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

Renegades of Gor

John Norman

As the bloody tide of war spread over Gor, Tarl Cabot, outcast by the Priest-Kings, became deeply enmeshed in the military combat between the empire of Ar and the invaders from Cos. His fate would depend upon which proved victorious in the coming confrontation at Ar's besieged river port. And it looked like Tarl himself might prove the deciding factor that would tip the scales of destiny for one side or the other... With RENEGADES OF GOR, all the complexity and intrigue of John Norman's saga comes together to create an adventure replete with danger, excitement, and romance in the unforgettable realm of Gor — where courage remains meaningful, and pride and honor have never been forgotten.


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

by John Norman

1 The Road; The Slave

In a sudden flash of lightning, showing the driving rain, the wagons, the crowd on the road, I saw ahead, above me, and to my left, about a half of a pasang forward, on its stony plateau, the inn of the Crooked Tarn.

"There is less than a pasang to go," said a man near me.

"They will have no places left," said another.

"You could not afford them, if they did," said the first man.

"We will camp on the lee side," said another, "and water the beasts in the moat."

"Wagons will already be circled there," said another.

When groups are traveling together the wagons are often arranged in a circle, end to end, tongues inward, narrowing gaps between the «sections» of the improvised rampart, and chained together, the front axle of the next, the camp, and the draft animals, and any accompanying livestock, within the circle. This forms a wagon fort or laager. The circle contains more interior space than any other geometrical figure, so the camp is thus as large as possible, given the number of wagons. Too, as every point on the circumference is normally visible from, and equidistant from, the center, this facilitates defense, for example, the prompt and pertinent deployment of reserves. This arrangement, incidentally, is not common with the southern wagon peoples, such as Tuchuks, if only because of the vast numbers of wagons. There the wagons congregate almost to form wagon cities. It is fairly typical, however, with some of the less numerous wagon peoples of the north, such as the tribes of the Alars, particularly when separated from one another on the march, though there one might note the circle is often very large and as many as four or five wagons deep.

There was another flash of lightning, and an earsplitting crash of thunder. Ahead, and on the plateau of the inn, I saw the large wooden sign, on its chains, jerked in the wind, striking about, pelted with rain. It was in the form of a malformed tarn, its neck crooked, almost vulturelike, the right leg, with its talons, much larger than the left, and outstretched, grasping. Such signs are not untypical of Gorean hostelries, as many Goreans, particularly those of the lower castes, cannot read.

Then again it seemed the world was plunged into darkness and there was little except driving rain and the creaking of wagons.

I had put my cloak over my head. The wagon I was walking beside was to my left. It kept to the left side of the road, as it was moving north on what, in this latitude, was usually called the Vosk Road, but farther south was generally knows as the Vitkel Aria. My cloak hung down from my head about my shoulders, and thence fell to my waist. I had shortened the straps of the sword sheath, hitching it high, the hilt now before my left shoulder, under the cloak. I kept one hand, from beneath my cloak, on the side of the wagon. In this way I was less likely to stumble in the darkness, and the cold, driving rain. The other hand, my right, held my cloak about my neck. My pack was in the wagon.

To my right, in the line of traffic moving south, I suddenly heard cursing and the startled, protesting bellowing of a tharlarion. There were shouts. There was a creaking of wood, and the slick squeak of an engaged, leather-lined brake shoe pressing against the iron rim of a wheel. "Jump!" cried someone. There was then a sound of sliding, and then, after a moment, that of a wagon tipping heavily into mud. The tharlarion, probably thrown from its feet, was squealing in its harness.

I pulled my pack from the wagon I was trekking beside and, feeling about, locating the side of the next wagon moving south, felt around it, and went to the side of the road. Another tharlarion moved past me. I reached out and felt its wet scales. In another flash of lightning I saw the wagon in the ditch, tipped on its side, its canvas-covered, roped-down load bulging against the restraining cover, the tharlarion also in its side, lying tangled in its harness, its feet flailing, its long neck craning about.

A man thrust past me, holding an unshuttered dark lantern beneath his cloak. Rain was pouring over the brim of his felt hat. Two others were behind him. They slipped down the side of the ditch. "The axle is broken," said one of the men to the driver. The driver had another fellow with him, too. I stood on the road, at its edge. I felt about with my foot. There were missing stones there. That was probably where the wheel had missed the road. There, I supposed, had loosened, given the heavy traffic and the storm. The wagon, it seemed, had slipped down the embankment, dragging the beast after it. I stayed where I was for a moment. It seemed to me odd that three men, one with a dark lantern, should be so quickly upon the scene.

"Beware," cried the driver through the rain to the men below me, beside the wagon. "I carry a Home Stone in this wagon."

The three men looked at one another, and then backed away. They would not choose to do business with one who carried a Home Stone, even though they were three to two. It was as I had speculated. There were road pirates. Possibly the stones had been deliberately loosened.

"Gentlemen," I called down to them. "Lift your lantern."

They looked upward. I let my cloak fall to the sides so that they could see the scarlet of my tunic.

"Hold your places!" I called.

They stood where they were. I might pursue one. None of them cared to risk being that one.

I slipped down the embankment to join them.

I tossed my pack to the side of the slope.

I took the lantern from the fellow in the broad-brimmed felt hat, and handed it to the fellow of the driver. I did not draw my sword. It was not necessary. "Unharness the tharlarion," I said to the driver. "Get it on its feet." He went around to the front of the wagon.

I took the leader of the three men in hand. "You have a wagon nearby," I said to him. "You two fetch it."

"It is not on the road," said one of the fellows.

I flung the leader to his belly in the mud and put my foot on his back. "Get the wagon!" he said.

They hurried away.

"Do you think they will return?" I asked.

He was silent.

I moved my foot to the back of his neck and pressed his face down into the muddy water. He pulled up, sputtering. "Yes!" he said. "Yes!"

He was correct. In a few Ehn the two fellows returned, leading a tharlarion drawing another wagon. As I had anticipated, it had not been far away.

"Empty your wagon out," I told the two. "And place the cargo of this wagon in what was once yours."

They did so. As I had anticipated the contents of their wagon was a miscellany of cheap loot, taken from other wagons, and from refugees moving south on the Viktel Aria, from the vicinity of Ar's Station, on the Vosk.

The driver, his tharlarion freed, and on its feet, hitched it before the other beast, in tandem. It knew his voice, and would respond more readily as the lead beast.

"Give your purses to the driver," I said.

They did so.

I myself took the contents of a metal coin box removed from their wagon and emptied it into my wallet. It contained several coins, the loot, probably, of better than several days' work. To be sure, most of the coins there were small, such as would be likely to weight only a threadbare purse. The number, however, more than compensated for the generally unimpressive denominations. There must have been the equivalent there of seventeen or eighteen silver tarsks.

I located the stones which were missing from the edge of the road. They were in the ditch below their place, half sunk in the mud. Apparently they had been removed deliberately from the road, and might be replaced, thence to be removed again, at will, to again jeopardize the integrity of the road, their absence in the darkness in effect, constituting a trap. The three fellows, with my encouragement, in the rain, replaced them.

I again took them to the bottom of the ditch, by the overturned wagon.

"Kneel there," I told the three of them, "between the wheels, with your backs to the bottom of the wagon."

They complied, kneeling with the bottom of the overturned wagon behind them. From this position it would be difficult for them to bolt.

"Take everything, but let us go!" begged the leader.

"I am thinking," I told him, "of tying you naked on your back, over the tongue of the wagon, and fastening your two fellows, on their backs, stripped, over the wheels. It might be amusing to spin them about."

They regarded one another, frightened.

"But you are not female slaves," I mused.

"Men would find us with the loot about, and impale us!" said the leader. That was not improbable. Thieves are often dealt with harshly on Gor.

"Do not condemn us to death!" begged the leader.

"Strip," I ordered them.

I then tied their hands behind their backs. Ropes were found in the wagon and we tied them by the necks to the back of the wagon. Verr, too, and female slaves, and such, are often tethered to the back of wagons.

"In the south," said the driver, from the wagon box, "there are work gangs. We can probably get something for them there."

"Stay the traffic on the road, as you can, for an Ehn," I said to the fellow of the driver. "We will get the wagon back on the road.

"I doubt two tharlarion can pull this grade from the ditch, with this weight, with the footing," said the driver.

"Hurry to it," I said to the fellow of the driver. "We shall try it." He scrambled up the embankment, the lantern in one hand, clutching at knots of wet grass with the other, slipping, sliding back, then regaining his feet, then reaching the surface. In the ditch we were ankle deep in water. The rain continued to pour down in torrents. It ran from the pitched surface of the road downward, in tiny rivers; it struck into the swirling ditch water, lashing it into foam, dashing it upwards, its impact registered in thousands of overlapping circles and leaping crowns of water. We saw the lantern, in the fellow's hand, at the surface, swinging. "Hold! Hold!" he cried in the storm. I think he then literally seized the harness of the next tharlarion. "Hold!" he cried. "We will never make it," said the driver.

"Try," I said. "Besides we have three stout fellows here who can turn about and put their backs into it."

"If the wagon slips," said the leader of the brigands, "we could be crushed, mangled beneath the wheels!"

"See it does not slip," I said.

There were angry shouts now from the delayed line, moving south.

"Hurry!" I said to the driver.

He moved about the wagon and climbed to the wagon box. I heard, in a moment, his shouting to the lead beast, and the crack of the tharlarion whip. The whip, incidentally, seldom falls on the beast. Its proximity, and noise, are usually more than sufficient. Too, it often functions as an attention-garnering device, a signal, so to speak, preparing the beast for the sequent issuance of verbal commands, to which it is trained to respond. Too, of course, like a staff of office, a rod, a baton, or scepter, it is an authority device. To be sure, the device has its authority largely in virtue of what it genuinely stands for, and what it can do. Much the same, incidentally, can be said for the whip in the master/slave relationship. There, too, normally, it seldom falls on the woman. it is not necessary that it do so. She sees it, and knows what it can do. That is usually more than sufficient. She will have felt it at some time, of course, so that her understanding in the matter will be more than theatrical. She knows, of course, that if she is in the least bit displeasing or recalcitrant, it will be used upon her. Indeed, she knows that she might be, from time to time, placed beneath it, if only that she may be reminded that she is a slave. It is my belief that women have an instinctual understanding of the whip.

The wagon lurched ahead. it would attempt its rendezvous with the road by an ascendant diagonal. The brigands were jerked forward, by the neck, behind it. One lost his footing and was dragged for a few feet, through the ditch water, part way up the slope. "Put your backs to it," I told the captives.

"Look out!" cried someone from the road, above, perhaps a fellow come forward, inquiring concerning the delay, dismounted from one of the other wagons. "Look out!" cried another.

"It is tipping!" cried the leader of the brigands in terror.

I tried to set myself on the slope, but slipped back, and the wagon slid sideways toward me, the wheels tearing lines in the grass, tilting. Then I got solid footing and, my hands pressing against the side of the wagon, righted it. "Who is down there?" called a fellow from the surface of the road.

I saw lanterns lifted, up on the road.

"There is a gang of five men on the other side of the wagon," said a fellow. "It is all right now. They have righted it."

The first tharlarion now had its heavy, clawed feet on the stones of the road. I heard its claws on the stone. Some other men, too, came to the second tharlarion, hauling on its harness, and others, too, seized the wagon sides and the forward wheels, lending their efforts to getting the wagon on the road. This was done in part in the camaraderie of the road, but, too, men were anxious to be on their way. It was not now safe in the north, in this area, particularly for refugees from the vicinity of Ar's Station.

"I see only one fellow down there," said a man from the road. I went to retrieve my pack from where I had cast it on the embankment. It was soaked through, I was sweating, in spite of the cold and the rain. Too, I had been very afraid, for a moment. I had feared the wagon would tip. I saw it now above me, mostly on the road, though, tilting, the left wheels were still over the edge of the stones. The darkness and the traffic on the other side made it hazardous to pull fully across the road. Harnesses might be fouled. Men can be trampled by tharlarion, wagons can be torn apart. I ascended to the surface of the road. I put my pack at the back of the wagon.

"It is one of the scarlet caste," said a fellow to another.

"Hold the lantern here," I said to the fellow of the driver, who had now, having arrested the progress of the following tharlarion, released his hold on the beast's harness.

"That is Andron, the brigand!" suddenly said a man, pointing to the leader of the brigands.

There were angry shouts.

"Put their necks under the wheels!" said a man.

"Impale them," cried another.

"Tie their feet together and drag them behind the wagons," said another. "Kneel," I suggested to the brigands. There was a large number of people here and I was not sure I could protect them. I had not counted on them being well known. "Put your heads down," I encouraged them. "Look as harmless as possible." "Chain them and hang them in iron collars at the inn!" said a fellow. Sometimes a man lasts two or three days in this fashion.

"Chain them on the boards," cried another. That is a similar form of punishment. In it the victim is fastened, by collars and shackles, on structures of parallel, upright boards, vertical platforms, in effect, mounted on posts. These structures are most common in harbor cities, near the wharves. The fellow who had made the suggestion was probably from the river port of Ar's Station. In the country, impalement is often used, the pole usually being set up near a crossroads.

"Let them be trampled by tharlarion," sad a fellow.

"No, let them be torn apart by them," said another. In this fashion ropes are tied separately to the victim's wrists and ankles, these ropes then attached to the harnesses of two different tharlarion, which are, of course, then driven in opposite directions.

"Yes, that is better," agreed the first.

If one shares a Home Stone with the victim, of course, the punishment is often more humane. A common punishment where this mitigating feature obtains is to strip the victim, tie him to a post, beat him with rods and then behead him. This, like the hanging in chains, the exposure on boards, and such, is a very ancient modality of execution.

I saw a knife leave a sheath in the driving rain. "There is no time," said a man. "I will cut their throats now."

There were murmurs of assent.

The brigands looked up, bound, from their knees.

"There is no time to waste," said a man. "If the storm ceases, and the cloud cover scatters, the tarnsmen of Artemidorus may strike at the columns." Artemidorus was a Cosian, the captain of a band of flighted mercenaries. "In a few Ahn it will be morning," said a man.

The fellow with the knife stepped forward, but I blocked his path.

"These prisoners are mine," I said.

"They are known in this area," said the man with the knife.

"Step aside," said another. "Let justice be done."

"Move the wagons!" called a fellow in the back.

"There are many of us here," said the fellow with the knife, not unpleasantly. "The wagon is still off the road," I said, indication the left wheels. "Let us move the column forward."

"To cut three throats will take but three Ihn," said the fellow.

"Help me return the wagon to the road," I said.

"You are clever," said the fellow in the rain. "You would enlist our support, and thus have us be your fellows, and thus deny us our will."

"You will not help?" I said.

"Get ten men to help!" said he. "I will not be deterred."

"Move the wagons!" called a man from behind him. I heard tharlarion snorting and bellowing, even in the rain. There were some five lanterns where we were. I could see others lit, farther back in the arrested line.

"I myself am prepared to cut throats if we do not move in two Ehn," said a fellow. "I have a companion in my wagon, and two children. I would get them to safety."

"You will not help?" I asked the fellow with the knife.

"No," said he.

"Stand back," I said. I then bent over, and backed under the rear of the wagon. "Do not," said the fellow of the driver, who held one of the lanterns. "He is mad," said another.

"Look!" cried another.

I straightened up slowly, lifting the laden wagon. I looked at the man with the knife. The wheel of the wagon, that to my right, spun slowly, free, the rain glistening in the lantern light on its iron rim. The men were quiet in the rain. I moved to my left, inch by inch. I then slowly, observing the man with the knife, lowered the wagon to the road. It settled on the blocks of fitted stone. I emerged from beneath the end of the wagon. Painfully I straightened up. I looked down at the fellow with the knife.

He stepped back. He resheathed his knife. "They are your prisoners," he said. "Get to the wagon box," I said to the fellow of the driver. "Lose no time. Get out of here. When you can I would hood the prisoners, coarse sacking, cloth, anything, and tie it down securely about their necks. Do not let them be recognized for a hundred pasangs. If they are slain on you they will fetch little from the master of a work gang."

"Our wagon was that of Septimus Entrates," he said.

"Very well," I said. That meant nothing to me.

"I wish you well!" he said, hurrying around the wagon.

"I wish you well," I said after him, and drew my pack from the back of the wagon. In a moment I heard the snap of the whip, and the cries of the beast. Other men, too, hurried back to their wagons. The heavy wagon trundled away. I stood on the road, watching it leave, my pack in hand. Some men hurried after it, to strike and kick at the prisoners, who were only too willing to hurry after the wagon. They had been brigands, accumulating loot. Now, in a way, they themselves were loot, and would bring something good, at long last, to honest men, their captors. I continued to look after them, for a time. Yes, they were now themselves loot, as much more commonly were women.

"Perhaps you will now permit us to proceed," said a man.

"In a moment," I said. I wanted the wagon to get a bit down the road. With the slow going, and the storm, and its start, it was not likely another wagon would catch up quickly with it. "Had some of you lost goods to those fellows?" I asked.

