize that was to be hers, but she did not do so. She remained looking away, only lifting her chin a bit more.
“Now!” said Aphris of Turia, trembling with anticipation.
What happened then was done very swiftly. Kamchak lifted from the box an object indeed intended to grace the throat of a girl. But it was a round metal ring, a Turian collar, the collar of a slave. There was a firm snap of the heavy lock in the back of the collar and the throat of Aphris of Turia had been encircled with slave steel! At the same instant Kamchak lifted her startled to her feet and turned her to face him, with both hands tearing the veil from her face! Then, before any of the startled Turians could stop him, he had purchased by his audacity a bold kiss from the lips of the astounded Aphris of Turia! Then he hurled her from him across and over the low table until she fell to the floor where Tuchuk slaves had danced for her pleasure. The quiva, appearing as if by magic in his hand, warned back those who would press in upon him to revenge the daughter of their city. I stood beside Kamchak, ready to defend him with my life, yet as startled as any in the room at what had been done.
The girl now had struggled to her knees tearing at the collar. Her tiny gloved fingers were locked in it, pulling at it, as though by brute force she would tear it from her throat.
Kamchak was looking at her. “Beneath your robes of white and gold,” he said, “I smelled the body of a slave girl.”
“Sleen! Sleen! Sleen!” she cried.
“Replace your veil!” ordered Saphrar.
“Remove the collar immediately,” commanded Kamras, plenipotentiary of Phanius Turmus, Administrator of Turia.
Kamchak smiled. “It seems,” he said, “that I have forgotten the key.”
“Send for one of the Caste of Metal Workers!” cried Saphrar.
There were cries on all sides, “Slay the Tuchuk sleen!” “Torture for him!” “The oil of tharlarions!” “Leech plants!” “Impalement!” “Tongs and fire!” But Kamchak seemed unmoved. And none rushed upon him, for in his hand, and he was Tuchuk, there gleamed the quiva.
“Slay him!” screamed Aphris of Turia, “Slay him!”
“Replace your veil,” repeated Saphrar to the girl. “Have you no shame?”
The girl attempted to rearrange the folds of the veil, but could only hold it before her face, for Kamchak had ripped away the pins by which it was customarily fastened.
Her eyes were wild with fury and tears.
He, a Tuchuk, had looked upon her face.
I was pleased, though I would not have admitted it, at Kamchak’s boldness, for it was a face for which a man might risk much, even death in the torture dungeons of Turia, utterly beautiful though now, of course, transformed with rage, far more beautiful than had been that of the most beautiful of the slave girls who had served us or given us of the beauty of their dances.
“You recall, of course,” Kamchak was saying, “that I am an ambassador of the Wagon Peoples and am entitled to the courtesies of your city.”
“Impale him!” cried a number of voices.
“It is a joke,” cried out Saphrar. “A joke! A Tuchuk joke!”
“Slay him!” screamed Aphris of Turia.
But no one would move against the quiva.
“Now, gentle Aphris,” Saphrar was purring, “you must be calm — soon one from the Caste of Metal Workers will appear to free you — all will be well — return to your own chambers.”
“No!” screamed Aphris. “The Tuchuk must be slain!”
“It is not possible, my dear,” wheezed Saphrar.
“You are challenged!” said Kamras, spitting to the floor at Kamchak’s booted feet.
For an instant I saw Kamchak’s eyes gleam and thought he might at the very table at which he stood accept the challenge of the Champion of Turia, but instead, he shrugged and grinned. “Why should I fight?” he asked.
It did not sound like Kamchak speaking.
“You are a coward!” cried Kamras.
I wondered if Kamras knew the meaning of the word which he had dared to address to one who wore the Courage Scar of the Wagon Peoples.
But to my amazement, Kamchak only smiled. “Why should I fight?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” demanded Kamras.
“What is to be gained?” inquired Kamchak.
“Aphris of Turia!” cried the girl.
There were cries of horror, or protest, from the men crowded about.
“Yes!” cried Aphris of Turia. “If you will meet Kamras, Champion of Turia, I — Aphris of Turia — will stand at the stake in Love War!”
Kamchak looked at her. “I will fight,” he said.
There was a silence in the room.
I saw Saphrar, a bit in the background, close his eyes and nod his head. “Wily Tuchuk,” I heard him mutter. Yes, I said to myself, wily Tuchuk. Kamchak had, by means of the very pride of Aphris of Turia, of Kamras, and the offended Turians, brought the girl by her own will to the stake of Love War. It was something he would not buy with the golden sphere from Saphrar the merchant; it was something he was clearly capable of arranging, with Tuchuk cunning, by himself. I supposed, naturally, however, that Saphrar, guardian of Aphris of Turia, would not permit this to occur.
“No, my dear,” Saphrar was saying to the girl, “you must not expect satisfaction for this frightful injury which has been wrought upon you — you must not even think of the games — you must forget this unpleasant evening — you must try not to think of the stories that will be told of you concerning this evening — what the Tuchuk did and how he was permitted to escape with impunity.”
“Never!” cried Aphris. “I will stand, I tell you! I will! I will!”
“No,” said Saphrar, “I cannot permit it — it is better that the people laugh at Aphris of Turia — and perhaps, in some years, they may forget.”
“I demand to be permitted to stand,” cried the girl. Then she cried, “I beg of you Saphrar — permit me!”
“But in a few days,” said Saphrar, “you will attain your majority and receive your fortunes — then you may do as you wish.”
“But it will be after the games!” cried the girl.
“Yes,” said Saphrar, as though thinking, “that is true.”
“I will defend her,” said Kamras. “I will not lose.”
“It is true you have never lost,” wavered Saphrar.
“Permit it!” cried several of those present.
“Unless you permit this,” wept Aphris, “my honour will be forever stained.”
“Unless you permit it,” said Kamras sternly, “I may never have an opportunity to cross steel with this barbaric sleen.”
It then occurred to me, suddenly, that, following Gorean civic law, the properties and titles, assets and goods of a given individual who is reduced to slavery are automatically regarded as having been transferred to the nearest male relative — or nearest relative if no adult male relative is available — or to the city — or to, if pertinent, a guardian. Thus, if Aphris of Turia, by some mischance, were to fall to Kamchak, and surely slavery, her considerable riches would be immediately assigned to Saphrar, merchant of Turia. Moreover, to avoid legal complications and free the assets for investment and manipulation, the transfer is asymmetrical, in the sense that the individual, even should he somehow later recover his freedom, retains no legal claim whatsoever on the transferred assets.
“All right,” said Saphrar, his eyes cast down, as though making a decision against his better judgment, “I will permit my ward, the Lady Aphris of Turia, to stand at the stake in Love War.”
There was a cry of delight from the crowd, confident now that the Tuchuk sleen would be fittingly punished for his bold use of the richest daughter of Turia.
“Thank you, my guardian,” said Aphris of Turia, and with one last vicious look at Kamchak threw back her head and with a swirl of her white gown, bordered with gold, walked regally from between the tables.
“To see her walk,” remarked Kamchak, rather loudly, “one would hardly suspect that she wears the collar of a slave.”
Aphris spun to face him, her right fist clenched, her left hand muffling her veil about her face, her eyes flashing. The circle of steel gleamed on the silk at her throat.
“I meant only, little Aphris,” said Kamchak, “— that you wear your collar well.”
The girl cried out in helpless rage and turned, stumbling and clutching at the banister on the stairs. Then she ran up the stairs, weeping, veil disarranged, both hands jerking at the collar. With a cry she disappeared.
“Have no fear, Saphrar of Turia,” Kamras was saying, “I shall slay the Tuchuk sleen — and I shall do so slowly.”
It was early in the morning, several days after Saphrar’s banquet, that Kamchak and myself, among some hundreds of others of the Four Wagon Peoples, came the Plains of a Thousand Stakes, some pasangs distant from lofty Turia.
Judges and craftsmen from Ar, hundreds of pasangs away, across the Cartius, were already at the stakes, inspecting than and preparing the ground between them. These men, as in every year, I learned, had been guaranteed safe passage across the southern plains for this event. The journey, even so, was not without its dangers, but they had been well recompensed, from the treasure chests of both Turia and the Wagon Peoples. Some of the judges, now wealthy, had officiated several times at the games. The fee for even one of their accompanying craftsmen was sufficient to support a man for a year in luxurious Ar.
We moved slowly, walking the kaiila, in four long lines, the Tuchuks, the Kassars, the Kataii, the Paravaci, some two hundred or so warriors of each. Kamchak rode near the head of the Tuchuk line. The standard bearer, holding aloft on a lance a representation of the four bosk horns, carved from wood, rode near us. At the head of our line, on a huge kaiila, rode Kutaituchik, his eyes closed, his head nodding, his body swaying with the stately movement of the animal, a half-chewed string of kanda dangling from his mouth.
Beside him, but as Ubars, rode three other men, whom I took to be chief among the Kassars, the Kataii, the Paravaci I could see, surprisingly near the forefront of their respective lines, the other three men I had first seen on coming to the Wagon Peoples, Conrad of the Kassars, Hakimba of the Kataii and Tolnus of the Paravaci. These, like Kamchak, rode rather near their respective standard bearers. The standard of the Kassars is that of a scarlet, three-weighted bola, which hangs from a lance; the symbolic representation of a bola, three circles joined at the centre by lines, is used to mark their bosk and slaves; both Tenchika and Dina wore that brand; Kamchak had not decided to rebrand them, as is done with bosk; he thought, rightly, it would lower their value; also, I think he was pleased to have salves in his wagon who wore the brand of Kissers, for such night lie taken as evidence of the superiority of Tuchuks to Kassars, that they had bested them and taken their slaves; similarly Kamchak was pleased to have in his herd bosk, and he had several, whose first brand was that of the three-weighted bola; the standard of the Kataii is a yellow bow, bound across a black lance; their brand is also that of a bow, facing to the left; the Paravaci standard is a large banner of jewels beaded on golden wires, forming the head and horns of a bosk its value is incalculable; the Paravaci brand is a symbolic representation of a bosk head, a semicircle resting on an inverted isosceles triangle.
Elizabeth Cardwell, barefoot, in the larl’s pelt, walked beside Kamchak’s stirrup. Neither Tenchika nor Dina would be with us. Yesterday afternoon, for an incredible forty pieces of gold, four quivas and the saddle of a kaiila, Kamchak had sold Tenchika back to Albrecht. It was one of the highest prices ever paid among the wagons for a slave and I judged that Albrecht had sorely missed his little Tenchika; the high price he was forced to pay for the girl was made even more intolerable by Kamchak’s amusement at his expense, roaring with laughter and slapping his knee because only too obviously Albrecht had allowed himself to care for the girl, and she only slave! Albrecht, while binding her wrists and putting his thong on her neck, had angrily cuffed her two or three times, calling her worthless and good for nothing; she was laughing and leaping beside his kaiila, weeping with joy; I last saw her running beside his stirrup, trying to press her head against his fur boot. Dina, though she was slave, I had placed on the saddle before me, her legs over the left forequarters of the animal; and had ridden with her from the wagons, until in the distance I could see the gleaming, white walls of Turia. When I had come to this place I set her on the grass She looked up at me, puzzled.
“Why have you brought me here?” she had asked.
I pointed into the distance. “It is Turia,” I said, “your city.”
She looked up at me. “Is it your wish,” she asked, “that I run for the city?”
She referred to a cruel sport of the young men of the wagons who sometimes take Turian slave girls to the sight of Turia’s walls and then, loosening bola and thong, bid them run for the city.
“No,” I told her, “I have brought you here to free you.”
The girl trembled.
She dropped her head. “I am yours so much yours,” she said, looking at the grass. “Do not be cruel.”
“No,” I said, “I have brought you here to free you.”
She looked up at me. She shook her head.
“It is my wish,” I said.
“But why?” she asked.
“It is my wish,” I said.
“Have I not pleased you?” she asked.
“You have pleased me very much,” I told her.
“Why do you not sell me?” she asked.
“It is not my wish,” I said.
“But you would sell a bosk or kaiila,” she said.
“Yes,” I said.
“Why not Dina?” she asked.
“It is not my wish,” I said.
“I am valuable,” said the girl. She simply stated a fact.
“More valuable than you know,” I told her.
“I do not understand,” she said.
I reached into the pouch at my belt and gave her a piece of gold. “Take this,” I said, “and go to Turia find your people and be free.”
Suddenly she began to shake with sobs and fell to her knees at the paws of the kaiila, the gold piece in her left hand. “If this is a Tuchuk joke,” she wept, “kill me swiftly.”
I sprang from the saddle of the kaiila and kneeling beside her held her in my arms, pressing her head against my shoulder. “No,” I said, “Dina of Turia. I do not jest. You are free.”
She looked at me tears in her eyes. “Turian girls are never freed,” she said. “Never.”
I shook her and kissed her. “You, Dina of Turia,” I said, “are free.” Then I shook her again. “Do you want me to ride to the walls and throw you over?” I demanded.
She laughed through her tears. “No,” she said, “no.”
I lifted her to her feet and she suddenly kissed me. “Tarl Cabot!” she cried. “Tarl Cabot!”
It seemed like lightning to us both that she had cried my name as might have a free woman. And indeed it was a free woman who cried those words, Dina, a free woman of Turia.
“Oh, Tarl Cabot,” she wept.
Then she regarded me gently. “But keep Dina a moment longer yours,” she said.
“You are free,” I said.
“But I would serve you,” she said.
I smiled. “There is no place,” I said.
“Ah, Tarl Cabot,” she chided, “there is all the Plains of Turia.”
“The Land of the Wagon Peoples, you mean.”
She laughed. “No,” she said, “the Plains of Turia.”
“Insolent wench,” I observed.
But she was kissing me and by my arms was being lowered to the grasses of the spring prairie.
When I had lifted her to her feet I noted, in the distance, a bit of dust moving from one of the gates of the city towards us, probably two or three warriors mounted on high tharlarion.
The girl had not yet seen them. She seemed to me very happy and this, naturally, made me happy as well. Then suddenly her eyes clouded and her face was transformed with distress. Her hands moved to her face, covering her mouth.
“Oh!” she said.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I cannot go to Turia!” she cried.
“Why not?” I asked.
“I have no veil!” she cried.
I cried out in exasperation, kissed her, turned her about by the shoulders and with a slap, hardly befitting a free woman, started her on the way to Turia.
The dust was now nearing.
I leaped into the saddle and waved to the girl, who had run a few yards and then turned. She waved to me. She was crying.
An arrow swept over my head.
I laughed and wheeled the kaiila and raced from the place, leaving the riders of the ponderous tharlarion far behind.
They circled back to find a girl, free though still clad Kajir, clutching in one hand a piece of gold, waving after a departed enemy, laughing and crying.
When I had returned to the wagon Kamchak’s first words to me had been, “I hope you got a good price for her.”
“Are you satisfied?” he asked.
I recalled the Plains of Turia. “Yes,” I said, “I am well satisfied.”
Elizabeth Cardwell, who had been fixing the fire in the wagon, had been startled when I had returned without Dina, but had not dared to ask what had been done with her. Now her eyes were on me, wide with disbelief. “You sold her?” she said, uncomprehendingly. “Sold?”
“You said she had fat ankles,” I reminded her.
Elizabeth regarded me with horror. “She was a person” said Elizabeth, “a human person”
“No!” said Kamchak, giving her head a shake. “An animal! A slaver” Then he added, giving her head another shake, “Like yourself!”
Elizabeth looked at him with dismay.
“I think” said Kamchak, “I will sell you.”
Elizabeth’s face suddenly seemed terrified. She threw a wild, pleading look at me.
Kamchak’s words had disturbed me as well.
I think it was then, perhaps the first time since her first coming to the Wagon Peoples, that she fully understood her plight for Kamchak had, on the whole, been kind to her he had not put the Tuchuk ring in her nose, nor had he clothed her Kajir, nor put the brand of the bosk horns on her thigh, nor even enclosed her lovely throat with the Turian collar. Now, again, Elizabeth, visibly shaken, ill, realized that she might, should it please Kamchak’s whims, be sold or exchanged with the same ease as a saddle or a hunting sleen.
She had seen Tenchika sold. Now she assumed that the disappearance of Dina from the wagon was to be similarly explained. She looked at me disbelievingly, shaking her head.
For my part I did not think it would be a good idea to tell her that I had freed Dina. What good would that information do her? It might make her own bondage seem more cruel, or perhaps fill her with foolish hopes that Kamchak, her master, might someday bestow on her the same beautiful gift of freedom. I smiled at the thought. Kamchak, Free a slaver And, I told myself, even if I myself owned Elizabeth, and not Kamchak, I could not free her for what would it be to free her? If she approached Turia she would fall slave to the first patrol that leashed and hooded her; if she tried to stay among the wagons, some young warrior, sensing she was undefended and not of the Peoples, would have his chain on her before nightfall. hand I myself did not intend to stay among the wagons. I had now learned, if the information of He that the golden sphere, doubtless the egg of Priest-Kings, lay in the wagon of Kutaituchik. I must attempt to obtain it and return it to the Sardar. This, I knew, might well cost me my life. No, it was best that Elizabeth Cardwell believe I had callously sold the lovely Dina of Turia. It was best that she understand herself for what she was, a barbarian slave girl in the wagon of Kamchak of the Tuchuks.
“Yes,” said Kamchak, “I think I will sell her.”
Elizabeth shook with terror and put her head to the rug at Kamchak’s feet. “Please,” she said, in a whisper, “do not sell me, Master.”
“What do you think she would bring?” asked Kamchak.
“She is only a barbarian,” I said. I did not wish Kamchak to sell her.
“Perhaps I could have her trained” mused Kamchak.
“It would considerably improve her price,” I admitted. I also knew a good training would take months, though much can be done with an intelligent girl in only a few weeks.
“Would you like to learn,” asked Kamchak of the girl, “to wear silk and bells, to speak, to stand, to walk, to dance to drive men mad with the desire to own and master you?”
The girl said nothing but shuddered.
“I doubt if you could learn,” said Kamchak.
Elizabeth said nothing, her head down.
“You are only a little barbarian,” said Kamchak wearily.
Then he winked at me. “But,” said he, “she is a pretty little barbarian, is she not?”
“Yes,” I said, “She is that indeed.”
I saw Miss Cardwell’s eyes close and her shoulders shake with shame. Her hands then covered her eyes.
I followed Kamchak out of the wagon. Once outside, to my astonishment, he turned to me and said, “You were a fool to free Dina of Turia.”
“How do you know I freed her?” I asked.
“I saw you put her on your kaiila and ride toward Turia,” he said. “She was not even running beside the kaiila bound.”
He grinned. “And I know that you liked her that you would not wager for her and,” he added, nodding toward the pouch at my belt, “your pouch is no heavier now than when you left.”
Kamchak pointed to the pouch. “You should have forty pieces of gold in that pouch,” he said. “That much for her at least maybe more because she was skilled in the games of the bola.” He chuckled. “A girl such as Dina of Turia is worth more than a kaiila,” he said. “And, too,” he added, “she was a beauty!” Kamchak laughed. “Albrecht was a fool,” he said, “but Tarl Cabot was a bigger one!”
“Perhaps,” I admitted.
“Any man who permits himself to care for a slave girl,” said Kamchak, “is a fool.”
“Perhaps someday,” I said, “even Kamchak of the Tuchuks will care for a slave girl.”
At this Kamchak threw back his head and roared, and then bent over slapping his knee.
“Then,” I said, determinedly, “he may know how it feels.”
At this Kamchak lost all control over himself and he leaned over backward slapping his thighs with the palms of his hands, laughing as though he were demented. He even reeled about roaring as though he were drunk and slapped the wheel of a neighbour’s wagon for a minute or two until his laughter turned into spasmodic gasps and, making strange noises, he wheezingly fought to get a mouthful or two of air under his shaking ribs. I would not have much minded if he had asphyxiated himself on the spot.
“Tomorrow,” I said, “you fight on the Plains of a Thousand Stakes.”
“Yes,” he said, “so tonight I will get drunk.”
“It would be better,” I said, “to get a good night’s sleep.”
“Yes,” said Kamchak, “but I am Tuchuk so I will get drunk.”
“Very well,” I said, “then I, too, shall get drunk.”
We then spat to determine who would bargain for a bottle of Paga. By starting from the side and turning his head quickly, Kamchak bested me by some eighteen inches. In the light of his skill my own effort seemed depressingly naive, quite simple-minded, unimaginative and straightforward. I had not known about the head-twisting trick. The wily Tuchuk, of course, had had me spit first.
Now this morning we had come to the Plains of a Thousand Stakes.
For all his uproarious stomping about the wagon last night, Paga bottle in hand, singing gusty Tuchuk songs, half frightening Miss Cardwell to death, he seemed in good spirits, looking about, whistling, occasionally pounding a little rhythm on the side of his saddle. I would not tell Miss Cardwell but the rhythm was the drum rhythm of the Chain Dance. I gathered Kamchak had his mind on Aphris of Turia, and was, perilously to my mind, counting his wenches before he had won them.
I do not know if there are, by count, a thousand stakes or not on the Plains of a Thousand Stakes, but I would suppose that there are that many or more. The stakes, flat-topped, each about six and half feet high and about seven or eight inches in diameter, stand in two long lines facing one another in pairs. The two lines are separated by about fifty feet and each stake in a line is separated from the stake on its left and right by about ten yards. The two lines of stakes extended for more than four pasangs across the prairie. One of these lines is closest to the city and the other to the prairies beyond. The stakes had recently been, I observed, brightly painted, each differently, in a delightful array of colours; further, each was trimmed and decorated variously, depending on the whim of the workman, sometimes simply, sometimes fancifully, sometimes ornately. The entire aspect was one of colour, good cheer, light heartedness and gaiety. There was something of the sense of carnival in the air. I was forced to remind myself that between these two lines of stakes men would soon fight and die.
I noted some of the workmen still affixing small retaining rings to some of the stakes, bolting them one on a side, usually about five feet to five and a half feet from the ground. A workman sprang a pair shut, and then opened them with a key, which he subsequently hung from a tiny hook near the top of the stake.
I heard some musicians, come out early from Turia, playing a light tune behind the Turian stakes, about fifty yards or so away.
In the space between the two lines of stakes, for each pair of facing stakes, there was a circle of roughly eight yards in diameter. This circle, the grass having been removed, was sanded and raked.
Moving boldly now among the Wagon Peoples were vendors from Turia, selling their cakes, their wines and meats, even chains and collars.
Kamchak looked at the sun, which was now about a quarter of the way up the sky.
“Turians are always late,” he said.
From the back of the kaiila I could now see dust from Turia. “They are coming,” I said.
Among the Tuchuks, though dismounted, I saw the young man Harold, he whom Hereena of the First Wagon had so sorely insulted at the time of the wagering with Conrad and Albrecht. I did not, however, see the girl. The young man seemed to me a strong, fine fellow, though of course unscarred. He had, as I mentioned, blond hair and blue eyes, not unknown among the Tuchuks, but unusual. He carried weapons. He could not, of course, compete in these contests, for there is status involved in these matters and only warriors of repute are permitted to participate. Indeed, without the Courage Scar one could not even think of proposing oneself for the competition. It might be mentioned, incidentally, that without the Courage Scar one may not, among the Tuchuks, pay court to a free woman, own a wagon, or own more than five bosk and three kaiila. The Courage Scar thus has its social and economic, as well as its martial, import.
“You’re right,” said Kamchak, rising in the stirrups. “First the warriors.”
On long lines of tharlarion I could see warriors of Turia approaching in procession the Plains of a Thousand Stakes.
The morning sun flashed from their helmets, their long tharlarion lances, the metal embossments on their oval shields, unlike the rounded shields of most Gorean cities. I could hear, like the throbbing of a heart, the beating of the two tharlarion drums that set the cadence of the march. Beside the tharlarion walked other men-at-arms, and even citizens of Turia, and more vendors and musicians, come to see the games.
On the heights of distant Turia itself I could see the flutter of flags and pensions. The walls were crowded, and I supposed many upon them used the long glasses of the Caste of Builders to observe the field of the stakes.
The warriors of Turia extended their formation about two hundred yards from the stakes until in ranks of four or five deep they were strung out in a line as long as the line of stakes itself. Then they halted. As soon as the hundreds of ponderous tharlarion had been marshalled into an order, a lance, carrying a fluttering pennon, dipped and there was a sudden signal on the tharlarion drums. Immediately the lances of the lines lowered and the hundreds of tharlarion, hissing and grunting, their riders shouting, the drums beating, began to bound rapidly towards us.
“Treachery!” I cried.
There was nothing living on Gor I knew that could take the impact of a tharlarion charge.
Elizabeth Cardwell screamed, throwing her hands before her face.
To my astonishment the warriors of the Wagon Peoples seemed to be paying very little attention to the bestial avalanche that was even then hurtling down upon them. Some were haggling with the vendors, others were talking among themselves.
I wheeled the Kaiila, looking for Elizabeth Cardwell, who, afoot, would be slain almost before the tharlarion had crossed the lines of the stakes. She was standing facing the charging tharlarion, as though rooted to the earth, her hands before her face. I bent down in the saddle and tensed to kick the kaiila forward to sweep her to the saddle, turn and race for our lives.
“Really,” said Kamchak.
I straightened up and saw that the lines of the tharlarion lancers had, with much pounding and trampling of the earth, with shouting, with the hissing of the great beasts, stopped short, abruptly, some fifteen yards or so behind their line of stakes.
“It is a Turian joke,” said Kamchak. “They are as fond of the games as we, and do not wish to spoil them.”
I reddened. Elizabeth Cardwell’s knees seemed suddenly weak but she staggered back to us.
Kamchak smiled at me. “She is a pretty little barbarian, isn’t she, he said.
“Yes,” I said, and looked away, confused.
Elizabeth looked up at us, puzzled.
I heard a cry from the Turians across the way. “The wenches!” he cried, and this shout was taken up by many of the others. There was much laughing and pounding of lances on shields.
In a moment, to a thunder of kaiila paws on the turf, racing between the lines of stakes, scattering sand, there came a great number of riders, their black hair swirling behind them, who pulled up on their mounts, rearing and squealing, between the stakes, and leaped from the saddle to the sand, relinquishing the reins of their mounts to men among the Wagon Peoples.
They were marvellous, the many wild girls of the Wagons, and I saw that chief among them was the proud, beauteous Hereena, of the First Wagon. They were enormously excited, laughing. Their eyes shone. A few spit and shook their small fists at the Turians across the way, who reciprocated with good-natured shouts and laughter.
I saw Hereena notice the young man Harold among the warriors and she pointed her finger imperiously at him, gesturing him to her.
He approached her. “Take the reins of my kaiila, Slave,” she said to him, insolently throwing him the reins.
He took them angrily and, to the laughter of many of the Tuchuks present, withdrew with the animal.
The girls then went to mingle with the warriors. There were between a hundred and a hundred and fifty girls there from each of the four Wagon Peoples.
“Hah!” said Kamchak, seeing now — the lines of tharlarion part for a space of perhaps forty yards, through which could be seen the screened palanquins of Turian damsels, borne on the shoulders of chained slaves, among them undoubtedly men of the Wagon Peoples.
Now the excitement of the throng seemed mostly to course among the warriors of the Wagon Peoples as they rose in their stirrups to see better the swaying, approaching palanquins, each reputedly bearing a gem of great beauty, a fit prize in the savage contests of Love War.
The institution of Love War is an ancient one among the Turians and the Wagon Peoples, according to the Year Keepers antedating even the Omen Year. The games of Love War, of course, are celebrated every spring between, so to speak, the city and the plains, whereas the Omen Year occurs only every tenth year. The games of Love War, in themselves, do not constitute a gathering of the Wagon Peoples, for normally the herds and the free women of the peoples do not approach one another at these times; only certain delegations of warriors, usually about two hundred from a people, are sent in the spring to the Plains of a Thousand Stakes.
The theoretical justification of the games of Love War, from the Turian point of view, is that they provide an excellent arena in which to demonstrate the fierceness and prowess of Turian warriors, thus perhaps intimidating or, at the very least, encouraging the often overbold warriors of the Wagon Peoples to be wary of Turian steel. The secret justification, I suspect, however, is that the Turian warrior is fond of meeting the enemy and acquiring his women, particularly should they be striking little beasts, like Hereena of the First Wagon, as untamed and savage as they are beautiful; it is regarded as a great sport among Turian warriors to collar such a wench and force her to exchange riding leather for the bells and silks of a perfumed slave girl. It might also be mentioned that the Turian warrior, in his opinion, too seldom encounters the warrior of the Wagon Peoples, who tends to be a frustrating, swift and elusive foe, striking with great rapidity and withdrawing with goods and captives almost before it is understood what has occurred. I once asked Kamchak if the Wagon Peoples had a justification for the games of Love War. “Yes,” he had said. And he had then pointed to Dina and Tenchika, clad Kajir, who were at that time busy in the wagon. “That is the justification,” said Kamchak. And he had then laughed and pounded his knee. It was only then that it had occurred to me that both girls might have been acquired in the games; as a matter of fact, I however, I later learned that only Tenchika had been so
wenches!” he cried, and this sand
The wagon girls, watching this, some of them chewing on fruit or stalks of grass, jeered.
One by one, clad in the proud arrays of resplendent silks, each in the Robes of Concealment, the damsels of Turia, veiled and straight-standing, emerged from their palanquins, scarcely concealing their distaste for the noise and clamour about them.
Judges were now circulating, each with lists, among the Wagon Peoples and the Turians.