"I have," said a man.

"Most of a wagonload of loot," I said, speaking in the rain, "was emptied down there, by the ditch. Perhaps you fellows would like to see if you can reclaim anything."

"The loot of Andron!" cried a man.

"Perhaps the tracks of the wagon, too, might lead to some cache, or hideaway," I said.

Men lifted lanterns.

"There is something down there," said a man. Almost immediately he began to descend the embankment. Two other men followed him. "Take the wagon ahead," said another man. "I will catch up with you later." He then followed the others. I moved to one side as the wagons, then, began to pass. "The loot or Ardon," I heard someone say. "Where?" asked another. "Where those men are," said another. Two more men left the road. The wagons continued to move by. The fellow who had had the knife looked at me. "Is there really anything down there?" he asked. "Yes," I said. "Well," said he, "perhaps I shall get something for the evening, after all." He slipped down the embankment, to join the others. I went then again to the left side of the road and, when a wagon trundled by, unknown to the driver, I put my pack in it, and, again, as I had before, held to its right side with my left hand, to keep from falling in the road.

I thought the storm might have abated a bit but the rain was still heavy. Too, from time to time, lightning shattered across the sky, suddenly bathing the road and countryside in flashes of wild, white light, this coupled almost momentarily, sometimes a little sooner, sometimes a little later, with a grinding and explosion of thunder.

"It seems the Priest-Kings are grinding flour," laughed a man near me. "It would seem so," I said.

This was a reference to an old form of grinding, for some reason still attributed to Priest-Kings, in which a pestle, striking down, is used with a mortar. Most Sa-Tarna is now ground in mills, between stones, the top stone usually turned by water power, but sometimes by a tharlarion, or slaves. In some villages, however, something approximating the old mortar and pestle is sometimes used, the two blocks, a pounding block strung to a springy, bent pole, and the mortar block, or anvil block. The pole has one or more ropes attached to it, near its end. When these are drawn downward the pounding block descends into the mortar block, and the springiness of the pole, of course, straightening, then raises it for another blow. More commonly, however, querns are used, usually, if they are large, operated by two men, if smaller, by two boys. Hand querns, which may be turned by a woman, are also not unknown. The principle of the common quern is as follows: it consists primarily of a mount, two stones, an overhead beam and a pole. The two stones are circular grinding stones. The bottom stone has a small hub on its upper surface which fits into an inverted concave depression in the upper stone. This helps to keep the stones together. It also has shallow, radiating surface grooves through which the grindings may escape between the stones, to be caught in the sturdy boxlike mount supporting the stones, often then funneled to a waiting receptacle, or sack. The upper stone has two holes in it, in the center a funnel-shaped hole through which grain is poured, and, near the edge, another hole into which one end of the turning pole is placed. This pole is normally managed by two operators. Its upper portion is fitted into an aperture in the overhead beam, which supplies leverage and, of course, by affording a steadying rest, makes the pole easier to handle. The principle of the hand quern is similar, but it is usually turned with a small wooden handle. The meal or flour emerging from these devices is usually sifted, as it must often be reground, sometimes several times. The sifter usually is made of hide stretched over a wooden hoop. The holes are punched in the hide with a hot wire.

Most Goreans, incidentally, do not attribute lightning and thunder to the grinding of flour of Priest-Kings. They regard such things as charming myths, which they have now outgrown. Some of the lower castes, however, particularly that of the peasants, and particularly those in outlying villages, do entertain the possibility that such phenomena may be the signs of disunion among Priest-Kings and their conflicts, the striking of weapons, the rumbling of their chariots, the trampling of their tharlarion, and such. Even more sophisticated Goreans, however, if not of the Scribes or Builders, have been noted to speculate that lightning is the result of clouds clashing together in the sky, showering sparks, and such. Few people, I suppose, see the unity of such phenomena as lightning and the crackling in the stroked fur of a hunting sleen. In the wagon ahead, briefly illuminated, I saw, swinging from its strap, slung over a hook on the rear axle housing, a narrow, cylindrical, capped "grease bucket," the handle of the brush protruding though a hole in the cap. Such accessories are common on Gorean wagons. The «grease» in such a container is generally not mineral grease but a mixture of tar and tallow. Applied with a brush it is used, as would be mineral grease, were it more commonly available, to lubricate the moving parts of the wagon, in particular the axles, and where the rare wagon has them, metal springs, usually of the leaf variety. Some Gorean "coaches," and fee carts, not many, are slung on layers of leather. This gives a reasonably smooth ride but the swaying, until one accommodates oneself to it, can induce nausea, in effect, seasickness. This seems to be particularly the case with free women, who are notoriously delicate and given to imaginary complaints.

It is interesting to not that this "delicacy," this pretentious frailty, or what not, and such "complaints," usually disappear as soon as they have been enslaved. That is probably because they are then where they belong, in their place in nature. Too, looking up from their knees at their master they may realize he has little patience for such things. Similarly, circumstances can apparently make a great deal of difference. For example, it has been noted that the same person who makes a disgusting spectacle of herself as a free person traveling one way on a leather-slung fee cart is likely on the return journey, if then a slave, perhaps tied in a sack, or placed hooded, and bound, hand and foot, on the floor of such a cart, between the feet of the passengers on opposite benches, is likely to remain orally continent, even desperately so. If she does not, of course, she, within the sack or hood, heard the consequences of her own actions, after which she is likely to be kicked or struck while still inside the sack, or beaten while still in the hood, after which the sack might be hung over the back of the fee cart or she herself bound vulnerably on her stomach, her upper body over its rear guard rail. Afterwards, too, of course, eventually, she will clean both herself and the sack, or hood, thoroughly, before crawling back into the sack, to again become its prisoner, or having the hood again drawn over her head and having it fastened on her. She seldom had the same accident twice.

To be perfectly fair, however, most Goreans, and not just free women, will prefer the simple, jolting progress of a springless wagon to the often more rapid progress of a leather-slung fee cart. In the flash of lightning in which I had seen the "grease bucket" on its hook I had also seen, under the same wagon, ahead of that to which I clung, two children in a large, suspended hide. They were peeping out, frightened. Their eyes were very large. Such hides are not unusual under Gorean wagons. It is unusual, however, to carry children, or any passenger, or even a slave, in them. They normally serve to carry fuel, which is collected here and there along the route. The children were there now, doubtless, to shelter them from the storm.

In the next flash of lightning I did not see the children any longer. They had apparently decided to pull their heads in, I did not much blame them. I recalled the brigands, now in the custody of the driver and his fellow, those who had been of the wagon of "Septimus Entrates." Perhaps that had been the driver's name, or the name of the owner of the original wagon, that which had fallen into the brigand's trap, where the stones had been removed, that which had slid into the ditch and overturned. Its axle had been broken. I had not, as far as I could recall, heard the name before. It was an unusual name. It suggested the sorts of names not uncommon in many of the Vosk towns, however, names reflecting the cultural mixtures of many such places, reflecting influences as diverse as those of the island urbarates, such as Cos and Tyros, on one hand, and those of the southern cities, such as Venna and Ar on the other.

The brigand's loot wagon substituted for their own incapacitated vehicle the fellows, their load transferred, had continued on their way. They had seemed like good fellows. I recalled that the brigands, after having descended to prey upon them, had been prepared to withdraw, hearing that the wagon carried a Home Stone. Those with a Home Stone in their keeping are commonly formidable adversaries. Few men will knowingly interfere with the progress of such a person, let alone threaten or attack them. Warning them that he carried a Home Stone indicated that the driver suspected their intentions. It had been that announcement, too, which had encouraged me to enter into the matter. I wondered if the driver had actually been carrying a Home Stone or if his assertion had been merely a trick to discourage predation. At any rate the driver and his fellow were now better off than they had been. they had an extra tharlarion, three extra purses and three fellows, hurrying behind them, naked and bound, ropes on their necks, whom they could now sell to the master of a work chain, perhaps for as much as a silver tarsk apiece. Hopefully, if the driver and his fellow wanted to get the brigands to such a master, they would have them hooded by the time it grew light. If they were recognized they might be treated to summary justice.

It had been a narrow thing a few Ehn ago, back on the road. I did not think a little hard labor would hurt the brigands. There were one or more work chains, I knew, in the neighborhood of Venna, to the south. She was repairing her walls. I had heard as I had come north, that Ionicus of Cos, the master of several such chains, was currently buying. Such chains, incidentally, are regarded as politically neutral instruments. Thus, Venna, an ally of Ar, might employ such a chain, even though its master was of Cos. I supposed that if the Cosians did not mind, there was no point in Venna, who could use cheap labor, becoming exercised about the matter either.

It is not universal, but it is quite common, incidentally, for Goreans to strip prisoners. There are various reasons for this. It humiliates the prisoner, and pleases the captor. It shows the prisoner that he is now in someone else's power. Too, it makes it difficult to conceal weapons. Too, there is no generally utilized type of clothing or garb for prisoners on Gor, few "prison uniforms," or such. Accordingly, the marking out of prisoners, identifying them as prisoners, the alerting of others as to their status, etc., which in one culture might be achieved by such garb are often, on Gor, achieved by the absence, or near absence, of clothing. The nudity, or semi-nudity, of the prisoner is likely to alert all who observe it to his status. Too, even if the prisoner should escape his bonds, he then faces the additional problem of locating clothing, and of a suitable type. It might also be mentioned, of course, that most Goreans do not approve of criminals. Accordingly, they have no objection to depriving them of clothing, and such. It says to them that they have been caught, and may now expect to be treated as they deserve.

These remarks, incidentally, pertain primarily to free criminals, and not to prisoners of war or slaves. The stripping of prisoners of war, if it is done, is generally a temporary matter, having to do with marking them out, as many Gorean soldiers, particularly mercenaries, do not have distinctive uniforms, and preventing the concealment of weapons. Whether the slave is clothed or not is at the discretion of the master. In the houses of slavers and in slave markets, beautiful women, for example, are almost always kept nude.

In another stroke of lightning, I caught sight again, of the swinging "grease bucket, it filled presumable with tar and tallow, hanging on its strap from the axle housing of the wagon ahead of me. I thought the brigands, all things considered, would be just as happy to go south to a work gang. Perhaps, in time, they would even be released, in two or three years perhaps, when it was thought they had been exemplary prisoners, hard-working and suitably docile. Because of the storm, the rain and wind, another method of dealing with such fellows had not been suggested back there on the road, but it is not unknown. It is sometimes done as part of what is know as "wagon justice." I will not go into detail, but the method involves the tar and tallow, and fire. Goreans, as I have suggested, do not much approve of criminals.

I withdrew my pack from the wagon beside which I was walking and let it pass me, and then, following diagonally behind it for a moment, crossed to the left side of the road. Another vehicle passed me, then, behind me. I looked up. In a new flash of lightning I saw the stony plateau, surmounted by the inn of the Crooked Tarn. The wind and rain lashed at the right side of my head and body. I stepped from the road. There was a graveled wide place here, connected with the inn. It was at least fifty yards deep and wide, affording room where even wagons pulled by ten tharlarions might turn. A lantern was hung on a post ahead of me. I made toward it. In other flashes of lightning I saw roads wending about the plateau. There would be flat places, where wagons might camp.

I could see several wagons crowded together on the side of the plateau to my left, the lee side. Some other wagons were more ahead of me, turned away from the rain. I felt the gravel of the turn yard beneath my sandals. I paused by some of the wagons. Then I made my way again toward the lantern. It surmounted a post which was at the right corner of the wagon bridge, over the moat, ascending toward the inn gate above me. In a flash of lightning, I saw two girls peeping out from under a tarpaulin on one of the wagons. In the same instant, frightened, they had seen me. When the sky was again lit the tarpaulin was down. I had seen little but their eyes, but I did not doubt but what they were kijirae. They had the look of women who had well learned that men were their masters. I trod the wet gravel toward the left side of the wagon bridge. I paused there to look across the moat. It was some forty feet in width. The ground approaching it sloped down, gently, toward its retaining wall, only some inches in height, too low to allow a man cover behind it. In this wall, at its foot, there were openings every twenty feet or so to allow for water from the outside to drain into the moat. This pitch of the land, too, incidentally, makes it difficult to drain the moat. It could be done, of course, by men working under a shed, to protect them from missile fire, arrows, lead sling pellets, and such, or, say, more safely, and less exposed to sorties, by siege miners, through a tunnel. Either project, of course, would require several men, be costly in time and would constitute an engineering feat of no mean proportion. There are, of course, various other approaches to such problems, for example, attempting to bridge the moat, perhaps using dugout pontoons, having recourse to rafts on which one might mount siege ladders, and even attempting to fill it. Starvation of a garrison is usually ineffective, incidentally, for various reasons. There is usually a large amount of supplies laid in, often enough for one or two years, and water is generally available in siege cisterns within, if not from rain or the moat itself. Similarly, after a time the besiegers tend to exhaust the food supplies in the countryside and may well themselves suffer from hunger before the besieged. Maintaining a siege indefinitely generally requires an extensive and efficient apparatus of logistics, arranging for the acquisition, transportation and protection of supplies. To be sure, much depends on the numbers of the besiegers and besieged, the nature of the defenses, and such. For example, if the besieged do not have enough men to man the extent of their walls, their lines must be thinned to the point where in a multipoint attack penetration is invited. Still, statistically, sieges are almost always unsuccessful. That is why cities have walls, and such. Usually, too, within a city, there will be a citadel to which defenders may withdraw, which is likely to be next to impregnable. They are likely to be safe there even if the city is burned about them.

If it is of interest, sieges usually do not last very long, seldom more than a few weeks, before the besiegers, not seeing much point in the matter, and generally feeling the pinch of short rations, or possibly even because the captain's war contract has expired, or the men's enlistment agreements are up, will withdraw. Indeed, sometimes the soldiers, particularly if they are levied citizen soldiers, may wish to return home simply to attend to their own business, such as gathering in the harvest. More towns and cities, I think, have fallen to trickery and bribery than frontal assaults. A good besieging captain is usually aware of the political dissensions with a polity and attempts to exploit them, a promised consequence of his success supposedly being to bring one party or another into power. The traitorous party then, and perhaps honestly enough in its own mind, is likely to hail the conqueror as a liberator. Dietrich of Tarnburg, one of the best known of the mercenary captains on Gor, is legendary for his skill in such matters. He has doubtless taken more towns with gold than iron. The gold expended, of course, may be later expeditiously recouped from the public treasury, and the sale of goods, such as precious plate, rugs, fine cloths, tapestries, inlaid woods, silver and gold wire, art objects, jewels, tharlarion, tarsks, and women. Indeed, such gains may be levied as a "liberation fee," which fee it will be then incumbent on the party in power to welcome with good grace and vigorously justify to the people. The water in the most, from the inpourings from the land about, the drainages, dark and roiling, was almost to the foot of the bridge.

The lantern to my right, to the side, on its post, at the right side of the bridge, swung wildly in the rain and wind.

I looked up. There was a blast of lightning. This illuminated starkly, for a moment, the palisade at the height of the plateau.

Lightning burst again across the sky.

The boards of the bridge were slick with water. It was about eight feet wide. Two wagons could not pass on it. It led upward to a covered gate, which, probably, had a covered, walled hall and another gate beyond it. The two gates, the inner and the outer, are seldom open at the same time. in the covered way, like an enclosed hall between the gates, there would doubtless, both above and to the sides, be arrow ports. Two massive ropes, better than eight inches in diameter, sloped down from the gate structure to the bridge, which allowed for the raising and lowering of a portion of it at will. When the section was raised, pulled up against the gate, further protecting it, the inn would be, in effect, sealed off, an island in its small sea.

Such inns can serve as keeps or strongholds, but they seldom do so. For example, one can simply come to them, and buy entrance and lodging. In that sense they are open, though it is not unusual for them to be closed at night. They can, however, as I have suggested, serve as keeps. More than once, such inns have served rural areas as a place of refuge from foragers or marauders. They have been seized, too, upon occasion by the remnants of defeated forces, as places, in which to make desperate, perhaps last, stands. Too, such places, particularly in remote, restless or barbarous districts, may be pacified. Within the palisade there would be room for several wagons. In this place I did not know how many. Too, though I did not think it was now lit, there might be a sheltered tarn beacon somewhere, usually under a high shed. This signifies not only the location of the inn, and its amenities, but also a safe approach, one unimpeded by tarn wire, for a tarnsman, or a tarnsman with tarn basket. One brings the bird in to the left of the light, of course. By custom Gorean traffic keeps to the left. In this fashion one's sword arm, at least if one is right-handed, as are most Goreans, faces the oncoming traffic.