As I knew, not just any girl, any more than just any warrior, could participate in the games of Love War. Only the most beautiful were eligible, and only the most beautiful of these could be chosen.
A girl might propose herself to stand, as had Aphris of Turia, but this would not guarantee that she would be chosen, for the criteria of Love War are exacting and, as much as possible, objectively applied. Only the most beautiful of the most beautiful could stand in this harsh sport.
I heard a judge call, “First Stake! Aphris of Turial”
“Hah!” yelled Kamchak, slapping me on the back, nearly knocking me from the back of my kaiila.
I was astonished. The Turian wench was beautiful indeed, that she could stand at the first stake. This meant that she was quite possibly the most beautiful woman in Turia, certainly at least among those in the games this year.
In her silks of white and gold, on cloths thrown before her, Aphris of Turia stepped disdainfully forward, guided by a judge, to the first of the stakes on the side of the Wagon Peoples. The girls of the Wagon Peoples, on the other hand, would stand at the stakes nearest Turia. In this way the Turian girls can see their city and their warriors, and the girls of the Wagons can see the plains and the warriors of the Wagon Peoples. I had also been informed by Kamchak that this places the girl farther from her own people. Thus, to interfere, a Turian would have to cross the space between the stakes, and so, too, would one of the Wagon Peoples, thus clearly calling themselves to the attention of the judges, those officials supervising the Games.
The judges were now calling names, and girls, both of the Wagon Peoples and of Turia, were coming forward.
I saw that Hereena, of the First Wagon, stood Third Stake, though, as far as I could note, she was no less beautiful than the two Kassar girls who stood above her.
Kamchak explained that there was a slight gap between two of her teeth on the upper right hand side in the back.
“Oh,” I said.
I noted with amusement that she was furious at having been chosen only third stake. “I, Hereena of the First Wagon, am superior,” she was crying, “to those two Kassar she-kaiila!”
But the judge was already four stakes below her.
The selection of the girls, incidentally, is determined by judges in their city, or of their own people, in Turia by members of the Caste of Physicians who have served in the great slave houses of Ar; among the wagons by the masters of the public slave wagons, who buy, sell and rent girls, providing warriors and slavers with a sort of clearing house and market for their feminine merchandise. The public slave wagons, incidentally, also provide Paga. They are a kind of combination Paga tavern and slave market. I know of nothing else precisely like them on Gor. Kamchak and I had visited one last night where I had ended up spending four copper tarn disks for one bottle of Paga. I hauled Kamchak out of the wagon before he began to bid on a chained-up little wench from Port Kar who had taken his eye.
I looked up and down the lines of stakes. The girls of the Wagon Peoples stood proudly before their stakes, certain that their champions, whoever they were to be, would be victorious and return them to their peoples; the girls of the city of Turia stood also at their stakes, but with feigned indifference.
I supposed, in spite of their apparent lack of concern, the hearts of most of the Turian girls were beating rapidly. This could not be for them an ordinary day.
I looked at them, veiled and beautiful in their silks. Yet I knew that beneath those Robes of Concealment many wore the shameful Turian camisk, perhaps the only time the hated garment would touch their bodies, for should their warrior lose this match they knew they would not be permitted to The stake in the robes in which they came. They would away as free women.
To myself, wondering if Aphris of Turia, standing first stake, wore beneath the robes of while of a slave girl. I guessed not. She would wench?
Egg his kaiila through the crown
He leaned down from the saddle. “Good morning, little Aphris,” he said cheerily.
She stiffened, and did not even turn to regard him. “Are you prepared to die, Sleen?” she inquired.
“No,” Kamchak said.
I heard her laugh softly beneath the white veil, trimmed with silk.
“I see you no longer wear your collar,” observed Kamchak.
She lifted her head and did not deign to respond.
“I have another,” Kamchak assured her.
She spun to face him, her fists clenched. Those lovely almond eyes, had they been weapons, would have slain him in the saddle like a bolt of lightning.
“How pleased I shall be,” hissed the girl, “to see you on your knees in the sand begging Kamras of Turia to finish you!”
“Tonight, little Aphris,” said Kamchak “as I promised you, you shall spend your first night in the dung sack.”
“Sleen!” she cried. “Sleen! Sleen!”
Kamchak roared with laughter and turned the kaiila away.
“Are the women at stake?” called a judge.
Prom down the long lines, from other judges, came the confirming cry. “They are at stake.”
“Let the women be secured,” called the first judge, who stood on a platform near the beginning of the stake lines, this year on the side of the Wagon Peoples.
Aphris of Turia, at the request of one of the minor judges, irritably removed her gloves, of silk-lined white verrskin, trimmed with gold, and placed them in a deep fold of her robes.
“The retaining rings,” prompted the judge.
“It is not necessary,” responded Aphris. “I shall stand quietly here until the sleen is slain.”
“Place your wrists in the rings,” said the judge, “or it shall be done for you.”
In fury the girl placed her hands behind her head, in the rings, one on each side of the stake. The judge expertly lipped them shut and moved to the next stake.
Aphris, not very obviously, moved her hands in the rings, fed to withdraw them. She could not, of course, do so. I ought I saw her tremble for just an instant, realizing herself cured, but then she stood quietly, looking about herself as though bored. The key to the rings hung, of course, on a small hook, about two inches above her head.
“Are the women secured?” called the first judge, he on the platform.
“They are secured,” was relayed up and down the long lines.
I saw Hereena standing insolently at her stake, but her brown wrists, of course, were bound to it by steel.
“Let the matches be arranged,” called the judge.
I soon heard the other judges repeating his cry.
All along the lines of stakes I saw Turian warriors and those of the Wagon Peoples press into the area between the stakes.
The girls of the wagons, as usual, were unveiled. Turian warriors walked along the line of stakes, examining them, stepping back when one spit or kicked at him. The girls jeered and cursed them, which compliment they received with good humour and pointed observations on the girls’ real or imaginary flaws.
At the request of any warrior of the Wagon Peoples, a judge would remove the pins of the face veil of a Turian girl and push back the hood of her robes of concealment, in order that her head and face might be seen.
This aspect of the games was extremely humiliating for the Turian girls, but they understood its necessity; few men, especially barbarian warriors, care to fight for a woman on whose face they have not even looked.
“I would like to take a look at this one,” Kamchak was saying, jerking a thumb in the direction of Aphris of Turia.
“Certainly,” remarked the nearest judge.
“Can you not remember, Sleen,” asked the girl, “the face of Aphris of Turia?”
“My memory is vague,” said Kamchak. “There are so many faces.”
The judge unpinned her white and gold veil and then, with a gentle hand, brushed back her hood revealing her long, lovely black hair.
Aphris of Turia was an incredibly beautiful woman.
She shook her hair as well as she could, bound to the, “Perhaps now you can remember?” she queried acidly.
“It’s vague,” muttered Kamchak, wavering, “I had in mind I think the face of a slave there was, as I recall, a collar”
“You tharlarion,” she said. “You sleety”
“What do you think?” asked Kamchak.
“She is marvellously beautiful,” I said.
“She must be plain indeed,” remarked Kamchak, looking closely again at Aphris.
“No,” said the judge, “it is because she is defended by Kamras, Champion of Turia.”
“Oh, no!” cried Kamchak, throwing his fist to his forehead in mock despair.
“Yes,” said the judge, “he.”
“Surely you recall?” laughed Aphris merrily.
“I had had much Paga at the time,” admitted Kamchak.
“You need not meet him if you wish.” said the judge.
I thought that a humane arrangement that two men must understand who it is they face before entering the circle of sand. It would indeed be unpleasant if one suddenly, unexpectedly, found oneself facing a superb, famed warrior, say, a Kamras of Turia.
“Meet him!” cried Aphris.
“If no one meets him,” said the judge, “the Kassar girl will be his by forfeit.”
I could see that the Kassar girl, a beauty, at the stake opposite Aphris of Turia was distressed, and understandably so. It appeared she was to depart for Turia without so much as a handful of sand kicked about on her behalf.
“Meet him, Tuchuk!” she cried.
“Where are your Kassars?” asked Kamchak.
I thought it an excellent question. I had seen Conrad about, but he had picked out a Turian wench to fight for some six or seven stakes away. Albrecht was not even at the games. I supposed he was home with Tenchika.
“They are fighting elsewhere!” she cried. “Please, Tuchuk!” she wept.
“But you are only a Kassar wench,” pointed out Kamchak.
“Please!” she cried.
“Besides,” said Kamchak, “you might look well in Pleasure Silk.”
“Look at the Turian wench!” cried the girl. “Is she not beautiful? Do you not want her?”
Kamchak looked at Aphris of Turia.
“I suppose,” he said, “she is no worse than the rest.”
“Fight for met” cried Aphris of Turia
“All right,” said Kamchak. “I will.”
The Kassar girl put her back against the stake, trembling with relief.
“You are a fool,” said Kamras of Turia.
I was a bit startled, not realizing he was so close. I looked at him. He was indeed an impressive warrior. He seemed strong and fast. His long black hair was now tied behind his head. His large wrists had been wrapped in boskhide straps. He wore a helmet and carried the Turian shield, which is oval. In his right hand there was a spear. Over his shoulder was slung the sheath of a short sword.
Kamchak looked up at him. It was not that Kamchak was particularly short, but rather that Kamras was a very large man.
“By the sky,” said Kamchak, whistling, “you are a big fellow indeed.”
“Let us begin,” proposed Kamras.
At this word the judge called out-to clear the space between the stakes of Aphris of Turia and the lovely Kassar wench. Two men, from Ar, I took it, came forward with rakes and began to smooth the circle of sand between the stakes, for it had been somewhat disturbed in the inspection of the girls.
Unfortunately for Kamchak, I knew that this was the year in which the Turian foeman might propose the weapon of combat. Fortunately, however, the warrior of the Wagon Peoples could withdraw from the combat any time before his name had actually been officially entered in the lists of the games. Thus if Kamras chose a weapon with which Kamchak did not feel at ease, the Tuchuk might, with some grace, decline the combat, in this forfeiting only a Kassar girl, which I was sure would not overly disturb the philosophical Kamchak.
“Ah, yes, weapons,” Kamchak was saying, “what shall it be the kaiila lance, a whip and bladed bola perhaps the quiva?”
“The sword,” said Kamras.
The Turian’s decision plunged me into despair. In all my time among the wagons I had not seen one of the Gorean short swords, so fierce and swift and common a weapon among those of the cities. The warrior of the Wagon Peoples does not use the short sword, probably because such a weapon could not be optimally used from the saddle of the kaiila; the sabre, incidentally, which would be somewhat more effective from kaiilaback, is almost unknown on Gor; its role, I gather, is more than fulfilled by the lance, which may be used with a delicacy and address comparable to that of a blade, supplemented by the seven quiva, or saddle knives; it might further be pointed out that a sabre would barely reach to the saddle of the high tharlarion; the warrior of the Wagon Peoples seldom approaches an enemy more closely than is required to bring him down with the bow, or, if need be, the lance; the quiva itself is regarded, on the whole, as more of a missile weapon than a hand knife. I gather that the Wagon Peoples, if they wanted sabres or regarded them as valuable, would be able to acquire them, in spite of the fact that they have no metalworking of their own; there might be some attempt to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Wagon Peoples, but where there are gold and jewels available merchants, in Ar and elsewhere, would see that they were manufactured and reached the southern plains. Most quivas, incidentally, are wrought in the smithies of Ar. The fact that the sabre is not a common weapon of Wagon Peoples is a reflection of the style, nature and conditions of warfare to which they are accustomed, a matter of choice on their part rather than the result of either ignorance or technological limitation. The sabre, incidentally, is not only unpopular among the Wagon Peoples but among the warriors of Gor generally; it is regarded as being too long and clumsy a weapon for the close, sharp combat so dear to the heart of the warrior of the cities; further it is not of much use from the saddle of a tarn or tharlarion. The important point, however, in the circumstances was that Kamras had proposed the sword as the weapon of his encounter with Kamchak, and poor Kamchak was almost certain to be as unfamiliar with the sword as you or I would be with any of the more unusual weapons of Gor, say, the whip knife of Port Kar or the trained varts of the caves of Tyros.
Incidentally, Turian warriors, in order to have the opportunist to slay a foe, as wed as acquire his woman, customarily choose as the weapon of combat in these encounters, buckler and dagger, axe and buckler, dagger and whip, axe and net, or the two daggers, with the reservation that the quiva, if used, not be thrown. Kamras, however, appeared adamant on the point. “The sword,” he repeated.
“But I am only a poor Tuchuk,” wailed Kamchak.
Kamras laughed. “The sword,” he said, yet again.
I thought, all things considered, that the stipulation of Kamras regarding weapons was cruel and shameful.
“But how would I, a poor Tuchuk,” Kamchak was moaning, “know anything of the sword?”
“when withdraw,” said Kamras, loftily, “and I will take this Kassar wench slave to Turia.
The girl moaned.
Kamras smiled with contempt. “You see,” he said, “I am Champion of Turia and I have no particular wish to stain my blade with the blood of an urt.”
The urt is a loathsome, horned Gorean rodent; some are quite large, the size of wolves or ponies, but most are very small, tiny enough to be held in the palm of one hand.
“Well,” said Kamchak, “I certainly would not want that to happen either.”
The Kassar girl cried out in distress.
“Fight him, filthy Tuchuk” screamed Aphris of Turia, pulling against the retaining rings.
“Do not be uneasy, gentle Aphris of Turia,” said Kamras.
“Permit him to withdraw branded braggart and coward. Let him live in his shame, for so much the richer will be your vengeance.”
But the lovely Aphris was not convinced. “I want him slain,” she cried, “cut into tiny pieces, the death of a thousand cuts!”
“Withdraw,” I advised Kamchak.
“Do you think I should,” he inquired.
“Yes,” I said, “I do.”
Kamras Divas regarding Aphris of Turia. “If it is truly your wish,” he said, “I will permit him to choose weapons agreeable to us both.”
“It is my wish,” she said, “that he be slain!”
Kamras shrugged. “All right,” he said, “I will kill him.” He then turned to Kamchak. “All right Tuchuk,” he said, “I will permit you to choose weapons agreeable to us both.”
“But perhaps I will not fight,” said Kamchak warily.
Kamras clenched his fists. “Very well,” he said, “as you wish.”
“But then again,” mused Kamchak, “perhaps I shall.”
Aphris of Turia cried out in rage and the Kassar wench in distress.
“I will fight,” announced Kamchak.
Both girls cried out in pleasure.
The judge now entered the name of Kamchak of the Tuchuks on his lists.
“What weapon do you choose?” asked the judge. “Remember,” cautioned the judge, “the weapon or weapons chosen must be mutually agreeable.”
Kamchak seemed lost in thought and then he looked up brightly. “I have always wondered,” he said, “what it would be like to hold a sword.”
The judge nearly dropped the list.
“I will choose the sword,” said Kamchak.
The Kassar girl moaned.
Kamras looked at Aphris of Turia, dumbfounded. The girl herself was speechless. “He is mad,” said Kamras of Turia.
“Withdraw,” I urged Kamchak.
“It is too late now,” said the judge.
“It is too late now,” said Kamchak, innocently.
Inwardly I moaned, for in the past months I had come to respect and feel an affection for the shrewd, gusty brawny Tuchuk.
Two swords were brought, Gorean short swords, forged in Ar.
Kamchak picked his up as though it were a wagon lever, used for loosening the wheels of mired wagons.
Kamras and I both winced.
Then Kamras, and I give him credit, said to Kamchak, “withdraw.” I could understand his feelings. Kamras was, after all, a warrior, and not a butcher.
“A thousand cuts!” cried the gentle Aphris of Turia. “A piece of gold to Kamras for every cull” she cried.
Kamchak was running his thumb on the blade. I saw a sudden, bright drop of blood on his thumb. He looked up.
“Sharp,” he said.
“Yes,” I said in exasperation. I turned to the judge. “May I fight for Lima” I demanded.
“It is not permitted,” said the judge.
“But,” said Kamchak, “it was a good idea.”
I seized Kamchak by the shoulders. “Kamras has no real wish to kill you,” I said. “It is enough for him to shame you. Withdraw.”
Suddenly the eyes of Kamchak gleamed. “Would you see me shamed?” he asked.
I looked at him, “Better, my friend,” I said, “that than death.”
“No,” said Kamchak, and his eyes were like steel, “better death than shame.”
I stepped back. He was Tuchuk. I would sorely miss my friend, the ribald, hard-drinking, stomping, dancing Kamchak of the Tuchuks.
In the last moment I cried out to Kamchak, “For the sake of Priest-Kings, hold the weapon thus” trying to teach him the simplest of the commoner grips for the hilt of the short sword, permitting a large degree of both retention and flexibility. But when I stepped away he was now holding it like a Gorean angle saw.
Even Kamras closed his eyes briefly, as though to shut out the spectacle. I now realized Kamras had only wished to drive Kamchak from the field, a chastened and humiliated man. He had little more wish to slay the clumsy Tuchuk than he would have a peasant or a pot maker.
“Let the combat begin,” said the judge.
I stepped away from Kamchak and Kamras approached him, by training, cautiously.
Kamchak was looking at the edge of his sword, turning it about, apparently noting with pleasure the play of sunlight on the blade.
“Watch out!” I cried.
Kamchak turned to see what I had in mind and to his great good fortune, as he did so, the sun flashed from the blade into the eyes of ELamras, who suddenly threw his arm up, blinking and shaking his head, for the instant blinded.
“Turn and strike now!” I screamed
“What?” asked Kamchak.
“Watch out!” I cried, for now Kamras had recovered, and was once again approaching.
Kamras, of course, had the sun at his back, using it as naturally as the tarn to protect his advance.
It had been incredibly fortunate for Kamchak that the blade had flashed precisely at the time it had in the way it had.
It had quite possibly saved his life.
Kamras lunged and it looked like Kamchak threw up his arm at the last instant as though he had lost balance, and indeed he was now tottering on one boot. I scarcely noticed the blow had been smartly parried. Kamras then began to chase Kamchak about the ring of sand. Kamchak was nearly stumbling over backward and kept trying to regain his balance. In this chase, rather undignified, Kamras had struck a dozen times and each time, astoundingly, the off-balance Kamchak, holding his sword DOW like a physician’s pestle, had managed somehow to meet the blow.
“Slay him!” screamed Aphris of Turia.
I was tempted to cover my eyes.
The Kassar girl was wailing.
Then, as though weary, Kamchak, puffing, sat down in the sand. His sword was in front of his face, apparently blocking his vision. With his boots he kept rotating about, always facing Kamras no matter from which direction he came Each time the Turian struck and I would have thought Kamchak slain, somehow, incomprehensibly, at the last instant, nearly causing my heart to stop, with a surprised weary little twitch, the blade of the Tuchuk would slide the Turian steel harmlessly to the side. It was only about this time that it dawned on me that for three or four minutes Kamchak had been the object of the ever-more-furious assault of Turia’s champion and was, to this instant, unscratched.
Kamchak then struggled wearily to his feet.
“Die, Tuchuk!” cried Kamras now enraged, rushing upon him. For more than a minute, while I scarcely dared to breathe and there was silence all about save for the ring of steel, I watched Kamchak stand there, heavy in his boots, his head seeming almost to sit on his shoulders, his body hardly moving save for the swiftness of a wrist and the turn of a hand.
Kamras, exhausted, scarcely able to lift his arm, staggered backward.
Once again, expertly, the sun flashed from the sword of Kamchak in his eyes.
In terror Kamras blinked and shook his head, thrashing about wearily with his sword.
Then, foot by booted foot, Kamchak advanced toward him. I saw the first blood leap front the cheek of Kamras, and then again from his left arm, then from the thigh, then from an ear.
“Kill him!” Aphris of, Turia was screaming. “Kill him!”
But now, almost like a drunk man, Kamras was fighting for his life and the Tuchuk, like a bear, scarcely moving more than arm and wrist, followed him about, shuffling through the sand after him, touching him again and again with the blade.
“Slay him!” howled Aphris of Turia!
For perhaps better than fifteen minutes, patiently, not hurrying, Kamchak of the Tuchuks shuffled after Kamras of Turia, touching him once more and ever again, each time leaving a quick, bright stain of blood on his tunic or body And then, to my astonishment, and that of the throng who had gathered to witness the contest, I saw Kamras, Champion of Turia, weak from the loss of blood, fall to his knees before Kamchak of the Tuchuks. Kamras tried to lift his sword but the boot of Kamchak pressed it into the sand, and Kamras lifted his eyes to look dazed into the scarred, inscrutable countenance of the Tuchuk. Kamchak’s sword was at his throat. “Six years,” said Kamchak, “before I was scarred was I mercenary in the guards of Ar, learning the walls and defences of that city for my people. In that time of the guards of Ar I became First Sword.”
Kamras fell in the sand at the feet of Kamchak, unable even to beg for mercy.
Kamchak did not slay him.
Rather he threw the sword he carried into the sand and though he threw it easily it slipped through almost to the hilt.
He looked at me and grinned. “An interesting weapon,” he said, “but I prefer lance and quiva.”
There was an enormous roar about us and the pounding of lances on leather shields. I rushed to Kamchak and threw my arms about him laughing and hugging him. He was grinning from ear to ear, sweat glistening in the furrows of his scars.
Then he turned and advanced to the stake of Aphris of Turia, who stood there, her wrists bound in steel, regarding him, speechless with horror.
BELLS AND COLLAR
Kamchak regarded Aphris of Turia.
“Why is a slave,” he asked, “masquerading in the robes of a free woman?”
“Please, no, Tuchuk,” she said. “Please, no!”
And in a moment the lovely Aphris of Tuna stood at the stake revealed to the eyes of her master.
She threw back her head and moaned, wrists still locked in the retaining rings.
She had not, as I had suspected, deigned to wear the shameful camisk beneath her robes of white and gold.
The Kassar wench, who had been bound across from her to the opposing stake, had now been freed by a judge and she strode to where Aphris was still confined.
“Well done, Tuchuk!” said the girl, saluting Kamchak.
Then the girl, with vehemence, spat in the face of the lovely Aphris. “Slave girl!” hissed the girl. “Slave! Slave girl!”
She then turned and strode away, looking for warriors of the Kassars.
Kamchak laughed loudly.
“Punish her!” demanded Aphris.
Kamchak suddenly cuffed Aphris of Turia. Her head snapped sideways and there was a streak of blood at the corner of her mouth. The girl looked at him in sudden fear.
It might have been the first time she had ever been struck.
Kamchak had not hit her hard, but sharply enough to instruct her. “You will take what abuse any free person of the Wagon Peoples cares to inflict-upon you,” he said.
“I see,” said a voice, “you know how to handle slaves.”
I turned to see, only a few feet away, on the shoulders of slaves standing on the bloodied sand, the open, bejewelled, cushioned palanquin of Saphrar of the Caste of Merchants.
Aphris blushed from head to toe, enfolded transparent in the crimson flag of her shame
Saphrar’s round, pinkish face was beaming with pleasure, though I would have thought this day a tragic one for him. The tiny red-lipped mouth was spread wide with benign satisfaction. I saw the tips of the two golden canines.
Aphris suddenly pulled at the retaining rings, trying to rush to him, now oblivious of the riches of her beauty revealed even to the slaves who carried his palanquin. To them, of course, she was now no more than they, save perhaps that her flesh would not be used to bear the poles of palanquins, to carry boxes nor dig in the earth, but would be appointed even more pleasing than theirs to a master. “Saphrar!” she cried. “Saphrar!”
Saphrar looked on the girl. He took from a silken pouch lying before him on the palanquin a small glass, with glass petal edges like a flower, mounted on a silver stem about which curled silver leaves. Through this he looked on her more closely.
“Aphris!” he cried, as though horrified, but yet smiling.
“Saphrar,” she wept, “free me!”
“How unfortunate!” wailed Saphrar. I could still see the tips of the golden teeth.
Kamchak had his arm about my shoulder, chuckling.
“Aphris of Turia,” he said, “has a surprise coming.”
Aphris turned her head to Kamchak. “I am the richest woman in all Turia,” she said. “Name your price!”
Kamchak looked at me. “Do you think five gold pieces would be too much?” he asked.
I was startled.
Aphris nearly choked. “Sleep,” she wept. Then she turned to Saphrar. “Buy me!” she demanded. “If necessary, use all my resources, all! Free me!”
“But Aphris,” Saphrar was purring, “I am in charge of your funds and to barter them and all your properties and goods for one slave would be a most unwise and absurd decision on my part, irresponsible even.”
its own tasks, lighter and more suitable. doubtless
Aphris suddenly looked at him, dumbfounded.
“It is or was true that you were the richest woman in all Turia,” Saphrar was saying, “but your riches are not yours I to manage but mine not, that is, until you would have reached your majority, some days from now I believe.”
“I do not wish to remain a slave for even a day!” she cried.
“Is its over,” his eyes rising, “that you would upon reaching your I majority transfer your entire fortunes to a Tuchuk, merely to obtain your freedom.”
“Of course” she wept.
“How fortunate then,” observed Saphrar, “that such a transaction is precluded by law.”
“I don’t understand,” said Aphris.
Kamchak squeezed my shoulder and rubbed his nose.
“Surely you are aware,” said Saphrar, “that a slave cannot own property any more than a kaiila, a tharlarion or sleep.”
“I am the richest woman in Turia!” she cried.
Saphrar reclined a bit more on his cushions. His little round pinkish face shone. He pursed his lips and then smiled.
He poked his head forward and said, very quickly, “You are a slaver” He then giggled.
Aphris of Turia threw-back her head and screamed.
“your wardrobes and jewels, your investments and assets, chattels and lands, became mine.”
Aphris was weeping uncontrollably at the stake. Then she lifted her head to him, her eyes bright with tears. “I beg you, noble Saphrar,” she wept, “I beg of you I beg of you to free me. Please! Please! Please!”
Saphrar smiled at her. He then turned to Kamchak, “What, Tuchuk, did you say her price was?”
“I have lowered it,” said Kamchak. “I will let you have her for one copper tarn disk.”
Saphrar smiled. “The price is too high,” he said.
Aphris cried out in distress.
Saphrar then again lifted the tiny glass through which he had regarded her, and examined her with some care. Then he shrugged and gestured for his slaves to turn the palanquin.
“Saphrar” cried out the girl one last time.
“I do not speak to slaves,” said he, and the merchant, on the palanquin, moved away toward the walls of distant Turia.
Aphris was looking after him, numbly, her eyes red, her cheeks stained with tears.
“It does not matter,” said Kamchak soothingly to the girl.
“Even had Saphrar been a worthy man you would not now be free.”
She turned her beautiful head to stare at him, blankly.
“No,” said Kamchak, taking her hair and giving her head a friendly shake, “I would not have sold you for all the gold in Turia.”
“But why?” she whispered.
“Do you recall,” asked Kamchak, “one night two years ago when you spurned my gift and called me sleep?”
The girl nodded, her eyes frightened.
“It was on that night,” said Kamchak, “that I vowed to make you my slave.”
She dropped her head.
“And it is for that reason,” said Kamchak, “that I would not sell you for all the gold of Turia.”
She looked up, red-eyed.
“It was on that night, little Aphris,” said Kamchak, “that I decided I wanted you, and would have you, slave.”
The girl shuddered and dropped her head.
The laugh of Kamchak of the Tuchuks was loud.
He had waited long to laugh that laugh, waited long to see his fair enemy thus before him, thus bound and shamed, his, a slave.
In short order then Kamchak took the key over the head of Aphris of Turia and sprang open the retaining rings. He then led the numb, unresisting Turian maiden to his kaiila.
There, beside the paws of the animal, he made her kneel.
“Your name is Aphris of Turia,” he said to her, giving her a name.
“My name is Aphris of Turia,” she said, accepting her name at his hands.
“Submit,” ordered Kamchak.
Trembling Aphris of Turia, kneeling, lowered her head and extended her arms, wrists crossed. Kamchak quickly and tightly thonged them together.
She lifted her head. “Am I to be bound across the saddle?” she asked numbly.
“No,” said Kamchak, “there is no hurry.”
“I don’t understand,” said the girl.
Already Kamchak was placing a thong on her neck, the loose end of which he looped several times about the pommel of his saddle. “You will run alongside,” he informed her.
She looked at him in disbelief.
Elizabeth Cardwell, unbound, had already taken her position on the other side of F~teak’s kaiila, beside his right
It might have been the first time ship
Kamchak had not hit her hard, but ship
To be sure there might have been some doubt that the miserable wench thonged behind Kamchak’s kaiila could have been first stake. She was gasping and stumbling; her body glistened with perspiration; her legs were black with wet dust; her hair was tangled and thick with dust; her feet and ankles were bleeding; her calves were scratched and speckled with the red bites of fennels. When Kamchak reached his wagon, the poor girl, gasping for breath, legs trembling, fell exhausted to the grass, her entire body shaking with the ordeal of her run. I supposed that Aphris of Turia had done little in her life that was more strenuous than stepping in and out of a scented bath. Elizabeth Cardwell, on the other hand, I was pleased to see, ran well, breathing evenly, showing few signs of fatigue. She had, of course, in her time with the wagons, become used to this form of exercise. I had rather come to admire her. The life in the open air, the work, had apparently been good for her. She was trim, vital, buoyant. I wondered how many of the girls in her New York office could have run as she beside the stirrup of a Tuchuk warrior.
Kamchak leaped down from the saddle of the kaiila, puffing a bit.
“Here, here!” he cried cheerily, hauling the exhausted Aphris to her knees “There is work to be done!”
She looked up at him, the thong still on her neck, her wrists bound. Her eyes seemed dazed.
“There are bosk to be groomed,” he informed her, “and their horns and hoofs must be polished there is fodder to be fetched and dung to be gathered the wagon must be wiped and the wheels greased and there is water to be brought from the stream some four pasangs. away and meat to hammer and cook for supper! hurry! hurry, Lazy Girl!”
Then he leaned back and laughed his Tuchuk laugh, slapping his thighs.
Elizabeth Cardwell was removing the thong from the girl’s neck and unbinding her wrists. “Come along,” she said, kindly. “I will show you.”
Aphris stood up, wobbling, still dazed. She turned her eyes on Elizabeth, whom she seemed to see then for the first time.
“Your accent,” said Aphris, slowly. “You are barbarian.” She said it with a kind of horror.
She turned in fury and followed Elizabeth Cardwell away.
After this Kamchak and I left the wagon and wandered about, stopping at one of the slave wagons for a bottle of Paga, which, while wandering about, we killed between us.
This year, as it turned out, the Wagon Peoples had done exceedingly well in the games of Love War a bit of news we picked up with the Paga and about seventy percent of the Turian maidens had been led slave from the stakes to which they had been manacled. In some years I knew the percentages were rather the other way about. It apparently made for zestful competition. We also heard that the wench Hereena, of the First Wagon, had been won by a Turian officer representing the house of Saphrar of the Merchants, to whom, for a fee, he presented her. I gathered that she would become another of his dancing girls. “A bit of perfume and silk will be good for that wench,” stated Kamchak. It seemed strange to think of her, so wild and insolent, arrogant on the back of her kaiila, now a perfumed, silken slave of Turians. “She could use a bit of whip and steel, that wench,” Kamchak muttered between swallows of Paga, pretty much draining the bottle. It was too bad, I thought, but at least I supposed there would be one fellows among the wagons, the young man Harold, he whom the girl had so abused, he who had not yet won the Courage Scar, who would be just as pleased as not that she, with all her contempt and spleen, was now delightfully salted away in bangles and bells behind the high, thick walls of a Turian’s pleasure garden.
Kamchak had circled around and we found ourselves back at the slave wagon.
We decided to wager to see who would get the second bottle of Paga.
“What about the flight of birds?” asked Kamchak.
“Agreed,” I said, “but I have first choice.”
“Very well,” he said.
I knew, of course, that it was spring and, in this hemisphere, most birds, if there were any migrating, would be moving south. “South,” I said.
“North,” he said.
We then waited about a minute, and I saw several birds river gulls flying north.
“Those are Vosk gulls,” said Kamchak, “In the spring, when the ice breaks in the Vosk, they fly north.”
I fished some coins out of my pouch for the Paga.
“The first southern migrations of meadow kites,” he said, “have already taken place. The migrations of the forest hurlit and the horned aim do not take place until later in the spring. This is the time that the Vosk gulls fly.”
“Oh,” I said.
Singing Tuchuk songs, we managed to make it back to the wagon.
Elizabeth had the meat roasted, though it was now considerably overdone.
“The meat is overdone,” said Kamchak.
“They are both stinking drunk,” said Aphris of Turia.
I looked at her. Both of them were beautiful. “No,” I corrected her, “gloriously inebriated.”
Kamchak was looking closely at the girls, leaning forward, squinting.
I blinked a few Ames.
“Is anything wrong?” asked Elizabeth Cardwell.
I noted that there was a large welt on the side of her face, that her hair was ripped up a bit and that there were five long scratches on the left side of her face.
“No,” I said.
Aphris of Turia appeared in even worse shape. She had surely lost more than one handful of hair. There were teeth marks in her left arm and, if I was not mistaken, her right eye was ringed and discoloured.
“The meat is overdone,” grumbled Kamchak. A master takes no interest in the squabbles of slaves, it being beneath him. He of course would not have approved had one of the girls been maimed, blinded or disfigured.
“Have the bosk been tended?” asked Kamchak.
“Yes,” said Elizabeth firmly.
Kamchak looked at Aphris. “Have the bosk been tended?” he asked.
She looked up suddenly, her eyes bright with tears. She cast an angry look at Elizabeth. “Yes,” she said, “they have been tended.”
“Good,” said Kamchak, “good.” Then he pointed at the meat. “It is overdone,” he said.
“You were hours late,” said Elizabeth.
“Hours,” repeated Aphris.
“It is overdone,” said Kamchak.
“I shall roast fresh meat,” said Elizabeth, getting up, and she did so. Aphris only sniffed.
When the meat was ready Kamchak ate his fill, and drank down, too, a flagon of bosk milk; I did the same, though the milk, at least for me, did not sit too well with the Paga of the afternoon.
Kamchak, as he often did, was sitting on what resembled a grey rock, rather squarish, except that the corners tended to be a bit rounded. When I had first seen this thing, heaped with other odds and ends in one corner of the wagon, some of the odds and ends being tankards of jewels and small, heavy chests filled with golden tarn disks, I had thought it merely a rock. Once, when rummaging through his things, Kamchak had kicked it across the rug for me to look at. I was surprised at the way it bounced on the rug and, when I picked it up, I was interested to see how light it was. It was clearly not a rock. It was rather leathery and had a rained surface. I was a bit reminded of some of the loose, tumbled rocks I had once glimpsed in certain abandoned portions of the place of Priest-Kings, far beneath the Sardar. Among such rocks it would not have been noticed.
“What do you make of it?” Kamchak asked.
“Interesting,” I observed.
“Yes,” said he, “I thought so.” He held out his hands and I tossed the object back. “I have had it for some time,” he said. “It was given to me by two travellers.”
“Oh,” I said.
When Kamchak had finished his freshly roasted meat and his flagon of bosk milk, he shook his head and rubbed his nose.
He looked at Miss Cardwell. “Tenchika and Dina are gone,” said he. “You may sleep once more in the wagon.”
Elizabeth cast a grateful look at him. I gathered that the ground under the wagon was hard.
“Thank you,” she said.
“I thought he was your master,” remarked Aphris.
“Master,” added Elizabeth, with a withering look at Aphris, who smiled.
I now began to understand why there were often problems in a wagon with more than one girl. Still, Tenchika and Dina had not quarrelled very much. Perhaps this was because Tenchika’s heart was elsewhere, in the wagon of Albrecht of the Kassars.
“Who, may I ask,” asked Aphris, “were Tenchika and Dina?”
“Slaves, Turian wenches,” said Kamchak.
“They were sold,” Elizabeth informed Aphris.
“Oh,” said Aphris. Then she looked at Kamchak. “I do not suppose I shall be fortunate enough to be sold?”
“She would probably bring a high price,” pointed out Elizabeth, hopefully.
“Higher than a barbarian surely,” remarked Aphris.
“Do not fret, Little Aphris,” said Kamchak, “when I am finished with you I shall if it pleases me put you on the block in the public slave wagon.”
“I shall look forward to the day,” she said.
“On the other hand,” said Kamchak, “I may feed you to the kaiila.”
At this the Turian maiden trembled slightly, and looked down.
“I doubt that you are good for much,” Kamchak said, “but kaiila feed.”
Aphris looked up angrily.
Elizabeth laughed and clapped her hands.
“You,” said Kamchak, glaring at Elizabeth, “you stupid little barbarian you cannot even dance!”
Elizabeth looked down, confused, rather shamed. It was true, what Kamchak had said.
The voice of Aphris was timid and quiet. “I can’t either,” she said.
“What!” howled Kamchak.
“No,” cried Aphris, “I never learned!”
“Kaiila feed!” cried Kamchak.
“I’m sorry,” said Aphris, now a bit irritated, “I just never planned on becoming a slave.”
“You should have learned anyway,” cried the disappointed Kamchak.
“Nonsense,” said Aphris.
“It will cost money,” grumbled Kamchak, “but you will learn, I will have you taught.”
Aphris sniffed and looked away.
Elizabeth was looking at me. Then she turned to Kamchak. To my astonishment, she asked, “Could I, too, be taught?”
“Why?” he asked.
She looked down, blushing.
“She is only a barbarian,” said Aphris, “All knees and elbows she could never learn.”
“Hah!” laughed Kamchak. “The Little Barbarian does not wish to become second girl in the wagon!” He gave Elizabeth’s head a rough, affectionate shake. “You will fight for your place! Excellent!”
“She can be first girl if she wishes,” sniffed Aphris. “I shall escape at the first opportunity and return to Turia.”
“Beware of the herd sleep,” said Kamchak.
Aphris turned white.
“If you attempt to leave the wagons at night they will sense you out and rip my pretty little slave girl in pieces.”
“It is true,” I warned Aphris of Turia.
“Nonetheless,” said Aphris, “I will escape.”
“But not tonight!” guffawed Kamchak.
“No,” said Aphris acidly, “not tonight.” Then she looked about herself, disdainfully at the interior of the wagon. Her gaze rested for a moment on the kaiila saddle which had been part of the spoils which Kamchak had acquired for Tenchika. In the saddle, in their sheaths, were seven quivas.
Aphris turned again to face Kamchak. “This slave,” she said, indicating Elizabeth, “would not give me anything to eat.”
“Kamchak must eat first, Slave,” responded Elizabeth.
“Well,” said Aphris, “he has eaten.”
Kamchak then took a bit of meat that was left over from the fresh-roasted meat that Miss Cardwell had prepared. He held it out in his hand. “Eat,” he said to Aphris, “but do not touch it with your hands.”
Aphris looked at him in fury,-but then smiled. “Certainly,” she said and the proud Aphris of Turia, kneeling, bent forward, to eat the meat held in the hand of her master.
Kamchak’s laugh was cut short when she sank her fine white teeth into his hand with a savage bite.
“Aiii!” he howled, jumping up and sticking his bleeding hand into his mouth, sucking the blood from the wound.
Elizabeth had leaped up and so had I.
Aphris had sprung to her feet and ran to the side of the wagon where there lay the kaiila saddle with its seven sheathed quivas. She jerked one of the quivas from its saddle sheath and stood with the blade facing us. She was bent over with rage.
Kamchak sat down again, still sucking his hand. I also sat down, and so, too, did Elizabeth Cardwell.
We left Aphris standing there, clutching the knife, breathing deeply.
“Sleep!” cried the girl. “I have a knife!”
Kamchak paid her no attention now but was looking at his hand. He seemed satisfied that the wound was not serious, and picked up the piece of meat which he had dropped, which he tossed to Elizabeth, who, in silence, ate it. He then pointed at the remains of the overdone roast, indicating that she might eat it.
“I have a knife!” cried Aphris in fury.
Kamchak was now picking his teeth with a fingernail.
“Bring wine,” he said to Elizabeth, who, her mouth filled with meat; went and fetched a small skin of wine and a cup, which she filled for him. When Kamchak had drunk the cup of wine he looked again at Aphris. “For what you have done,” he said, “it is common to call for one of the Clan of Torturers.”
“I will kill myself first,” cried Aphris, posing the quiva over her heart.
The girl did not slay herself. “NO,” she cried, “I will slay you.”
“Much better,” said Kamchak, nodding. “Much better.”
“I have a knife!” cried out Aphris.
“Obviously,” said Kamchak. He then got up and walked rather heavily over to one wall of the wagon and took a slave whip from the wall.
He faced Aphris of Turia.
“Sleep!” she wept. She threw back her hand with the knife to rush forward and thrust it into the heart of Kamchak but the coil of the whip lashed forth and I saw its stinging tip wrap four times about the wrist and forearm of the Turian girl who cried out in sudden pain and Kamchak had stepped to the side and with a motion of his hand had thrown her off balance and then by the whip dragged her rudely over the rug to his feet. There he stepped on her wrist and removed the knife from her open hand. He thrust it in his belt.
“Slay me!” wept the girl. “I will not be your slave!”
But Kamchak had hauled her to her feet and then flung her back to where she had stood before. Dazed, holding her right arm, on which could be seen four encircling blazes of scarlet, she regarded him. Kamchak then removed the quiva from his belt and hurled it across the room until it struck in one of the poles of the frame supporting the wagon hides, two inches in the wood, beside the throat of the girl.
“Take the quiva,” said Kamchak.
The girl shook with fear.
“Take it,” ordered Kamchak.
She did so.
“Now,” he said, “replace it.”
Trembling, she did so.
“Now approach me and eat,” said Kamchak. Aphris of Turia did so, defeated, kneeling before him and turning her head delicately to take the meat from his hand. “Tomorrow,” said Kamchak, “you will be permitted after I have eaten to feed yourself.”
Suddenly Elizabeth Cardwell said, perhaps unwisely. “You are cruel”
Kamchak looked at her in surprise. “I am kind,” he said.
“How is that?” I asked.
“I am permitting her to live,” he said.
“I think,” I said, “that you have won this night but I warn you that the girl from Turia will think again of the quiva and the heart of a Tuchuk warrior.”
“Of course,” smiled Kamchak, feeding Aphris, “she is superb.”
The girl looked at him with wonder.
“For a Turian slave,” he added. He fed her another piece of meat. “Tomorrow, Little Aphris,” said he, “I will give you something to wear.”
She looked at him gratefully.
“Bells and collar,” said he.
Tears appeared in her eyes.
“Can I trust you?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“Bells and collar,” said he. “But I shall wind them about with strings of diamonds that those who see will know that your master can well afford the goods you will do without.”
“I hate you,” she said.
“Excellent,” said Kamchak. “Excellent.”
When the girl had finished and Elizabeth had given her a dipper of water from the leather bucket that hung near the door, Aphris extended her wrists to Kamchak.
The Tuchuk looked puzzled.
“Surely,” she said, “you will lock me in slave bracelets and chain me tonight?”
“But it is rather early,” pointed out Kamchak.
The girl’s eyes showed a moment of fear but then she seemed resolved. “You have made me your slave,” she said, “but I am still Aphris of Turia. You may, Tuchuk, slay Aphris of Turia if it pleases you, but know that she will never serve your pleasure never.”
“Well,” said the Tuchuk, “tonight I am pretty drunk.”
“Never,” said Aphris of Turia.
“I note,” said Kamchak, “that you have never called me Master.”
“I call no man Master,” said the girl.
“I am tired tonight,” said Kamchak, yawning. “I have had a hard day.”
Aphris trembled in anger, her wrists still forward.
“I would retire,” she said.
“Perhaps then,” said Kamchak, “I should have sheets of crimson silk brought, and the furs of the mountain larl.”
“As you wish,” said the girl.
Kamchak clapped her on the shoulders. “Tonight,” he said, “I will not chain you nor put you in the bracelets.”
Aphris was clearly surprised. I saw her eyes furtively dart toward the kaiila saddle with its seven quivas.
“As Kamchak wishes,” she said.
“Do you not recall,” asked Kamchak, “banquet of Saphrar?”
“Of course,” she said, warily.
“Do you not recall,” asked Kamchak, “the affair of the tiny bottles of perfume and the smell of bosk dung how nobly you attempted to rid the banquet hall of that most unpleasant and distasteful odour?”
“Yes,” said the girl, very slowly.
“Do you not recall,” asked Kamchak, “what I then said to you what I said at that time?”
“Nor” cried the girl leaping up, but Kamchak had jumped toward her, scooped her up and threw her over his shoulder.
She squirmed and struggled on his shoulder, kicking and pounding on his back. “Sleep!” she cried. “Sleep! Sleen! Sleen!”
I followed Kamchak down the steps of the wagon and, blinking and still sensible of the effects of the Paga, gravely held open the large dung sack near the rear left wheel of the wagon. “No, Master!” the girl wept.
“You call no man Master,” Kamchak was reminding her.
And then I saw the lovely Aphris of Turia pitched head first into the large, leather sack, screaming and sputtering, threshing Shout.
“Master!” she cried. “Master! Master!”
Sleepily I could see the sides of the sack bulging out wildly here and there as she squirmed about.
Kamchak then tied shut the end of the leather sack and wearily stood up. “I am tired,” he said. “I have had a difficult and exhausting day.”
I followed him into the wagon where, in a short time, we had both fallen asleep.
In the next days I several times wandered into the vicinity of the huge wagon of Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks. More than once I was warned away by guards. I knew that in that wagon, if the words of Saphrar were correct, there lay the golden sphere, doubtless the egg of Priest-Kings, which he had, for some reason, seemed so anxious to obtain.
I realized that I must, somehow, gain access to the wagon and find and carry away the sphere, attempting to return it to the Sardar. I would have given much for a tarn. Even on my kaiila I was certain I could be outdistanced by numerous riders, each leading, in the Tuchuk fashion, a string of fresh mounts. Eventually my kaiila would tire and I would be brought down on the prairie by pursuers. The trailing would undoubtedly be done by trained herd sleen.
The prairie stretched away for hundreds of pasangs in all directions. There was little cover.
It was possible, of course, that I might declare my mission to Kutaituchik or Kamchak, and see what would occur but I knew that Kamchak had said to Saphrar of Turia that the Tuchuks were fond of the golden sphere and I had no hopes that I might make them part with it, and surely I had no riches comparable to those of Saphrar with which to purchase it and Saphrar’s own attempts to win the sphere by purchase, I reminded myself, had failed.
Yet I was hesitant to make the strike of a thief at the wagon of Kutaituchik for the Tuchuks, in their bluff way, had made me welcome, and I had come to care for some of them, particularly the gruff, chuckling, wily Kamchak, whose wagon I shared. It did not seem to me a worthy thing to betray the hospitality of Tuchuks by attempting to purloin an object which obviously they held to be of great value. I wondered if any in the camp of the Tuchuks realized how actually great indeed was the value of that golden sphere, containing undoubtedly the last hope of the people called Priest-Kings.
In Turia I had learned nothing, unfortunately, of the answers to the mystery of the message collar or to the appearance of Miss Elizabeth Cardwell on the southern plains of Gor. I had, however, inadvertently, learned the location of the golden sphere, and that Saphrar, a man of power in Turia, was also interested in obtaining it. These bits of information were acquisitions not negligible in their value.
I wondered if Saphrar himself might be the key to the mysteries that confronted me. It did not seem impossible.
How was it that he, a merchant of Turia, knew of the golden sphere? How was it that he, a man of shrewdness and intelligence, seemed willing to barter volumes of gold for what he termed merely a curiosity? There seemed to be something here at odds with the rational avarice of mercantile calculation, something extending even beyond the often irresponsible zeal of the dedicated collector which he seemed to claim to be. Yet I knew that whatever Saphrar, merchant of Turia, might be, he was no fool. He, or those for whom he worked, must have some inkling or perhaps know of the nature of the golden sphere. If this was true, and I thought it likely, I realized I must obtain the egg as rapidly as possible and attempt to return it to the Sardar.
There was no time to lose. And yet how could I succeed?
I resolved that the best time to steal the egg would be during the days of the Omen Taking. At that time Kutaituchik and other high men among the Tuchuks, doubtless including Kamchak, would be afield, on the rolling hills surrounding the Omen Valley, in which on the hundreds of smoking altars, the haruspexes of the four peoples would be practicing their obscure craft, taking the omens, trying to determine whether or not they were favourable for the election of a Ubar San, a One Ubar, who would be Ubar of all the Wagons. If such were to be elected, I trusted, at least for the sake of the Wagon Peoples, that it would not be Kutaituchik. Once he might have been a great man and warrior but now, somnolent and fat, he thought of little save the contents of a golden kanda box. But, I reminded myself, such a choice, if choice there must be, might be best for the cities of Gor, for under Kutaituchik the Wagons would not be likely to move northward, nor even to the gates of Turia.
But, I then reminded myself even more strongly, there would be no choice there had been no Ubar San for a hundred years or more the Wagon Peoples, fierce and independent, did not wish a Ubar San.
I noted, following me, as I had more than once, a masked figure, one wearing the hood of the Clan of Torturers. I supposed he was curious about me, not a Tuchuk, not a merchant or singer, yet among the Wagons. When I would look at him, he would turn away. Indeed, perhaps I only imagined he followed me. Once I thought to turn and question him, but he had disappeared.
I turned and retraced my steps to the wagon of Kamchak.
I was looking forward to the evening.
The little wench from Port Kar, whom Kamchak and I had seen in the slave wagon when we had bought Paga the night before the games of Love War, was this night to perform the chain dance. I recalled that he might have, had it not been for me, even purchased the girl. She had surely taken his eye and, I shall admit, mine as well.
Already a large, curtained enclosure had been set up near the slave wagon. For a fee, the proprietor of the wagon would permit visitors. These arrangements irritated me somewhat, for customarily the chain dance, the whip dance, the love dance of the newly collared slave girl, the brand dance, and so on, are performed openly by firelight in the evening, for the delight of any who care to watch. Indeed, in the spring, with the results of caravan raids already accumulating, it is a rare night on which one cannot see one or more such dances performed. I gathered that the little wench from Port Kar must be superb. Kamchak, not a man to part easily with a tarn disk, had apparently received inside word on the matter. I resolved not to wager with him to see who would pay the admission.
When I returned to the wagon I saw the bosk had already been tended, though it was early in the day, and that there was a kettle on an outside fire boiling. I also noted that the dung sack was quite full.
I bounded up the stairs and entered the wagon.
The two girls were there, and Aphris was kneeling behind Elizabeth, combing Elizabeth’s hair.
Kamchak, as I recalled, had recommended a thousand strokes a day.
The pelt of the larl which Elizabeth wore had been freshly brushed.
Both girls had apparently washed at the stream some four pasangs away, taking the opportunity to do so while fetching water.
They seemed rather excited. Perhaps Kamchak would permit them to go somewhere.
Aphris of Turia wore bells and collar, about her neck the Turian collar hung with bells, about each wrist and ankle, locked, a double row of bells. I could hear them move as she combed Elizabeth’s hair. Aside from the bells and collar she wore only several strings of diamonds wrapped about the collar, some dangling from it, with the bells.
“Greetings, Master,” said both girls at the same time.
“Ow!” cried Elizabeth as Aphris’ comb apparently suddenly caught in a snarl in her hair.
“Greetings,” I said. “Where is Kamchak?”
“He is coming,” said Aphris.
Elizabeth turned her head over her shoulder. “I will speak with him,” she said. “I am First Girl.”
The comb caught in Elizabeth’s hair again and she cried out.
“You are only a barbarian,” said Aphris sweetly.
“Comb my hair, Slave,” said Elizabeth, turning away.
“Certainly slave,” said Aphris, continuing her work.
“I see you are both in a pleasant mood,” I said. Actually, as a matter of fact, both were. Each seemed rather excited and happy, their bickering notwithstanding.
“Master,” said Aphris, “is taking us tonight to see a Chain Dance, a girl from Port Karl”
I was startled.
“Perhaps I should not go,” Elizabeth was saying, “I would feel too sorry for the poor girl.”
“You may remain in the wagon,” said Aphris.
“If you see her,” I said, “I think you will not feel sorry for her.” I didn’t really feel like telling Elizabeth that no one ever feels sorry for a wench from Port Karl They tend to be superb, feline, vicious, startling. They are famed as dancers throughout all the cities of Gor.
I wondered casually why Kamchak was taking the girls, for the proprietor of the slave wagon would surely want his fee for them as well as us.
“Ho!” cried Kamchak, stomping into the wagon. “Meat!” he cried.
Elizabeth and Aphris leaped up to tend the pot outside.
He then settled down cross-legged on the rug, not far from the brass and copper grating.
He looked at me shrewdly and, to my surprise, drew a tospit out of his pouch, that yellowish-white, bitter fruit, looking something like a peach but about the size of a plum.
He threw me the tospit.
“Odd or even?” he asked.
I had resolved not to wager with Kamchak, but this was indeed an opportunity to gain a certain amount of vengeance which, on my part, would be sorely appreciated. Usually, in guessing tospit seeds, one guesses the actual number, and usually both guessers opt for an odd number. The common tospit almost invariably has an odd number of seeds. On the other hand the rare, long-stemmed tospit usually has an even number of seeds. Both fruits are indistinguishable outwardly.
I could see that, perhaps by accident, the tospit which Kamchak had thrown me had had the stem twisted off. It must be then, I surmised, the rare, long-stemmed tospit.
“Even,” I said.
Kamchak looked at me as though pained. “Tospits almost always have an odd number of seeds,” he said.
“Even,” I said.
“Very well,” said he, “eat the tospit and see.”
“Why should I eat it?” I asked. The tospit, after all, is quite bitter. And why shouldn’t Kamchak eat it? He had suggested the wager.
“I am a Tuchuk,” said Kamchak, “I might be tempted to swallow seeds.”
“Let’s cut it up,” I proposed.
“One might miss a seed that way,” said Kamchak.
“Perhaps we could mash the slices,” I suggested.
“But would that not be a great deal of trouble,” asked Kamchak, “and might one not stain the rug?”
“Perhaps we could mash them in a bowl,” I suggested.
“But then a bowl would have to be washed,” said Kamchak.
“That is true,” I admitted.
“All things considered,” said Kamchak, “I think the fruit should be eaten.”
“I guess you are right,” I said.
I bit into the fruit philosophically. It was indeed bitter.
“Besides,” said Kamchak, “I do not much care for tospit.”
“I am not surprised,” I said.
“They are quite bitter,” said Kamchak.
“Yes,” I said.
I finished the fruit and, of course, it had seven seeds.
“Most tospits,” Kamchak informed me, “have an odd number of seeds.”
“I know,” I said.
“Then why did you guess even?” he asked.
“I supposed,” I grumbled, “that you would have found a long-stemmed tospit.”
“But they are not available,” he said, “until late in the summer.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Since you lost,” pointed out Kamchak, “I think it only fair that you pay the admission to the performance.”
“All right,” I said.
“The slaves,” mentioned Kamchak, “will also be coming.”
“Of course,” I said, “naturally.”
I took out some coins from my pouch and handed them to Kamchak who slipped them in a fold of his sash. As I did so I glowered significantly at the tankards of jewels and chests of golden tarn disks in the corner of the wagon.
“Here come the slaves,” said Kamchak.
Elizabeth and Aphris entered, carrying the kettle-between them, which they sat on the brass and copper grating over the fire bowl in the wagon.
“Go ahead and ask him,” prompted Elizabeth, “Slave.”
Aphris seemed frightened, confused.
“Meat!” said Kamchak.
After we had eaten and the girls had eaten with us, there not being that night much time for observing the amenities, Elizabeth poked Aphris, “Ask him,” she said.
Aphris lowered her head and shook it.
Elizabeth looked at Kamchak. “One of your slaves,” she said, “would like to ask you something.”
“Which one?” inquired Kamchak.
“Aphris;” said Elizabeth firmly.
“No,” said Aphris, “no, Master.”
“Give him Ka-la-na wine,” prompted Elizabeth.
Aphris got up and fetched not a skin, but a bottle, of wine, Ka-la-na wine, from the Ka-la-na orchards of great Ar itself.
She also brought a black, red-trimmed wine crater from the isle of Cos.
“May I serve you?” she asked.
Kamchak’s eyes glinted. “Yes,” he said.
She poured wine into the crater and replaced the bottle.
Kamchak had watched her hands very carefully. She had had to break the seal on the bottle to open it. The crater had been upside down when she had picked it up. If she had poisoned the wine she had certainly done so deftly.
Then she knelt before him in the position of the Pleasure Slave and, head down, arms extended, offered him the crater.
He took it and sniffed it and then took a wary sip.
Then he threw back his head and drained the crater.
“Hah!” said he when finished.
“Well,” said Kamchak, “what is it that a Turian wench would crave of her master?”
“Nothing,” said Aphris.
“If you do not ask him, I shall,” said Elizabeth.
“Speak, Slave!” shouted Kamchak and Aphris went white and shook her head.
“She found something today,” said Elizabeth, “that someone had thrown away.”
“Bring it!” said Kamchak.
Timidly Aphris rose and went to the thin rep-cloth blanket that was her bedding near the boots of Kamchak. Hidden in the blanket there was a faded yellow piece of cloth, which she had folded very small.
She brought it to Kamchak and held it out to him.
He took it and whipped it out. If was a worn, stained Turian camisk, doubtless one that had been word by one of the Turian maidens acquired in Love War.
Aphris had her head to the rug, trembling.
When she looked up at Kamchak there were tears in her eyes. She said, very softly, “Aphris of Turia, the slave girl, begs her master that she might clothe herself.”
“Aphris of Turia,” laughed Kamchak, “begs to be permitted to wear a camisk”
The girl nodded and swiftly put her head down.
“Come here, Little Aphris,” said Kamchak.
She came forward.
He put his hands in the strings of diamonds on her throat.
“Would you rather wear diamonds or the camisk?” he asked.
“Please, Master,” she said, “the camisk.”
Kamchak jerked the diamonds from her collar and threw them to the side of the room. Then he withdrew from his pouch the key to her collar and bells and, lock by lock, removed them from her. She could hardly believe her eyes.
“You were very noisy,” Kamchak said to her, sternly.
Elizabeth clapped her hands with pleasure and began to consider the camisk.
“A slave girl is grateful to her master,” said Aphris, tears in her eyes.
“Properly so,” agreed Kamchak.
Then, delighted, Aphris, assisted by Elizabeth Cardwell, donned the yellow camisk. Against her dark almond eyes and long black hair the yellow camisk was exceedingly lovely.
“Come here,” commanded Kamchak, and Aphris ran lightly to him, timidly.
“I will show you how to wear a camisk,” said Kamchak, taking the cord and adjusting it with two or three pulls and jerks that just about took the wind out of the Turian girl. He then tied it tightly about her waist. “There,” he said, “that is how a camisk is worn.” I saw that Aphris of Turia would be marvellously attractive in the garment.