There was a wagon to the left of the bridge. Its canvas cover was drawn down. The rain poured from it. Under the wagon there was a small, huddled figure, a tarpaulin clutched about its head and shoulders. Within the wagon, then, I supposed, there might be a fellow and his free companion. Doubtless, unless it had been displeasing in some way, the location of the small figure beneath the wagon, huddling there in misery and cold, was a consequence of the presence of the free companion within it. I did not doubt but what the small figure was more beautiful and attractive than the free companion. That was suggested by what must be its status. Free women hate such individuals and lose few opportunities to make them suffer. I wondered if the fellow in the wagon had acquired the individual under it merely for his interest and pleasure, or perhaps, too, as a way of encouraging his companion to take her own relationship with him more seriously. Perhaps, if his plan worked, in such a case, he might then be kind enough to discard the individual beneath the wagon, ridding himself of it, its work accomplished, in some market or other.

I crouched down. I could then see the heavy chain passed through the ring under the wagon. One end of it went between the folds of the tarpaulin clutched about the figure's throat, probably to be padlocked there, about its throat, or attached to a collar. The other end went behind the figure and downward, probably to fasten together its crossed ankles. seeing my eyes upon it, the small figure knelt under the wagon, and, its hands coming from the tarpaulin, their palms now on the gravel, put down its head, rendering obeisance.

"Oh!" she said, softly, as I lifted the tarpaulin back. she looked up from all fours. The chain which passed through the ring wound twice about her neck, where it was padlocked. From her neck, through the ring, lifting, and thence descending, it served also to secure her ankles, which were, as I had anticipated, crossed and chained closely together. This makes it so that the prisoner cannot walk. It is common to chain female prisoners so that they cannot rise to their feet. In this there is not only a security but a symbolism, one that bespeaks their rightful place. Beneath the tarpaulin I saw that she was naked, and, as I had thought she might be, beautiful.

She looked up at me, from all fours. Her body now was streaked with the slanted rain. Her hair, apparently from before, was wet and very dark. It fell about her shoulders. Her knees were on the tarpaulin, within which she had huddles, over the gravel. I knelt her back, and then took her hands in mine. They were also cold. I rubbed them for a time. Then I put them on her thighs. I touched her body, gently, rubbing the rain about it. She shuddered, her shoulders and breasts wet now, and slick, with the rain.

"You are helpless," I said to her, "and will make very little noise." "My ankles are chained," she whispered.

I put her to her back, a bit more under the shelter of the wagon. The chain moved a little through the loop ring above us. I heard the wagon creak a little, too, above us. Someone had stirred in it, or was moving, it seemed. The fellow who owned the wagon, I supposed, was turning in his sleep, or was addressing himself to his companion. But it then seemed quiet, and there was little noise except for the wind and rain, and the distant rumble of thunder.

My face was close to here. "You are slave," I whispered.

Suddenly there was a great burst of lightning and crash of thunder.

I saw her eyes, and pressed down upon her, holding her head, pressing her lips with the kiss of the master.

I drew back.

There was another great flash of lightning and I saw her eyes, looking up at me, wild, frightened, needful. "Yes," she whispered intensely, helplessly. "I am a slave! I am a slave!" Then she lifted her body and seized me in her arms and pressed her lips eagerly, needfully, gratefully to mine.

I put her to her back.

Then I caressed her, and she squirmed, writhing on the wet tarpaulin over the gravel, beneath the wagon, in the flashes of lightning, in the explosions of thunder.

She was small, naked and cuddly. Her thigh, as I determined, in turning her about, and caressing her, first, by feel, and then, in a flash of lightning, wore the common Kajira brand, the small, delicate "Kef," for "Kajira," sometimes called the staff and fronds, suggesting beauty subject to discipline. On her neck, beneath the coils of the heavy, padlocked chain, was a common, close-fitting Gorean slave collar.

"Alas," she wept softly, in misery, in frustration, "my ankles are chained!" I gathered she might not have been a slave long.

"Oh!" she cried, softly.

I thrust up her legs and slipped between them, and hen her legs were tight about me, I within their chained circuit. I lifted her up, and lowered her. "Ohh," she said, softly. She clutched me.

The storm was fierce.

Then, after a time, I lifted her up and slipped back, freeing myself.

There are various ways, of course, to use a woman whose ankles were bound. I had utilized one of them.

"If a question comes up," I said to her, "you were warned to silence, and were helpless." To be sure, this was even true. "You were merely utilized by a casual passer-by." I said. Such things, incidentally, are not that unusual with female slaves, particularly if they are put out, without an iron belt, in effect for the taking.

"I cannot believe the feelings I had," she whispered.

"You must endure such feelings and more," I said, "When men choose to impose them upon you."

"Yes, Master," she whispered, in awe.

The extent and nature of such feelings, I think, are largely a function of the individuals involved. To be sure, they are usually, too, a function of many other factors, as well. For example, in this particular case, I suspected that her chaining might have been a factor. Restraining the female, sometimes symbolically, sometimes in fashions which are literally, physically coercive, making her absolutely helpless, for various reasons, psychological and physical, intensifies her orgasm. This sort of thing, I suppose, is largely unknown to free women, though many seem to suspect it, dimly or otherwise. Its reality, of course, can become clear to them, for example, as they might find themselves on their knees, bound, kissing a man's whip. The most significant restraint, of course, it the condition of bondage itself, in which the woman knows that the male is dominant over her and that she must submit to him, that she is owned, and must, in fear of very life, be obedient and pleasing. Slavery institutionalizes, in an organized, social, civilized context, the natural biological relationship between men and women. It also, of course, as one would expect, by means of various devices, legal and otherwise, clarifies it and renders it more efficient.

"Oh, buy me, Master! Buy me!" she begged.

"Only a slave," said I, "begs to be bought."

"I am a slave," she said. "That was taught to me weeks ago by the slaver who captured me!"

"You are probably not for sale," I said.

"My master does not care for me," she said. "He bought me only to anger his companion, who is terribly cruel to me. During the day, when my legs are open, he even rents me out to strangers for a tarsk bit!"

"Does his companion grow more attentive and concerned?" I asked.

"I think not," she said.

"Perhaps it should be she who is chained beneath the wagon," I said. "She is a free woman!" protested the girl, in horror.

"Your master charges a tarsk bit for your use?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Open your mouth," I said.

She did so, and I drew forth a tarsk bit from my pouch, this one not a separate coin in the sense of round or square coin, but a piece of such a coin, a narrow, triangular, chopped eighth of a copper tarn disk, and placed it in her mouth. "That is for your master," I said. Many Goreans, particularly those of low caste, on errands and such, carry a coin or coins in their mouths. Most Gorean garments, a notable exception being those of artisans, lack pockets.

She looked at me.

I pulled the tarpaulin up about her, as it had been before, to protect her from the storm.

In placing the coin in her mouth, I had not only, having discovered he was interested in such things, and the price was not too much, compensated her master for her use but had precluded further importunities on her part. I kissed a little at her face. I had thought the streaks there might have been rain, but they had a salty taste.

I moved from beneath the wagon and picked up my pack.

She looked up at me. She understood, the coin in her mouth, that she was now to be silent.

I looked up to the height of the stony plateau, and the palisade. In a flash of lightning, illuminated clearly for a moment, I could see, over the palisade, hanging from its chains, the crosspiece on the high pole, swinging in the storm, the huge sign with its emblematic representation of a bird, that with the vulturelike neck and the distorted, grasping right leg and talons, the sigh of the Crooked Tarn.

I looked back to the girl.

She was still looking at me.

I pointed to the gravel before her, under the wagon.

Immediately, kneeling, she lowered her head to the gravel, in obeisance. I then turned away, and began to ascend the bridge, leading up to the gate. I put the girl from my mind. She was, after all, a slave, and her use had been paid for.

2 The Court; Chained Women

"You are not a female," said the voice from behind the door, a small, narrow door cut in the left panel of the gate, the eyes peering out from a small sliding hatch in the door. "Show that you have money!"

I lifted up a copper tarsk. The fellow inside lifted up a small tharlarion-oil lamp to the opening. I held the coin where he could see it but I did not put it through the aperture.

"Not enough!" he said.

I then held up a silver tarsk. The door opened.

I entered.

He locked the door behind me.

I then followed him through a high, shedlike tunnel, walled with wood, about forty feet long, to the interior gate. There he turned about. "Something for the porter," I said.

"You are paid by the keeper of the house," I said.

"Times are hard," he said. "And it is late. I have opened the door late." "That is true," I said. I put a tarsk bit into his hand.

"Times are hard," he said.

I put down my pack. I took out a knife and pushed it a bit into his gut, pushing him back against the inner gate. He turned white. I lifted up his purse, on its strings, and, with the point of the knife, opened it. There were several coins within it. I could see in light of the small lamp he carried. "Times are not as hard as you thought," I said. "How much would you like?"

"A tarsk bit is quite sufficient," he said.

"You have it," I said.

"Yes, Sir," he said. "Thank you, Sir." He put the tarsk bit from his hand into his purse, as I held it, and then took the purse gingerly from me, and, sensing he was permitted, dropped it, on its strings, so that again it hung from his belt, on his left. If one is right-handed, one normally lifts the purse with the left hand and reaches into it with the right. The weight of the purse, on its drawstrings, closed it.

"It is a violent night out," I said.

"It is, Sir," said he. "What have you heard from the north?"

"I have come from the south," I said.

"Few go north now," he said.

"Most here, I gather," I said, "are from the north."

"Yes," said he, "and we are crowded beyond belief."

"With folks from Ar's Station?" I asked.

"Not many now," he said. "Some managed to flee."

"Most are trapped in the city?" I said.

"Apparently," he said.

"What is your latest intelligence?" I asked.

"Little that is new," he said.

"And what is old?" I asked.

"From whence have you come?" he asked.

"From the south," I said. That I had come from Ar herself was no business to this fellow.

"Only what I hear," he said, "a€”that the Cosians have invested Ar's Station, on three sides by land, and have closed the harbor, that with a wall of chained rafts."

"Have the walls been breached?" I asked.

"Several times," said he, "but each time the defenders have managed to hold the breach, and repair the wall."

I nodded. Some terribly bitter fighting takes place at such times. So, too, it can, in the streets themselves. "Cosians, as far as you know," I said, "hold no part of the city itself."

"Not as far as I know," he said.

"What are the numbers involved, and your speculations as to the outcome?" "It is you who wear the scarlet," he said. "I am only a poor porter." "Surely you have heard things," I said. I sheathed my knife. I sensed it might be making the fellow nervous.

"I have heard there are thousands of Cosians, their auxiliaries, and their mercenaries, at Ar's Station," he said. "Of that is true, they must outnumber the regulars in Ar's Station by as many as ten to one."

"Equipment, supplies?" I asked.

"They brought with them the devices for siege work from Brundisium," he said. "I suppose that, too, must be the source of their supplies."

That seemed to me to make sense. If it were true, however, why had Ar's tarnsmen not attempted to interdict these supply routes? If they had, I had heard nothing of it.

"The fighting at Ar's Station, by report, has been lengthy and fierce," said the man. "Her walls are defended by common citizens as well as soldiers. The Cosians, I think, did not expect such resistance.

I supposed not.

"You are of the red caste," said the fellow. "Why is Cos interested in Ar's Station?"

"I am not fully sure," I said, "but there could be various reasons, and some of them would seem obvious. As you know much of the friction between Cos and Ar has to do with their economic competitions in the Vosk Basin. Taking Ar's Station would, in a stroke, diminish the major citadel of Ar's Salerian Confederation and the Vosk League.

To be sure, in virtue of their mutual distrust of Cos and the Salerian Confederation normally maintained close relations, and the Vosk League, a confederation of towns along the Vosk, originally formed, like the Salerian Confederation on the Olni, to control river piracy, was, at least in theory, independent of both Ar and Cos. I say, "in theory' because one of the charter cities in the Vosk League is Port Cos, which, although it is a sovereign polis, was originally founded by, and settled by, Cosians. If Ar were out of the way in the area of the Vosk, of course, I did not doubt but what friction would develop quickly enough between Cos and the Salerian Confederation, and perhaps between Cos and the Vosk League, and for much the same reasons as formerly between Cos and Ar.

Some well-known towns in the Vosk League are Victoria, Tafa and Fina. The farthest west town in the league is Turmus, at the delta. The farthest east is White Water. Some of the towns of the league are actually east of Ar's Station, such as Forest Port, Iskander, Tancred's Landing, and, of course, White Water. Ar's Station, although it was apparently active in the altercations with pirates on the Vosk, never joined the league. This is probably because of the influence of Ar herself, which might regard her extensive territorial claims in the area as being implicitly undermined or compromised by membership in any such alliance.

The headquarters of the Vosk League is located in the city of Victoria. I suppose there are special historical reasons for this, for Victoria is not centrally located on the river, say, between the delta to the west and the entry of the Olni into the Vosk on the east, which point, incidentally, is controlled by the city of Lara, a member of the Salerian's Confederation. Victoria lies rather toward the west, in the reaches traditionally more subject to Cosian influence. Geographical position, accordingly, at least with respect to approximating the midpoint between the delta and the Olni, was apparently not the paramount consideration in locating the headquarters of the Vosk League. Had it been one might have expected to find its headquarters in, say, Jasmine or Siba, towns much more centrally located.

"I have heard," said the man, "a large relieving force bound for Ar's Station departed from Ar weeks ago."

"I heard that, too," I said. I knew that it was true. I also knew that Ar, inexplicably, to my mind, had literally invested the bulk of its land power in that very expedition, and had done so with the main forces of Cos not in the north but in the vicinity of Torcadino. This seemed to me a military mistake of almost unbelievable dimension. I had been in Torcadino several weeks ago, indeed, at the very moment when the city, housing Cosian siege engines and supplies, serving as a depot and staging area for the eastward advance of Cos, had, in a daring stratagem, been seized by Dietrich of Tarnburg with no more than a few thousand mercenaries. These had entered the city through aquaducts, literally over the heads of unsuspecting Cosian armies camped about the city. This act had stalled the invasion. I expected Dietrich to be able to hold Torcadino through the winter, but little longer. I had borne letters from Dietrich to Ar germane to these matters.

In the intrigues of the time, and to divert suspicion, Gnieus Lelius, high councilor, and first minister of Ar, he who was acting as regent in the absence of Marlenus, Ubar of the city, had even had me brought to the Central Cylinder under guard, as though I might have been arrested, and was to be examined on some charge. There, personally and at length, I had spoken to him. I had urged him to march to Torcadino and confront the main body of Cosian forces. But the troops of Ar had not been recalled, nor diverted to Torcadino. They had continued to march northward, as though the major danger lay at Ar's Station. This, in effect, seemed to negate the bold stroke of Dietrich, to slow the Cosian advance, and give Ar time to organize, to arm and march. Ar had not moved against the Cosians at Torcadino. She had marched north, presumably to relieve Ar's Station. Gnieus Lelius had listened to me thoughtfully and patiently. But he would, it seemed, trust to the judgment of his officers.

I had then been kept in Ar for weeks, a guest in the Central Cylinder, waiting and waiting. Then at last I had been given a sealed letter for the commander of Ar's Station, whose name was Aemilianus. That was all. That very night, on tarnback, I had streaked northward from Ar. I had sold the tarn only two days ago, to proceed on foot. The skies had seemed heavily patrolled. I had little doubt they would become more so as I proceeded farther northward. It seemed to me that my chances of successfully delivering the message to Aemilianus, whatever might be its contents, might be improved if it were borne not by tarnsman but by one afoot, one who might, say, among mercenaries, or civilians, mix inconspicuously. This speculation was further encouraged by the fact that Ar's station would surely have its tarn wire strung and the skies about it, as nearly as I had determined, were currently controlled by Cos. "But," said the man, "such a force has not passed this point." "I do not know its location," I said. I had stayed at certain inns in the south, past which it had taken its march, taking five days to pass given points. Then, moving northward, I had stayed at inns, also on, or near, the Vitkel Aria somewhere north of Venna.

"It cannot have just disappeared," he said.

"It is a mystery to us," I said, "but doubtless to those with access to the proper intelligence network, its movements and position are well known." I had encountered refugees from Ar's Station and its environs even south of Venna. Some told me they had seen the army pass. Some had even told me that men and women they knew had followed the army northward, as though confident of its victory and returning to their homes. What puzzled me most was that the Viktel Aria was the most direct route, for hundreds of pasangs, to Ar's Station. Indeed, Ar's Station, in effect, secured the northern terminus of the Viktel Aria, or Vosk Road, at the Vosk.

The Viktel Aria was a military toad, one laid out by military engineers as a military route. It sped almost directly from Ar to the Vosk. It made few concessions to towns or communities. Its primary purpose was to provide a reliable, nearly indestructable surface for the rapid movement of armed men. this being the case, however, why had the army of Ar not kept to it, on its presumed journey to raise the siege of Ar's Station? The most likely hypothesis seemed to me to be that it was making its way not to Ar's Station but to Brundisium, where, months ago, the Cosians had landed. This suggested that either Ar's Station was to be sacrificed in these harsh games, or that it was the thinking of Ar's commanders that a move to Brundisium would lift the siege of Ar's Station, the Cosians there perhaps then being withdrawn to protect Brundisium. Such a move, of course, might isolate the Cosian main forces, both depriving them from their fellows at Ar's Station. I did not doubt, incidentally, that the military might which Ar now had in the north, if it were what it was said to be, would be sufficient to take Brundisium. The objections to this strategy, of course, were obvious. Ar's bastion on the Vosk, Ar's Station, was being treated as expendable, which it was not, if Ar wished to maintain its power in the Vosk Basin. Even if Brundisium should fall, this would not be likely to keep open her lines of communication and supply. Similarly, Ar, lacking a sizable navy, had no way to follow up the capture of Brundisium, either by interdicting the coast or attempting an invasion of Cos.