Then, to my surprise, she walked a bit in the wagon and twirled twice before Kamchak. “Am I not pretty, Master?” she asked.
“Yes,” said Kamchak, nodding.
She laughed with delight, as proud of the worn camisk as she might have been once of robes of white and gold.
“For a Turian slave,” added Kamchak.
“Of course,” she laughed, “for a Turian slave!”
“We will be late for the performance,” said Elizabeth, “if we do not hurry.”
“I thought you were staying in the wagon,” said Aphris.
“No,” said Elizabeth, “I have decided to come.”
Among them even some Kassars and Paravaci, and one of the rare Kataii, seldom seen in the encampments of the other peoples. The Tuchuks, of course, were most in evidence, sitting cross-legged in circles rather about a large fire near the centre of the enclosure. They were in good humour and were laughing and moving their hands about as they regaled one another with accounts of their recent deeds, of which there were plainly a great many, it being the most active season for caravan raiding. The fire, I was pleased to note, was not of boskdung but wood, timber and planking, I was less pleased to note, torn and splintered from a merchant’s wagon.
To one side, across a clearing from the fire, a bit in the background, was a group of nine musicians. They were not as yet playing, though one of them was absently tapping a rhythm on a small hand drum, the kaska; two others, with stringed instruments, were tuning them, putting their ears to the instruments. One of the instruments was an eight-stringed czehar, rather like a large flat oblong box; it is held across the lap when sitting cross-legged and is played with a horn pick; the other was the kalika, a six-stringed instrument; it, like the czehar, is flat-bridged and its strings are adjusted by means of small wooden cranks; on the other hand, it less resembles a low, flat box and suggests affinities to the banjo or guitar, though the sound box is hemispheric and the neck rather long; it, too, of course, like the czehar, is plucked; I have never seen a bowed instrument on Gor; also, I Night mention, I have never on Gor seen any written music; I do not know if a notation exists; melodies are passed on from father to son, from master to apprentice. There was another kalika player, as well, but he was sitting there holding his instrument, watching the slave girls in the audience. The three flutists were polishing their instruments and talking together; it was shop talk I gathered, because one or the other would stop to illustrate some remark by a passage on his flute, and then one of the others would attempt to correct or improve on what he had done; occasionally their discussion grew heated. There was also a second drummer, also with a kaska, and another fellow, a younger one, who sat very seriously before what appeared to me to be a pile of objects; among them was a notched stick, played by sliding a polished em-wood stick across its surface; cymbals of various sorts; what was obviously a tambourine; and several other instruments of a percussion variety, bits of metal on wires, gourds filled with pebbles, slave bells mounted on hand rings, and such. These various things, from time to time, would be used not only by himself but by others in the group, probably the second kaska player and the third flutist.
Among Gorean musicians, incidentally, czehar players have the most prestige; there was only one in this group, I noted, and he was their leader; next follow the flutists and then the players of the kalika; the players of the drums come next; and the farthest fellow down the list is the man who keeps the bag of miscellaneous instruments, playing them and parcelling them out to others as needed. Lastly it might be mentioned, thinking it is of some interest, musicians on Gor are never enslaved; they may, of course, be exiled, tortured, slain and such; it is said, perhaps truly, that he who makes music-must, like the tarn and the Vosk gull, be free.
Inside the enclosure, over against one side, I saw the slave wagon. The bosk had been unhitched and taken elsewhere. It was open and one could go in and purchase a bottle of Paga if one cared to do so.
“One is thirsty,” said Kamchak.
“I’ll buy the Paga,” I said.
Kamchak shrugged. He had, after all, bought the admissions.
When I returned with the bottle I had to step through, over, and once or twice on, Tuchuks. Fortunately my clumsiness was not construed as a challenge. One fellow I stepped on was even polite enough to say, “Forgive me for sitting where you are stepping.” In Tuchuk fashion, I assured him that I had taken no offence, and, sweating, I at last made my way to Kamchak’s side. He had rather good seats, which hadn’t been there before, obtained by the Tuchuk method of finding two individuals sitting closely together and then sitting down between them. He had also parked Aphris on his right and Elizabeth on his left. I bit out the cork in the Paga and passed it past Elizabeth to Kamchak, as courtesy demanded.
About a third of the bottle was missing when Elizabeth, looking faint at having smelled the beverage, returned it to me.
I heard two snaps and I saw that Kamchak had put a hobble on Aphris. The slave hobble consists of two rings, one for a wrist, the other for an ankle, joined by about seven inches of chain. In a right-handed girl, such as either Aphris or Elizabeth, it locks on the right wrist and left ankle. When the girl kneels, in any of the traditional positions of the Gorean woman, either slave or free, it is not uncomfortable.
In spite of the hobble, Aphris, in the yellow camisk, black hair flowing behind her, was kneeling alertly by Kamchak’s side, looking about her with great interest. I saw several of the Tuchuks present eye her with admiration. Female slaves on Gor, of course, are used to being eyed boldly. They expect this and relish it. Aphris, I discovered, to my delight, was no exception.
Elizabeth Cardwell also had her head up, kneeling very straight, obviously not unconscious that she herself was the object of a look or two.
I noted that, in spite of the fact that Aphris had now been in the wagon for several days, Kamchak had not yet called for the Iron Master. The girl had neither been branded nor had the Tuchuk nose ring been affixed. This seemed to me of interest. Moreover, after the first day or two he had hardly-cuffed the girl, though he had once beaten her rather severely when she had dropped a cup. Now I saw that, though she had been only a few days his slave, already he was permitting her to wear the camisk. I smiled rather grimly to myself and took a significant swallow of Paga. “Wily Tuchuk, eh?” I thought to myself.
Aphris, for her part, though the quivas were still available, seemed, shortly after having begun to sleep at Kamchak’s boots, for some reason to have thought the better of burying one in his heart. It would not have been wise, of course, for even were she successful, her consequent hideous death at the hands of the Clan of Torturers would probably, all things considered, have made her act something of a bad bargain.
On the other hand she may have feared that Kamchak would simply turn around and seize her. After all, it is difficult to sneak up on a man while wearing collar and bells. Also, she may have feared more than death that if she failed in an attempt to slay him she would be plunged in the sack again which lay ever ready near the back, left wheel of the wagon.
That seemed to be an experience which she, no more than Elizabeth Cardwell, was not eager to repeat.
Well did I recall the first day following the first night of Aphris as the slave of Kamchak. We had slept late that day and finally when Kamchak managed to be up and around, after a late breakfast served rather slowly by Elizabeth, and had recollected Aphris and had opened the end of her sleeping quarters and she had crawled out backward and had begged, head to boot, to be allowed to draw water for the bosk, though it was early, it seemed evident to all that the lovely wench from Turia would not, could she help it, spend a night again similar to her first in the encampment of Tuchuks. “Where will you sleep tonight, Slave?” Kamchak had demanded. “If my master will permit,” said the girl, with great apparent sincerity, “at his feet.” Kamchak laughed.
“Get up, Lazy Girl,” said he, “the bosk need watering.” Gratefully Aphris of Turia had taken up the leather buckets and hurried away to fetch water.
I heard a bit of chain and looked up. Kamchak tossed me the other hobble. “Secure the barbarian,” he said.
This startled me, and startled Elizabeth as well.
How was it that Kamchak would have me secure his slave?
She was his, not mine. There is a kind of implicit claim of ownership involved in putting a wench in slave steel. It is seldom done save by a master.
Suddenly Elizabeth was kneeling terribly straight, looking ahead, breathing very quickly.
I reached around and took her right wrist, drawing it behind her body. I locked the wrist ring about her wrist. Then I took her left ankle in my hand and lifted it a bit, slipping the open ankle ring under it. Then I pressed the ring shut. It closed with a small, heavy click.
Her eyes suddenly met mine, timid, frightened.
I put the key in my pouch and turned my attention to the crowd. Kamchak now had his right arm about Aphris.
“In a short time,” he was telling her, “you will see what a real woman can do.”
“She will be only a slave such as I,” Aphris was responding.
I turned to face Elizabeth. She was regarding me, it seemed, with incredible shyness. “What does it mean,” she asked, “that you have chained me?”
“Nothing,” I said.
Her eyes dropped. Without looking up, she said, “He likes her.”
“Aphris the Slave?” I asked.
“Will I be sold?” she asked.
I saw no reason to hide this from the girl. “It is possible,” I said.
She looked up, her eyes suddenly moist. “Tarl Cabot,” she said, whispering, “if I am to be sold buy me.”
I looked at her with incredulity.
“Why?” I asked.
Kamchak reached across Elizabeth and dragged the Paga bottle out of my hand. Then he was wrestling with Aphris and had her head back, fingers pinching her nose, the neck of the bottle thrust between her teeth. She was struggling and laughing and shaking her head. Then she had to breathe and a great draught of Paga burned its way down her throat making her gasp and cough. I doubt that she had ever before experienced a drink stronger than the syrupy wines of Turia.
She was now gasping and shaking her head and Kamchak was pounding her on the back.
“Why?” I again asked Elizabeth.
But Elizabeth, with her free left hand had seized the Paga bottle from Kamchak, and, to his amazement, had thrown back her head and taken, without realizing the full import of her action, about five lusty, guzzling swallows of Paga. Then, as I rescued the bottle, her eyes opened very wide and then blinked about ten times. She exhaled slowly as if fire might be sizzling out instead of breath and then she shook, a delayed reaction, as if she had been thumped five times and then began to cough spasmodically and painfully until I, fearing she might suffocate, pounded her several times on the back. At last, bent over, gasping for breath, she seemed to be coming around. I held her by the shoulders and suddenly she turned herself in my hands and, as I was sitting cross-legged, threw herself on her back across my lap, her right wrist still chained to her left ankle. She stretched insolently, as well as she could. I was astounded. She looked up at me. “Because I am better than Dina and Tenchika,” she said.
“But not better than Aphris,” called Aphris.
“Yes,” said Elizabeth, “better than Aphris.”
“Get up, Little She-Sleen,” said Kamchak, amused, “or to preserve my honour I must have you impaled.”
Elizabeth looked up at me.
“She’s drunk,” I told Kamchak.
“Some men might like a barbarian girl,” Elizabeth said.
I hoisted Elizabeth back up on her knees. “No one will buy me,” she wailed.
There were immediate offers from three or four of the Tuchuks gathered about, and I was afraid that Kamchak might, if the bids improved, part with Miss Cardwell on the spot.
“Sell her,” advised Aphris.
“Be quiet, Slave,” said Elizabeth.
Kamchak was roaring with laughter.
The Paga had apparently hit Miss Cardwell swiftly and hard. She seemed barely able to kneel and, at last, I permitted her to lean against me, and she did, her chin on my right shoulder.
“You know,” said Kamchak, “the Little Barbarian wears your chain well.”
“Nonsense,” I said.
“I saw,” said Kamchak, “how at the games when you thought the men of Turia charging you were prepared to rescue the wench.”
“I wouldn’t have wanted your property Kamchak,” I said.
“You like her,” announced Kamchak.
“Nonsense,” I said to him.
“Nonsense,” said Elizabeth, sleepily.
“Sell her to him,” recommended Aphris, hiccupping.
“You only want to be First Girl,” said Elizabeth.
“I’d give her away myself,” said Aphris. “She is only a barbarian.”
Elizabeth lifted her head from my shoulder and regarded me. She spoke in English. “My name is Miss Elizabeth Cardwell, Mr. Cabot,” she said, “would you like to buy me?”
“No,” I said, in English.
“I didn’t think so,” she said, again in English, and put her head back on my shoulder.
“Did you not observe,” asked Kamchak, “how she moved and breathed when you locked the steel on her?”
I hadn’t thought much about it. “I guess not,” I said.
“Why do you think I let you chain her?” asked Kamchak.
“I don’t know,” I said.
“To see,” he said. “And it is as I thought your steel kindles her.”
“Nonsense,” I said.
“Nonsense.” said Elizabeth.
“I suppose,” said Elizabeth, “I could hop all the way on one foot.”
I myself doubted that this would be feasible, particularly In her condition.
“You probably could,” said Aphris, “you have muscular legs”
I did not regard Miss Cardwell’s legs as muscular. She was, however, a good runner.
Miss Cardwell lifted her chin from my shoulder. “Slave,” she said.
“Barbarian,” retorted Aphris.
“Release her,” said Kamchak.
I reached into the pouch at my belt to secure the key to the hobble.
“No,” said Elizabeth, “I will stay.”
“If Master permits,” added Aphris.
“Yes,” said Elizabeth, glowering, “if Master permits.”
“All right,” said Kamchak.
“Thank you, Master,” said Elizabeth politely, and once more put her head on my shoulder.
“You should buy her” said Kamchak.
“No,” I said.
“I will give you a good price,” he said.
Oh, yes, I said to myself, a good price, and ho, ho, ho.
“No,” I said.
“Very well,” said Kamchak.
I breathed more easily.
About that time the black-clad figure of a woman appeared on the steps of the slave wagon. I heard Kamchak hush up Aphris of Turia and he gave Elizabeth a poke in the ribs that she might bestir herself. “Watch, you miserable cooking-pot wenches,” he said, “and learn a thing or two!”
A silence came over the crowd. Almost without meaning to, I noticed, over to one side, a hooded member of the Clan of Torturers. I was confident it was he who had often followed me about the camp.
But this matter was dismissed from my mind by the performance which was about to begin. Aphris was watching intently, her lips parted. Kamchak’s eyes were gleaming.
Even Elizabeth had lifted her head now from my shoulder and was rising on her knees a bit for a clearer view.
The figure of the woman, swathed in black, heavily veiled, descended the steps of the slave wagon. Once at the foot of the stairs she stopped and stood for a long moment. Then the musicians began, the hand-drums first, a rhythm of heartbeat and flight.
To the music, beautifully, it seemed the frightened figure ran first here and then there, occasionally avoiding imaginary objects or throwing up her arms, ran as though through the crowds of a burning city alone, yet somehow suggesting the presence about her of hunted others. Now, in the background, scarcely to be seen, was the figure of a warrior in scarlet cape. He, too, in his way, though hardly seeming to move, approached, and it seemed that wherever the girl might flee there was found the warrior. And then at last his hand was upon her shoulder and she threw hack her and lifted her hands and it seemed her entire hotly was wretchedness and despair. He turned the figure to hen and, with both hands, brushed away hood and veil.
There was a cry of delight from the crowd.
The girl’s face was fixed in the dancer’s stylized moan of terror, but she was beautiful. I had seen her before, of course, as had Kamchak, but it was startling still to see her thus in the firelight her hair was long and silken black, her eyes dark, the colour of her skin tarnish.
She seemed to plead with the warrior but he did not move.
She seemed to writhe in misery and try to escape his grip but she did not.
Then he removed his hands from her shoulders and, as the crowd cried out, she sank in abject misery at his feet and performed the ceremony of submission, kneeling, lowering the head and lifting and extending the arms, wrists crossed.
The warrior then turned from her and held out one hand.
Someone from the darkness threw him, coiled, the chain and collar.
He gestured for the woman to rise and she did so and stood before him, head lowered.
He pushed up her head and then, with a click that could be heard throughout the enclosure, closed the collar a Turian collar about her throat. The chain to which the collar was attached was a good deal longer than that of the Sirik, containing perhaps twenty feet of length.
Then, to the music, the girl seemed to twist and turn and move away from him, as he played out the chain, until she stood wretched some twenty feet from him at the chain’s length. She did not move then for a moment, but stood crouched down, her hands on the chain.
I saw that Aphris and Elizabeth were watching fascinated.
Kamchak, too, would not take his eyes from the woman.
The music had stopped.
Then with a suddenness that almost made me jump and the crowd cry out with delight-the music began again but this time as a barbaric cry of rebellion and rage and the wench from Port Kar was suddenly a chained she-larl biting and tearing at the chain and she had cast her black robes from her and stood savage revealed in diaphanous, swirling yellow Pleasure Silk. There was now a frenzy and hatred in the dance, a fury even to the baring of teeth and snarling. She turned within the collar, as the Turian collar is designed to permit. She circled the warrior like a captive moon to his imprisoning scarlet sun, always at the length of the chain.
Then he would take up a fist of chain, drawing her each time inches closer. At times he would permit her to draw back again, but never to the full length of the chain, and each time he permitted her to withdraw, it was less than the last.
The dance consists of several phases, depending on the general orbit allowed the girl by the chain. Certain of these phases are very slow, in which there is almost no movement, save perhaps the turning of a head or the movement of a hand; others ate defiant and swift; some are graceful and pleading; some stately, some simple; some proud, some piteous; but each time, as the common thread, she is drawn closer to the caped warrior. At last his fist was within the Turian collar itself and he drew the girl, piteous and exhausted, to his lips, subduing her with his kiss, and then her arms were about his neck and unresisting, obedient, her head to his chest, she was lifted lightly in his arms and carried from the firelight.
Kamchak and I, and others, threw coins of gold into the sand near the fire.
“She was beautiful,” cried out Aphris of Turia.
“I never knew a woman,” said Elizabeth, her eyes blazing, showing few signs of the Paga, “could be so beautiful!”
“She was marvellous,” I said.
“And I,” howled Kamchak, “have only miserable cooking-pot wenches!”
Kamchak and I were standing up. Aphris suddenly put her head to his thigh, looking down. “Tonight,” she whispered, “make me a slave.”
Kamchak put his fist in her hair and lifted her head to stare up at him. Her lips were parted.
“You have been my slave for days,” said he.
“Tonight,” she begged, “please, Master, tonight!”
With a roar of triumph Kamchak swept her up and slung her, hobbled as she was, over his shoulder and she cried out and he, singing a Tuchuk song, was stomping away with her from the curtained enclosure.
At the exit he stopped briefly and, Aphris over his shoulder, turned and faced Elizabeth and myself. He threw up his right hand in an expansive gesture. “For the night,” he cried, “the Little Barbarian is yours!” Then he turned again and, singing, disappeared through the curtain.!
Elizabeth Cardwell was staring after him. Then she looked up at me. “He can do that, can’t he?” she asked.
“Of course,” I said.
“Of course,” she said, numbly. “Why not?” Then suddenly she jerked at the hobble but could not rise and nearly fell, and pounded her left fist into the dirt before her. “I don’t want to be a slaver” she cried. “I don’t want to be a slave!”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She looked up at me. There were tears in her eyes. “He has no right!” she cried.
“He has the right,” I said.
“Of course,” she wept, putting her head down. “It is like a book, a chair, an animal. She is yours! Take her! Keep her until tomorrow! Return her in the morning when you are finished with her!”
Head down she laughed and sobbed.
“I thought you wished,” I said, “that I might buy you.” I thought it well to jest with her.
“Don’t you understand?” she asked. “It could have been anyone to whom I was given, not just to you, but to anyone, anyone!”
“That is true,” I said.
“To anyone!” she wept. “Anyone! Anyone!”
“Do not be distraught,” I said.
She shook her head, and looked up at me, and through the tears smiled.
“It seems, Master,” she said, “that for the hour I am yours.”
“It would appear so,” I said.
“Will you carry me over your shoulder to the wagon;” she asked, lightly, “like Aphris of Turia?”
“I’m sorry,” I said.
I bent to the girl’s shackles and removed them.
She stood up and faced me. “What are you going to do with me?” she asked. She smiled. “Master?”
I smiled. “Nothing,” I told her. “Do not fear.”
“Oh?” she asked, one eyebrow rising sceptically. Then she dropped her head. “Am I truly so ugly?” she asked.
“No,” I said, “you are not ugly.”
“But you do not want me?” she asked.
“No,” I said.
She looked at me boldly, throwing back her head. “Why not?” she asked.
What could I tell her? She was lovely, but yet in her condition piteous. I felt moved on her behalf. The little secretary, I thought to myself, so far from her pencils, the typewriter, the desk calendars and steno pads so far from her world so helpless, so much at Kamchak’s mercy and this night, should I choose, at mine.
“You are only a little barbarian,” I said to her. Somehow I thought of her still as the frightened girl in the yellow shift caught up in games of war and intrigue beyond her comprehension and, to a great extent, mine. She was to be protected, sheltered, treated with kindness, reassured. I could not think of her in my arms nor of her ignorant, timid lips on mine for she was always and would remain only the unfortunate Elizabeth Cardwell, the innocent and unwitting victim of an inexplicable translocation and an unexpected, unjust reduction to shameful bondage. She was of Earth and knew not the flames which her words might have evoked in the breast of a Gorean warrior nor did she understand herself truly nor the relation in which she, slave girl, stood to-a free man to whom she had been for the hour given I could not tell her that another warrior might at her-very glance, have dragged her helpless to the darkness between the high wheels of the slave wagon itself. She was gentle, not understanding, naive, in her way foolish a girl of Earth but not on Earth not a woman of Gor female on her own barbaric world she would always be of Earth the bright, pretty girl with the stenographer’s pad like many girls of Earth, not men but not yet daring to be woman. “But,” I admitted to her, giving her head a shake, “you are a pretty little barbarian.”
She looked into my eyes for a long moment and then suddenly dropped her head weeping. I gathered her into my arms to comfort her but she pushed me away, and turned and ran from the enclosure.
I looked after her, puzzled.
Then, shrugging, I too left the enclosure, thinking that perhaps I should wander among the wagons for a few hours, before returning.
I recalled Kamchak. I was happy for him. Never before had I seen him so pleased. I was, however, confused about Elizabeth, for it seemed to me she had behaved strangely this night. I supposed that, on the whole, she was perhaps distraught because she feared she might soon be supplanted as first girl in the wagon; indeed, that she might soon be sold.
To be sure, having seen Kamchak with his Aphris, it did not seem to me that either of these possibilities were actually unlikely. Elizabeth had reason to fear. I might, of course, and would, encourage Kamchak to sell her to a good master, but Kamchak, cooperative to a point, would undoubtedly have his eye fixed most decisively on the price to be obtained. I might, of course, if I could find the money, buy her myself and attempt to find her a kind master. I thought perhaps Conrad of the Kassars might be a just Master. He had, however, I, knew recently won a Turian girl in the games.
Moreover, not every man wants to own an untrained barbarian slave, for much, even if given to them, must be fed
crawl under the rope that joined them, my assailant was gone. All I received for my trouble were the angry shouts of the man leading the kaiila string. Indeed, one of the vicious beasts even snapped at me, ripping the sleeve on my shoulder.
Angry I returned to the wagon and drew the quiva from the boards.~
By this time the owner of the wagon, who was naturally curious about the matter, was beside me. He held a small torch, lit from the fire bowl within the wagon. He was examining, not happily, the cut in his planking. “A clumsy throw,” he remarked, I thought a bit ill-humoredly.
“Perhaps,” I admitted.
“But,” he added, turning and looking at me, “I suppose under the circumstances it was just as well.”
“Yes,” I said, “I think so.”
I found the Paga bottle: and noted that there was a bit of liquid left in it, below the neck of the bottle. I wiped off the neck and handed it to the man. He took about half of it and then wiped his mouth and handed it back. I then finished the bottle. I flung it into a refuse hole, dug and periodically cleaned by male slaves.
“It is not bad Paga,” said the man.
“No,” I said, “I think it is pretty good.”
“May I see the quiva?” asked the man.
“Yes,” I said.
“Interesting,” said he.
“What?” I asked.
“The quiva,” said he.
“But what is interesting about it?” I asked.
“It is Paravaci,” he said.
In the morning, to my dismay, Elizabeth Cardwell was not to be found.
Kamchak was beside himself with fury. Aphris, knowing the ways of Gor and the temper of Tuchuks, was terrified, and said almost nothing.
“Do not release the hunting sleep,” I pleaded with Kamchak.
“I shall keep them leashed,” he responded grimly.
With misgivings I observed the two, six-legged, sinuous, tawny hunting sleen on their chain leashes. Kamchak was holding Elizabeth’s bedding a rep-cloth blanket for them to smell. Their ears began to lay back against the sides of their triangular heads; their long, serpentine bodies trembled; I saw claws emerge from their paws, retract, emerge again and then retract; they lifted their heads, sweeping them from side to side, and then thrust their snouts to the ground and began to whimper excitedly; I knew they would first follow the scent to the curtained enclosure within which last night we had observed the dance.
“She would have hidden among the wagons last night,” Kamchak said.
“I know,” I said, “The herd sleep.” They would have torn the girl to pieces on the prairie in the light of the three Gorean moons.
“She will not be far,” said Kamchak.
He hoisted himself to the saddle of his kaiila, a prancing and trembling hunting sleen on each side of the animal, the chains running to the pommel of the saddle.
“What will you do to her?” I asked.
“Cut off her feet,” said Kamchak, “and her nose and ears, and blind her in one eye, then release her to live as she can among the wagons.”
Before I could remonstrate with the angry Tuchuk the hunting sleen suddenly seemed to go wild, rearing on their hind legs, scratching in the air, dragging against the chains. It was all Kamchak’s kaiila could do to brace itself against their sudden madness.
“Hah!” cried Kamchak.
I spied Elizabeth Cardwell approaching the wagon, two leather water buckets fastened to a wooden yoke she carried over her shoulders. Some water was spilling from the buckets.
Aphris cried out with delight and ran to Elizabeth, to my astonishment, to kiss her and help with the water.
“Where have you been?” asked Kamchak.
Elizabeth lifted her head innocently and gazed at him frankly. “Fetching water,” she said.
The sleen were trying to get at her and she had backed away against the wagon, watching them warily. “They are vicious beasts,” she observed.
Kamchak threw back his head and roared with laughter.
Elizabeth did not so much as look at me.
Then Kamchak seemed sober and he said to the girl. “Go into the wagon. Bring slave bracelets and a whip. Then go to the wheel.”
She looked at him, but did not appear afraid. “Why?” she asked.
Kamchak dismounted. “You were overly long in fetching water,” he said.
Elizabeth and Aphris had gone into the wagon.
“She was wise to return,” said Kamchak.
I agreed with him but would not say so. “It seems she was fetching water,” I pointed out.
“You like her, don’t you?” asked Kamchak.
“I feel sorry for her,” I said.
“Did you enjoy her yesterday?” asked Kamchak.
“I did not see her after she left the enclosure of the dance,” I said.
“If I had known that,” said Kamchak, “I would have had the sleen out last night.”
“Then,” I said, “it is fortunate for the girl that you did not know it.”
“Agreed,” smiled Kamchak. “Why did you not make use of her?” he inquired.
“She is only a girl,” I said.
“She is a woman,” said Kamchak, “with blood.”
By this time Elizabeth had returned with the whip and bracelets, and had handed them to Kamchak. She then went to stand by the left, rear wheel of the wagon. There Kamchak braceleted her wrists thigh over her head about the rim and over one of the spokes. She faced the wheel.
“There is no escape from the wagons,” he said.
Her head was high. “I know,” she said.
“You lied to me,” he said, “saying you went to fetch water.”
“I was afraid,” said Elizabeth.
“Do you know who fears to tell the truth?” he asked.
“No,” she said.
“A slave,” said Kamchak.
He ripped the larl’s pelt from her and I gathered that she would wear the garment no longer.
She stood well, her eyes closed, her right cheek pressed against the leather rim of the wheel. Tears burst from between the tightly pressed lids of her eyes but she was superb, restraining her cries.
She had still uttered no sound when Kamchak, satisfied, had released her, but fastening her wrists before her body with the bracelets. She stood trembling, her head down. Then he took her braceleted hands and with one hand raised her hands over her head. She stood so, her knees slightly flexed, head down.
“You think,” said Kamchak to me, “she is only a girl.”
I said nothing.
“You are a fool, Tarl Cabot,” said he.
I did not respond.
Coiled, in his right hand, Kamchak still held the slave whip.
“Slave,” said Kamchak.
Elizabeth looked at him.
“Do you wish to serve men?” he asked.
Tears in her eyes she shook her head, no, no, no. Then her head fell again to her breast.
“Observe,” said Kamchak to me.
Then, before I could realize what he intended, he had subjected Miss Cardwell to what, among slavers, is known as the Whip Caress. Ideally it is done, as Kamchak had, unexpectedly, taking the girl unawares. Elizabeth suddenly cried out throwing her head to one side. I observed to my amazement the sudden, involuntary, uncontrollable response to the touch. The Whip Caress is commonly used among Slavers to force a girl to betray herself.
“She is a woman,” said Kamchak. “Did you not see the secret blood of her? That she is eager and ready that she is fit prize for the steel of a master that she is female, and,” he added, “slave?”
“Nor” cried Elizabeth Cardwell. “Nor” But Kamchak was pulling her by the bracelets toward an empty sleen cage mounted on a low cart near the wagon, into which, still braceleted, he thrust her, then closing the door, locking it.
She could not stand in the low, narrow cage, and knelt, wrists braceleted, hands on the bars. “It is not truer” she screamed.
Kamchak laughed at her. “Female slave,” he said. She buried her head in her hands and wept. She knew, as well as we, that she had showed herself that her blood had leaped within her and its memory must now mock the hysteria of her denial that she had acknowledged tows and to herself, perhaps for the first time, the incontrovertible splendour of her beauty and its meaning.
Her response had been that of an utter woman.
“It’s not true!” she whispered over and over, sobbing as she had not from the cruel strokes of the whip. “It’s not truer”
Kamchak looked at me. “Tonight,” lie said, “I shall call the Iron Master.”
“Don’t,” I said.
“I shall,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
He smiled at me grimly. “She was too long in fetching water.”