The major objection, of course, was that this move exposed Ar herself to the main force of Cosians, which was in the vicinity of Torcadino. It was almost as though the officers of Ar were content to exchange Ar for a port, and one which, strictly, was not even a Cosian port. If this were the case, however, that Ar was advancing on Brundisium, I had, interestingly enough, heard nothing of it. By now, in the normal course of events, given Ar's start, and the typical marches of armies, she would have had time to reach not only Ar's Station but even Brundisium, much farther away.

I did not know where the main force of Ar was. In this sense I was confronted with a mystery, at least as far as my own limited information went. Perhaps, for some reason, the forces of Ar were intending to relieve Ar's Station from the west, thus interposing themselves between the siege forces of Cos and their likely routes of escape, either substantially west by southwest to Brundisium or more to the southwest, toward Torcadino. If this were the case, however, it seemed that we should, by nor, have heard something to this effect. Indeed, if this were true, it seems that Ar, by now, should have appeared on the western flank of the Cosians.

"I fear for Ar's Station," said the porter.

"How is that?" I asked.

"I do not think she can long hold out," he said. "The attackers are numerous. The defenders are thinned. The walls are weakened. New breaches are made daily. In places they are being mined. Fires have occurred in the city, from saboteurs, from fire javelins, from flame baskets catapulted over the walls. There is starvation in the city. If the forces of Ar do not soon raise the siege, I think she must succumb."

"I see," I said. "Too," said he, "the fighting, in which civilians have participated, has been lengthy and bitter. The men of Cos expected an easier time of it. Their losses have been heavy. They will not be pleased."

I nodded.

"I would not care to be there when the gate gives way," he said.

"It is late," I said.

He then opened the door in the interior gate. "The keeper's desk, and the paga room," said he, "are in the building to the right."

I looked out through the door, into the court of the inn. I was soaked to the skin. It was still raining heavily. It was dry, at least, in the covered, shedlike entrance way, between the gates. The inn itself, aside from certain ancillary buildings, was built of heavy logs, and in two parts, or structures, with a common, peaked roof, and an open space, covered from above by the roof, between the two parts. Each part, or structure, contained perhaps three or four floors, possibly joined by ladders. It was about a hundred feet between the door in the interior gateway, where I stood, and, to the right, the covered way between the separate parts of the inn. The flooring of the court was formed largely, leveled and carved, from the natural stone of the plateau. Narrow drainage channels had been cut in it. Through these water now flowed under the palisade, down the moat. It also flowed, doubtless by design, midway here and there, between the palisade's anchor post wells and bracing recesses, cut in the stone, sealed about with tar. Water was running from the long roof of the two-part structure, perhaps two hundred feet in length, falling some thirty or forty feet down to the court.

I pressed another tarsk bit into the fellow's hand. "Thank you, Sir," said he. He had tried to be helpful, though to be sure, I had learned little that I had not known before. I had gathered, however, that the siege at Ar's Station might be approaching a critical point. I then picked up the pack and went out again, pulling my cloak over my head, to cross the court, in the cold rain. I heard the door shut behind me, and the interior bolt thrown. I hurried across the court to the side of the nearest part of the two-part structure. I had seen something there that interested me. I looked at them, exposed as they were, and in the downpour, and then circled about the building. I would consider them in greater detail later. I thought it well to reconnoiter a little I suppose it is the training of the warrior.

I examined various of the smaller buildings and sheds, their location and what vantages or cover they might provide. There were stables for tharlarion and covered shedlike structures beneath which wagons were drawn up. There was a place for a tarn beacon, on a platform under a high shed, but it was now not lit. There was a tarn gate, too, but it was now closed, wire strung between its posts. Tarn wire, too, I was sure, would be strung about, most of it presumably from the roof of the inn to the height of the palisade. There was a tarncot, too, but now, within it, there was only one tarn. From the condition of the bird, and its nature, its apparent ferocity and alertness, I speculated that it might be a warrior's mount. Aside from the bird itself, however, there was no indication of this, no emblazoned saddlecloths, no insignia, no particular style of harness. As nearly as I could determine there was no barrack here nor garrison. This place, for most practical purposes, lacked guardsmen, though doubtless it kept a burly fellow or two on hand to deal with possible emergencies. I then made my way back to the main building. It had narrow openings in it here and there through which it might be defended. The number of available defenders, I supposed, might dictate the decision in such a case. Both sections, I speculated, would be joined by a narrow, easily blocked underground passage cut in stone, one presumably taking its way beneath the covered way between them. Contrary to what one might think, incidentally, it is not easy to set fire to such structures. This has to do primarily with the verticality of the surfaces. The situation is very similar with a palisade. The common fire arrow, for example, usually burns itself out in place.

I was now on the left side of the front of the two-part main building, as one would face the building. It was there I had seen something which had seemed worthy of some interest.

"Redeem me!" cried one of the women. "I beg you!" "No, me!" cried another.

"Me! Me!" wept another.

There were five of them, naked, and lashed by the rain. Their hands were shackled high over their heads, this lifting their bodies nicely. The shackles were attached to short chains, the latter depending from stout rings. The chains were hitched to different heights, depending on the height of the woman. "Perhaps you are uncomfortable?" I asked the first woman.

"Yes," she said, "yes!"

"That is not surprising, considering how you are secured," I said.

"Please!" she said.

She jerked at the shackles and squirmed against the wall. She was covered with rain, which had blown back under the roof's overhang. Her hair was sopped, and dark and much about her, adhering to her shoulders and body.

"Avert your eyes!" she demanded.

I took her hair and put it back, behind her shoulders. In that way it was out of the way. Shackled as she was she would find it difficult to get it back again before her body. If necessary, of course, it could be bundled and knotted at the back of her neck.

"Please!" she wept.

In a flash of lightning the entire wall and court was illuminated. There were only five positions there for securing women, and they were all occupied. "Redeem me!" she begged.

"Buy me?" I inquired.

"Never!" wept the woman. "I am a free woman!"

"We are free women!" cried the woman next to her.

"We are all free women!" cried she beyond that one.

I had supposed this, of course, for I had seen that none were collared. "Oh," said the first woman, as I checked her flanks.

"Do not carry on," I said. "You had probably been out here at least since this afternoon, and have probably been touched by several men."

I detected no brands on her, at least in the two most favored Gorean brand sites. They were probably, as they claimed, free women.

"Redeem me," she begged. I saw that above and behind the head of each, thrust over nails driven into the logs, were small rectangles of oilcloth.

I turned one over and, in the next flash of lightning, read the numbers on its back.

"What is your name?" I asked the first woman.

"I am the Lady Amina of Venna," she said. "I was visiting in the north, and forced to flee at the approach of Cosians."

"You redemption fee," I said, "is forty copper tarsks, a considerable amount." I had read this amount on the back of the oilcloth rectangle.

"Pay it!" she begged. "Rescue a noble free woman from jeopardy. I will be forever grateful."

"Few men," I said, "would be content with gratitude."

She shrank back, frightened, against the rough surface.

"My bill is only thirty tarsks," said the second woman, a blonde. "Redeem me!" "Mine is thirty-five!" said the third woman.

"Mine is only twenty-seven!" cried the fourth woman.

"Mine is fifty," wept the last of the five women, "but I will make it well worth your while!"

"In what way?" I asked.

"In the way of the woman!" she said, brazenly.

There were cries of protest, and anger, from the others.

"Do not sound too righteous," I said to the first four prisoners at the wall. "We are free women!" said the first woman.

"You are all debtor sluts," I said.

The first woman gasped, startled, so referred to, and the second and third woman cried out in anger. The fourth whimpered, knowing what I had said was true. The fifth was silent.

I recalled that the porter, when I had come to the outer gate, at the height of the bridge over the moat, seeing that I was not a female, had made me show money, and a considerable amount of it, before he had admitted me. This was probably because of the crowding at the inn, and perhaps inflated prices, in these unusual, perilous times. Women, I had gathered, on the other hand, would not be required to show such money. This, of course, was presumably not so much because such a challenge might be thought to be demeaning to a free woman, as, perhaps, that women on Gor, in a sense, are themselves money. They are, or can be, a medium of exchange, like currency. This is particularly true of the slave, of course, who, like other goods, or domestic animals, has an ascertainable, finite value, whatever free persons are willing to pay for her. Women such as these, those at the wall, would be surrendered by the management of the inn for the equivalent of their unpaid bills. T hey would then be in the power of their "redeemers," any who might make good their debts. Lacking such a «redemption» they might then themselves, sooner or later, sold as slaves. In this way the inn usually recovers its money and, not unoften, turns a profit. Particularly beautiful specimens of impecunious guests are sometimes kept by the inn itself, as inn slaves.

"Please do not refer to us in such a fashion," said the first woman. "In what fashion?" I asked.

"As you did," she said.

"Surely the prices at the inn are posted. Or are available upon inquiry," I said.

She was silent.

"Did you not know that you had not enough money?" I asked.

They were silent.

I tightened my grip on the first woman, thrusting her back more tightly against the logs.

"Yes! Yes!" she gasped. "I knew!"

"We all knew!" said the second woman.

"We are free women!" said the third woman. "We expected men to be gentlemen, to be understanding, to take care of us!"

"We counted on the kindness of men!" said the fourth woman.

"They will do anything for free women!" said the second woman.

I laughed, and they shuddered in their chains, against the wall. It was still raining, but the force of the storm had muchly subsided. I released my grip under the chin of the first woman.

"Do not laugh!" begged the first woman. "In short," I said, "you entered the inn, and remained here, in spite of the fact you had not the wherewithal to meet your obligations, expecting perhaps you might somehow do so with impunity, that your bills would perhaps be simply overlooked, or dismissed by the inn in futile anger, or that eager men could be found to pay them, doubtless vying for the privilege of being of service to lofty free women."

"Would you have had us spend the night on the road, like peasants?" demanded the third woman.

"But these are hard times," I said, "and not all men are fools." The third woman cried out with anger, shaking her shackles. She was well curved, and diet and exercise could much improve her. I thought she might bring as much as sixty copper tarsks in a market. If that were so, and the inn sold her for that much, they would have made then, as I recalled, some twenty-five copper tarsks on her.

"When you discovered you had not the price of the inn's services," I said, "you might have asked if you might earn your keep for the night."

"We are not inn girls!" cried the second woman.

"It is interesting that you should think immediately in such terms," I said. "I had in mind other sorts of things, such as laundering and cleaning."

"Such tasks are for slaves!" said the fifth woman.

"Many free women do them," I said.

"Those tasks are for low free women," she said, "not for high free women such as we!"

"Yet you are now at the wall, in shackles," I said, "and have upon you not so much as a veil."

"Nonetheless," said the second woman, "we are high free women, and women such as we do not earn our keep."

"Perhaps women such as you," I speculated, "will soon, at last, find yourself doing so."

"What do you mean?" she cried.

"Are there others like you inside?" I asked the first woman, the Lady Amina of Venna.

"Only one," she said, "she who owed the most. She was kept inside. There was not a shackle ring for her here."

"Why should she who owed he most be kept inside, and we, who owe less, be shamefully chained here, in plain view, and exposed to the elements?" asked the fifth woman.

"Perhaps she who is inside has already begun to earn her keep," I said. The fifth woman shrank back against the logs.

"My arms ache," said the second woman.

"Have other free women entered the court, since you have been fastened here?" I asked the first woman, the Lady Amina of Venna.

"Yes," she said, "and have seen us here. Some of them then, after visiting the keeper's desk, doubtless those with insufficient funds, left the inn." "There seems a point then in having you chained here," I said, "aside, of course, from such things as having you brought to the attention of fellows who might redeem you and making clear the inn's disapproval of attempted fraud, namely, that you might serve as a warning to other free women, women who might otherwise have been tempted try similar tricks."

"If we are not redeemed, what will be done with us?" wailed the fourth girl. "Surely you can guess," I said.

"No! No! No!" she cried, in misery.

"Redeem me!" begged the fifth girl. "I will make it worth your while, handsome fellow."

"Slave!" cried the first woman, angrily, to the fifth woman.

"Slave! Slave!" said, too, the second woman to the fifth.

"Come now," I said to the first and second woman, "she is not a slavea€”yet. "Yet!" cried the fourth woman.

Too, I was amused that the first and second woman seemed to think that slaves might bargain. They had a typical free woman's misconception of what was involved in total female slavery. The slave is owned. She does not bargain. She owes all to the master, and gives all to the master. She strives to be fully pleasing, in all ways, and hopes desperately that she will prove so. Perhaps they would learn that sometime.

"I am not like these other women," said the first woman, suddenly. "Redeem me! Some women, such as these, doubtless, have made a way of life of what you refer to as tricks. I have not! This is the first time I have ever had recourse to such fraud!"

The other women cried out angrily in their chains.

"Once is enough," I told the first woman.

"It costs only forty tarsks to redeem me!" she said.

"You would probably bring more than that in a slave market," I said. "Please!" she wept.

"I would cost only twenty-seven tarsks to redeem!" called the fourth girl. "Redeem me," said the second woman. "I am of high caste. Consider the glory of redeeming a woman of high caste!"

"The slave," I said, "has no caste, no more than a verr or tarsk." The woman cried out in misery, helpless in the shackles.

"I am shapely, and blond," said the third woman, suddenly. "Redeem me!" "Slave!" chided the fifth woman.

"Slave!" retorted the third.

"I do not want to be a slave!" cried the first woman.

"Obviously you are not a slave," I said, "for you have no wish to be pleasing." "I have slave needs, I confess it!" cried the fifth woman.

"I find that of interest," I said.

"I, too, have slave needs!" cried the fourth woman.

I had not doubted that. There was something about her body, which seemed lusciously slavelike.

"I, too!" suddenly wept the third woman. I regarded her. I thought she would indeed move well in a man's bonds.

"But I do want to be pleasing!" said the first woman.

I looked at her.

"Do not consider her," said the second woman. "Redeem me! I, too, have slave needs! I confess it! I have slave needs!"

"I, too, have slave needs!" suddenly cried the first woman.

"You?" I asked, as though skeptically.

"Yes!" she wept. "Yes!"

The first time I had laid eyes on her, of course, I had seen that she was born for silk. "Let me kiss you!" cried the fifth woman.

The others gasped in astonishment, in anger, in protest, in indignation, in outrage, at her boldness.

"Taste me," called the fifth woman, enticingly.

"Slut! Slut!" cried the other women.

It had been a slave's invitation. I wondered where the free woman had heard it. Not all free women are as ignorant as many men believe. There had been many indications that the fifth woman's slavery was very close to the surface. To be sure, she may have often fought it. I did not know.

"The eager lips of a free woman await you," called the fifth woman. I went to stand before the fifth woman and she, pulling at her chains, leaning forward, tried to reach me. I stood there for a moment, she straining toward me, I regarding her, thinking. She looked at me. I now let her wonder, now that she had made her bold overture, if I would choose to accept it. Perhaps, now, to her shame, to her humiliation, before her sisters in custody, her revelatory, astonishing, compromising advance would be rejected. Perhaps, even, she might be cuffed, or mocked. I saw fear in her eyes. So I took her in my arms and put my lips to hers. It began as a free woman's kiss but, as I held her, and pressed her to me, and she then pressed herself to me, it ended as a kiss which, though doubtless still that of a free woman, hinted at unmistakable latencies within her, that she might, under suitable conditions of helplessness and submission, and perhaps proper training, be capable of at least the nearest reaches of the kisses of slaves.

I released her, and she looked at me, shaken. She grasped the chains above the manacles tightly. Then she recovered herself. She released the chains above the manacles and her small hands now appeared as they had before, the clasping iron of the upper part of the shackles close below the fleshy part of her palms, below the thumbs, and at the sides of the hands. She squirmed a little. "Redeem me," she said, slyly.

"Taste me!" said the lovely, slighter girl, who was fourth, who had seemed perhaps the quieter of the five. I thought she might go the gentlest, and the most willingly, and the most gratefully, to her chains.

"Slut!" cried the third woman. I then kissed her.

I saw that she would make a superb slave.

"Do you not wish to be redeemed?" I asked her.

"Yes!" she said suddenly. "Yes, of course!" But I saw she would never be truly happy, except where she belonged, in a collar.

"Me!" said the third woman, suddenly. "Kiss me, too! Taste me, too!" I gathered that she, too, did not wish to be left out in these competitions. She did not wish to miss her opportunity to see if she might, by the bestowal of her favors, and the promise of such favors, as well, please me, and, by enticement or trickery, inveigle me into purchasing her redemption. I also saw, from her behavior and attitude, that she regarded herself as the most beautiful of the five, and the most likely to succeed in any such contest. Accordingly I gave her little time but merely took her in my arms and unilaterally, forcibly, briefly, crushed her lips beneath mine, and then flung her back against the logs. She looked at me wildly, disbelievingly. Was she not blond? But she would have to learn to please men.

I then stood back, and regarded the three women.

"You have not tasted me," said the second woman. I think she feared I was pondering a choice among the other there.

I kissed her. I would have to admit it, women kiss well in shackles, even free women. She looked at me. Then, she, too, recovered herself. "Though I am of high caste," she said, "I have permitted you to kiss me, and not merely upon a sleeve or gloved hand, but wholly upon my lips, and not even through a veil, no, upon my exposed and naked lips themselves, unveiled, almost as though I might be a slave! Therefore, in return for this inestimable gift, it is I whom you must now in honor redeem."

"You are a female," I said, "and such are made for the kisses of men." "I am of high caste!" she said.

"Perhapsa€”now," I said. Slaves, of course, are casteless, as are other animals. No longer is one woman divided from another by artificial distinctions. In this sense there is a democracy of slaves. They all begin the same, regardless of previous distinctions, such as position or wealth. They all begin at the same point, as naked women, branded and collared, who must then strive with one another to see who can be most pleasing to masters.

She looked at me in fury.

"Unfortunately," I said, " I do not have a slave whip with me." "You would beat me?" she asked.

"Of course," I said.

She shrank back against the logs.

I thought she would look well, in her curves, crawling at the feet of men, reduced to the centrality of her womanhood, the female slave.

I then regarded the four women whose lips I had tasted. Each had, in a sense, though free, prostituted herself to me, that she might thereby influence me to rescue her from her clear and obvious plight, that of a debtor slut. Each was willing to bestow her favors in order to obtain her redemption. These were women, I had gathered, who had made a practice of relying upon the generosity and nobility of men, or of some men, to obtain their way in life, in a sense resorting frequently to types of female fraud, regularly exploiting and, in a sense, making dupes of men. Doubtless they had, at least until now, congratulated themselves on their success in such matters. Now, however, they were chained to a log wall in an inn's court. Frightened now, it seemed that they, even though free, were ready to escalate the level of their artifices. Perhaps in more normal times, perhaps even while they were still fully clothed, and veiled, they might have found eager fellows to make good their bills, perhaps at the first sign of distress, even the moistening of an eye. These, however, were not normal times. I considered the four women. They had requested to be tastes, as slaves. One had even begged explicitly, as I had seen to it she would, she who reputed herself to be of high caste. That had amused me. Only the first woman had not so demeaned herself. She, of all of them, was different. I heard the small sound of her shackle chains on the ring. "I beg to be tasted," she said.

I looked upon her.

I saw that she was beautiful, and not different from the rest. She, too, was only a slave.

"I beg it," she said. I regarded her.

"Are you disappointed in me?" she asked.

"If you were a free woman, perhaps," I said, "but not if you are a slave." Even in the apparently freest of women, of course, there is a slave who waits for her master. There is a Gorean saying to the effect that among women there are only slaves who have masters and slaves who do not have masters. Some men fear the slave in a woman; others provide it with the mastering it longs for, and needs.

"Please," she said.

"Who begs to be tasted?" I asked.

"The Lady Amina of Venna begs to be tasted," she said.

Her sisters at the wall gasped at her boldness, that she should use her own name in this fashion, rather as might a slave.

She looked at me.

She could not pull far from the wall because of her shackles. If she were to be kissed, it would be at my discretion.

"Lady Amina begs it," she said.

She was a free woman. Yet I saw that she was well curved, and would nestle well within the arms of a master.

"Please," she said.

I went to her and took her in my arms. I drew her toward me, from the wall. The shackle chain moved in the ring. Because of the chaining she was bent back. I looked upon her. Though she was free she, like the others, was neither clothed nor veiled. Thus, though she was a free woman, her lips were open to me, naked to me, exposed, in the manner of the slave. She looked up at me, those lovely, vulnerable lips parted. She felt slave good in my arms. I kissed her.

"Oh!" she said, softly, as I drew back.

I had made the determination in which I was interested. She belonged in a collar.

I against considered them. They were all beautiful, stripped, and shackled close to the wall. They had all, it seemed, more or less recently, chosen to live dangerously. But perhaps they had chosen to live a little too dangerously. I thought they might all look well on a slave block.

But I proceeded under the overhang to the open space between the two parts of the inn, the covered way there, with its high roof, that which it shared with the two parts of the inn, and then across it, to the right portion of the inn, in which the porter had informed me was the keeper's desk. In this covered way, too, it might be mentioned, passengers, with some protection from the weather, may board and alight from fee carts, and such. It was late. It was not raining much now. The night had turned chilly, however. I was looking forward to a hot bath, a place to dry my clothes, some food, some drink, a warm bed. "Please!" I heard the first woman calling after me. "Please!" But I left them behind me, at the wall, stripped and shackled, and tasted.

3 The Inn

I struck the keeper's desk twice.

Behind the desk, on the wall, there was posted a list of prices. They were quite high. I did not think that those were normal prices. If they were, I did not see how the inn could manage to be competitive.

I struck the keeper's desk twice more.

There was a tharlarion oil lamp hanging on three chains from the ceiling, to my right, above the desk.

Sample items from the list were as follows:

Bread and paga...2 C.T.

Other food....3 - 5 C.T.

Lodging......1 °C.T.

Blanket(s)....2 C.T.

Bath...1 C.T.

Bath girl...…2 C.T.

Sponge, oil and strigil...…1 C.T.

Girl for the night...…5 C.T.

T., Greens and Stable...…2 C.T.

T., Meat and Cot...…5 C.T.

A comment, or two, might be in order on this list of prices. First, it will be noted that they are not typical. In many inns, depending on the season, to be sure, and the readiness of the keeper to negotiate, one can stay for as little as two or three copper tarsks a day, everything included, within reason, of course, subject to some restraint with respect to page, and such. Also, the bath girl, and the sponge, oil and strigil, in most establishments, come with the price of the bath itself. The prices on the list on the wall seemed excessive, perhaps to a factor of five or more. The prices, of course, were in terms of copper tarsks.

For purposes of comparison, in many paga taverns, one may have paga and food, and a girl for the alcove, if one wants, for a single copper tarsk. Dancers, to be sure, sometimes cost two. I did not know what the "other food" might be. One always inquires. It would vary seasonally, depend on the local suppliers, and, in some cases, even on the luck of local hunters and fishermen. In most inns the fare is simple and hearty. If one is particular about one's food, one sometimes brings it with one, and instructs the keeper how it is to be prepared. Some rich men bring their own cooks. After all, one cannot always count on a keeper's man knowing how to prepare Turian vulo or Kassau parsit. The references to «greens» and «meat», and such, were pertinent to draft tharlarion and tarns, and so, too, the references to stabling and cots, respectively.

It might be of interest to note that when I had come to Gor, some years ago, domestic tarns, like wild tarns, almost always made their own kills. They may still do so, of course, but now many have been trained to accept prepared, even preserved, meat. Ideally, they are taught to do this from the time of hatchlings, it being thrust into their mouths, given to them much as their mother bird would do in the wild. Tongs are used. With older birds, on the other hand, captured wild tarns, for example, the training usually takes the form of tying fresh meat on live animals, and then, when the tarn is accustomed to eating both, effecting the transition to the prepared meat. Needless to say, a hunting tarn is extremely dangerous, and although its favorite prey may be tabuk, or wild tarsk, they can attack human beings. This training innovation, interestingly enough, and perhaps predictably, was not primarily the result of an attempt to increase the safety of human beings, particularly those in rural areas, but was rather largely the result of attempting to achieve military objectives, in particular those having to do with the logistical support of the tarn cavalry. Because of it, for the first time, large tarn cavalries, numbering in the hundreds of men, became practical.

"Tal," said a grizzled fellow, wearily, appearing through a door to the side. "Tal," said I to him.

"It is quieter outside now," he said.

"It is still raining," I said.

"It is ten tarsks a night," he said. That agreed with the sign.

"That is very expensive," I said.

"True," he said. "I myself would not pay so much."

"Perhaps I will leave now," I said.

"The rain has slacked off?" he said.

"Are these prices negotiable?" I inquired.

"No," said he.

"Are you sure?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. "The keeper, believe me, I know, is a resolute and greedy fellow."

"He is probably not as bad as you think," I said.

"Take my word for it, he is," he said.

"I would like a bath, the sponge, and such, and a bath girl."

"That will add two to your bill," he said.

"Should it not add four?" I asked.

"No bath girl," he said. "Because of the crowding, and the demand, we are using them as inn girls."

"I see," I said.

"You will have to sponge, oil and strigil yourself," he said.

"That seems somewhat barbaric," I said. Also it was hard to reach certain spots on the back.

"Times are hard," he said.

"Where are your baths?" I asked.

"Through there," he said, indicating a passage.

"Where is your paga room?" I asked.

"There," said he, indicating another passage.

"Later," I said. "I would like a girl sent to my room."

"You do not have a room," he said.

"What are the ten tarsks for?" I asked.

"Lodging," he said.

"You do not have rooms?" I asked. "Not separate rooms, for guests," he said. "There are, instead, common areas."

"There are beds there?" I asked, apprehensively.

"Yes, beds," he said.

"I see," I said.

"Surely you know where you are," he said.

"On the Vosk Road," I said, warily.

"And within a hundred pasangs of the river," he said. "No inns around here have beds. You should know that. You seem uninformed."

"Perhaps," I said.

"Perhaps you would like to try one of the luxury inns between Ar and Venna," he said.

"They are over two thousand pasangs away," I said.

"You are surely not going to hold me responsible for their location," he said. "I would not think do doing so," I said.

"Do not be dismayed," he said. "Even in these hard times, the keeper, who has his congenial, noble side, has refused to surrender space lines."

"That is good news," I said. "What are space lines?"

"Most inn," he said, "for your lodging, simply assign you to a large common room, to be shared with others. Quite primitive. Here, at the Crooked Tarn, however, we rent out spaces."

"I see," I said.

"Furthermore, they are clearly marked."

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

"You can accommodate fewer people that way, to be sure," he said, "but then there are fewer fights, and free women almost always prefer to have their own space. Too, with spaces, you can charge more."

"This inn then, in its way, I gather, is a luxury in for this area." "Precisely," he said.

"Perhaps they you can send a girl to my space for the night," I said. "Not for the night," said he, "but only for the quarter of an Ahn." "Your sign," I said.

"I know," he said, "but we are too crowded now for that. On the other hand, we would charge you only three copper tarsks for the time."

"For a quarter of an Ahn?" I said.

"The keeper is a scoundrel," he said.

"I thought you said he had a congenial, noble side."

"He keeps it under control," he said.

"He may not be the scoundrel you think he is," I said.

"No, he is a scoundrel all right."

"Three tarsks seem a good deal for a quarter of an Ahn," I said. I wondered if I might not have greater success with the keeper himself. But I supposed he was not up at this hour.

"We have a debtor slut serving in the paga room," he said. "We could let you have her for an Ahn for a tarsk bit."

"Does she know she is subject to such uses?" I asked.

"No," he said.

"I will take a look at her, and let you know later."

"That would be fourteen copper tarsks," he said.

"I would count twelve," I said. "Ten for lodging, two for the bath and supplies."

"I thought you might want some blankets," he said.

"Of course," I said.

"Fourteen then," he said. I saw this inked on a tab.

From a cabinet to one side, he fetched forth the bath supplies and put them on the counter.

"I will pick up the blankets after I have eaten," I said.

"I will reserve two for you, with your ostrakon," he said.

"I would like a space near the wall, preferably in a corner," I said. "So would everyone else," he said. "Your space is S-3-o7. That is 97, in the south wing, on the third floor."

"Very well," I said.

"Try not to step on any drovers," he said. "They can be ugly fellows when stepped on in the middle of the night."

"I will do my best," I said.

"If you must step on them," he said, "it is well to do it in such a way as to incapacitate them, at least temporarily."

"I understand," I said.

"Do you wish to give your name?" he said.

"No," I said. He did not seem surprised. Many folks coming through here, I gathered, did not identify themselves, or used false names.

"We shall make the bill out to your space then," he said, "S-3-97." He put the identification on the tab.

"Excellent," I said.

"Payment is due before, or at, departure," he said. "To be sure, if the inn grows suspicious, we reserve the right to require payment, to date, upon demand."

"That is reasonable," I said.

"We think so," he said.

"Your prices," I said, "as I think you have admitted, or as much as admitted, are rather expensive."

"They certainly are," he said. "I, for one, would not want to pay them." I looked at him.

"They are not negotiable," he said.

"Are you really sure?" I asked.

"Yes," he said.

"It is hard for me to believe that the keeper is as adamant as you portray him," I said.

"He is, I assure you," said the fellow.

"Surely he cannot be the scoundrel you claim," I said.

"He is," said the fellow. "I know."

"I do not suppose he would be up at this hour," I said.

"But he is," said the fellow.

"Do you think I might speak to him?" I asked.

"You have been doing so," he said. "I am he."

"Oh," I said.

4 The Baths

I closed my eyes in one of the second tubs, the cleaning tubs. There were five first tubs, and five second tubs. These were all large, shallow, round tubs, of clay, covered with porcelain, mounted on open-bricked platforms, each platform about a yard high. In this particular bath, adequate enough, I suppose, for the area, the fires beneath the bricked platforms were stirred, tended and cleaned with long-handled fire rakes. To be sure, it was late, and I suspected that the fires had not been tended since perhaps the eighteenth Ahn. The water, however, happily, was still comfortably warm. They would probably be built up again around the fifth Ahn. I had hung my wet garments on racks about the brick platform, behind the tub. They would probably be dry by now. Each tub was some seven feet in width and some eighteen inches deep. On a hook, behind me, kept for towels, and such, I had slung my scabbard.

More than one fellow, and even a Ubar or two, as history has it, had been attacked in the bath. The baths here, of course, were very simple and primitive. For example, they were heated in the same room, and not in virtue of subterranean furnaces, heat from which would normally be conveyed upward through vents and pipes. Here, too, there were no scented pools, no massaging rooms, no steaming rooms. Too, of course, here there were no exercising yards, where one might try a fall or two in wrestling or, say, have a game of catch, either with the large or small ball. Similarly, there were no recreational gardens, no art galleries, no strolling lanes, no arcades of merchants, no physicians' courts, no music rooms, or such.

The baths, in many Gorean cities and towns, are convenient and popular gathering places. One can pick up the latest news and gossip there, for example. Many of these establishments are opulently appointed. Many are capacious and even palatial. Sometimes public funds are lavished upon them, as they are objects of civic pride. Even poor men may feel rich seeking electric sometimes dispense admittance ostraka to the poor. Some of these edifices, as in Turia or Ar, are monumental in size, almost like vaulted, pillared stadiums, with dozens of rooms and pools. One can become lost in them.

Gorean baths are almost always segregated, incidentally, if only be the time of day. This does not mean that bath girls may not be available to tend to a strong male's various wants in the men's baths, or that handsome silk slaves, if they are summoned, may not appear in attendance in the baths of free women. A latticework separated the bathing area from the outer area. It was open now. I heard a fellow stirring in his sleep a few feet away, on the floor, near the bricked platform. Some seven or eight fellows, the latticework open, were sleeping in the bath area. I supposed they preferred the warmth of the baths to their spaces in the unheated levels, or lofts, of the inn. This sort of thing is not unusual in Gorean towns, incidentally, in cold weather, that folks should sleep in the baths. They are often warmer than their houses. They leave in the morning, of course, some of them doubtless to call on their patrons, hoping for a breakfast or an invitation to dinner.

I opened one eye, hearing the outer door, that beyond the latticework, open. There are many types of baths, and ways to take them, for example, depending on the temperatures of the tubs, or pools, and the order in which one uses them. A common fashion is to use the first tub for a time, soaking, and, if one wishes, sponging, and then, emerging, to apply the oil, or oils. These are rubbed well into the skin and then removed with the strigil. There are various forms of strigil, and some of them are ornately decorated. They are usually of metal and almost always of a narrow, spatulate form. With the strigil one scrapes away the residue of oil, and, with it, dirt and sweat, cleaning the pores. One then generally takes the "second tub", which consists of clean water, sponges away any remaining grime, residues of oil and dirt, and such, and then, luxuriating, soaks again.

If one has a bath girl, of course, she does most of these things for sure. Sometimes the services of a bath girl, including massage and love, in whatever modalities the customer may elect, come in the price of the bath, and, at other times, as here, at the Crooked Tarn, I gathered, at least normally, they are extra. Needless to say, bath girls are almost always female slaves. Sometimes, in certain cities, free women, found guilty of crimes, are sentenced to the baths, to serve there as bath girls, subject, too, to the disciplines of such. After a given time there, after it is thought they have learned their lessons, and those of the baths, they are, commonly, routinely enslaved and sold out of the city. It is probably just as well. By that time they will have been, in effect, "spoiled for freedom."