I said nothing. Kamchak, for a Tuchuk, was not unkind.
The punishment of a runaway slave is often grievous, sometimes culminating in death. He would do no more to Elizabeth Cardwell than was commonly done to female slaves among the wagons, even those who had never dared to speak back or disobey in the least particular. Elizabeth, in her way, was fortunate. As Kamchak might have said, he was permitting her to live. I did not think she would be tempted to run away again.
I saw Aphris sneaking to the cage to bring Elizabeth a dipper of water. Aphris was crying.
Kamchak, if he saw, did not stop her. “Come along,” he said. “There is a new kaiila I want to see near the wagon of Yachi of the Leather Workers’ Clan.”
It was a busy day for Kamchak.
He did not buy the kaiila near the wagon of Yachi of the Leather Workers though it was apparently a splendid beast.
At one point, he wrapped a heavy fur and leather robe-about his left arm and struck the beast suddenly on the snout with his right hand. It had not struck back at him swiftly enough to please him, and there were only four needle like scratches in the arm guard before Kamchak had managed to leap back and the kaiila, lunging against its chain, was snapping at him.
“Such a slow beast,” said Kamchak, “might in battle cost a man his life.” I supposed it true. The kaiila and its master fight in battle as one unit, seemingly a single savage animal, armed with teeth and lance. After looking at the kaiila Kamchak visited a wagon where he discussed the crossing of one of his cows with the owner’s bull, in exchange for a similar favour on his own part. This matter was arranged to their mutual satisfaction. At another wagon he haggled over a set of quiva, forged in Ar, and, obtaining his price, arranged to have them, with a new saddle, brought to his wagon on the morrow. We lunched on dried bosk meat and Paga and then he trooped to the wagon of Kutaituchik, where he exchanged pleasantries with the somnolent figure on the robe of grey boskhide, about the health of the bosk, the sharpness of quivas and the necessity of keeping wagon axles greased, and certain other matters. While near Kutaituchik’s wagon, on the dais, he also conferred with several other high men among the Tuchuks. Kamchak, as I had learned before, held a position of some importance with the Tuchuks. After seeing Kutaituchik and the others, Kamchak stopped by an Iron Master’s wagon, and, to my irritation, arranged for the fellow to come by the wagon that very night. “I can’t keep her in a sleen cage forever,” Kamchak said. “There is work to be done about the wagon.” Then, to my delight, Kamchak, borrowing two kaiila, which he seemed to have no difficulty doing from a Tuchuk warrior I had not even seen before rode with me to the Omen Valley.
Coming over a low, rolling hill, we saw a large number of tents pitched in a circle, surrounding a large grassy area. In the grassy area, perhaps about two hundred yards in diameter, there were literally hundreds of small, stone altars. There was a large circular stone platform in the centre of the field.
On the top of this platform was a huge, four-sided altar which was approached by steps on all four sides. On one side of this altar I saw the sign of the Tuchuks, and on the others; that of the Kassars, the Kataii and the Paravaci. I had not mentioned the matter of the Paravaci quiva which had almost struck me last night, having been in the morning disturbed about the disappearance of Elizabeth Cardwell and in the afternoon busy following Kamchak about in his rounds. I resolved to mention the matter to him sometime but not this evening for I was convinced this would not be a good evening for anyone in the wagon, except perhaps for Kamchak, who seemed pleased about the arrangements he had made with the herder pertaining to crossing livestock and the bargain, it seemed, he had contracted with the fellow with the quivas and saddle.
There were a large number of tethered animals about the outer edge of the circle, and, beside them, stood many haruspexes. Indeed, I supposed there must be one haruspex at least for each of the many altars in the field. Among the animals I saw many verrs; some domestic tarsks, their tusks sheathed; cages of flapping vulos, some sleen, some kaiila, even some bosk; by the Paravaci haruspexes I saw manacled male slaves, if such were to be permitted; commonly, I understood from Kamchak, the Tuchuks, Kassars and Kataii rule out the sacrifice of slaves because their hearts and livers are thought to be, fortunately for the slaves, untrustworthy in registering portents; after all, as Kamchak pointed out, who would trust a Turian slave in the kes with a matter so important as the election of a Ubar San; it seemed to me good logic and, of course, I am sure the slaves, too, were taken with the cogency of the argument. The animals sacrificed, incidentally, are later used for food, so the Omen Taking, far from being a waste of animals, is actually a time of feasting and plenty for the Wagon Peoples, who regard the Omen Taking, provided it results that no Ubar San is to be chosen, as an occasion for gaiety and festival. As I may have mentioned, no Ubar San had been chosen for more than a hundred years.
As yet the Omen Taking had not begun. The haruspexes had not rushed forward to the altars. On the other hand on each altar there burned a small bosk-dung fire into which, like a tiny piece of kindling, had been placed — an incense stick.
Kamchak and I dismounted and, from outside the circle, watched the four chief haruspexes of the Wagon Peoples approach the huge altar in the centre of the field. Behind them another four haruspexes, one from each People, carried a large wooden cage, made of sticks lashed together, which contained perhaps a dozen white vulos, domesticated pigeons.
This cage they placed on the altar. I then noted that each of the four chief haruspexes carried, about his shoulder, a white linen sack, somewhat like a peasant’s rep-cloth seed bag.
“This is the first Omen,” said Kamchak, “The Omen to see if the Omens are propitious to take the Omens.”
“Oh,” I said.
Each of the four haruspexes then, after intoning an involved entreaty of some sort to the sky, which at the time was shining beneficently, suddenly cast a handful of something doubtless grain to the pigeons in the stick cage.
Even from where I stood I could see the pigeons pecking at the grain in reassuring frenzy.
The four haruspexes turned then, each one facing his own minor haruspexes and anyone else who might be about, and called out, “It is propitious!”
There was a pleased cry at this announcement from the throng.
“This part of the Omen Taking always goes well,” I was informed by Kamchak.
“Why is that?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. Then he looked at me. “Perhaps,” he proposed, “it is because the vulos are not fed for three days prior to the taking of the Omen.”
“Perhaps,” I admitted.
“I,” said Kamchak, “would like a bottle of Paga.”
“I, too,” I admitted.
“Who will buy?” he asked.
I refused to speak.
“We could wager,” he suggested.
“I’ll buy it,” I said.
I could now see the other haruspexes of the peoples pouring with their animals toward the altars. The Omen Taking as a whole lasts several days and consumes hundreds of animals. A tally is kept, from day to day. One haruspex, as we left, I heard cry out that he had found a favourable liver.
Another, from an adjoining altar had rushed to his side. They were engaged in dispute. I gathered that reading the signs was a subtle business, calling for sophisticated interpretation and the utmost delicacy and judgment. Even as we made our way back to the kaiila I could hear two more haruspexes crying out that they had found livers that were clearly unfavourable. Clerks, with parchment scrolls, were circulating among the altars, presumably, I would guess, noting the names of haruspexes, their peoples, and their findings The four chief haruspexes of the peoples remained at the huge central altar, to which a white bosk was being slowly led.
It was toward dark when Kamchak and I reached the slave wagon to buy our bottle of Paga.
On the way we passed a girl, a girl from Cos taken hundreds of pasangs away in a raid on a caravan bound for Ar. She had been bound across a wagon wheel lying on the ground, her body over its hub. Her clothing had been removed. Fresh and clean on her burned thigh was the brand of the four bosk horns. She was weeping. The Iron Master affixed the Turian collar. He bent to his tools, taking up a tiny, open golden ring, a heated metal awl, a pair of pliers. I turned away. I heard her scream.
“Do not Korobans brand and collar slaves?” asked Kamchak.
“Yes,” I admitted, “they do.”
I could not rid my mind of the image of the girl from Cos weeping bound on the wheel. Such tonight, or on another night, would be the lovely Elizabeth Cardwell. I threw down a wild swallow of Paga. I resolved I would somehow release the girl, somehow protect her from the cruelty of the fate decreed for her by Kamchak.
“You do not much speak,” said Kamchak, taking the bottle, puzzled.
“Must the Iron Master be called,” I asked, “to the wagon of Kamchak.”
Kamchak looked at me. “Yes,” he said.
I glared down at the polished boards of the wagon floor.
“Have you no feeling for the barbarian?” I asked.
Kamchak had never been able to pronounce her name, which be regarded as of barbarian length and complexity. “E-liz-a-beth-card-vella” he would try to say, adding the “a” sound because it is a common ending of feminine names on Gor. He could never, like most native speakers of Gorean, properly handle the “w” sound, for it is extremely rare in Gorean, existing only in certain unusual words of obviously barbarian origin. The “w” sound, incidentally, is a complex one, and, like many such sounds, is best learned only during the brief years of childhood when a child’s linguistic flexibility is at its maximum those years in which it might be trained to speak any of the languages of man with native fluency a capacity which is, for most individuals at least, lost long prior to attaining their majority. On the other hand, Kamchak could say the sound I have represented as “vella” quite easily and would upon occasion use this as Elizabeth’s name. Most often, however, he and I simply referred to her as the Little Barbarian. I had, incidentally, after the first few days, refused to speak English to her, thinking it would be more desirable for her to learn to speak, think and hear in Gorean as rapidly as possible. She could now handle the language rather well. She could not, of course, read it. She was illiterate.
Kamchak was looking at me. He laughed and leaned over and slapped me on the shoulder. “She is only a slaver” he chuckled.
“Have you no feeling for her?” I demanded.
He leaned back, serious for a moment. “Yes,” he said, “I am fond of the Little Barbarian.”
“Then why?” I demanded.
“She ran away,” said Kamchak.
I did not deny it.
“She must be taught.”
I said nothing.
“Besides,” said Kamchak, “the wagon grows crowded and she must be readied for sale.”
I took back the Paga bottle and threw down another swallow.
“Do you want to buy her?” he asked.
I thought of the wagon of Kutaituchik and the golden sphere. The Omen Taking had now begun. I must attempt this night or some other in the near future to purloin the sphere, to return it somehow to the Sardar. I was going to say, “No,” but then I thought of the girl from Cos, bound on the wheel, weeping. I wondered if I could meet Kamchak’s price. I looked up.
Suddenly Kamchak lifted his hand, alert, gesturing for silence.
I noted, too, the other Tuchuks in the wagon. Suddenly they were not moving.
Then I too heard it, the winding of a bosk horn in the — distance, and then another.
Kamchak leaped to his feet. “The camp is under attack!” he cried.
Outside, as Kamchak and I bounded down the steps of the slave wagon, the darkness was filled with hurrying men, some with torches, and running kaiila, already with their riders.
War lanterns, green and blue and yellow, were already burning on poles in the darkness, signalling the rallying grounds of the Oralus, the Hundreds, and the Oralus, the Thousands.
Each warrior of the Wagon Peoples, and that means each able-bodied man, is a member of an Or, or a Ten; each ten is a member of an Oralus, or Hundred; each Oralus is a member of an Oralus, a Thousand. Those who are unfamiliar with the Wagon Peoples, or who know them only from the swift raid, sometimes think them devoid of organization, sometimes conceive of them as mad hordes or aggregates of wild warriors, but such is not the case. Each man knows his position in his Ten, and the position of his Ten in the Hundred, and of the Hundred in the Thousand. During the day the rapid move-meets of these individually manoeuvrable units are dictated by bosk horn and movements of the standards; at night by the bosk horns and the war lanterns slung on high poles carried by riders.
Kamchak and I mounted the kaiila we had ridden and, as rapidly as we could, pressed through the throngs toward our wagon.
When the bosk horns sound the women cover the fires and prepare the men’s weapons, bringing forth arrows and bows, and lances. The quivas are always in the saddle sheaths. The bosk are hitched up and slaves, who might otherwise take advantage of the tumult, are chained.
Then the women climb to the top of the high sides on the wagons and watch the war lanterns in the distance, reading them as well as the men. Seeing if the wagons must move, and in what direction.
I heard a child screaming its disgust at being thrust in the wagon.
In a short time Kamchak and I had reached our wagon.
Aphris had had the good sense to hitch up the bosk. Kamchak kicked out the fire at the side of the wagon. “What is it?” she cried.
Kamchak took her roughly by the arm and shoved her stumbling toward the sleen cage where, holding the bars, frightened, knelt Elizabeth Cardwell. Kamchak unlocked the cage and thrust Aphris inside with Elizabeth. She was slave and would be secured, that she might not seize up a weapon or try to fight or burn wagons. “Please!” she cried, thrusting her hands through the bars. But already Kamchak had slammed shut the door and twisted the key in the lock.
“Master!” she cried. It was better, I knew, for her to be secured as she was rather than chained in the wagon, or even to the wheel. The wagons, in Turian raids, are burned.
Kamchak threw me a lance, and a quiver with forty arrows and a bow. The kaiila I rode already had, on the saddle, the quivas,-the rope and bola. Then he bounded from the top step of the wagon onto the back of his kaiila and sped toward the sound of the bosk horns. “Master!” I heard Aphris cry.
Of their ranks with a swiftness and precision that was incredible, long, flying columns of warriors flowed like rivers between the beasts.
I rode at Kamchak side and in an instant it seemed we had passed through the bellowing, startled herd and had emerged on the plain beyond. In the light of the Gorean moons we saw slaughtered bosk, some hundreds of them, and, some two hundred yards away, withdrawing, perhaps a thousand warriors mounted on tharlarion.
Suddenly, instead of giving pursuit, Kamchak drew his mount to a halt and behind him the rushing cavalries of the Tuchuks snarled pawing to a halt, holding their ground. I saw that a yellow lantern was halfway up the pole below the two red lanterns.
“Give pursuit!” I cried.
“Wait!” he cried. “We are fools! Fools!”
I drew back the reins on my kaiila to keep the beast quiet.
“Listen!” said Kamchak, agonized.
In the distance we heard a sound like a thunder of wings and then, against the three white moons of Gor, to my dismay, we saw tarnsmen pass overhead, striking toward the camp. There were perhaps eight hundred to a thousand of them. I could hear the notes of the tarn drum above controlling the flight of the formation.
“We are fools!” cried Kamchak, wheeling his kaiila In an instant we were hurtling through ranks of men back toward the camp. When we had passed through the ranks, which had remained still, those thousands of warriors simply turned their kaiila, the last of them now first, and followed us.
“Each to his own wagon and war!” cried Kamchak.
I saw two yellow lanterns and a red lantern on the high pole.
I was startled by the appearance of tarnsmen on the south em plains. The nearest tarn cavalries as far as I knew were to be found in distant Ar.
Surely great Ar was not at war with the Tuchuks of the southern plains.
They must be mercenaries!
Kamchak did not return to his own wagon but now raced his kaiila, followed by a hundred men, toward the high ground on which stood the standard of the four bosk horns; on which stood the huge wagon of Kutaituchik, called Ubar of the Tuchuks.
Among the wagons the tarnsmen would have found only slaves, women and children, but not a wagon had been burned or looted.,
We heard a new thunder of wings and looking overhead saw the tarnsmen, like a black storm, drum beating and tarns screaming, streak by overhead.
A few arrows from those who followed us looped weakly up after them, falling then among the wagons.
The sewn, painted boskhides that had covered the domed framework over the vast wagon of Kutaituchik hung slashed and rent from the joined em-wood poles of the framework.
Where they were not torn I saw that they had been pierced as though a knife had been driven through them again and again, only inches apart.
There were some fifteen or twenty guards slain, mostly by arrows. They lay tumbled about, several on the dais near the wagon. In one body there were six arrows.
Kamchak leaped from the back of his kaiila and, seizing a torch from an iron rack, leaped up the stairs and entered the wagon.
I followed him, but then stopped, startled at what I saw.
Literally thousands of arrows had been fired through the dome into the wagon. One could not step without breaking and snapping them. Near the centre of the wagon, alone, his head bent over, on the robe of grey boskhide, sat Kutaituchik, perhaps fifteen or twenty arrows imbedded in his body. At his right knee was the golden kanda box. I looked about. The wagon had been looted, the only one that had been as far as I knew.
Kamchak had gone to the body of Kutaituchik and sat down across from it, cross-legged, and had put his head in his hands.
I did not disturb him.
Some others pressed into the wagon behind us, but not many, and those who did remained in the background.
I heard Kamchak moan. “The bosk are doing as well as might be expected,” he said. “The quivas I will try to keep them sharp. I will see that the axles of the wagons are greased.” Then he bent his head down and sobbed, rocking back and forth.
Aside from his weeping I could hear only the crackle of I the torch that lit the interior of the rent dome. I saw here and there, among the rugs and polished wood bristling with white arrows, overturned boxes, loose jewels scattered, torn robes and tapestries. I did not see the golden sphere. If it had been there, it was now gone.
At last Kamchak stood up.
He turned to face me. I could still see tears in his eyes.
“He was once a great warrior,” he said.
Kamchak looked about himself, and picked up one of the arrows and snapped it.
“Turians are responsible for this,” he said.
“Saphrar?” I asked.
“Surely,” said Kamchak, “for who could hire tarnsmen but Saphrar of Turia or arrange for the diversion that drew fools to the edge of the herds.”
I was silent.
“There was a golden sphere,” said Kamchak. “It was that which he wanted.”
I said nothing.
“Like yourself, Tarl Cabot,” added Kamchak.
I was startled.
“Why else,” asked he, “would you have come to the Wagon Peoples?”
I did not respond. I could not.
“Yes,” I said, “it is true I want it for Priest-Kings. It is important to them.”
“It is worthless,” said Kamchak.
“Not to Priest-Kings,” I said.
Kamchak shook his head. “No, Tarl Cabot,” said he, “the golden sphere is worthless.”
The Tuchuk then looked around himself, sadly, and then again gazed on the sitting, bent-over figure of Kutaituchik.
Suddenly tears seemed to burst from Kamchak’s eyes and his fists were clenched. “He was a great man!” cried Kamchak. “Once he was a great man.”
I nodded. I knew Kutaituchik, of course, only as the huge, somnolent mass of man who sat cross-legged on a robe of grey boskhide, his eyes dreaming.
Suddenly Kamchak cried out in rage and seized up the golden kanda box and hurled it away.
“There will now have to be a new Ubar of the Tuchuks,” I said, softly.
Kamchak turned and faced me. “No,” he said.
“Kutaituchik,” I said, “is dead.”
Kamchak regarded me evenly. “Kutaituchik,” he said, “divas not Ubar of the Tuchuks.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“He was called Ubar of the Tuchuks,” said Kamchak, “but he was not Ubar.”
“How can this be?” I asked.
“We Tuchuks are not such fools as Turians would believe,” said Kamchak. “It was for such a night as this that Kutaituchik waited in the Wagon of the Ubar.”
I shook my head in wonder.
“He wanted it this way,” said Kamchak. “He would have it no other.” Kamchak wiped his arm across his eyes. “He said it was now all he was good for, for this and for nothing else.”
It was a brilliant strategy.
“Then the true Ubar of the Tuchuks is not slain,” I said.
“No,” said Kamchak.
“Who knows who the Ubar truly is?” I asked.
“The Warriors know,” said Kamchak. “The warriors.”
“Who is Ubar of the Tuchuks?” I asked.
“I am,” said Kamchak.
Turia, to some extent, now lay under sedge, though the Tuchuks alone could not adequately invest the city. The other Wagon Peoples regarded the problem of the slaying of Kutaituchik and the despoiling of his wagon as one best left to the resources of the people of the four bosk. It did not concern, in their opinion, the Kassars, the Kataii or the Paravaci. There had been Kassars who had wanted to fight and some Kataii, but the calm heads of the Paravaci had convinced them that the difficulty lay between Turia and the Tuchuks, not Turia and the Wagon Peoples generally. Indeed, envoys had flown on tarnback to the Kassars, Kataii and Paravaci, assuring them of Turia’s lack of hostile intentions towards them, envoys accompanied by rich gifts.
The cavalries of the Tuchuks, however, managed to maintain a reasonably effective blockade of land routes to Turia. Four times masses of tharlarion cavalry had charged forth from the city but each time the Hundreds withdrew before them until the charge had been enveloped in the swirling kaiila, and then its riders were brought down swiftly by the flashing arrows of the Tuchuks, riding in closely, almost to lance range and firing again and again until striking home.
Several times also, hosts of tharlarion had attempted to protect caravans leaving the city, or advanced to meet scheduled caravans approaching Turia, but each time in spite of this support, the swift, harrying, determined riders of the Tuchuks had forced the caravans to turn back, or man by man, beast by beast, left them scattered across pasangs of prairie.
The mercenary tarnsmen of Turia were most feared by the Tuchuks, for such could, with relative impunity, fire upon them from the safety of their soaring height, but even this dread weapon of Turia could not, by itself, drive the Tuchuks from the surrounding plains. In the field the Tuchuks would counter the tarnsmen by breaking open the Hundreds into scattered Tens and presenting only erratic, swiftly moving targets; it is difficult to strike a rider or beast at a distance from tarnback when he is well aware of you and ready to evade your missile; did the tarnsman approach too closely, then he himself and his mount were exposed to the return fire of the Tuchuks, in which case of proximity, the Tuchuk could use his small bow to fierce advantage. The archery of tarnsmen, of course, is most effective against massed infantry or clusters of the ponderous tharlarion. Also, perhaps not unimportantly, many of Turia’s mercenary tarnsmen found themselves engaged in the time-consuming, distasteful task of supplying the city from distant points, often bringing food and arrow wood from as far away as the valleys of the eastern Cartius. I presume that the mercenaries, being tarnsmen a proud, headstrong breed of men made the Turians pay highly for the supplies they carried, the indignities of bearing burdens being lessened somewhat by the compensating weight of golden tarn disks.
There was no problem of water in the city, incidentally, for Turia’s waters are supplied by deep, tile-lined wells, some of them hundreds of feet deep; there are also siege reservoirs, Bled with the melted snows of the winter, the rains of the spring.
Kamchak, on kaiilaback, would sit in fury regarding the distant, white walls of Turia. He could not prevent the supplying of the city by air. He lacked siege engines, and the men, and the skills, of the northern cities. He stood as a nomad, in his way baffled at the walls raised against him.
“I wonder,” I said, “why the tarnsmen have not struck at the wagons with fire arrows why they do not attack the bosk themselves, slaying them from the air, forcing you to withdraw to protect the beasts.”
It seemed to be a simple, elementary strategy. There was, after all, no place on the prairies to hide the wagons or the bosk, and tarnsmen could easily reach them anywhere within a radius of several hundred pasangs.
“They are mercenaries,” growled Kamchak.
“I do not understand your meaning,” I said.
“We have paid them not to burn the wagons nor slay the bosk,” said he.
“They are being paid by both sides?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Kamchak, irritably.
For some reason this angered me, though, naturally, I was pleased that the wagons and boss; were yet safe. I suppose I was angered because I myself was a tarnsman, and it seemed somehow improper for warriors astride the mighty tarns to barter their favours indiscriminately for gold to either side.
“But,” said Kamchak, “I think in the end Saphrar of Turia will meet their price and the wagons will be fired and the bosk slain” He gritted his teeth. “He has not yet met it,” said Kamchak, “because we have not yet harmed him nor made him feel our presence.”
“We will withdraw,” said Kamchak. He turned to a subordinate. “Let the wagons be gathered,” he said, “and the bosk turned from Turia.”
“You are giving up?” I asked.
Kamchak’s eyes briefly gleamed. Then he smiled. “Of course,” he said.
I knew that I myself must somehow enter Turia, for in Turia now lay the golden sphere. I must somehow attempt to seize it and return it to the Sardar. Was it not for this purpose that I had come to the Wagon Peoples? I cursed the fact that I had waited so long even to the time of the Omen Taking for thereby had I lost the opportunity to try for the sphere myself in the wagon of Kutaituchik. Now, to my chagrin, the sphere lay not in a Tuchuk wagon on the open prairie but, presumably, in the House of Saphrar, a merchant stronghold, behind the high, white walls of Turia.
I did not speak to Kamchak of my intention, for I was confident that he would have, and quite properly, objected to so foolish a mission, and perhaps even have attempted to prevent my leaving the camp.
Yet I did not know the city. I could not see how I might enter. I did not know how I might even attempt to succeed in so dangerous a task as that which I had set myself.
The afternoon among the wagons was a busy one, for they were preparing to move. Already the herds had been eased westward, away from Turia toward Thassa, the distant sea.
There was much grooming of wagon bosk, checking of harness and wagons, cutting of meat to be dried hanging from the sides of the moving wagons in the sun and wind. In the morning the wagons, in their long lines, would follow the slowly moving herds away from Turia. Meanwhile the Omen I Taking, even with the participation of the Tuchuk haruspexes, continued for the haruspexes of the people would remain behind until even the final readings had been completed. I had heard, from a master of hunting sleen, that the Omens were developing predictably, several to one against the choice of a Ubar San. Indeed, the difficulty of the Tuchuks with the Turians had possibly, I guessed, exerted its influence on an omen or two in passing. One could hardly blame the Kassars, the Kataii and Paravaci for not wanting to be led by a Tuchuk against Turia or for not wanting to acquire the Tuchuk troubles by uniting with them in any fashion. The Paravaci were particularly insistent on maintaining the independence of the peoples
Since the death of Kutaituchik, Kamchak had turned ugly in manner. Now he seldom drank or joked or laughed. I missed his hitherto frequent proposals of contests, races and wagers. He now seemed dour, moody, consumed with hatred for Turia and Turians. He seemed particularly vicious with Aphris. She was Turian. When he returned that night from the wagon of Kutaituchik to his own wagon he strode angrily to the sleen cage where he had confined Aphris with Elizabeth during the putative attack. He unlocked the door and ordered the Turian maiden forth, commanding her to stand before him, head down. Then, without speaking, to her consternation he tore swiftly away the yellow camisk and fastened slave bracelets on her wrists. “I should whip you,” he said. The girl trembled. “But why, Master?” she asked.
“Because you are Turian,” he said. The girl looked at him with tears in her eyes. Roughly Kamchak took her by the arm and thrust her into the sleen cage beside the miserable Elizabeth Cardwell. He shut the door and locked it. “Master?” questioned Aphris. “Silence, Slave,” he said. The girl dared not speak. “There both of you will wait for the Iron Master,” he snarled, and turned abruptly, and went to the stairs to the wagon. But the Iron Master did not come that night, or the next, or the next. In these days of siege and war there were more important matters to attend to than the branding and collaring of female slaves. “Let him ride with his Hundred,” Kamchak said. “They will not run away let them wait like she-sleep in their cage not knowing on which day the iron will come.” Also, perhaps for no reason better than his suddenly found hatred for Aphris of Turia, he seemed in no hurry to free the girls from their confinement.
“Let them crawl out,” he snarled, “begging for a brand.”
Aphris, in particular, seemed utterly distraught by Kamchak’s unreasoning cruelty, his callous treatment of herself and Elizabeth perhaps most by his sudden, seeming indifference to her. I suspected, though the girl would not have dreamed of making the admission, that her heart as well as her body might nova rightfully have been claimed as his by the cruel Ubar of the Tuchuks. Elizabeth Cardwell refused to meet my eyes, and would not so much as speak to me. “Go away!” she would cry. “Leave me!” Kamchak, once a day, at night, the hour in which sleen are fed, would throw the girls bits of bosk meat and fill a pan of water kept in the cage. I remonstrated with him frequently in private but he was adamant. He would look at Aphris and then return to the wagon and sit cross-legged, not speaking, for hours, staring at the side of the wagon. Once he pounded the rug on the polished floor in front of him and cried out angrily, as though to remind himself of some significant and inalterable fact, “She is Turian! Turian!” The work of the wagon was done by Tuka and another girl, whom Kamchak hired for the purpose. When the wagons were to move, Tuka was to walk beside the cart of the sleen cage, drawn by a single bosk, and with a bosk stick guide the animal. I once spoke harshly to her when I saw her cruelly poke Elizabeth Cardwell through the bars with the bosk stick. Never did she do so again when I was nearby. She seemed to leave the distressed, red-eyed Aphris of Turia alone, perhaps because she was Turian, perhaps because she had no grievance against her. “Where now is the pelt of the red larl, Slave?” Tuka would taunt Elizabeth, threatening her with the bosk stick. “You will look pretty with a ring in your nose!” she would cry. “You will like your collar! Wait until you feel the iron, Slave like Tuka!” Kamchak never reproved Tuka, but I would silence her when I was present. Elizabeth endured the insults as though paying no attention, but sometimes at night I could hear her sobbing.
I searched among the wagons long before I found, sitting cross-legged beneath a wagon, wrapped in a worn bosk robe, his weapons at hand folded in leathers the young man whose name was Harold, the blond-haired, blue-eyed fellow who had been so victimized by Hereena, she of the First Wagon, who had fallen spoils to Turia in the games of Love War.
He was eating a piece of bosk meat in the Tuchuk fashion, holding He meat in his left hand and between his teeth, and cutting pieces from it with a quiva scarcely a quarter inch from his lips, then chewing the severed bite and then again holding the meat in his hand and teeth and cutting again.
Without speaking I sat down near him and watched him eat. He eyed me warily, and neither did he speak. After a time I said to him, “How are the bosk?”
“They are doing as well as night be expected,” he said.
“Are the quivas sharp?” I inquired.
“We try to keep them that way,” he said.
“It is important,” I observed, “to keep the axles of wagons greased.”
“Yes,” he said, “I think so.”
He handed me a piece of meat and I chewed on it.
“You are Tarl Cabot, the Koroban,” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “and you are Harold the Tuchuk.”