"Ai!" cried a fellow, stepped on by the newcomer.

Another rose up, in the half darkness, and was kicked aside.

I opened my other eye, to consider matters.

It was a swaggering fellow. He was naked, his clothes doubtless being hung on one of the pegs beyond the latticework, in the outer area. Normally, particularly when the baths are in full use, and the air is steamy in their vicinity, that would be done. Mine, which had been wet, I had put behind the bricked platform to dry. He held a sack in one hand, containing, I supposed, his bath supplies, and, in the other, held by their straps, a scabbard and blade, and what appeared to be a flat, rectangular pouch. He had chosen, too, I saw, not to come unarmed to the baths. It is thought to be very bad form, incidentally, to carry weapons in the baths, and, in large public baths, they must often be checked upon entry. On the other hand, I certainly did not blame him for carrying a blade into the baths, particularly in a place such as this. I had done so, myself. I did not know, but I suspected that on the peg outside, by its straps, there might hang a helmet. I recalled the tarn in the inn's tarncot. Though no insignia or harness had been about, it had seemed clearly a war tarn, a warrior's mount. That he had brought the rectangular pouch into the baths with him, as well as the blade, suggested to me that it might be important, too important to be left back at his space, or on the peg outside the latticework. He hung his blade, and the pouch, on one of the tub hooks. "What are you doing?" asked a fellow. He was the only other in the room who was actually utilizing a tub. He had arrived later even than I, and was still soaking in one of the first tubs, indeed, that which was most convenient to the entrance through the latticework. I myself, in my choice of a first tub had, and, indeed, of the second, as well, in which I now reclined, taken those farthest from the entrance. In that way I would have the longest reaction interval possible between someone's entry and their possible arrival in my vicinity.

"I take the first of the first tubs," said the fellow.

"I do not share tubs," said the fellow soaking in the tub, not too pleasantly. Most Goreans, in the baths, at least in their own towns or cities, do share tubs, of course. That is one reason the tubs are so large. To be sure, even in one's own area, one usually shares a tub only with friends or acquaintances. If the baths are crowded, of course, it would be only polite to share with one's fellow citizens. The same customs, of course, generalized even further, normally govern the use of pools, which, on Gor, are normally located at the baths, and, indeed, are usually considered a part of them.

"Nor do I," said the newcomer, climbing to the platform.

"Aiii!" cried the fellow in the tub, seized, and, in a moment, flung over its edge to the slotted wooden bath floor. He struggled to his feet, to see, in the half darkness, lit by a single lamp, and the reddish embers within the bricked platforms, the unsheathed sword now in the newcomer's hand.

"Stir up the fire," said the newcomer.

Hastily the ejected fellow seized a fire rake and poked about within the platform.

"Bring more wood," said the newcomer. "Then tend the fire. Do not leave until it is suitable."

From one of the large barrels to the side, open near the bottom, the ejected fellow scooped out, and returned with, a bucket of wood chips, which he flung into the bricked platform. He then arranged these with the fire rake. He then returned the bucket to its place by the barrel and, from one of the wood bins, to the right, near the barrels, fetched an armload of kindling, then some narrow hardwood logs. In a few moments the chips were burning well. He then added kindling, and then, a bit later, thrust the narrow logs into the platform. He then, the reddish glow of the flames from within the platform reflected on his countenance, looked up, questioningly, frightened, at the newcomer. "Get out," said the newcomer.

Only too eagerly the ejected fellow hurried through the latticework, seized his garments, and took his way from the bath area.

The newcomer then returned his blade to the sheath. He then climbed into the tub. "Ahhh," he grunted, settling back.

I did not think he had behaved well, but then it was not my affair.

Some of the fellows who had been reclining about the platforms then came closer to the platform where the fire was built up. they did take care, however, to leave open a generous passage through which the tub's occupant, when he chose, might make an unimpeded and convenient exit.

Being hungry then, and having, to my mind, soaked long enough, I emerged from the tub, dressed, gathered my things, and the oil and such, and, picking my way among the recumbent bodies, left the bath area.

I did take the opportunity, in leaving, once on the other side of the latticework, to inspect the pegs. In the light of the small lamp there, near the exit, I determined that the helmet bore the insignia of the company of Artemidorus of Cos.

5 The Paga Room; I Stop at the Keeper's Desk

"Stand her," I said. "Closer." I indicated a place on my right, near the low table in the paga room, behind which I sat, cross-legged.

With a sound of chain she came closer.

She then stood there.

I checked the shackling on her ankles. The shackles were lock shackles. They fitted nicely, closely, about her ankles. Their staples were separated by about eighteen inches of chain, more than enough. I pulled her wrists down to me. They wore lock manacles. Their fit was snug, efficient, inescapable. The staples on the manacles were separated by some twelve inches of chain.

"Does my shackling meet with Sir's approval?" she asked.

I did not respond to her. I did release her wrists, and she straightened up. "Is Sir finished with his inspection?" she asked, acidly. She was naked, except for her chains.

"Turn," I said, "slowly, and then again face me."

"I am a free woman," she said, angrily.

"Must a command be repeated?" I inquired.

She turned, slowly, and then, again, faced me.

"What would you likea€”I mean," she said, boldly, haughtily, "to eat, Sir." "You are bold, for a free woman," I said.

"I may not be used," she said, "as I am free." "Is there another free woman serving in the paga room?" I asked. "No," she said.

This must be she, then, of whom the keeper had spoken. I recalled that he had told me that although the use of an inn girl would cost me, in these times, three copper tarsks for only a quarter of an Ahn, I might have the free woman working in the paga room for an Ahn for only a tarsk bit. To be sure, that perhaps overrated her value considerably, as she was only a free woman. Whereas free women, technically, are priceless, they are also, usually, in bed, worthless. They are not worthy of kneeling and humbly holding candles within a thousand pasangs of a slave. To be sure, they commonly hold an inflated opinion of their expertise and desirability. They are no good, however, until they have been imbonded, and have begun, vulnerably and fearfully, to tread, willingly or not, the paths to fulfillment, and ecstasy. The outrageousness of the price, of course, was doubtless to be expected, given the general inflations of the times. I had told him I would let him know later. I would.

"And may you not be whipped," I asked, "as you are free?"

She turned white.

Although she apparently had not been informed that she was subjectable to the inn's clients, for their pleasures, as her behavior, even though she was free, surprisingly perhaps, was subject to correction, such corrections doubtless including such things as the attentions of the five-stranded Gorean slave whip. "What is your name?" I asked.

"It is none of your business," she said.

"Have you ever been whipped?" I asked.

"I am Temione, Lady of Telnus," she said. "No, I have not been whipped," she added.

Telnus is the major port on the island of Cos. Too, it is the capital of that island ubarate.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

She did not answer.

"Doubtless you followed Cosians," I said, "or their suppliers, smelling booty, lured by the possibilities of spoils, by the supposed imminent passage south of men laden with the plate and coin of Ar's Station, men who might succumb to your claims of need and plight, hoping perhaps even to contract an alliance, a companionship, with an enriched officer, or, if necessary, a profiteering merchant."

She looked at me, in fury.

"You would bargain with your beauty," I said. I smiled to myself. I suspected that her beauty in the future might, indeed, figure in bargains, here and there, from time to time, but they would not be her bargain. They would be the bargains of others.

With a movement of her head she tossed her hair behind her, angrily.

"Are you angry?" I asked.

"Would you care to order?" she asked.

"What color is your hair?" I asked. "It is hard to tell in this light." "Auburn," she said.

"A natural auburn?" I asked.

"Of course," she said.

"That color, particularly when natural, often brings an excellent price in slave markets," I said.

"I am free," she said.

"There are some others outside," I said, "who may have had similar ideas to yours, in one way or another. They are now in the court, chained naked to rings. Do you know them?"

She looked away, angrily.

"Lady Temione," I said, "you have been asked a question."

"There are five others," she said, "Rimice, Klio, and Liomache, from Cos. Elense, from Tyros, and Amina, a Vennan."

"What do you think will happen to them?" I asked.

"Doubtless they will be redeemed and freed," she said. "We are all free women. Men, some sorts of men, will save us. Men, some sorts, cannot so much as stand to see a tear in a woman's eye. To such men it is unthinkable that we might bear the consequences of our actions."

"Do you think I am such a man?" I asked.

"No," she said, "else I would have petitioned redemption from you." "Men such as those of whom you speak," I said, "those who are so solicitous, so kindly, those who are so eager to render you succor, who will strive so desperately to help you, and please you, do they stir you deeply in your belly?"

"I am a free woman," she said. "We do not consider such things." "But you must fear the iron," I said.

"It will never happen," she said.

"But you must fear it," I said.

"Perhaps," she said.

"Things, then," I said, "would be quite different."

"Yes," she said. "They would then be quite different."

This was quite true. The slave girl is in a totally different category from the free woman. it is the difference between being a person and being a property, between being a respected, legally autonomous entity, entitled to dignity and pride, and being a domestic animal. The same fellow who will go to absurd lengths to please a free woman, and even make a fool of himself over her, will, even with the same woman, if she has been enslaved, simply gesture her with his whip, and without a second thought, to the furs.

"When were you, and your fraud sisters, taken into custody?" I asked. "Payment was demanded this morning," she said. "When our evasions failed to satisfy the attendants ropes were put on our necks, over our robes and veils, and we were brought to the keeper's desk. We gave him what little money we had, of course, but it was not enough to satisfy our bills. We then spent the morning in a wheeled cage, sitting on hard benches, while men checked out. None would redeem us. Then, at noon, as soon as the tenth hour had struck, the cage was wheeled back, into a storage area. It was plain and cold. There, one by one, taken from the cage, while men waited outside the area, we were stripped and searched by two powerful free women. When they finished with one of us they did not then permit her to return to the cage but rather forced her to stand apart, facing a wall. In this way, one who had already been searched was prevented, and quite simply, from receiving anything from one not yet searched. Our garments were examined carefully, and even our bodies. This yielded them some few extra coins. The women, I assure you, were thorough. Doubtless they had done this sort of thing before.

"When we were returned to the cage we were both coinless and naked. All that was left was ourselves. The cage was then wheeled back, by the keeper's desk. As you might well imagine our importunities to the guests now became more earnest. Yet none were gentlemen. We even found ourselves looked upon, in the cage, as though we might be slaves! At the fifteenth Ahn we were removed from the cage and knelt down, to the side, to the left of the keeper's desk. Our ankles were then crossed and tied. This was done with a single length of rope. It served also, thusly, with a minimum of knots to which we might have access, to fasten us together.

"Your hands were left free, of course," I said, "so that you might extend them piteously to passers-by, guests, and such."

"Of course," she said, angrily.

"Continue," I said.

"At the seventeenth Ahn," she said, "the keeper, it seems, grew of our pleas and protestations. Also, I think he was not too pleased with women such as we, who had attempted to do fraud and dupery within his inn."

"That is understandable," I said.

"No," she said. "We are not slaves! We are free women! We may do anything." "I see," I said.

"The keeper," she said, "is not a gentleman."

"I am prepared to believe that," I said.

"It is true!" she said. "Look at me, naked and chained!"

"I have been," I assured her.

She shook the chains on her wrists, angrily.

"But he did, it seems, give you an opportunity to practice your fraud and dupery," I said. "Your primary problem would seem to be simply that you were unsuccessful."

"Perhaps," she said, irritably.

From what I had seen of the keeper, I supposed that his main interest in these matters would be to obtain his fees, if not in one way, then in another. "Continue," I said.

"There is little more to tell," she said, angrily. "At the seventeenth Ahn, perhaps wearying of our presence there he had us cleared away from the vicinity of his desk. Five of us were taken outside somewhere, and from what you say, I take it, chained in the court. I myself was shackled, and put here, in the paga room, to serve at tables."

"Why were you not taken outside?" I asked.

"I do not know," she said.

"There are only five exposition places at the wall," I said.

She shrugged.

"Still that would not explain why it should be you who are here, and not another."

"I suppose it had to be someone," she said.

"Two women might have been chained to one ring," I said. "Or you might have been chained on your knees, nearby, to a sleen ring."

"Men are lustful beasts," she said. "They seem to enjoy looking upon women. Doubtless I am here because I am the most beautiful."

"But you are not," I said.

"Oh?" she said, angrily.

"No," I said. "She who was at the first ring and she who was at the fourth ring were both more beautiful than you."

"Who were they?" she asked, angrily.

"She at the first ring was the Lady Amina," I said. "I do not know who was at the fourth ring."

"Was she small, and dark-haired?"

"Yes," I said.

"That is Ramice," she said. "She is a small, curvy slut."

I recalled the girl at the fourth ring. She was sweetly thighed with a marvelous love cradle, made for a man's loving.

"I am more beautiful than both," she said.

"You seem vain, for a free woman," I said.

"Not really," she said. "I have no interest in such matters."

"To be sure, all of the women out there," I said, "including the Lady Amina and the Lady Ramice, are not yet truly beautiful. They are still too rigid, too tense, too tight, too inhibited to be truly beautiful."

"You see!" she said, triumphantly.

"But none of them so much as you," I said.

"Sleen!" she said. "It is interesting to speculate what you women might be like, if you became beautiful," I said.

"Sleen, sleen!" she said.

"How did the keeper seem when he ordered you shackled and put in the paga room?" I asked.

"Amused," she said, angrily.

"Perhaps you had spoken up to him," I speculated, "though you were only a debtor slut."

"Such is my right!" she said. "I am a free woman!"

"You dared to protest the treatment you received?" I asked.

"Of course!" she cried. "How is it that I, a free woman, should be stripped, and searched, and put in a cage, and such!"

"Perhaps you made demands, threatened him, insulted him, that sort of thing?" I asked.

"Perhaps," she said.

"I can see then," I said, "why it might have amused him to put you here, to serve as a waitress."

"Perhaps," she said, angrily.

"How much do you own him?" I asked.

"A silver tarsk, five," she said.

"That might be another reason," I said. "That is more than is owned by any of the other women." The amount stated was a silver tarsk, five copper tarsks. "Perhaps, she said, thoughtfully. "He may want to keep me where he or his men can keep an eye on me."

Did she really think they feared her escape, she, within the palisade, shackled and naked?

"They might, too," I said, "consider that your display here, if you will pardon the expression, might enhance your chances of obtaining a redemption." "Yes," she said, "that, too."

In the morning, of course, the girls outside, at the wall, might have a better chance. They would, by that time, I speculated, be bedraggled and piteous, indeed. Still I did not think any of them, the Lady Temione here, or the others outside, in these times, were likely, really, to get some fellow to redeem them. "Would you care to order, Sir?" she asked, irritatedly.

I looked at her. Yes, I thought to myself, that was probably the main reason she had been put here, that is it, not because it was an accident, the luck in a lot of six, or even really, mainly, because she owed more than the others, but because she had not been found pleasing by the keeper. In its way, it was a punishment for her. Too, he had doubtless seen that she required informing, as to her nature and status.

"I am waiting, Sir," she said.

"Do you regard yourself as desirable?" I asked.

She tossed her head, haughtily. "You spoke of beauty earlier, and insultingly of my putative intent to bargain with it," she said. "Perhaps you can see." "That was not my question," I said.

"Yes," she said. "I regard myself as desirable." She regarded me, angrily. "Don't you?" she said.

I said, "Proper diet and exercise, imposed under suitable disciplines, would doubtless work wonders with you."

"Would you care to order," she asked.

"Have you served others?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"And you have not been disciplined?" I asked.

"No," she said. "I am a free woman." She looked at me, angrily. "Are you ready to order?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well?" she asked.

"Kneel," I said.

"Kneel?" she asked.

"That is my first order," I said.

She regarded me.

"Do you not know how a woman serves at table?" I asked.

"I am a free woman," she said.

"Shall I send you to fetch a slave whip? I asked.

She then trembled, and knelt. But, in a moment, she had recovered herself. She looked at me, angrily.

"You may keep your knees together," I said, "as you are a free woman." Swiftly she closed them, furious. "I hate you!" she said.

"You may now lower your head, before a male," I said.

"Never!" she said.

"Now," I said. She lowered her head, angrily. "I have never done that before," she said, lifting her head.

"You may now put it to the floor, the palms of your hands, too, to the floor," I said.

Trembling with rage she obeyed. Then she straightened up, and knelt back. "What do you have?" I asked.

"Paga and bread are two tarsks," she said. "Other food may be purchased from three to five tarsks."

"Is the paga cut?" I asked.

"One to five," she said.

This is not that unusual at an inn. The proportions, then, would be one part paga to five parts water. Commonly, at a paga tavern, the paga would be cut less, or not cut at all. When wine is drunk with Gorean meals, at home, incidentally, it is almost always diluted, mixed with water in a krater. At a party or convivial supper the host, or elected feast master, usually determines the proportions of water to wine. Unmixed wine, of course, may be drunk, for example, at the parties of young men, at which might appear dancers, flute slaves and such. Many Gorean wines, it might be mentioned, if only by way of explanation, are very strong, often having an alcoholic content by volume of forty to fifty percent.