He looked at me and smiled. “Yes,” he said, “I am Harold the Tuchuk.”
“I am going to Turia,” I said.
“That is interesting,” said Harold, “I, too, am going to Turia.”
“On an important matter?” I inquired.
“No,” he said.
“What is it you think to do?” I asked.
“Acquire a girl,” he said.
“Ah,” I said.
“What is it you wish in Turia?” inquired Harold.
“Nothing important,” I remarked.
“A woman?” he asked.
“No,” I said, “a golden sphere.”
“I know of it,” said Harold, “it was stolen from the wagon of Kutaituchik.” He looked at me. “It is shill to lie worthless.”
“Perhaps,” I admitted, “but I think I shall go to Turia and look about for it. Should I chance to see it I might pick it up and bring it back with me.”
“Where do you think this golden sphere will be lying about?” asked Harold.
“I expect,” I said “it might be found here or there in the House of Saphrar, a merchant of Turia.”
“That is interesting,” said Harold, “for I had thought I might try chain luck in the Pleasure Gardens of a Turian merchant named Saphrar.”
“That is interesting indeed,” I said, “perhaps it is the same.”
“It is possible,” granted Harold. “Is he the smallish fellow, rather fat, with two yellow teeth.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Then I shall attempt not to he hitter,” I said.
“I think that is a good idea,” granted Harold.
Then we sat there together for a time, not speaking further, he eating, I watching while he cut and chewed the meat that was his supper. There was a fire nearby, but it was not his fire. The wagon over his head was not his wagon. There was no kaiila tethered at hand. As far as I could gather Harold had little more than the clothes on his back, a boskhide robe, his weapons and his supper.
“You will be slain in Turia,” said Harold, finishing his meat and wiping his mouth in Tuchuk fashion on the back of his right sleeve.
“Perhaps,” I admitted.
“You do riot even know how to enter the city,” he said.
“That is true,” I admitted.
“I can enter Turia when I wish,” he said. “I know a way.”
“Perhaps,” I suggested, “I might accompany you.”
“Perhaps,” he granted, carefully wiping the quiva on the back of his left sleeve.
“When are you going to Turia?” I asked.
“Tonight,” he said.
I looked at him. “Why have you not gone before?” I asked.
He smiled. “Kamchak,” he said, “told me to wait for you.”
I FIND THE GOLDEN SPHERE
It was not a pleasant path to Turia that Harold the Tuchuk showed to me, but I followed him.
“Can you swim?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. Then I inquired, “How is it that you, a Tuchuk, can swim?” I knew few Tuchuks could, though some had learned in the Cartius.
“I learned in Turia,” said Harold, “in the public baths where I was once a slave.”
The baths of Turia were said to be second only to those of Ar in their luxury, the number of their pools, their temperatures, the scents and oils.
“Each night the baths were emptied and cleaned and I was one of many who attended to this task,” he said. “I was only six years of age when I was taken to Turia, and I did not escape the city for eleven years.” He smiled. “I cost my master only eleven copper tarn disks,” he said, “and so I think he had no reason to be ill satisfied with his investment.”
“Are the girls who attend to the baths during the day as beautiful as it is said?” I inquired. The bath girls of Turia are almost as famous as those of Ar.
“Perhaps,” he said, “I never saw them during the day I and the other male slaves were chained in a darkened chamber that we might sleep and preserve our strength for the work of the night.” Then he added, “Sometimes one of the girls, to discipline her, would be thrown amongst us but we had no way of knowing if she were beautiful or not.”
“How is it,” I asked, “that you managed to escape?”
“At night, when cleaning the pools, we would be unchained, in order to protect the chain from dampness and rust we were then only roped together by the neck, I had not been put on the rope until the age of fourteen, at which time I suppose my master adjudged it wise prior to that I had been free a bit to sport in the pools before they were drained and sometimes to run errands for the Master of the Baths it was during those years that I learned how to swim and also became familiar with the streets of Turia one night in my seventeenth year I found myself last man on the rope and I chewed through it and ran, I hid by seizing a well rope and descending to the waters below there was movement in the water at the foot of the well and I dove to the bottom and found a cleft, through which I swam underwater and emerged in a shallow pool, the well’s feed basin I again swam underwater and this time emerged in a rocky tunnel, through which flowed an underground stream fortunately in most places there were a few inches between the level of the water and the roof of the tunnel it was very long, I followed it.”
“And where did you follow it to?” I asked.
“Here,” said Harold, pointing to a cut between two rocks, only about eight inches wide, through which from some underground source a flow of water was emerging, entering and adding to the small stream at which, some four pasangs from the wagons, Aphris and Elizabeth had often drawn water for the wagon bosk.
Not speaking further, Harold, a quiva in his teeth, a rope and hook on his belt, squeezed through and disappeared. I followed him, armed with quiva and sword.
I do not much care to recall that journey. I am a strong swimmer but it seemed we must confront and conquer the steady press of flowing water for pasangs and indeed we did so. At last, at a given point in the tunnel, Harold disappeared beneath the surface and I followed him. Gasping, we emerged in the tiny basin area fed by the underground stream. Here, Harold disappeared again under the water and once more I followed him. After what seemed to me an uncomfortably long moment we emerged again, this time at the bottom of a tile-lined well. It was a rather wide well, perhaps about fifteen feet in width. A foot or so above the surface hung a huge, heavy drum, now tipped on its side. It would contain literally hundreds of gallons-of water when filled. Two ropes led to the drum, a small rope to control its filling, and a large one to support it; the large rope, incidentally, has a core of chain; the rope itself, existing primarily to protect the chain, is treated with a waterproof glue made from the skins, bones and hoofs of bosk, secured by trade with the Wagon Peoples. Even so the rope and chain must be replaced twice a year. I judged that the top of the well might lie eight or nine hundred feet above us.
I heard Harold’s voice in the darkness, sounding hollow against the tiled walls and over the water. “The tiles must be periodically inspected,” he said, “and for this purpose there are foot knots in the rope.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. It is one thing to descend a long rope and quite another, even in the lesser gravity of Gor, to climb one particularly one as long as that which I now saw dimly above me.
The foot knots were done with subsidiary rope but worked into the fibre of the main rope and glued over so as to be almost one with it. They were spaced about every ten feet on the rope. Still, even resting periodically, the climb was an exhausting one. More disturbing to me was the prospect of bringing the golden sphere down the rope and under the water and through the underground stream to the place where we had embarked on this adventure. Also, I was not clear how Harold, supposing him to be successful in his shopping amongst the ferns and flowers of Saphrar’s Pleasure Gardens, intended to conduct his squirming prize along this unscenic, difficult and improbable route.
Being an inquisitive chap, I asked him about it, some two or three hundred feet up the rope “In escaping,” he informed me, “we shall steal two tarns and make away.”
“I am pleased to see,” I said, “that you have a plan.”
“Of course,” he said, “I am Tuchuk.”
“Have you ever ridden a tarn before?” I asked him.
“No,” he said, still climbing somewhere above me.
“Then how do you expect to do soy” I inquired, hauling myself up after him.
“You are a tarnsman, are you not?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“Very well,” said he, “you will teach me.”
“It is said,” I muttered, “that the tarn knows who is a tarnsman and who is not and that it slays him who is not.”
“Then,” said Harold, “I must deceive it.”
“How do you expect to do that?” I asked.
“It will be easy,” said Harold. “I am a Tuchuk.”
I considered lowering myself down the rope and returning to the wagons for a bottle of Paga. Surely tomorrow would be as propitious a day as any for my mission. Yet I did not care to pursue again that underground stream nor, particularly, on some new trip to Turia, to swim once more against it. It is one thing to roll about in a public bath or splash about in some pool or stream, but quite another to struggle for pasangs against a current in a tunnel channel with only a few inches between the water and the roof of the tunnel.-
“It should be worth the Courage Scar,” said Harold from above, “don’t you thinly so?”
“What?” I asked.
“Stealing a wench from the House of Saphrar and returning on a stolen tarn.”
“Undoubtedly,” I grumbled. I found myself wondering if the Tuchuks had an Idiocy Scar. If so, I might have nominated the young man hoisting himself up the rope above me as a candidate for the distinction.
Yet, in spite of my better judgment, I found myself somehow admiring the confident young fellow.
I suspected that if anyone could manage the madness on his mind it would surely be he, or someone such as he, someone quite as courageous, or daft.
On the other hand, I reminded myself, my own probabilities of success and survival were hardly better and here I was, his critic climbing up the drum rope, wet, cold, puking, a stranger to the city of Turia, intending to Steal an object the egg of Priest-Kings which was undoubtedly, by now, as well guarded as the Home Stone of the city itself. I decided that I would nominate both Harold and myself for an Idiocy Scar and let the Tuchuks take their pick.
It was with a feeling of relief that I finally got my arm over the crossbar of the windlass and drew myself up. Harold bad already taken up a position, looking about, near the edge of the well. The Turian wells, incidentally, have no raised wall, but are, save for a rim of about two inches in height, flat with the level. I joined Harold. We were in an inclosed well yard, surrounded by walls of about sixteen feet in height, with a defender’s catwalk about the inside. The walls provide a means for defending the water and also, of course, considering the number of wells in the city, some of which, by the way, are fed by springs, provide a number of defensible enclaves should portions of the city fall into enemy hands. There was an archway leading from the circular well yard, and the two halts of the timbered, arched gate were swung back and fastened on both sides. It was necessary only to walk through the archway and find ourselves on one of the streets of Turia. I had not expected the entry to the city to be so easy so to speak.
“The last time I was here,” said Harold, “was over five years ago.”
“Is it far to the House of Saphrar?” I asked.
“Rather far,” he said. “But the streets are dark.”
“Good,” I said. “Let us be on our way.” I was chilly in the spring night and my clothes, of course, were soaked. Harold did not seem to notice or mind this inconvenience. The Tuchuks, to my irritation, tended on the whole not to notice or mind such things. I was pleased the streets were dark and that the way was long.
“The darkness,” I said, “will conceal somewhat the wetness of our garments and by the time we arrive we may be rather dry.”
“Of course,” said Harold. “That was part of my plan.”
“Oh,” I said.
“On the other hand,” said Harold, “I might like to stop by the baths.”
“They are closed at this hour, are they not?” I asked.
“No,” said he, “not until the twentieth hour.” That was midnight of the Gorean day.
“Why do you wish to stop by the baths?” I asked.
“I was never a customer,” he said, “and I often wondered like yourself apparently if the bath girls of Turia are as lovely as it is said.”
“That is all well and good,” I said, “but I think it would be better to strike out for the House of Saphrar.”
“If you wish,” said Harold. “After all, I can always visit I the baths after we take the city.”
“Take the city?” I asked.
“Of course,” said Harold.
“Look,” I said to him, “the bosk are already moving away the wagons will withdraw in the morning. The siege is over. Kamchak is giving up.”
Harold smiled. He looked at me. “Oh, yes,” he said.
“But,” I said, “if you like I will pay your way to the baths.”
“We could always wager,” he suggested.
“No,” I said firmly, “let me pay.”
“If you wish,” he said.
I told myself it might be better, even, to come to the House of Saphrar late, rather than possibly before the twentieth hour. In the meantime it seemed reasonable to while away some time and the baths of Turia seemed as good a place as any to do so.
Arm in arm, Harold and I strode under the archway leading from the well yard.
We had scarcely cleared the portal and set foot in the street when we heard a swift rustle of heavy wire and, startled, looking up, saw the steel net descend on us.
Immediately we heard the sound of several men leaping down to the street and the draw cords on the wire net probably of the sort often used for snaring sleen began to tighten. Neither Harold nor myself could move an arm or hand and, locked in the net, we stood like fools until a guardsman kicked the feet out from under us and we rolled, entrapped in the wire, at his feet.
“Two fish from the well,” said a voice.
“This means, of course,” said another voice, “that others know of the well.”
“We shall double the guard,” said a third voice.
“What shall we do with them?” asked yet another man.
“Take them to the House of Saphrar,” said the first man.
I twisted around as well as I could. “Was this,” I asked Harold, “a part of your plan?”
He grinned, pressing against the net, trying its strength.
“No,” he said.
I, too, tried the net. The thick woven wire held well.
Harold and I had been fastened in a Turian slave bar, a metal bar with a collar at each end and, behind the collar, manacles which fasten the prisoner’s hands behind his neck.
We knelt before a low dais, covered with rugs and cushions, on which reclined Saphrar of Turia. The merchant wore his pleasure Robes of white and gold and his sandals, too, were of white leather bound with golden straps. His toenails, as well as the nails of his hands, were carmine in colour. His small, fat hands moved with delight as he observed us. The golden drops above his eyes rose and fell. He was smiling and I could see the tips of the golden teeth which I had first noticed on the night of the banquet.
Beside him, on each side, cross-legged, sat a warrior. The warrior on his right wore a robe, much as one might when emerging from the baths. His head was covered by a hood, such as is worn by members of the Clan of Torturers. He was toying with a Paravaci quiva. I recognized him, somehow in the build and the way he held his body. It was he who had hurled the quiva at me among the wagons, who would have been my assassin save for the sudden flicker of a shadow on a lacquered board. On the left of Saphrar there sat another warrior, in the leather of a tarnsman, save that he wore a jewelled belt, and about his neck, set with diamonds, there hung a worn tarn disk from the city of Ar.
Beside him there rested, lying on the dais, spear, helmet and shield.
“I am pleased that you have chosen to visit us, Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba,” said Saphrar. “We expected that you would soon try, but we did not know that you knew of the Passage Well.”
Through the metal bar I felt a reaction on the part of Harold. He had apparently when fleeing years ago, stumbled on a route in and out of the city which had not been unknown to certain of the Turians. I recalled that the Turians, because of the baths, are almost all swimmers.
The fact that the man with the Paravaci quiva wore the robe now seemed to be significant.
“Our friend,” said Saphrar, gesturing to his right, “with the hood preceded you tonight in the Passage Well. Since we have been in touch with him and have informed him of the well, we deemed it wise to mount a guard nearby fortunately, as it seems.”
“Who is the traitor to the Wagon Peoples?” asked Harold.
The man in the hood stiffened.
“Of course,” said Harold, “I see now the quiva he is Paravaci, naturally.”
The man’s hand went white on the quiva, and I feared he might leap to his feet and thrust the quiva to its hilt in the breast of the Tuchuk youth.
“I have often wondered,” said Harold, “where the Paravaci obtained their riches.”
With a cry of rage the hooded figure leaped to his feet, quiva raised.
“Please,” said Saphrar, lifting his small fat hand. “Let there be no ill will among friends.”
Trembling with rage, the hooded figure resumed his place on the dais.
The other warrior, a strong, gaunt man, scarred across the left cheekbone, with shrewd, dark eyes, said nothing, but watched us, considering us, as a warrior considers an enemy.
“I would introduce our hooded friend,” explained Saphrar, “but even I do not know his name nor face only that he stands high among the Paravaci and accordingly has been of great use to me.”
“I know him in a way,” I said. “He followed me in the camp of the Tuchuks and tried to kill me.”
“I trust,” said Saphrar, “that we shall have better fortune.”
I said nothing.
“Are you truly of the Clan of Torturers?” asked Harold of the hooded man.
“You shall find out,” he said.
“Do you think,” asked Harold, “you will be able to make me cry for mercy?”
“If I choose,” said the man.
“Would you care to wager?” asked Harold.
The man leaned forward and hissed. “Tuchuk sleen!”
“May I introduce,” inquired Saphrar, “Ha-Keel of Port Kar, chief of the mercenary tarnsmen.”
“Is it known to Saphrar,” I inquired, “that you have received gold from the Tuchuks?”
“Of course,” said Ha-Keel.
“You think perhaps,” said Saphrar, chuckling, “that I might object and that thus you might sow discord amongst us, your enemies. But know, Tarl Cabot, that I am a merchant and understand men and the meaning of gold, I no more object to Ha-Keel dealing with Tuchuks than I would to the fact that water freezes and fire burns and that no one ever leaves the Yellow Pool of Turia alive.”
I did not follow the reference to the Yellow Pool of Turia.
I glanced, however, at Harold, and it seemed he had suddenly paled.
“How is it,” I asked, “that Ha-Keel of Port Kar wears about his neck a tarn disk from the city of Ar?”
“I was once of Ar,” said scarred Ha-Keel. “Indeed, I can remember you, though as Tarl of Bristol, from the siege of Ar.”
“It was long ago,” I said.
“Your swordplay with Pa-Kur, Master of the Assassins, was superb.”
A nod of my head acknowledged his compliment.
“You may ask,” said Ha-Keel, “how it is that I, a tarnsman of Ar, ride for merchants and traitors on the southern plains?”
“It saddens me,” I said, “that a sword that was once raised in defence of Ar is raised now only by the beck and call of gold.”
“About my neck,” he said, “you see a golden tarn disk of glorious Ar. I cut a throat for that tarn-disk, to buy silks and perfumes for a woman. But she had fled with another. I, hunted, also fled. I followed them and in combat slew the warrior, obtaining my scar. The wench I sold into slavery. I could not return to Glorious Ar.” He fingered the tarn disk.
“Sometimes,” said he, “it seems heavy.”
“Ha-Keel,” said Saphrar, “wisely went to the city of Port Kar, whose hospitality to such as he is well known. It was there we first met.”
“Ha!” cried Ha-Keel. “The little urt was trying to pick my pouch!”
“You were not always a merchant, then?” I asked Saphrar.
“Among friends,” said Saphrar, “perhaps we can speak frankly, particularly seeing that the tales we tell will not be retold. You see, I know I can trust you.”
“How is that?” I asked.
“Because you are to be slain,” he said.
“I see,” I said.
“I was once,” continued Saphrar, “a perfumer of Tyros but I one day left the shop it seems inadvertently with some pounds of the nectar of talenders concealed beneath my tunic in a bladder and for that my ear was notched and I was exiled from the city. I found my way to Port Kar, where I lived unpleasantly for some time on garbage floating in the canals and such other tidbits as I could find about.”
“How then are you a rich merchant?” I asked.
“A man met me,” said Saphrar, “a tall man rather dreadful actually with a face as grey as stone and eyes like glass.”
I immediately recalled Elizabeth’s description of the man who had examined her for fitness to wear the message collar on Earth
“I have never seen that man,” said Ha-Keel. “I wish that I might have.”
Saphrar shivered. “You are just as well off,” he said.
“Your fortunes turned,” I said, “when you met that man?”
“Decidedly,” he said. “In fact,” continued the small merchant, “it was he who arranged my fortunes and sent me, some years ago, to Turia.”
“What is your city?” I demanded
He smiled. “I think,” he said, “Port Karl”
That told me what I wanted to know. Though raised in Tyros and successful in Turia, Saphrar the merchant thought of himself as one of Port Karl Such a city, I thought, could stain the soul of a man.
“That explains,” I said, “how it is that you, though in Turia, can have a galley in Port Karl”
“Of course,” said he.
“Also,” I cried, suddenly aware, “the rence paper in the message collar, paper from Port Kar!”
“Of course,” he said.
“The message was yours,” I said.
“The collar was sewn on the girl in this very house,” said he, “though the poor thing was anesthetized at the time and unaware of the honour bestowed upon her.” Saphrar smiled.
“In a way,” he said, “it was a waste I would not have minded keeping her in my Pleasure Gardens as a slave.”
Saphrar shrugged and spread his hands. “But he would not hear of it, it must be she!”
“Who is ‘he’?” I demanded.
“The grey fellow,” said Saphrar, “who brought the girl to the city, drugged on tarnback.”
“What is his name?” I demanded.
“Always he refused to tell me,” said Saphrar.
“What did you call him?” I asked.
“Master,” said Saphrar. “He paid well,” he added.
“Fat little slave,” said Harold.
Saphrar took no offence but arranged his robes and smiled.
“He paid very well,” he said.
“Why,” I asked, “did he not permit you to keep the girl as a slave?”
“She spoke a barbarous tongue,” said Saphrar, “like yourself apparently. The plan was, it seems, that the message would be read, and that the Tuchuks would then use the girl to find you and when they had they would kill you. But they did not do so.”
“No,” I said.
“It doesn’t matter now,” said Saphrar.
I wondered what death he might have in mind for me.
“How was it,” I asked, “that you, who had never seen me, knew me and spoke my name at the banquet?”
“You had been well described to me by the grey fellow,” said Saphrar. “Also, I was certain there could not have been two among the Tuchuks with hair such as yours.”
I bristled slightly. For no rational reason I am sometimes angered when enemies or strangers speak of my hair. I suppose this dates back to my youth when my flaming hair, perhaps a deplorably outrageous red, was the object of dozens of derisive comments, each customarily engendering its own rebuttal, both followed often by a nimble controversy, adjudicated by bare knuckles. I recalled, with a certain amount of satisfaction, even in the House of Saphrar, that I had managed to resolve most of these in my favour.
My aunt used to examine my knuckles each evening and when they were skinned which was not seldom, I trooped away to bed with honour rather than supper.
“It was an amusement on my part,” smiled Saphrar, “to speak your name at that time to see what you would do, to give you something, so to speak, to stir in your wine.”
It was a Turian saying. They used wines in which, as a matter of fact, things could be and were, upon occasion, stirred mostly spices and sugars.
“Let us kill him,” said the Paravaci.
“No one has spoken to you, Slave,” remarked Harold.
“Let me have this one,” begged the Paravaci of Saphrar, pointing the tip of his quiva at Harold.
“Perhaps,” said Saphrar. Then the little merchant stood up and clapped his hands twice. From a side, from a portal which had been concealed behind a hanging, two men-at-arms came forth, followed by two others. The first two carried a platform, draped in purple. On this platform, nestled in the folds of the purple, I saw the object of my quest what I had come so far to find that for which I had risked and, apparently, lost my Life, the golden sphere.
It was clearly an egg. Its longest axis was apparently about eighteen inches. It was, at its widest point, about a foot thick.
“You are cruel to show it to him,” said Ha-Keel.
“But he has come so far and risked so much,” said Saphrar kindly. “Surely he is entitled to a glimpse of our precious prize.”
“Kutaituchik was killed for it,” I said.
“Many more than he,” said Saphrar, “and perhaps in the end even more will die.”
“Do you know what it is?” I asked.
“No,” said Saphrar, “but I know it is important to Priest-Kings.” He stood up and went to the egg, putting his finger on it. “Why, though,” he said, “I have no idea, it is not truly of gold.”
“It appears to be an egg,” said Ha-Keel.
“Yes,” said Saphrar, “whatever it is, it has the shape of an egg.”
“Perhaps it is an egg,” suggested Ha-Keel.
“Perhaps,” admitted Saphrar, “but what would Priest-Kings wish with such an egg?”
“Who knows?” asked Ha-Keel.
“It. was this, was it not,” asked Saphrar, looking at me, “that you came to Turia to find?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “That is what I came to find.”
“See how easy it was!” he laughed.
“Yes,” I said, “very easy.”
Ha-Keel drew his sword. “Let me slay him as befits a warrior,” he said.
“No,” cried the Paravaci, “let me have him as well as the other.”
“No,” said Saphrar firmly. “They are both mine.”
Ha-Keel angrily rammed his sword back into the sheath.
He had clearly wanted to kill me honourably, swiftly. Clearly he had little stomach for whatever games the Paravaci or Saphrar might have in mind. Ha-Keel might have been a cutthroat and a thief but, too he was of Ar and a tarnsman.
“You have secured the object,” I inquired, “to give it to the grey man?”
“Yes,” said Saphrar.
“He will then return it to Priest-Kings?” I asked innocently.
“I do not know what he will do with it,” said Saphrar. “As long as I receive my gold and the gold will perhaps make me the richest man on Gor I do not care.”
“If the egg is injured,” I said, “the Priest-Kings might be, angry.”
“For all I know,” said Saphrar, “the man is a Priest-King. How else would he dare to use the name of Priest-Kings on the message in the message collar?”
I knew, of course, that the man was not a Priest-King. But I could now see that Saphrar had no idea who he was or for whom, if anyone, he was working. I was confident that the man was the same as he who had brought Elizabeth Cardwell to this world he who had seen her in New York and decided she would play her role in his perilous sports and that thus he had at his disposal an advanced technology certainly to the level of at least space flight. I did not know, of course, if the technology at his disposal was his own, or that of his kind, or if it were furnished by others unknown not seen who had their own stake in these games of two worlds, perhaps more. He might well be, and I supposed it true, merely an agent but for whom, or what? Something that would challenge even Priest-Kings blat, it must be, I something that feared Priest-Kings, or it would naturally have I struck this world, or Earth something that wanted Priest-Kings to die that the one world, or two, or perhaps even the system of our sun, would be freed for their taking.
“How did the grey man know where the golden sphere was?” I asked.
“He said once,” said Saphrar, “that he was told”
“By whom?” I asked.
“I do not know,” said Saphrar.
“You know no more?”
“No,” said Saphrar.
I speculated. The Others those of power, not Priest-Kings, must, to some extent, understand or sense the politics, the needs and policies of the remote denizens of the Sardar — they were probably not altogether unaware of the business of Priest-Kings, particularly not now, following the recent War of Priest-Kings, after which many humans had escaped the Place of Priest-Kings and now wandered free, if scoffed at and scorned for the tales they might bear possibly from these, or from spies or traitors in the Nest itself, the Others had learned the Others, I was sure, would neither jeer nor scoff at the stories told by vagabonds of Priest-Kings.
They could have learned of the destruction of much of the surveillance equipment of the Sardar, of the substantial reduction in the technological capabilities of Priest-Kings, at least for a short time and, most importantly, that the War had been fought, in a way, over the succession of dynasties thus learning that generations of Priest-Kings might be in the offing. If there had been rebels those wanting a new generation there must have been the seeds of that generation.
But in a Place of Priest-Kings there is only one bearer of young, the Mother, and she had died shortly before the War.
Thus, the Others might well infer that there was one, or more, concealed eggs, hidden away, which must now be secured that the new generation might be inaugurated, but hidden away quite possibly not in the Place of Priest-Kings itself, but elsewhere, out of the home of Priest-Kings, beyond even the black Sardar itself. And they might have learned, as well, that I had been in the War of Priest-Kings a lieutenant to Misk, the Fifth Born, Chief of the Rebels, and that I had now made my way to the southern plains, to the land of the Wagon Peoples. It would not then have required great intelligence to suspect that I might have come to fetch the egg or eggs of Priest-Kings.
If they had reasoned thus, then their strategy would seem likely to have been, first, to see that I did not find the egg, and, secondly, to secure it for themselves. They could guarantee their first objective, of course, by slaying me. The matter of the message collar had been a clever way of attempting to gain that end but, because of the shrewdness of! Tuchuks, who seldom take anything at its face value, it had failed; they had then attempted to bring me down among the wagons with a Paravaci quiva, but that, too, had failed; I grimly reminded myself, however, that I was now in the power of Saphrar of Turia. The second objective, that of obtaining the egg for themselves, was already almost accomplished; Kutaituchik had been killed and it had been stolen from his wagon; there was left only to deliver it to the grey man, who would, in turn, deliver it to the Others whoever or whatever they might be. Saphrar, of course, had been in Turia for years. This suggested to me that possibly the Others had even followed the movements of the two men ‘who had’ brought the egg from the Sardar to the Wagon Peoples.
Perhaps they had now struck more openly and quickly employing Gorean tarnsmen fearing that I might myself seize the egg first and return it to the Sardar. The attempt on my life took place one night and the raid on Kutaituchik’s wagon the next. Saphrar, too, I reminded myself, had known that the golden sphere was in the wagon of Kutaituchik. I was puzzled a bit that he had had this information. Tuchuks do not make good spies, for they tend to be, albeit fierce and cruel, intensely loyal; and there are few strangers allowed in the wagon of a Tuchuk Ubar. It occurred to me that perhaps the Tuchuks had made no secret of the presence of the golden sphere in Kutaituchik’s wagon. That puzzled me. On the other hand they may well not have understood its true value. Kamchak himself had told me the golden sphere was worthless poor Tuchuk! But now, I said to myself, poor Cabot! However it came about and I could not be sure Others than Priest-Kings had now entered the games of Gor and these Others knew of the egg and wanted It and, it seemed, would have it. In time Priest-Kings, those remaining, would die. Their weapons and devices would rust and crumble in the Sardar. And then, one day, like the pirates of Port Kar in their long galleys, unannounced, unexpected, Others would cross the seas of space and bring their craft to rest on the shores and sands of Gor.
“Would you like to fight for your life?” asked Saphrar of Turia.
“Of course,” I said.
“Excellent,” said Saphrar. “You may do so in the Yellow Pool of Turia.”
THE YELLOW POOL OF TURIA
At the edge of the Yellow Pool of Turia Harold and I stood, now freed of the slave bar, but with wrists tied behind our backs. I had not been given back my sword but the quota I had carried was now thrust in my belt.
The pool is indoors in a spacious chamber in the House of Saphrar with a domed ceiling of some eighty feet in height. The pool itself, around which there is a marble walkway some seven or eight feet in width, is roughly circular in shape and has a diameter of perhaps sixty or seventy feet.
The room itself is very lovely and might have been one of the chambers in the renowned baths of Turia. It was decorated with numerous exotic floral designs, done primarily in greens and yellows, representing the vegetation of a tropical river, perhaps the tropical belt of the Cartius, or certain of its tributaries far to the north and west. Besides the designs there were also, growing from planting areas recessed here and there in the marble walkway, broad-leafed, curling plants; vines; ferns; numerous exotic flowers; it was rather beautiful, but in an oppressive way, and the room had been heated to such an extent that it seemed almost steamy; I gathered the temperature and humidity in the room were desirable for the plantings, or were supposed to simulate the climate of the tropical area represented.