"How much bread?" I asked.

"Two of four," she said. That would be half a loaf. The bread would be in the form of wedges. Gorean bread is most always baked in round, flat loaves. The average loaf is cut into either four or eight wedges.

"What is the other food?" I asked.

The Ahn is late," she said. "We have nothing but porridge left."

"It is three?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"I do not suppose," I said, "that if one orders the porridge, the bread and paga comes with it?"

"No," she said.

I had not, of course, expected any such luck, particularly after my conversation with the keeper. To be sure, even if perhaps a bit greedy, he was not a bad fellow. He had, for example, put the Lady Temione naked at the tables.

"Bread, paga, porridge," I said to her. "Very well," she said.

"Very well, what?" I asked.

"Very well, Sir," she said.

"Head to the floor before you get up," I said.

She put her head angrily down to the floor, the palms of her hands on the floor, and then straightened up.

"From each of your fraud sisters outside, chained to their rings," I said. "I had a kiss."

"You will get no kiss from me," she said.

I then gestured her up with a casual motion of my finger and away, that she should hurry to the kitchen.

"Lady Temione," I called.

She stopped.

"You may move more swiftly," I said, "if you rise up on your toes and take short steps."

She cried out with rage, and stumbled, and fell. Then, rising, she hurried, as she could, angrily toward the door of the kitchen and, in a moment, disappeared through it. I watched it swing behind her, until it hung motionless on its hinges. Such doors, single and double, are common in inns and taverns, as they may be negotiated by someone whose hands are occupied, as in bearing a tray. Most often, however, on Gor, curtains, often beaded, are used to separate open from restricted areas in taverns, restaurants, and such. Lady Temione, I had noted, needed discipline. The sooner she received it the better it would probably be for her, and her lift.

In a few moments she returned through the door bearing a tray. She knelt near the table, put the tray on the floor, unbidden performed obeisance and then, as though submissively, put to the tray on the table, and put the paga, in a small kantharos, and the bread on its trencher, before me. Then she put the bowl of porridge, with a spoon, before me. She then withdrew, taking the tray, put it to the side, on the floor, again performed obeisance, unbidden, and then knelt back, as though in attendance. There had been something false in her subservience.

I looked at her, narrowly. She did not meet my eyes.

I took a sip of paga, and then sopped some bread in it, and then ate it. As I reached for the spoon I thought she leaned forward a little. I took a very tiny bit of the porridge. As I had suspected it might be, it was offensively seasoned, salted, almost to the point of inedibility.

"Is anything wrong, Sir?" she asked.

"I will count an Ehn," I said, "that is, eighty Ihn. You have that long to make good what you have done."

"I?" she asked, innocently.

"1a€”2a€”3-," I said.

"But what?" she said, alarmed.

"4a€”5a€”6-," I said.

"My ankles are chained!" she cried.

"7a€”8a€”9-." I said.

Swiftly, crying out with misery, stumbling, falling, she tried to scramble to her feet. Then, as swiftly as she could, falling twice more, partly crawling, weeping, she strove to reach the door of the kitchen.

"24a€”25a€”26-," I counted. "27a€”28a€”29a€”30a€”31a€”32a€”33a€”34-." She appeared through the swinging door, carrying a bowl in her chained hands, desperately moving toward me in short, careful, frightened steps. She could not risk falling.

I let her approach closely. "Hold," I said.

She stopped, wildly.

"Perhaps in your haste you have forgotten to season that," I said. "I prefer anyway to season my own porridge. See that you do not dare to present the porridge without the seasonings."

She cried out with misery.

"Bring condiments as well," I advised her. "50a€”51a€”51."

In a moment or two she had regained the kitchen, and, an instant or two later, clutching a small, partitioned hand-rack of small vials and pots, each in its place, she again emerged into the public area.

"67," I said. "68."

"Please!" she cried. "have mercy!"

"69a€”70," I said.

She hastened toward me, terrified, with quick, small steps.

"75a€”76." I said. "Obeisance."

She cried out with misery, performing obeisance.

"77," I said. "78a€”79." Then the porridge, with the seasonings and condiments was on the table. "80," I said.

She leaned back. I feared she might faint. Then she again performed obeisance, and shrank back.

"Do not leave," I told her. "You do not have permission to withdraw. Back on your heels."

She knelt back on her heels, frightened.

I tasted the porridge. It had not yet been seasoned. Trying it, with one spoonful or another, from one vial or pot, or another, I seasoned it to my taste. I would later, now and then, here and there, in one place or another, mix in condiments. By such devices one obtains variety, or its deceptive surrogate, even in a substance seemingly so initially unpromising as inn porridge. She looked at me, anxiously.

"I think this will prove satisfactory, free woman," I said.

She breathed more easily.

I put down the spoon.

"I shall take this other bowl away," she said.

"Not yet," I said.

"Sir?" she asked.

I rose to my feet and pressed her back to the tiles, and pulled her wrist chain down, lifting up her feet. I then slipped the wrist chain behind her feet and ankles, and pulled it up behind her back. This held her hands rather behind her, at the sides. I then put her again to her knees.

"Sir?" she asked.

"You do have auburn hair, don't you?" I said.

Then I picked up the original porridge and held it in the palm of my left hand and took her firmly at the back of her head, by the hair, with my right. "No!" she cried.

I plunged her face downward, fully into the porridge.

I held the bowl firmly, pressed upwards. I held her hands firmly, pressing her face down into the bowl. She struggled unavailingly. Then I let her lift her head, sputtering, choking, coughing, gasping for air, her face a mass of porridge. "I can't breath!" she wept. "I'm choking!"

Then I thrust her face again into the bowl.

"Eat," I said. "Eat." Wildly she began to try and take the material into her mouth. Then she twisted her head to the side. "It's inedible!" she wept. I turned her head again, and pushed it down. "Eat!" I said. I supposed it was possible someone could drown in a bowl of porridge. I pulled her head up then, so she could breathe, and she gasped for breath. "Please!" she wept, through the glutinous mask on her face. Again I pushed her head down, and again, she strove to get the stuff in her mouth. Then I put the bowl on the floor before her, and put her to her belly before it, and put my foot on her back, so that she could not rise. Her face was at the bowl. "Eat," I said. She put her head down over the bowl and, lapping, and biting at the substance, fed. When I removed my foot from her back, she looked up at me. "Please!" she begged. "Eat," I said, then kicked her with the side of my foot, and, as she addressed herself again to the contents of the bowl I settled myself before the low table, cross-legged, and returned to my own repast. Once again she looked up at me, frightened, through the paste of porridge, it thick about her face and on her eyelashes. "I'm on fire!" she wept. "Water! I beg it!"

"Eat," I said.

Frightened, she again lowered her face to the bowl.

After a time I had finished my own porridge.

When I glanced again at her she had rather finished her porridge, and was lying on her belly, her head turned toward me, looking at me.

"You are a monster," she said.

"Lick your bowl," I said.

Miserably she did so.

"Some porridge has been spilled," I said. "It doubtlessly overflowed that sides of the bowl when you pressed your face into it. That can happen when one feeds too greedily, too enthusiastically. One expects a woman to feed more delicately, more daintily. To be sure, you are a free woman, and may eat much as you wish. Still, such feeding habits would disgust a tarsk. If a slave fed anything like that, she would be under the whip within an Ehn."

She looked at me, frightened.

"You can see porridge about, here and there," I said. " Do not let it go to waste."

She moaned, and, on her belly, lowered her face to the floor. Her tongue was small, and lovely. Trained, it might do well on a man's body.

"Are you finished?" I asked her, after a time.

"Yes," she whispered, in her chains, on her belly, looking up at me. "Rejoice that you are a free woman, and not a slave," I said. "Had you been a slave, you might have been killed for what you did earlier."

She was silent.

"Do you understand?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Approach me, on your belly," I said.

She squirmed to the table, her hands still behind her.

I then reached behind her and drew the wrist chain down and, forcing her legs tightly back against her body, put it back in front of her legs. It was then as it had been before. I let her straighten her legs.

"When you bring the check," I said, "do so in your teeth."

She looked at me, angrily.

"Do you understand?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"The check is to be paid, or put on the bill, I gather, at the keeper's desk," I said. One had to pass the keeper's desk after leaving the paga room. That arrangement, I supposed, was no accident. For example, it would save posting of one employee, which was perhaps a calculated economy on the part of the proprietor. I would not have put it past him, at any rate. Too, in virtue of this arrangement, one need not entrust coins to debtor sluts, slaves, and such. In this house I suspected that they would not be permitted to so much as touch a coin. They would be kept coinless, absolutely.

"Yes," she said.

"Do you wish to say anything?" I asked.

"I hate you! I hate you!" she said.

"You may, after performing obeisance, withdraw," I said.

Swiftly she performed obeisance, and then rose to her feet, and, moving carefully, with small steps, as she could, hurried to the kitchen.

I would finish my bread, and nurse the paga for a time, and then retire to my space. It was in the south wing, on the third level, space 97. I would pick up my ostrakan, with the blankets, at the keeper's desk. I wondered how I might approach Ar's Station and deliver the message of Gnieus Lelius, the regent of Ar, to the commander at Ar's Station, Aemilianus. If I appeared to be of Ar, I might fall afoul of Cosians. If I appeared to be with Cos I might have considerable difficulty in approaching the defenders of Ar's Station. Still I must do something soon. The siege at Ar's Station, I had gathered, might be approaching a critical juncture.

As I pondered these matters the door to the paga room burst open and the fellow, fierce and bearded, who had been in the baths now appeared, in the uniform of the company of Artemidorus of Cos, which, indeed, I had supposed must be his. He wore his sword, on its strap over the left shoulder. This is common among Gorean warriors, though not on the march nor in tarnflight. In this arrangement the sword may be unsheathed and the scabbard and strap discarded in one movement. He carried his helmet and the intriguing pouch which had caught my attention earlier, that which he had carried with him even in the room of the baths. I did not meet the fellow's eyes, not wanting to explore the consequences of a confrontation. I supposed I should permit myself, if the occasion arose, to be bullied and humiliated, that I might not risk complications or delay in my mission. Still, I am not always as rational as I might be, and if her threatened or challenged me, I was not at all certain that I could summon the concealments and coolness necessary to endure abuse. I am upon occasion too hot-headed, too quick to act, too ready to respond to any insult or slight, real or imagined. It is doubtless one of many faults. Perhaps I should be more like a Dietrich of Tarnburg, who might dissemble plausibly, and then, later, when it suited his convenience, and if it fitted into his plans, make his kills.

I did not raise my eyes but appeared to be concerned with the paga. I heard him make a sound of contempt. I wondered if he noted that my hand closed more tightly upon the base of the kantharos. I should try to control that. I think, I myself, might have noticed it, in the movement of the upper arm. He stood there, a few feet away. I began to feel insulted. Heat rose in my body. I controlled myself. Surely that is what Dietrich of Tarnburg would have done. I did not look up. Warriors, of course, are trained to rely upon peripheral vision. If he approached me too closely, coming within a predetermined critical distance, I could dash the paga upward into his eyes and wrench the table up and about, plunging one of the legs into his diaphragm. Then in a moment I could have him under my foot or upon my sword. Such authorities recommend breaking the kantharos into shards on the face, marking the target above the bridge of the nose with the rim. This can be even more dangerous with a metal goblet. Many civilians, I believe, do not know why certain warriors, by habit, request their paga in metal goblets when dining in public houses. They regard it, I suppose, as an eccentricity. I heard him make another sound of contempt, and then he strode away, toward another table. He was still alive. I wondered what was in the pouch.

I took another sip of paga.

The fellow, I noted, had taken one of the larger tables, a double table, for himself. To be sure, the paga room was not crowded. He and I were the only customers at this hour. I had taken a small table near the wall. The small table does not encourage the approach of strangers. Its location, too, was not an accident. It permits one to survey the entire room, including the entrance, and, too, to have the wall at one's back.

He smote twice on the surface of his table. It leapt under his blows.

"Waitress!" he called. "Waitress!"

I heard the swinging of the kitchen door and a sound of chain. The Lady Temione came forth. I would have to admit that she was pretty, in the half light, in her chains. She had apparently cleaned herself, or had been cleaned, perhaps having her head and upper body thrust into a washing tub. There was no sign now, at any rate, of the porridge in her hair, or about her face, neck, shoulders and breasts. She cast an angry look at me. I was still nursing the paga. I even had some bread left.

She hurried to the newcomer.

It seemed for a moment she was going to request his order on her feet, almost as though in defiance, but then, looking back at me, she suddenly knelt and performed obeisance and then knelt back on her heels, in a waitress's proper deference, to receive the orders of the keeper's customer. I took another sip of paga. She would, of course, have to return to my table, eventually, to bring the check. Perhaps that was why she chose to observe the waitress's proper forms. To be sure, the waitresses in Gorean paga rooms, and such, are usually slaves. Still, it did not seem inappropriate that she, too, should perform suitable service at table. She was, after all, a debtor slut. Perhaps she thought I might beat her, or have her beaten, if she omitted these courtesies. Particularly after I had taken the time to explain them to her. In this, of course, she was correct.

The fellow was looking at her, narrowly, in the half light. She shrank back under his gaze. Then he rose to his feet and went to crouch near her. He touched her about the neck. Then, literally, moving her about, his hands on her knees, he examined her thighs. Then, standing, he pulled her half to her feet, by the upper arms.

"Where is your collar?" he demanded. "Where is your brand?"

"I'm free!" she wept.

He then shook her, angrily, like a doll. Her head jerked back and forth. I was afraid, for a moment, that her neck might break.

"Where is your collar, your brand?" he cried.

"I'm free!" she wept. "I'm free!"

"Bring me a woman!" he cried toward the kitchen, still holding her helplessly before me. "Bring me a woman!"

"What is wrong?" asked a fellow, looking out from the kitchen, probably the night cook.

"Where is the keeper!" cried the fellow.

"He has retired," said the fellow.

"This thing is free!" cried the fellow, giving the Lady Temione another shake. "How dare you send it to my table! I do not want it! Send me a female! Send me a woman!" He then hurled the Lady Temione from him and, with a rattle of chains, she struck the floor. There, terrified, feet from him, she lay on her belly. I was amused to see her lift herself slightly, surely not even aware of what she was doing, a natural female appeasement behavior in the face of male anger. I thought she would do well in a collar. Then, as though she might suddenly have understood what she was doing, she lowered herself as flat to the tiles as she could, trembling with fear and shame. She looked at me, wildly, hoping I had not noticed her behavior. I smiled, and she sobbed. Her womanhood had been observed. The newcomer, as nearly as I could tell, had taken no note of these things.

"Immediately, Sir!" called the fellow from the kitchen door. "In but a moment, Sir!" Then he called to the Lady Temione. "Quick," he cried, "back to the kitchen, slut! No! Do not rise! Crawl!" He then disappeared back through the kitchen door. The Lady Temione paused near my table, on all fours. She looked at me. She had been rejected by a man, thrown from him, in disgust. I saw that she was stunned, that she was confused, that she was bewildered. Many free women regard themselves, with justification, as marvelous prizes. It can come as a great shock to them to suddenly realize they are, for most practical purposes, worthless. This rejection had shaken her profoundly. Like many free women she probably regarded herself as inordinately attractive. She looked at me, piteously, beggingly. She wanted some reassurance from me, that she might be at least a little bit desirable or attractive.

"Check," I told her, "and as you are." I then indicated with a gesture of my finger, that she should proceed on her way. Sobbing, slowly, as she could, in her chaining, she took her way from the room. She had scarcely attained the kitchen door before another woman emerged, swiftly, yet gracefully, drawing a diaphanous silken wrap about her. How she moved. There was a close-fitting collar on her neck. How beautiful she was! What bondage does for a woman! She hurried to the fellow and bellied to him. immediately he seemed mollified. I felt my fingernails scratch on the lacquer on the table. That must be one of the keeper's best girls, I thought. Indeed, perhaps she was the keeper's preferred slave, sent by him to the customer from his own furs.

I then sopped the last of the bread in the bottom of the kantharos.

Now, emerging from the kitchen, came the Lady Temione on all fours, as I had commanded. From her mouth, on its looped string, dangled the small, closed, hinged, wooden waxed tablet which would contain the bill. These tablets, and tablets of these sorts, which sometimes have several divisions, and fold up, are often used on Gor for drafts, note taking, temporary tallyings, children's lessons, and such. They contain one or more waxed surfaces which are written on by a stylus. The smaller ones open like flat books, not roll books, and may be closed with tiny latches, or tied shut.

There was a small sound as the small wooden tablet, on its string, touched the floor near the table, as the Lady Temione put down her head, doing obeisance. Then, lifting her head, crawling, she approached the table, and placed the tablet on the table.

I looked over to the table where the newcomer was. He had now pulled the slave to him and thrown her on her belly over the table.