The light in the room came, interestingly, from behind a translucent blue ceiling, probably being furnished by energy bulbs. Saphrar was a rich man indeed to have energy bulbs in his home; few Goreans can afford such a luxury; and, indeed, few care to, for Goreans, for some reason, are fond of the light of flame, lamps and torches and such; flames must be made, tended, watched; they are more beautiful, more alive.
Around the edge of the pool there were eight large columns, fashioned and painted as though the trunks of trees, one standing at each of the eight cardinal points of the Gorean compass; from these, stretching often across the pool, were vines, so many that the ceiling could be seen only as a patchwork of blue through vinous entanglements. Some of the vines hung so low that they nearly touched the surface of the pool. A slave, at a sort of panel fused with wires and levers, stood at one side. I was puzzled by the manner in which the heat and humidity were introduced to the room, for I saw no vents nor cauldrons of boiling water, or devices for releasing drops of water on heated plates or stones. I had been in the room for perhaps three or four minutes before I realized that the steam rose from the pool itself. I gathered that it was heated. It seemed calm. I wondered what I was expected to meet in the pool. I would have at least the quiva.
I noted that the surface of the pool, shortly after we had entered, began to tremble slightly, and it was then once again calm. I supposed something, sensing our presence, had stirred in its depths, and was now waiting. Yet the motion had been odd for it was almost as if the pool had lifted itself, rippled, and then subsided.
Harold and I, though bound, were each held by two men-at-arms, and another four, with crossbows, had accompanied us.
“What is the nature of the beast in the pool?” I asked.
“You will learn,” Saphrar laughed.
I conjectured it would be a water animal. Nothing had yet broken the surface. It would probably be a sea-tharlarion, or perhaps several such; sometimes the smaller sea-tharlarion, seemingly not much more than teeth and tail, puttering in packs beneath the waves, are even more to be feared than their larger brethren, some of whom in whose jaws an entire galley can be raised from the surface of the sea and snapped in two like a handful of dried reeds of the rence plant. It might, too, be a Vosk turtle. Some of them are gigantic, almost impossible to kill, persistent, carnivorous. Yet, if it had been a tharlarion or a Vosk turtle, it might well have broken the surface for air. It did not. This reasoning also led me to suppose that it would not be likely to be anything like a water sleen or a giant urt from the canals of Port Karl These two, even before the tharlarion or the turtle, would by now, presumably, have surfaced to breathe.
Therefore whatever lay in wait in the pool must be truly aquatic, capable of absorbing its oxygen from the water itself. It might be gilled, like Gorean sharks, probably descendants of Earth sharks placed experimentally in Thassa millennia ago by Priest-Kings, or it might have the gurdo, the layered, ventral membrane, shielded by porous plating, of several of the marine predators perhaps native to Gor, perhaps brought to Gor by Priest-Kings from some other, more distant world than Earth. Whatever it was, I would soon learn.
“I do not care to watch this,” Ha-Keel said, “so with your permission, I shall withdraw.”
Saphrar looked pained, but not much more so than was required by courtesy. He benignly lifted his small fat hand with the carmine fingernails and said, “By all means, my dear Ha-Keel, withdraw if you so wish.”
Ha-Keel nodded curtly and turned abruptly and angrily strode from the room.
“Am I to be thrown bound into the pool?” I asked.
“Certainly not,” said Saphrar. “That would hardly be fair.”
“I am pleased to see that you are concerned with such matters,” I said.
“Such matters are very important to me,” said Saphrar.
The expression on his face was much the same as that I had seen at the banquet, when he had prepared to eat the small, quivering thing impaled on the coloured stick.
I heard the Paravaci, behind the hood, snicker.
“Fetch the wooden shield,” commanded Saphrar. Two of the men-at-arms left the room.
I studied the pool. It was beautiful, yellow, sparkling as though filled with gems. There seemed to be wound through its fluids ribbons and filaments and it was dotted here and there with small spheres of various colours. I then became aware that the steam that rose from the pool did so periodically, rather than continuously. There seemed to be a rhythm in the rising of the steam from the pool. I noted, too, that the surface of the pool licking at the marble basin in which it lay trapped seemed to rise slightly and then fall with the discharge of the steam.
This train of observation was interrupted by the arrival of Saphrar’s two men-at-arms bearing a wooden barrier of sorts, about four and a half feet high and twelve feet wide, which they set between myself and my captors, and Saphrar, the Paravaci and those with the crossbow. Harold and his captors, as well, were not behind the barricade. It was, like the curving wall of the room, decorated in exotic floral patterns.
“What is the shield for?” I asked.
“It is in case you might feel tempted to hurl the quiva at us,” said Saphrar.
That seemed foolish to me, but I said nothing. I certainly had nothing in mind so ridiculous as to hurl at enemies the one weapon which might mean life or death to me in my struggle in the Yellow Pool of Turia.
I turned about, as well as I could, and examined the pool again. I still had seen nothing break the surface to breathe, and now I was determined that my unseen foe must indeed be aquatic. I hoped it would be only one thing. And, too, larger animals usually move more slowly than smaller ones If it were a school of fifteen-inch Gorean pike, for example, I might kill dozens and yet die half eaten within minutes.
“Let me be sent first to the pool,” said Harold.
“Nonsense,” said Saphrar. “But do not be impatient for your turn will come.”
Though it might have been my imagination it seemed that the pool’s yellow had now become enriched and that the shifting fluid hues that confronted me had achieved new ranges of brilliance. Some of the filamentous streamers beneath the surface now seemed to roil beneath the surface and the colours of the spheres seemed to pulsate. The rhythm of the steam seemed to increase in tempo and I could now detect, or thought I could, more than simple moisture in that steam, perhaps some other subtle gas or fume, perhaps hitherto unnoticed but now increasing in its volume.
“Let him be untied,” said Saphrar.
While two men-at-arms continued to hold me, another undid the bonds on my wrists. Three men-at-arms, with crossbows, stood ready, the weapons trained on my back.~
“If I succeed in slaying or escaping the monster in the pool,” I said, casually, “I take it that I am then, of course, free.”
“That is only fair,” said Saphrar.
“Good,” I said.
The Paravaci, in the hood, threw back his head and laughed. The crossbowmen also smiled.
“None has, of course,” said Saphrar, “ever succeeded in doing either.”
“I see,” I said.
I now looked across the surface of the pool. Its appearance was now truly remarkable. It was almost as if it were lower in the centre and the edges higher near the marble basin, inching as high as they could toward our sandals. I took it that this was an optical illusion of some sort. The pool was now, it seemed, literally coruscating, glistening with a brilliance of hues that was phenomenal, almost like hands lifting and spilling gems in sunlit water. The filamentous strands seemed to go mad with movement and the spheres of various colours were almost phosphorescent, pulsating beneath the surface. The steam rhythm was now swift, and the gases or fumes mixed with that moisture, noxious. It was almost as though the pool itself respired.
“Enter the pool,” commanded Saphrar.
Feet first, quiva in hand, I plunged into the yellow fluid.
To my surprise the pool, at least near the edge, was not deep. I stood in the fluid only to my knees. I took a few more steps out into the pool. It became deeper toward the centre. About a third of the way toward the centre I was entered into the pool to my waist.
I looked about, searching for whatever it was that would attack me. It was difficult to look into the fluid because of the yellow, the glistening brilliance of the surface troubled by my passage.
I noted that the steam, and gas or fumes, no longer rose from the pool. It was quiet.
The filamentous threads did not approach me, but now seemed quiet, almost as if content. The spheres, too, seemed quiescent. Some of them, mostly whitish, luminescent ones, had seemed to float nearer, and hovered slightly beneath the surface, in a ring about me, some ten feet away. I took a step towards the ring and the spheres, doubtless moved by the fluids displaced in my step, seemed to slowly disperse and move away. The yellow of the pool’s fluid, though rich, no longer seemed to leap and startle me with its vibrance.
I waited for the attack of the monster.
I stood so, in the fluid to my waist, for perhaps two or three minutes.
Then, angrily, thinking perhaps the pool was empty, or had been made fool of, I cried out to Saphrar. “When is it that I meet the monster?”
Over the surface I heard Saphrar, standing behind the wooden shield, laugh. “You have met it,” he said.
“You lie!” I cried.
“No,” he responded, amused, “you have met it.”
“What is the monster?” I cried.
“The pool!” he shouted.
“The pool?” I asked.
“Yes,” said Saphrar, gleefully. “It is alive!”
THE PLEASURE GARDENS
At the very instant that Saphrar had called out there was a great blast of steam and fumes that seemed to explode from the fluid about me as though the monster in which I found myself had now, its prey satisfactorily entrapped, dared to respire and, at the same time, I felt the yellow fluid about my body begin to thicken and yell. I cried out suddenly in alarm horrified at my predicament and struggled to turn back and wade to the edge of the marbled-basin that was the cage of the thing in which I was, but the fluid, tightening about me, DOW seemed to have the consistency of a rich yellow, hot mud and then, by the time I had reached a level where it rose to a point midway between my knees and waist the fluid had become as resistant as wet, yellow cement and I could move no further. My legs began to tingle and sting, and I could feel the skin beginning to be etched and picked by the corrosive elements now attacking them.
I heard Saphrar remark, “It sometimes takes hours to be fully digested.”
Wildly, with the useless quiva, I began to slash and pick at the damp, thick stud about me. The blade would sink in fully, as though in a tub of wet cement, leaving a mark, but when it was withdrawn the mark would be erased by the material flowing in to fill the aperture
“Some men,” said Saphrar, “those who do not struggle have lived for as much as three hours long enough in some cases to see,”
I saw one of the vines hanging near me. My heart leaped wildly at this chance. If I could but reach it! With all my strength I moved towards it an inch and then another inch my fingers stretched, my arms and back aching, until in another inch I might have grasped it and then, to my horror, as I reached in agony for the vine, it rustled and lifted itself just beyond my reach. I moved toward it again, and again it did this. I howled with rage. I was going to try again when I saw the slave I had noticed earlier watching me, his hands on certain of the levers in the panel on the curving wall. I stood in the coagulating, tightening fluid, held fast a prisoner, and threw back my head in despair. He had, of course, controlled the movement of the vine from the panel, undoubtedly by wires.
“Yes, Tarl Cabot,” wheezed Saphrar, giggling, “and yet you will, in an hour or so, when you are mad with pain and fear, try yet again and again to touch and grasp a vine, knowing that you will not succeed but yet again and again trying, believing that once somehow you will be successful.”
“But you will not!” Saphrar now giggled uncontrollably. “I have even seen them reach for vines a spear’s length above their head and think they could reach them!” Saphrar’s two golden teeth, like yellow fangs, showed as he put back his head and howled with pleasure, his fat little hands pounding on the wood of the shield.
The quiva had turned itself in my hand and my arm flew back, that I might take with me in my death the tormentor, Saphrar of Turia.
“Beware!” cried the Paravaci and Saphrar suddenly stopped laughing and observed me warily.
If my arm should fly forward he would have time to leap below the wooden frame.
Now he was putting his chin on the wooden shield and watching me again, once more giggling.
“Many have used the quiva before now,” he said, “but usually to plunge it into their own heart.”
I looked at the blade.
“Tarl Cabot,” I said, “does not slay himself.”
“I did not think so,” said Saphrar. “And that is why you were permitted to keep the quiva.” Then he threw back his head and laughed again.
“You fat, filthy urt!” cried Harold, struggling in his bonds with the two men-at-arms who held him.
“Be patient,” giggled Saphrar. “Be patient, my impetuous young friend. Your turn will come!”
I stood as still as I could. My feet and legs felt cold and yet as if they were burning presumably the acids of the pool were at work. As nearly as I could determine the pool was thick, rubbery, gelatinous, only in the area near to my body. I could see it rippling, and splashing a bit against the edge of the marbled basin. Indeed, it was even lower toward the edge now, and had humped itself in my vicinity, as though in time it might climb my body and, in some hours perhaps, engulf me. But doubtless by then I would have been half digested, much of me little more than a cream of fluids and proteins then mixing with and nourishing the substance of my devourer the Yellow Pool of Turia.
I pushed now, with all my might, not toward the edge of the marbled basin, but rather toward the deepest part of the pool. To my satisfaction I found that I could move, though barely, in this direction. The pool was content that I should enter it more deeply, perhaps it even desired that I do so, that its meal might be even more readily obtained.
“What is he doing?” cried the Paravaci.
“He is mad,” said Saphrar.
Half inch I moved toward the centre of the pool my journey became easier. Then suddenly, the yellow, encircling cement like substance had oozed from my limbs and I could take two or three free steps. The fluid was now, however, to my armpits. One of the luminescent, white spheres floated by, quite close to me. To my horror I saw it change its shade as it neared the surface, more closely approaching the light.
As it had risen toward the surface, just beneath which it now rested, its pigmentation had changed from a luminescent white to a rather darkish grey. It was clearly photosensitive. I reached out and slashed at it with the quiva, cutting it, and it withdrew suddenly, rolling in the fluid, and the pool itself seemed suddenly to churn with steam and light. Then it was quiet again. Yet somehow I knew now the pool, like all forms of life, had some level of irritability. More of the luminescent, white orbs now floated about me, circling me, but none of them now approached closely enough to allow me to use the quiva.
I splashed across the centre of the pool, literally swimming. As soon as I had crossed the centre I felt the fluids of the pool once again begin to yell and tighten. By the time I had reached the level of my waist on the opposite side I could, once again, no longer move toward the edge of the pool. I tried this twice more, in different directions, with identically the same result. Always, the luminescent, photosensitive orbs seemed to float behind me and around me in the fluid. Then I was swimming freely in the yellow fluid at the centre of the pool. Beneath me, vaguely, several feet under the surface, I could see a collection, almost like threads and granules in a transparent bag, of intertwined, writhing filaments and spheres, imbedded in a darkish yellow jelly, walled in by a translucent membrane.
Quiva in my teeth I dove toward the deepest part of the Yellow Pool of Turin, where glowed the quickness and substance of the living thing in which I swam.
Almost instantly as I submerged the fluid beneath me began to jell, walling me away from the glowing mass at the bottom of the pool but, hand over hand, pulling at it and thrusting my way, I forced my way deeper and deeper into it.
Finally I was literally digging in it feet below the surface. My lungs began to scream for air. Still I dug in the yellow fluid, hands and fingernails bleeding, and then, when it seemed my lungs would burst and darkness was engulfing me and I would lose consciousness, I felt a globular, membranous tissue, wet and slimy, recoil spasmodically from my touch.
Upside down, locked in the gelling fluid, I took the quiva from my mouth and, with both hands, pressed down with the blade against that twitching, jerking, withdrawing membrane.
It seemed that the living, amorphous globe of matter which I struck began to move away, slithering away in the yellow fluids, but I pursued it, one hand in the torn membrane and continued to slash and tear at it. Crowded about my body now were entangling filaments and spheres trying, like hands and teeth, to tear me from my work, but I struck and tore again and again and then entered the secret world beneath the membrane slashing to the left and right and suddenly the fluid began to loosen and withdraw above me and within the membranous chamber it began to solidify against me and push me out, I stayed as long as I could but, lungs wrenching, at last permitted myself to be thrust from the membranous chamber and hurled into the loose fluid above. Now below me the fluid began to yell swiftly almost like a rising floor and it loosened and withdrew on all sides and suddenly my head broke the surface and I breathed. I now stood on the hardened surface of the Yellow Pool of Turia and saw the fluids of the sides seeping into the mass beneath me and hardening almost instantly. I stood now on a warm, dry globular mass, almost like a huge, living shell. I could not have scratched the surface with the quiva.
“Kill him!” I heard Saphrar cry, and there was suddenly the hiss of a crossbow quarrel which streaked past me and shattered on the curving wall behind me. Standing now on the high, humped dried thing, lofty on that protective coating I leaped easily up and seized one of the low hanging vines and climbed rapidly toward the blue ceiling of the chamber; I heard another hiss and saw a bolt from the crossbow shatter through the crystalline blue substance. One of the crossbowmen had leaped to the now dry floor of the manic basin and stood almost beneath me, his crossbow raised. I knew I would not be able to elude his quarrel. Then suddenly I heard his agonized cry and saw that beneath me, once again, there glistened the yellow fluids of-the pool, moving about him, for the thing perhaps thermotropic had again, as rapidly as it had hardened, liquefied and swirled about him, the luminescent spheres and filaments visible beneath its surface. The crossbow bolt went wild, again shattering the blue surface of the dome. I heard the wild, eerie cry of the luckless man beneath me and then, with my fist, broke the blue surface and climbed through, grasping the iron of a reticulated framework supporting numerous energy bulbs.
Far off, it seemed, I could hear Saphrar screeching for more guards.
I ran over the iron framework until, judging by the distance and curve of the dome, I had reached a point above where Harold and I had waited at the edge of the pool.
There, quiva in hand, uttering the war cry of Ko-ro-ba, feet first, I leaped from the framework and shattered through the blue surface landing among my startled enemies The crossbowmen were each winding their string tight for a new quarrel. The quiva had sought and found the heart of two before even they realized I was upon them. Then another fell. Harold, wrists still bound behind his back, hurled himself against two men and, screaming, they pitched backward into the Yellow Pool of Turia. Saphrar cried out and darted away.
The remaining two guardsmen, who had no crossbows, simultaneously whipped out their swords. Behind them, quiva poised in his fingertips, I could see the hooded Paravaci.
I shielded myself from the flight of the Paravaci quiva by rushing towards the two guardsmen. But before I reached them my quiva, with the underhand hilt cast, had struck the guardsman on my left. I moved to his right and from his strengthless hand, even before he fell, tore his weapon.
“Down!” cried Harold, and I fell to the floor barely sensible of the silverish quiva of the Paravaci speeding overhead. I took the attack of the second guardsman by rolling on my back and flinging up my blade in defence. Four times he struck and each time I parried and then I had regained my feet. He fell back from my blade, turned once and fell into the glistening, living liquid of the Yellow Pool of Turia.
I spun to face the Paravaci but he, weaponless, with a curse, turned and from the room.
From the breast of the first guardsman I removed the quiva, wiping it on his tunic.
I stepped to Harold and with one motion severed the bonds that constrained him.
“Not badly done for a Koroban,” he granted.
We heard running feet approaching, those of several men, the clank of arms, the high-pitched, enraged screaming of Saphrar of Turia.
“Hurry!” I cried.
Together we ran ate-out the perimeter of the pool until we came to a tangle of vines depending from the ceiling, up which we climbed, broke through the blue substance, and cast wildly about for an avenue of escape. There would be such, for the ceiling had been unbroken by a door or panel, and there must surely be some provision for the rearrangement and replacement of energy bulbs. We quickly found the exit, though it was only a panel some two feet by two feet, of a size for slaves to crawl through. It was locked but we kicked it open, splintering the bolt from the wood, and emerged on a narrow, unrailed balcony.
I had the guardsman’s sword and my quiva, Harold his quiva alone.
He had, running swiftly, climbed up the outside of a dome concentric to the one below, and was there looking about.
“There it is!” he cried.
“What?” I demanded. “Tarns! Kaiila!”
“No,” he cried, “Saphrar’s Pleasure Gardens!” and disappeared down the other side of the dome.
“Come back!” I cried.
But he was gone.
Angry, I sped about the dome, not wishing to silhouette myself against the sky on its curve, lest there be enemy bowmen within range.
About a hundred and fifty yards away, over several small roofs and domes, all within the vast compound that was the House of Saphrar of Turia, I saw the high walls of what was undoubtedly a Pleasure Garden. I could see, here and there, on the inside, the tops of graceful flower trees.
-I could also see Harold bounding along, from roof to roof, in the light of the three moons.
Furious I followed him.
Could I have but put my hands on him at the time I might have wrung a Tuchuk neck.
I now saw him leap to the wall and, scarcely looking about, run along and then leap to the swaying trunk of one of the flower trees and descend swiftly into the darkness of the gardens.
In a moment I followed him.
HAROLD FINDS A WENCH
I had no difficulty finding Harold. Indeed, coming down the segmented trunk of the dower tree, I almost landed on top of him. He was sitting with his back to the tree, puffing, resting.
“I have formed a plan,” he said to me.
“That is good news indeed,” I responded. “Does it include some provision for escaping?”
“I have not yet formed that part of it,” he admitted.
I leaned back against the tree, breathing heavily. “Would it not have been a good idea to reach the streets immediately?” I asked.
“The streets will be searched,” puffed Harold, “Immediately by all the guardsmen and men-at-arms in the city.” He took two or three deep breaths. “It will never occur to them to search the Pleasure Gardens,” he said. “Only fools would try to hide there.”
I closed my eyes briefly. I felt ready to concede his last point.
“You are aware, of course,” I mentioned, “that the Pleasure Gardens of so rich a man as Saphrar of Turia may contain a large number of female slaves not all of whom might be trusted to keep silent and some of whom will undoubtedly notice something as unusual as two strange warriors wandering about among the shrubs and ferns?”
“That is true,” said Harold, “but I do not expect to be here by morning.” He picked up a stalk of a patch of violet grass, one of several hues used in such gardens, and began to chew on it. “I think,” said he, “an hour or so will be sufficient perhaps less.”
“Sufficient for what?” I asked.
“For tarnsmen to be called in to aid in the search,” he said. “Their movements will undoubtedly be coordinated in the house of Saphrar and some tarns and their riders, if only messengers or officers will surely be available.”
Suddenly there seemed to me a real possibility in Harold’s plan. Undoubtedly tarnsmen, mounted, would come from time to time during the night to the House of Saphrar.
“You are clever,” I said.
“Of course,” he said, “I am a Tuchuk.”
“But I thought you told me,” I said, “that your plan did not yet contain a provision for escape.”
“At the time,” he said, “it did not but while sitting here I formed it.”
“Well,” I said, “I am glad.”
“Something always comes to me,” he said. “I am a Tuchuk.”
“What do you suggest we do now?” I asked.
“For the time,” said Harold, “let us rest.”
“Very well,” I said.
And so we sat with our backs against the flower tree in the House of Saphrar, merchant of Turia. I looked at the lovely, dangling loops of interwoven blossoms which hung from the curved branches of the tree. I knew that the clusters of flowers which, cluster upon cluster, graced those linear, hanging stems, would each be a bouquet in itself, for the trees are so bred that the clustered flowers emerge in subtle, delicate patterns of shades and hues. Besides several of the flower trees there were also some Ka-la-na trees, or the yellow wine trees of Gor; there was one large-bunked, reddish Tur tree, about which curled its assemblage of Tur-Pah, a vine like tree parasite with curled, scarlet, ovate leaves, rather lovely to look upon; the leaves of the Tur-Pah incidentally are edible and figure in certain Gorean dishes, such as sullage, a kind of soup; long ago, I had heard, a Tur tree was found on the prairie, near a spring, planted perhaps long before by someone who passed by; it was from that Tur tree that the city of Turia took its name; there was also, at one side of the garden, against the far wall, a grove of em-wood, linear, black, supple. Besides the trees there were numerous shrubs and plantings, almost all flowered, sometimes fantastically; among the trees and the coloured grasses there wound curved, shaded walks. Here and there I could hear the Rowing of water, from miniature artificial waterfalls and fountains. From where I sat I could see two lovely pools, in which lotus like plants floated; one of the pools was large enough for swimming; the other, I supposed, was stocked with tiny, bright fish from the various seas and lakes of Gor.
Then I became aware of the flickerings and reflections of light from over the wall, against some of the higher buildings about. I also heard the running of feet, the sound of arms. I could hear someone shouting. Then the noise, the light, passed.
“I have rested,” said Harold.
“Good,” I said.
“Now,” said he, looking about, “I must find myself a wench.”
“A wench!” I cried, almost a shout.
“Shhhh,” said he, cautioning me to silence.
“Have we not enough troubles?” I inquired.
“Why do you think I came to Turia?” he asked.
“For a wench,” I said.
“Certainly,” said he, “and I do not intend to depart without one.”
I gritted my teeth. “Well,” I said, “I am sure there are many about.”
“Doubtless,” said Harold, getting to his feet, as though he must now be back to work.
I, too, got to my feet.
He had no binding fibre, no slave hood, no tarn. Yet this absence of equipment did not deter him, nor did he seem to regard his deprivations in these particulars as worthy of note.
“It may take a moment to pick out one I like,” he apologized.
“That is all right,” I assured him, “take your time.”
I then followed Harold along one of the smooth, stone paths leading among the trees, brushing our way through the clusters of blossoms, skirting the edge of the nearer blue pool. I could see the three moons of Gor rejected in its surface. They were beautiful shining among the green and white blossoms on the water.
The masses of flowers and vegetation in Saphrar’s Pleasure Gardens filled the air with mingled, heavy sweet fragrances.
Also the fountains had been scented and the pools.
Harold left the walk and stepped carefully to avoid trampling a patch of talenders, a delicate yellow flower, often associated in the Gorean mind with love and beauty. He made his way across some dark blue and yellowish orange grass and came to the buildings set against one wall of the gardens. Here we climbed several low, broad marble steps and passed down a columned porch and entered the central building, finding ourselves in a dim, lamp-lit hall, bestrewn with carpets and cushions and decorated, here and there, with carved, reticulated white screening.
There were seven or eight girls, clad in Pleasure Silks, sleeping in this hall, scattered about, curled up on cushions.
Harold inspected them, but did not seem satisfied. I looked them over nod would have thought that any one of them would have been a prize, presuming it could be safely transported somehow to the wagons of the Tuchuks. One poor girl slept naked on the tiles by the fountain. About her neck was a thick metal collar to which a heavy iron chain had been fastened; the chain itself was attached to a large iron ring placed in the floor. I supposed she was being disciplined.
I immediately began to worry that that girl would be the one who would strike Harold’s eye. To my relief, he examined her briefly and passed on.
Soon Harold had left the central hall and was making his way down a long, carpeted, lamp-hung corridor. He entered various rooms off this corridor and, after, I suppose, inspecting their contents, always emerged and trekked off again.
We then examined other corridors and other rooms, and finally returned to the main hall and started off down another way, again encountering corridors and rooms; this we did four times, until we were moving down one of the last corridors, leading from one of the five main corridors off the central hall. I had not kept count but we must have passed by more than seven or eight hundred girls, and still, among all these riches of Saphrar, he could not seem to find the one for which he searched. Several times, one girl or another, would roll over or shift in her sleep, or throw out an arm, and my heart would nearly stop, but none of the wenches awakened and we would troop on to the next room.
-At last we came to a largish room, but much smaller than the main hall, in which there were some seventeen beauties strewn about, all in Pleasure Silk. The light in the room was furnished by a single tharlarion-oil lamp which hung from the ceiling. It was carpeted by a large red rug on which were several cushions of different colours, mostly yellows and oranges. There was no fountain in the room but, against one wall, there were some low tables with fruits and drinks upon them. Harold looked the girls over and then he went to the low table and poured himself a drink, Ka-la-na wine by the smell of it. He then picked up a juicy, red larma fruit, biting into it with a sound that seemed partly crunching as he went through the shell, partly squishing as he bit into the fleshy, segmented endocarp. He seemed to make a great deal of noise. Although one or two of the girls stirred uneasily, none, to my relief, awakened.
Harold was now fishing about, still chewing on the fruit, in a wooden chest at one end of the table. He drew out of the chest some four silken scarves, after rejecting since others which did not sufficiently please him.
Then he stood up and went to where one of the girls lay curled on the thick red carpet.
“I rather like this one,” he said, taking a bite out of the fruit, spitting some seeds to the rug.
She wore yellow Pleasure Silk, and, beneath her long black hair, on her throat, I glimpsed a silverish Turian collar. She lay with her knees drawn up and her head resting on her left elbow. Her skin colour was tarnish, not too unlike the girl I had seen from Port Karl I bent more closely. She was a beauty, and the diaphanous Pleasure Silk that was the only garment permitted her did not, by design, conceal her charms. Then, startled, as she moved her head a bit, restlessly on the rug, I saw that in her nose was the tiny golden ring of a Tuchuk girl.
“This is the one,” Harold said.
It was, of course, Hereena, she of the First Wagon.
Harold tossed the emptied, collapsed shell of the larma fruit into a corner of the room and whipped one of the scarves from his belt.
He then gave the girl a short, swift kick, not to hurt her, but simply, rather rudely, to startle her awake.
“On your feet, Slave Girl,” he said.
Hereena struggled to her feet, her trend down, but Harold had stepped behind her, pulling her wrists blind her back and tying then with the scarf in his hand.
“What is it?” she asked.
“You are being abducted,” Harold informed her.
The girl’s head flew up and she spun to face him, pulling to free herself. When she saw him her eyes were as wide as larma fruit and her mouth flew open.
“It is I,” said Harold, “Harold the Tuchuk.”
“No!” she said. “Not you!”
“Yes,” he said, “I,” turning her about once again, routinely checking the knots that bound her wrists, taking her wrists in his hands, trying to separate them, examining the knots for slippage; there was none. He permitted her to turn and face him again.
“How did you get in here?” she demanded.
“I chanced by,” said Harold.
She was trying to free herself. After an instant she realized that she could not, that she had been bound by a warrior.
Then she acted as though she had not noticed that she had been perfectly secured, that she was his prisoner, the prisoner of Harold of the Tuchuks. She squared her small shoulders and glared up at him.
“What are you doing here?” she demanded.
“Stealing a slave girl,” he said.
“Who?” she asked.
“Oh, come now,” said Harold.
“Not I!” she said.
“Of course,” said he.
“But I am Hereena,” she cried, “of the First Wagon!”
I feared the girl’s voice might awaken the others, but they seemed still to sleep.
“You are only a little Turian slave girl,” said Harold, “who has taken my fancy.”
“Nor” she said.
Then Harold had his hands in her mouth, holding it open.
“See,” he said to me.
I looked. To be sure, there was a slight gap between two of the teeth on the upper right.
Hereena was trying to say something. It is perhaps just as well she could not.
“It is easy to see,” said Harold, “why she was not chosen First Stake.”
Hereena struggled furiously, unable to speak, the young Tuchuk’s hands separating her jaws.
“I have seen kaiila with better teeth,” he said.
Hereena made an angry noise. I hoped that the girl would not burst a blood vessel. Then Harold removed his hands deftly, narrowly missing what would have been a most savage bite.
“Sleen!” she hissed.
“On the other hand,” said Harold, “all things considered, she is a not unattractive little wench.”
“Sleen! Sleen!” cursed the girl.
“I shall enjoy owning you,” said Harold, patting her head.
“Sleep! Sleen! Sleen!” cursed the girl.
Harold turned to me. “She is, is she not all things considered a pretty little wench?” I could not help but regard the angry, collared Hereena, furious in the swirling Pleasure Silk.
“Yes,” I said, “very.”
“Do not fret, little Slave Girl,” said Harold to Hereena.
“You will soon be able to serve me and I shall see that you shall do so superbly.”
Irrationally, like a terrified, vicious little animal, Hereena struggled again to free herself.
Harold stood by, patiently, making no attempt to interfere.
At last, trembling with rage, she approached him, her back to him, holding her wrists to him. “Your jest has gone far enough,” she said. “Free me.”
“No,” said Harold.
“Free me!” commanded the girl.
“No,” said Harold.
She spun to face him again, tears of rage in her eyes.
“No,” said Harold.
She straightened herself. “I will never go with you,” she hissed. “Never! Never! Never!”
“That is interesting,” said Harold. “How do you propose to prevent it?”
“I have a plan,” she said.
“Of course,” he said, “you are Tuchuk.” He looked at her narrowly. “What is your plan?”
“It is a simple one,” she responded.
“Of course,” said Harold, “though you are Tuchuk, you are also female.”
One of Hereena’s eyebrows rose sceptically. “The simplest plans,” she remarked, “are often the best.”
“Upon occasion,” granted Harold. “What is your plan?”
“I shall simply scream,” she said.
Harold thought for a moment. “That is an excellent plan,” he admitted.
“So,” said Hereena, “free me and I will give you ten Ihn to flee for your lives.”
That did not seem to me like much time. The Gorean Ihn, or second, is only a little longer than the Earth second.
Regardless of the standard employed, it was clear that Hereena was not being particularly generous.
“I do not choose to do so,” remarked Harold.
She shrugged. “Very well,” she said.
“I gather you intend to put your plan into effect,” said Harold.
“Yes,” she said.
“Do so,” said Harold.
She looked at him for a moment and then put back her head and sucked in air and then, her mouth open, prepared to utter a wild scream.
My heart nearly stopped but Harold, at the moment just before the girl could scream, popped one of the scarves into her mouth, wadding it Up and shoving it between her teeth.
Her scream was only a muffled noise, hardly more than escaping air.
“I, too,” Harold informed her, “had a plan a counter-plan.”
He took one of the two remaining scarves and bound it across her mouth holding the first scarf well inside her mouth.
“My plan,” said Harold, “which I have now put into effect, was clearly superior to yours.”
Hereena made some muffled noises. Her eyes regarded him wildly over the coloured scarf and her entire body began to squirm savagely.
“Yes,” said Harold, “clearly superior.”
I was forced to concede his point. Standing but five feet away I could barely hear the tiny, angry noises she made.
Harold then lifted her from her feet and, as I winced, simply dropped her on the floor. She was, after all, a slave.
She said something that sounded like “Ooof,” when she hit the floor. He then crossed her ankles, and bound them tightly with the remaining scarf.
She glared at him in pained fury over the coloured scarf.
He scooped her up and put her over his shoulder. I was forced to admit that he had handled the whole affair rather neatly.
In n short while Harold, carrying the struggling Hereena, and I had retraced our steps to the central hall and descended the steps of the porch and returned by means of the curving walks between the shrubs and pools to the flower tree by means of which we had originally entered the Pleasure Gardens of Saphrar of Turia.
“By now,” said Harold, “guardsmen will have searched the roofs, so it should be safe to proceed across them to our destination.”
“And where is that?” I asked.
“Wherever the tarns happen to be,” he responded.
“Probably,” I said, “on the highest roof of the highest building in the House of Saphrar.”
“That would be,” suggested Harold, “the keep.”
I agreed with him. The keep, in the private houses of Goreans, is most often a round, stone tower, built for defence, containing water and food. It is difficult to fire from the outside, and the roundness like the roundness of Gorean towers in general tends to increase the amount of oblique hits from catapult stones.
Making our way up the Dower tree with Hereena, who fought like a young she-larl, was not easy. I went part way up the tree and was handed the girl, and then Harold would go up above me and I would hoist her up a way to him, and then I would pass him, and so on. Occasionally, to my irritation, we became entangled in the trailing, looped stems of the tree, each with its richness of clustered flowers, whose beauty I was no loner in a mood to appreciate. At lust we got Hereena to the top of the tree.
“Perhaps,” puffed Harold, “you would like to go back and get another wench one for yourself?”
“No,” I said.
“Very well,” he said.
Although the wall was several feet from the top of the tree~managed, by springing on one of the curved branches, to build up enough spring pressure to leap to where I could get my fingers over the edge of the wall. I slipped with one hand and hung there, feet scraping the wall, some fifty feet from the ground, for a nasty moment, but then managed to get both hands on the edge of the wall and hoist myself up.
“Be careful,” advised Harold.
I was about to respond when I heard a stifled scream of horror and saw that Harold had hurled Hereena in my direction, across the space between the tree and the wall. I managed to catch her. She was now covered with a cold sweat and was trembling with terror. Perched on the wall, holding the girl with one hand to prevent her tumbling off, I watched Harold springing up and down and then he was leaping towards me. He, too, slipped, as I was not displeased to note, but our hands met and he was drawn to safety.
“Be careful,” I advised him, attempting not to let a note of triumph permeate my admonition.
“Quite right,” wheezed Harold, “as I myself earlier pointed out.”
I considered pushing him off the wall, but, thinking of the height, the likelihood of breaking his neck and back and such, and consequently thereby complicating our measures for escape, I dismissed the notion as impractical, however tempting.
“Come along,” he said, flinging Hereena across his shoulders like a thigh of bosk meat, and starting along the wall.
We soon came, to my satisfaction, to an easily accessible, flat roof and climbed onto it. Harold laid Hereena down on the roof to one side and sat cross-legged for a minute, breathing heavily. I myself was almost winded as well.
Then overhead in the darkness we heard the beat of a tarn’s wings and saw one of the monstrous birds pass above us. In a short moment we heard it flutter to alight somewhere beyond. Harold and I then got up and, with Hereena under one of his arms, we circumspectly made our way from roof to roof until we saw the keep, rising like a dark cylinder against one of Gor’s three moons. It stood some seventy feet from any of the other buildings in the compound that was the House of Saphrar, but now, swaying, formed of rope and sticks, a removable footbridge extended from an open door in its side to a porch some several feet below us. The bridge permitted access to the tower from the building on the roof of which we stood. Indeed, it provided the only access, save on tarnback, for there are no doors at ground level in a Gorean keep. The first sixty feet or so of the tower would presumably be solid stone, to protect the tower from forced entrance or the immediate, efficient use of battering rams.
The tower itself was some one hundred and forty feet in height and had a diameter of about fifty feet. It was furnished with numerous ports for the use of bowmen. The roof of the tower, which might have been fortified with impaling spears and tarn wire, was now clear, to permit the descent of tarns and their riders.
On the roof, as we lay there, we could hear, now and then, someone run along the footbridge. Then there was someone shouting. From time to time a tarn would descend or take flight from the roof of the keep.
When we were sure there were at least two tarns on the roof of the keep I leaped down from the roof and landed on the light bridge, struggling to retain my footing as it began to swing under my feet. Almost immediately I heard a shout from the building. “There’s one of then!”
“Hurry!” I cried to Harold.
He threw Hereena down to me and I caught her on the bridge. I saw briefly the wild, frightened look in her eyes, heard what might have been a muffled plea. Then Harold had sprung down beside me on the bridge, seizing the hand rope to keep from tumbling off.
A guardsman had emerged, carrying a crossbow, framed in the light of the threshold at the entrance to the bridge from the building. There was a quarrel on the guide and he threw the weapon to his shoulder. Harold’s arm flashed past me and the fellow stood suddenly still, then his knees gave slowly way beneath him and he fell to the flooring of the porch, a quiva hilt protruding from his chest, the crossbow clattering beside him.
“Go ahead,” I commanded Harold.
I could now hear more men coming, running.
Then to my dismay I saw two more crossbowmen, this time on a nearby roof.
“I see them!” one of them cried.
Harold sped along the bridge, Hereena in his arms, and disappeared into the keep.
Two swordsmen now rushed from the building, leaping over the fallen crossbowman, and raced along the bridge toward me. I engaged them, dropping one and wounding the other. A quarrel from one of the crossbowmen on the roof suddenly shattered through the sticks of the bridge at my feet, splintering them not six inches from where I stood. I backed rapidly along the bridge and another quarrel sped past me, striking sparks from the stone tower behind me.
Now I could see several more guardsmen rushing toward the bridge. It would be eleven or twelve seconds before the crossbowmen would be ready to fire again. I turned and began to hack at the ropes that bound the swaying bridge to the tower. Inside I could hear a startled guard demanding to know who Harold was.
“is it not obvious!” Harold was yelling at him. “You see I have the girl!”
“What girl?” the guard was asking.
“A wench from the Pleasure Gardens of Saphrar, you fool!” Harold was crying at him.
“But why should you be bringing such a wench here?” the-guard was asking.
“You are dull, are you not!” demanded Harold. “here take her!”
“Very well,” said the guard.
I then heard a sudden, sharp crack, as of a fist meeting bone.
The bridge began to rock and sag on its ropes and several men from the building began to thunder across towards me.
Then there was a horrified cry as one rope was cut and the flooring of the bridge suddenly pitched, throwing several of the guardsmen to the ground below. A quarrel now struck the flooring of the tower at my feet and skidded into the building. I struck again and the other rope burst from my stroke and the bridge swung rapidly back against the wall of the building opposite with a clatter of sticks and cries, knocking the remaining, clinging guardsmen from it, dropping them like wood senseless to the foot of the wall. I leaped inside the door of the keep and swung it shut. Just as I did so the bolt of a crossbow struck the door and splintered through it, its head projecting some six inches on my side. I then flung the two bars in position, which locked the door, lest men on ladders from the ground attempt to force it.
The room in which I found myself contained an unconscious guard, but no further sign of Harold or Hereena. I then climbed up a wooden ladder to the next level, which was empty, and then another level and another, and another.
Then I emerged in the chamber below the roof of the keep and there found Harold, sitting on the bottom rung of the last ladder, breathing heavily, Hereena lying squirming at his feet. “I have been waiting for you,” said Harold, gasping.
“Let us proceed,” I said, “lest the tarns be flown from the roof and we be isolated in the tower.”
“My plan exactly,” said Harold, “but first should you not teach me to master the tarn?”
I heard Hereena moan with horror and she began to struggle madly to free herself of the scarves that bound her.
“Normally,” I said, “it takes years to become a skilled tarnsman.”
“That is all well nod good,” responded Harold, “but can, you not impart certain important information relating to the matter in a briefer span?”
“Come to the roof!” I cried
I preceded Harold up the ladder and thrust up the trap admitting us to the roof. On the roof there were five tarns.
One guard was even then approaching the trap. The other was releasing the tarns one by one.
I was ready to engage the first guard, half on the ladder, but Harold’s head emerged from the opening behind me.
“Don’t fight,” he called to the guard. “It is Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba, you fool!”
“Who is Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba?” asked the guard, startled.
“I am,” I responded, not knowing much what else to say.
The fellow came running across the roof. “Where is Kunrus?” he asked.
“Below,” Harold informed him.
“Who are you?” asked the guard. “What is going on here?”
“I am Harold of the Tuchuks,” responded Harold of the Tuchuks.
“What are you doing here?” asked the guard.
“Are you not Ho-bar?” inquired Harold. It was a common name in Ar, whence many of the mercenaries had come.
“I know of no Ho-bar,” said the man. “Is he Turian?”
“I hoped to find Ho-bar,” said Harold, “but perhaps you will do.”
“I shall try,” said the guard.
“Here,” said Harold. “Take the wench.”
Hereena shook her head violently at the guard, protesting through the muffling folds of the scarf wadded in her mouth.
“What will I do with her?” asked the guard.
“Just hold her,” said Harold.
“Very well,” said the guard.
I closed my eyes and it was over in a second. Harold once more had Hereena over his shoulder and was boldly approaching the tarns.
There were two of the great birds left on the roof, both fine specimens, huge, vicious, alert. Harold dropped Hereena to the floor of the roof and strode to the first tarn. I shut my eyes as he vigorously struck-it once, authoritatively, across the beak. “I am Harold of the Tuchuks,” he said, “I am a skilled tarnsman I have ridden over a thousand tarns, I have spent more time in the tarn saddle than most men on their feet, I was conceived on tarnback, I was born on Tarnback, I eat tarns fear me! I am Harold of the Tuchuks!”
The bird, if such emotions it could have, was looking at him, askance and baffled. Any instant I expected it to pick Harold from the roof with its beak, bite him in two and eat the pieces. But the bird seemed utterly startled, if possible, dumbfounded.
Harold turned to face me. “How do you ride a tarn?” he asked.
“Get into the saddle,” I said.
“Yes!” he said, and climbed up, missing one of the rungs of the rope ladder at the saddle and slipping his leg through it. I then managed to get him to the saddle and made sure he fastened the safety strap. As swiftly as I could I then explained to him the guidance apparatus, the main saddle ring and its six straps.
When I handed Hereena to him the poor girl was shivering and moaning in terror, uncontrollably trembling. She, a girl of the plains, familiar with fierce kaiila, herself a proud, spirited wench, brave and daring, was yet like many women utterly for some reason terrified of a tarn. I felt genuine pity for the Tuchuk girl. On the other hand Harold seemed quite pleased that she was beside herself with terror.
The slave rings on the tarn saddle are similar to those on the kaiila saddle and in a trice Harold, using the thongs streaming from the slave rings, one on each side of the saddle, had bound the girl on her back across the saddle in front of him.
Then, without waiting, uttering a great cry, he hauled on the one-strap. The tarn did not move but, I thought, though it was undoubtedly not the case, turned and regarded him sceptically, reproachfully.
“What is the matter?” asked Harold.
“It is still hobbled,” I said.
I bent to the tarn hobble and opened it. Immediately the huge bird’s wings began to beat and it sprang skyward.
“Aiii!” I heard Harold cry, and could well imagine what had happened to his stomach.
As quickly as I could I then unhobbled the other bird and climbed to the saddle, fastening the broad safety strap. Then I hauled on the one-strap and seeing Harold’s bird wheeling about in circles against one of the Gorean moons sped to his side.
“Release the straps!” I called to him. “The bird will follow this one!”
“Very well,” I heard him call, cheerily.
And in a moment we were speeding high over the city of Turia. I took one long turn, seeing the torches and lights in the House of Saphrar below, and then guided my bird out over the prairie in the direction of the wagons of the Tuchuks.
I was elated that we had managed to escape alive from the House of Saphrar, but I knew that I must return to the city, for I had not obtained the object for which I had come the golden sphere which still resided in the merchant stronghold.
I must manage to seize it before the man with whom Saphrar had had dealings the grey man with eyes like glass could call for It and destroy it or carry it away.
As we sped high over the prairie I wondered at how it was that Kamchak was withdrawing the wagons and bosk from Turia that he would so soon abandon the siege.
Then, in the dawn, we saw the wagons below us, and the bosk beyond them. Already fires had been lit and there was much activity in the camp of the Tuchuks, the cooking, the checking of wagons, the gathering and hitching up of the wagon bosk. This, I knew, was the morning on which the wagons moved away from Turia, toward distant Thassa, the Sea. Risking arrows, I, followed by Harold, descended to alight among the wagons.
KAMCHAK ENTERS TURIA
I had now been in the city of Turia some four days, having returned on foot in the guise of a peddler of small jewels. I had left the tarn with the wagons. I had spent my last tarn disk to buy a couple of handfuls of tiny stones, many of them of little or no value; yet their weight in my pouch gave me some pretext for being in the city.
I had found Kamchak, as I had been told I would, at the wagon of Kutaituchik, which, drawn up on its hill near the standard of the four bosk horns, had been heaped with what wood was at hand and filled with dry grass. The whole was then drenched in fragrant oils, and that dawn of the retreat, Kamchak, by his own hand, hurled the torch into the wagon.
Somewhere in the wagon, fixed in a sitting position, weapons at hand, was Kutaituchik, who had been Kamchak’s friend, and who had been called Ubar of the Tuchuks. The smoke of the wagon must easily have been seen from the distant walls of Turia.~
Kamchak had not spoken but sat on his kaiila, his face dark with resolve. He was terrible to look upon and I, though his friend, did not dare to speak to him. I had not returned to the wagon I had shared with him, but had come immediately to the wagon of Kutaituchik, where I had been informed he was to be found.
Clustered about the hill, in ranks, on their kaiila, black lances in the stirrup, were several of the Tuchuk Hundreds.
Angrily they watched the wagon burn.
I wondered that such men as Kamchak and these others would so willingly, abandon the siege of Turia.
At last when the wagon had burned and the wind moved about the blackened beams and scattered ashes across the green prairie, Kamchak raised his right hand. “Let the standard be moved,” he cried.
I observed a special wagon, drawn by a dozen bosk, being pulled up the hill, into which the standard, when uprooted, would be set. In a few minutes the great pole of the standard had been mounted on the wagon and was descending the hill, leaving on the summit the burned wood and the black ashes that had been the wagon of Kutaituchik, surrendering them now to the wind and the rain, to time and the snows to come, and to the green grass of the prairie.
“Turn the wagons!” called Kamchak.
Slowly, wagon by wagon, the long columns of the Tuchuk retreat were formed, each wagon in its column, each column in its place, and, covering pasangs of prairie, the march front Turia had begun.
Far beyond the wagons I could see the herds of bosk, and the dust from their hoofs stained the horizon.
Kamchak rose in his stirrups. “The Tuchuks ride from Turia!” he cried.
Rank by rank the warriors on the kaiila, dour, angry, silent, turned their mounts away from the city and slowly went to find their wagons, save for the Hundreds that would flank the withdrawal and form its rear guard.
Kamchak rode his kaiila up the hill until he stood, that cold dawn, at the edge of the burned wood and ashes of Kutaituchik’s wagon. He stayed there for some time, and then turned his mount away, and came slowly down the hill.
Seeing me, he stopped. “I am pleased to see you live,” he said.
I dropped my head, acknowledging the bond he had acknowledged. My heart felt grateful to the stern, fierce warrior, though he had been in the past days harsh and strange, half drunk with hatred for Turia. I did not know if the Kamchak I had known would ever live again. I feared that part of him perhaps that part I had loved best had died the night of the raid, when he had entered the wagon of Kutaituchik.~
Standing at his stirrup I looked up. “Will you leave like this?” I asked. “Is it enough?”
He looked at me, but I could read no expression on his face. “The Tuchuks ride from Turia,” he said. He then rode away, leaving me standing on the hill.
Somewhat to my surprise I had no difficulty the next morning, after the withdrawal of the wagons, in entering the city. Before leaving the wagons I had joined them briefly on their march, long enough to purchase my peddler’s disguise and the pound or so of stones which was to complete it. I purchased these things from the man from whom Kamchak had, on a happier afternoon, obtained a new saddle and set of quivas. I had seen many things in the man’s wagon and I had gathered, correctly it seems, that he was himself a peddler of sorts. I then, on foot, following for a time the tracks of the departing wagons, then departing from them, returned to the vicinity of Turia. I spent the night on the prairie and then, on what would have been the second day of the retreat, entered the city at the eighth hour. My hair was concealed in the hood of a thin, ankle-length rep-cloth garment, a dirty white through which ran flecks of golden thread, a fit garment, in my opinion, for an insignificant merchant. Beneath my garment, concealed, I carried sword and quiva.
I was hardly questioned by guards at the gates of Turia, for the city is a commercial oasis in the plains and during a year hundreds of caravans, not to mention thousands of small merchants, on foot or with a single tharlarion wagon, enter her gates. To my great surprise the gates of Turia stood open after the withdrawal of the wagons and the lifting of the siege. Peasants streamed through them returning to their fields and also hundreds of townsfolk for an outing, some of them to walk even as far as the remains of the old Tuchuk camp, hunting for souvenirs. As I entered I regarded the lofty double gates, and wondered how long it would take to close them.
As I hobbled through the city of Turia, one eye half shut, staring at the street as though I hoped to find a lost copper tarn disk among the stones, I made my way toward the compound of Saphrar of Turia. I was jostled in the crowds, and twice nearly knocked down in the guard of Phanius Turmus, Ubar of Turia.
I was vaguely conscious, from time to time, that I might be followed. I dismissed this possibility, however, for, glancing about, I could find no one I might fear. The only person I saw more than once was a slip of a girl in Robes of Concealment and veil, a market basket on her arm, who the second time passed me, not noticing me. I breathed a sigh of relief. It is a nerve-wracking business, the negotiation of an enemy city, knowing that discovery might bring torture or sudden death, at best perhaps an Impalement by sundown on the city’s walls, a warning to any other who might be similarly tempted to transgress the hospitality of a Gorean city.
I came to the ring of flat, cleared ground, some hundred feet or so wide, which separates the walled compound of buildings which constitutes the House of Saphrar of Turia from all the surrounding structures. I soon learned, to my irritation, that one could not approach the high compound wall more closely than ten spear lengths.
“Get away you!” cried a guard from the wall, with a crossbow. “There is no loitering here”
“But master!” I cried. “I have gems and jewels to show the noble Saphrar!”
“Approach then the nearer gate!” he called. “And state your business.”
I found a rather small gate in the wall, heavily barred, and begged admittance to show my wares to Saphrar. I hoped to be ushered into his presence and then, on the threat of slaying him, secure the golden sphere and a tarn for escape.
To my chagrin I was not admitted into the compound, but my pitiful stock of almost worthless stones was examined outside the gate by a steward in the company of two armed warriors. It took him only a few moments to discover the value of the stones and, when he did, with a cry of disgust, he hurled them away from the gate into the dust, and the two warriors, while I pretended fright and pain, belaboured me with the hilts of their weapons. “Be gone, Fool!” they snarled.
I hobbled after the stones, and fell to my knees in the dust, scrabbling after them, moaning and crying aloud.
I heard the guards laugh.
I had just picked up the last stone and tucked it back in my pouch and was about to rise from my knees when I found myself staring at the high, heavy sandals, almost boots, of a warrior.
“Mercy, Master,” I whined.
“Why are you carrying a sword beneath your robe?” he asked.
I knew the voice. It was that of Kamras of Turia, Champion of the City, whom Kamchak had so sorely bested in the games of Love War.
I lunged forward seizing him by the legs and upended him in the-dust and then leaped to my feet and ran, the hood flying off behind me.
I heard him cry. “Stop that man! Stop him! I know him! He is Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba! Stop him!”
I stumbled in the long robe of the merchant and cursed and leaped up and ran again. The bolt of a crossbow splattered into a brick wall on my right, gouging a cupful of masonry loose in chips and dust.
I darted down a narrow street. I could hear someone, probably Kamras, and then one or two others running after me. Then I heard a girl cry out, and scream, and two men curse. I glanced behind me to see that the girl who carried the market basket had inadvertently fallen in front of the warriors. She was crying angrily at them and waving her broken basket. They pushed her rudely to one side and-hurried on. By that time I had rounded a corner and leaped to a window, pulled myself up to the next window, and hauled myself up again and onto the flat roof of a shop. I heard the running feet of the two warriors, and then of six more men, pass in the street below. Then some children, screaming, ran after the soldiers. I heard some speculative conversation in the street below, between two or three passers-by, then it seemed quiet.
I lay there scarcely daring to breathe. The sun on the flat roof was hot. I counted five Gorean Ehn, or minutes. Then I decided I had better move across the roofs in the opposite direction, find a sheltered roof, stay there until nightfall and then perhaps try to leave the city. I might go after the wagons, which would be moving slowly, obtain the tarn I had left with them, and then return on tarnback to Saphrar’s house. It would be extremely dangerous, of course, to leave the city in the near future. Certainly word would be at the gates to watch for me. I had entered Turia easily. I did not expect I would leave as easily as I had entered. But how could I stay in the city until vigilance at the gates might be relaxed, perhaps three or four days from now? Every guardsman in Turia would be on the lookout for Tarl Cabot, who unfortunately, was not difficult to recognize.
About this time I heard someone coming along the street whistling a tune. I had heard it. Then I realized that I had heard it among the wagons of the Tuchuks. It was a Tuchuk tune, a wagon tune, sometimes sung by the girls with the bosk sticks.
I picked up the melody and whistled a few bars, and then the person below joined me and we finished the turn.
Cautiously I poked my head over the edge of the roof. The street was deserted save for a girl, who was standing below, looking up toward the roof. She was dressed in veil and Robes of Concealment. It was she whom I had seen before, when I had thought I might be followed. It was she who had inadvertently detained my pursuers. She carried a broken market basket.
“You make a very poor spy, Tarl Cabot,” she said.
“Dina of Turia!” I cried.
I stayed four days in the rooms above the shop of Dina of Turia. There I dyed my hair black and exchanged the robes of the merchant for the yellow and brown tunic of the Bakers, to which caste her father and two brothers had belonged.
Downstairs the wooden screens that had separated the shop from the street had been splintered apart; the counter had been broken and the ovens ruined, their oval domes shattered, their iron doors twisted from their hinges; even the top stones on tile two grain mills had been thrown to the floor and broken.
At one time, I gathered from Dina, her father’s shop had been the most famed of the baking shops of Turia, most of which are owned by Saphrar of Turia, whose interests range widely, though operated naturally, as Gorean custom would require, by members of the Caste of Bakers. Her father had refused to sell the shop to Saphrar’s agents, and take his employment under the merchant. Shortly thereafter some seven or eight ruffians, armed with clubs and iron ban, had attacked the shop, destroying its equipment. In attempting to defend against this attack both her father and her two older brothers had been beaten to death. Her mother had died shortly thereafter of shock. Dina had lived for a time on the savings of the family, but had then taken them, sewn in the lining of her roles, and purchased a place on a caravan wagon bound for Ar, which caravan had been ambushed by Kassars, in which raid she herself, of course, had fallen into their hands.
“Would you not like to hire men and reopen the shop?” I asked.
“I have no money,” she said.
“I have very little,” I said, taking the pouch and spilling the stones in a glittering if not very valuable heap on the small table in her central room.
She laughed and poked through them with her fingers. “I learned something of jewels,” she said, “in the wagons of Albrecht and Kamchak and there is scarcely a silver tarn disk’s worth here.”
“I paid a golden tarn disk for them,” I asserted.
“But to a Tuchuk” she said.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“My dear Tarl Cabot,” she said, “my sweet dear Tarl Cabot.” Then she looked at me and her eyes saddened.
“But,” said she, “even had I the money to reopen the shop it would mean only that the men of Saphrar would come again.”
I was silent. I supposed what she said was true.
“Is there enough there to buy passage to Ar?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “But I would prefer in any case to remain in Turia it is my home.”
“How do you live?” I asked.
“I shop for wealthy women,” said she, “for pastries and tarts and cakes things they will not trust their female slaves to buy.”
In answer to her questions I told her the reason for which I had entered the city to steal an object of value from Saphrar of Turia, which he himself had stolen from the Tuchuks. This pleased her, as I guessed anything would which was contrary to the interests of the Turian merchant, for whom she entertained the greatest hatred.
“Is this truly all you travel” she asked, pointing at the pile of stones.
“Yes,” I said.
“Poor warrior,” said she, her eyes smiling over the veil, “you do not even have enough to pay for the use of a skilled slave girl.”
“That is true,” I admitted.
Slit laughed anti with an easy motion dropped the veil from her face and shook her head, freeing her hair. She held out her hands. “I am only a poor free woman,” said she, “but might I not do?”
I took her hands and drew her to me, and into my arms.
“You are very beautiful, Dina of Turia,” I said to her.
For four days I remained with the girl, and each day, once at noon and once in the evening, we would stroll by one or more of the gates of Turia, to see if the guards might now be less vigilant than they had been the time before. To my disappointment, they continued to check every outgoing person and wagon with great care, demanding proof of identity and business. When there was the least doubt, the individual was detained for interrogation by an officer of the guard. On the other hand I noted, irritably, that incoming individuals and wagons were waved ahead with hardly a glance. Dina and myself attracted little attention from guardsmen or men-
at-arms. My hair was now black; I wore the tunic of the Bakers; and I was accompanied by a woman.
Several times criers had passed through the streets shouting that I was still at large and calling out my description.