"Disgusting," said the Lady Temione.

"An attractive slave," I commented. The girl was now gasping and clinging to the table. He was not being gently with her. But then, of course, she was only a slave.

"Disgusting," said the Lady Temione.

"He may be something of a boor, but he seems to caress well," I said. The girl was now gasping with love noises.

"I would not know anything about that," she said, acidly.

Yet I noted she did not take her eyes from the abused slave.

"Would you like to be subject to such uses?" I asked.

"No!" she said. "No! No!" the sudden, tense, almost hysterical ardor of her denial spokes of truths, and needs, and depths within her of the existence of which she must be only too keenly aware, and yet truths, depths and needs which, for some reason or another, she seemed almost tragically desperate to conceal and deny, perhaps mostly from herself. I thought she might serve well herself, on such a table. I recalled that she had chosen to live dangerously, relying much on duping men to make her way through the world. Surely she must have realized that there were dangers in practicing such a livelihood. Not all men are fools. Was she, perhaps unbeknownst to herself, in these peregrinations, truly, searching for a man, or men, who were not, men who would simply take her in hand and give her what she deserved, desired, and needed, her total subjugation?

I picked up the small, closed tablet on the table, unlatched it and examined the amount. It was correct, bread and paga, two copper tarsks, the other food, an additional three.

I then glanced at the Lady Temione. She had a beautiful face. The auburn hair was certainly attractive. She had good flanks, not a bad belly, and lovely breasts. To be sure, she needed diet, exercise and discipline. Those things, too, besides improving her appearance, would considerably increase her sexual needs. Yes, she was beautiful. Many of the women of Cos are beautiful. We enjoy them in Port Kar. She was aroused, to the extent she could be, as a free woman, in watching the taking of the slave. To be sure, she had been given little choice, and put to the tables. I had seen to it that she had performed obeisance before men. Too, she had been made to crawl in the presence of men, and had been made to bring the bill in her teeth. Such things work their effects on women, even free women.

I closed the tablet and latched it.

The slave on the table gasped, used, serving, clinging to its edges.

The bearded fellow, holding her, was then still for a moment.

"She is moving!" said the Lady Temione, scandalized.

"Yes," I said, "she is cooperating in what is being done."

"Terrible!" whispered the Lady Temione.

"Perhaps she is responding to instructions," I said.

"Instructions!" she said.

"OF course," I said. I wondered if the free woman really thought that the subjugation of slaves to orders ended with such matters as cooking and cleaning, the polishing of leather and such, and that they would not be similarly subject to orders, and also absolutely, where the intimate, marvelous, precious, private, delicious realms of the furs were concerned. Indeed, some think it is most pleasant to command the slave in such places, a couching chamber, a room of submission, a cubicle, and so on.

The bearded fellow drew back for a moment.

The girl clutched the table. She was still for a moment or two. Then she moaned. Then she moved.

"Did you see that!" she said. "She actually lifted herself to him!" "Surely only a slave would so lift herself to a male," I said. The Lady Temione blushed, hotly.

"Look at that slut wriggle!" she said.

"She is afraid she may not have been fully pleasing," I said. "She is trying now to interest him, to be pleasing, to entice him. But I think he is not angry with her. I think he is only playing with her, only teasing her." I wondered how the Lady Temione would wriggle.

"Look!" said the Lady Temione.

"He is now again with her," I said.

"Yes!" she said.

"Yes," I agreed. The slave was indeed beautiful. To ground my emotion, so to speak, I gripped the table. It seemed thusly, interestingly, as though my tension might pass through it then, down to the floor, to be dissipated, like a flood. I kept myself from breaking wood from the table.

"Am I attractive?" asked the Lady Temione.

"Yes," I said.

"Ah!" she said.

"a€”as free women go," I added.

"Sleen!" she sobbed. "Sleen!"

The slave now moaned and whimpered, and then cried out, suddenly, as though momentarily frightened, or alarmed, but then, again, in a moment, understanding what was going to be done with her, that to which she was relentlessly being brought, began to cry out softly, gladly, gratefully, eagerly, anticipatingly. "Why does that girl reveal her emotions like that?" asked Lady Temione. "Perhaps she is forbidden to conceal them," I said.

"Oh!" she said. "How naked that would make a woman."

"Yes," said, "but it also, in its way, makes her free."

"I suppose so," she said, enviously.

Suddenly the girl on the table screamed aloud, again and again, half reared up, began to buck, but could not escape, so tightly and helplessly held she was, uttering the word, "Master!" over and over.

"Slave orgasm has been forced upon her," I commented.

Lady Temione quivered in her chains.

"I suspect he will not even have to pay for that use of her," I said. "It will probably be given to him, as a token of good will, in compensation for his earlier disappointment."

The fellow had resumed his place now behind the table, sitting there, cross-legged, but he had permitted the slave to half lie, half sit, by him, holding to him, her arms about his waist, her head and hair at his side. "How pleased I am," she said, "that I am not a woman such as that!" "I see," I said.

The slave now knelt beside him, holding him by the arm. She was looking at him with something akin to awe, for what he had done to her, for what he had made her feel. She kissed him softly, deferentially, gratefully, about the shoulder. "I am not a servile, wriggling slave," she said, angrily.

"She is not wriggling now," I said.

"Look at her," she said, in disgust. "She is content!"

"But she must fear," I said, "for she may be ordered from him by so little as a word or gesture, and she must obey in all things."

"She is a slave," she said. "She should not be happy, She should be miserable and unhappy!"

"Doubtless, if you owned her," I said, "you could make her so." "I suppose she is beautiful," she said, "and owned. I suppose some low men might find them attractive."

"Yes," I said, "and Ubars, and such."

"I am not a slave," she said.

"I understand," I said. Certainly she was not a legal slave, or at least not yet. She was not, technically, at least at present, a slave in the eyes of the law, as an animal is an animal in the eyes of the law, a tarsk a tarsk, a vulo, so soft and pretty, a vulo.

"Men are not my masters," she said.

"I see," I said.

"How pleased I am that I am not one of those women who must crawl about the feet of men, licking and kissing, and groveling, and begging to be found pleasing!" "I understand," I said.

She suddenly jerked at the manacles which confined her wrists. They were well on her.

"Why are you angry?" I asked. "I am not angry," she said.

She looked down at her wrists, in the steel, joined by the chain.

"You look well in shackles," I said.

She put her hands on her thighs, the chain bunched then between them.

"He did not want me," she said.

"True," I said.

"I was rejected!"

"Not every woman is attractive to every man," I said, "and, too, you are a free woman."

"I don't care!" she said. "I am free!"

"I understand," I said.

"How pleased I am that I am not subject to use," she said. "Thus, even thought I must shamefully serve, I can still, ultimately, retain my pride and dignity." "I doubt that that fellow would have been overly concerned with such niceties," I said.

"No," she said, shuddering, "I suspect not."

I glanced at the fellow at the other table. He was now giving his orders to the beautiful slave. She was kneeling back. She must now relate to him as a mere waitress. I suspected he would manage to get more than porridge, even this late. "Do you want anything else?" asked Lady Temione, irritatedly. I saw that she was terribly jealous of the attention which men might bestow upon the slave, but how could that be, for she was, by her own account, infinitely superior to the slave, and she was free? Too, she was, according to her own account, not interested in such things.

"Anything else, what? I inquired.

"Anything else, Sir," she said, acidly.

She was at table service. Surely the keeper would wish her to observe proper amenities.

"Are you being suitably deferential?" I asked.

"Of course, Sir, she said, unpleasantly.

Her attitude amused me. Although she had, doubtless, some theoretical understanding that she was subject to discipline, she was not yet fully aware, as is a female slave, of how such realities might affect her situation. Too, she had not even been informed that she was, in truth, subject to guest use. "Perhaps you would like to fetch a slave whip?" I asked.

"No, Sir," she said, quickly. "Please, no, Sir." I gathered then she had at least seen slave girls whipped, or after they had been whipped. She would have some idea of what the whip could do to a woman. it is an excellent correctional device for female behavior.

"No," I said.

"No?" she said.

"No," I said, "I do not want anything else, just now, here."

"Would you truly have whipped me?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Sir's waitress requests permission to withdraw," she said.

"It is granted," I said.

She then performed obeisance.

"No," I said, "do not rise. Withdraw on all fours."

"I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!" she said.

"You may leave," I informed her.

She then turned about and began to make her way toward the kitchen. For an instant I saw her lift herself, as though inadvertently, and then, with a sob, she hurried on.

I rose to my feet, the small, hinged tablet on my hand. The bill was inscribed on the waxed surface within. It totaled five copper tarsks. When I added that to my current bill, it would come to nineteen copper tarsks. I must remember to pick up the blankets with the ostrakon at the keeper's desk.

I looked over at the bearded fellow, the fellow of the company of Artemidorus of Cos. The slave had now left his table, to fetch his meal. I wondered what might be in the rectangular pouch he carried, that which he seemed concerned to keep with him at all times. He had taken it with him even into the baths. He had a tarn, I recalled.

I then made my way to the keeper's desk. The keeper was not up now, but an attendant was there. He checked the tablet and added the five tarsks to my bill. He retained the tablet. It would be smoothed, thus erasing it, and would probably then be hung with others, on nails, in the kitchen, ready to be used again. I picked up my ostrakon, on which was inscribed the number of my space, and the two blankets. I had paid the blanket rental earlier. Before I left the keeper's desk, I also had the attendant add a tarsk bit to my bill.

6 Some Things which Occurred One Night at the Crooked Tarn

There were one hundred sleeping place, or positions, on the third level in the south wing, although no space was numbered "100." What counted for the hundredth space, so to speak, was a «zero» space in the front, left-hand corner, as one entered the level. In the light of a few dim tharlarion-oil lamps one could see the large numbers posted high on the wall, to the left and the back. The rows, from the front moving back, were numbered zero through 9; the columns, from left to right, were similarly numbered. One determines the spaces then, rather as on a cipher chart, by the intersection of numbers. The farthest space to the left and front, as one entered, then was space «zero» and the farthest space to the back and the right was «99». As the first line in Gorean writing moves from the left to the right, according to conventions the numbers to the left would be first numbers designating the space. For example, the intersection of row 7 with column 3 would be space 73, not space 37. Similarly the space farthest to the back on the left, as one enters, would be space 90, the intersection of row 9 with column 0, and the space farthest to the right, in the front, as one enters, was 9, the intersection of row 0 with column 9. This arrangement makes it possible, at a glance, to see exactly where one's space lies. My space, as I discovered, was not as bad as the keeper had suggested. It was not in a corner, but it was, at least, at a wall. Had there been walkways bordering the sleeping area it would not have been bad at all.

Unfortunately there were no walkways.

One fellow cried out, suddenly, with pain. "Sorry, Sir," I said. I inadvertently struck another with my pack. The light was not good.

I decided I had better stay rather where I was for a moment or so, to let my eyes better adjust to the darkness. I did however, take the precaution of moving out of the reach of the fellow I had struck with my pack. He could not reach me now, without risking stumbling across a couple of other fellows, big ones, too. I did not think walkways would be a bad idea. To be sure, I suppose, then, one could get fewer spaces of the same size into the area. The keeper was probably balancing out the advantages of reasonably sized sleeping spaces, a yard or so wide, in keeping with his concept of the first-class inn, for the area, with the largest number of them he could put in a given area. Keepers, merchants, and such, have problems of that sort. The second and third levels, incidentally, were reached by narrow stairs, rather than ladders, as in some inns. Doubtless that convenience could considerably strengthen the keeper's case that he was maintaining a first-class establishment, at least for the area. I did not know. Perhaps he was. Certainly he charged enough. Too, my friend, the bearded fellow of the company of Artemidorus, whom I had not had to kill, had elected to stay here, and he looked like the sort who would certainly avail himself of the finest accommodations in an area.

There was some squirming to my left, and, as my eyes grew more accustomed to the light, I saw a couple entwined. At first I supposed they might be companions, sharing a space. The female seemed to be making small angry noises, then frightened noises. A large piece of cloth, probably her veil, had been thrust into her mouth and tied there. As she moved it seemed her hands must be bound behind her back. Her slippers were off, near her feet. Her robes had been thrust up about her waist. She looked wildly at me, the cloth stuffed in her mouth, tied there. She had probably been surprised in her sleep, and rendered helpless. When he finished with her he would probably carry her from the floor, either to his wagon and, if interested in her, leave with her, or leave her tied below somewhere, perhaps to the railing at the stairs, or perhaps in the stable, where she would attract little attention until morning, after his presumed departure.

I thought that perhaps the inn should provide separate spaces for women, not just separate marked-out spaces, but say, a separate room, or area. She half reared up, making tiny noises. He had gagged her well. Then he pressed her back to the boards. I blamed the keeper as much as anything, three copper tarsks for a girl, for a quarter of an Ahn, was outrageous. It was no wonder that some fellow, under the circumstances, might be forced to make do as he could, even having recourse eventually, if he was desperate enough, to a free woman. I trod a bit further ahead. It was less dangerous now, as I could see better. Too, the tiny tharlarion-oil lamps, here and there, at the walls, were helpful.

"Do not approach me, sleen!" hissed a woman. Her arm was back. She crouched in the center of one of the spaces. Her hand, held back, held a small dagger, of the sort which some women think affords them protection.

"Forgive me, Lady," I whispered, "I am trying to reach my space." She brandished the weapon.

"I mean you no harm," I said. I do not think it is a good idea for women to carry such weapons, incidentally. Their pretentiousness annoys some men. indeed, some men will kill a woman with such a weapon rather than take the moment or so necessary to disarm her and make her helpless.

"Do not approach me!" she hissed. "Oh!" she said. "Stop! You're hurting me!" The dagger fell to the floor. My hand was still on her wrist.

"I shall scream," she whispered, tensely. "oh!"

"It will be difficult to scream, held as you are," I said. My left hand was behind the back of her neck, pressed tightly against it, and my right hand, moved from her wrist, now covered her veiled mouth, tightly, pressing back. She looked at me, angrily, over the veil. She squirmed. She made tiny noises. Her small hands were futile, trying to pull my hand from her mouth.

"I mean you no harm," I said. "I am only trying to get to my place." She nodded, a tiny, difficult movement. "Will you scream, if I release you?" I asked.

She looked at me, and then shook her head, as she could, quickly, earnestly, negatively. She was lying, of course. But this would give me the opportunity to get her veil into her mouth.

I released her mouth and she pulled back and opened her mouth widely, to scream. I bunched and thrust veil into her mouth. She looked at me, wildly, half gagging, my fingers and cloth in her mouth. Little by little, then, with my fingers, patiently, my thumb holding my present accomplishments in place, and pushing them further back, to make room for more folds, I worked more of the veil into her mouth. Finally I pulled out the pins at the side, and completed the work. Some veils are held not with pins but with hooks and cords, passing about the back of the head. Others are a part of the hood itself. With the hood cords, which can fasten the hood more or less closely about the neck, like a cloak. I fastened the veil in place. She then looked at me, well silenced. No longer had she the dignity of the veil.

She did not try to dislodge the silencing device I had placed in her mouth but she lifted her hands, shamed, before her face, to conceal her countenance from me.

I noted how her hands were held before her face.

I pulled her hands down, away from her face. I held them, she helpless to resist, and then, for a time, not hurrying, considered her lips and mouth. They were indeed excellent. She turned her head to the side.

I turned her about and put her on her stomach. I then removed her stockings. Her slippers, removed for the night, were to one side. With one stocking I bound her hands together, behind her back, leaving two ends loose. I then crossed and bound her ankles with the other stocking, and, as she winced, pulled her legs up behind her. I looped one of the two loose ends from the stocking securing her wrists twice about her ankle tie and then tied it to the other loose end. This fastened her in a slave bow. I pulled her hood down about her face. In this way her facial modesty was protected. Her lips and mouth, then, were not exposed to the gaze of men, as though they might be those of a slave. I then found he dagger and, carefully, with regard to her modesty, cut and divided her garments, removing fastening and hooks from them. This left her fully and modestly concealed, albeit with only strips and pieces of clothing, the devices for arranging and closing which had been removed. I did not think she would find that her dignity would be compromised unless, of course, foolishly, she chose to move. I then picked up her small dagger, and my pack, and the blankets, and again made my way toward my space. When I reached it, I put down the pack and blankets. I also put the small dagger under my foot, and pulling up on the handle, broke the blade away. The two parts I cast away, back by the wall. No longer would it endanger her life.

I looked about. There were some empty spaces on the floor, for example, space 98, to my left, as I would face the front of the room, but, on the whole, the level was very crowded. I would have liked the comparative privacy of space 99, in the corner, but it was occupied. I suspected that the empty spaces, or most of them, had been vacated by fellows who had left early. Some folks leave almost in the middle of the night, and then stop at another inn, in the early afternoon. That way they can usually count on obtaining excellent accommodations. Most inns want you out by noon, the tenth Ahn.

I glanced back to the space occupied by the free woman whom I had not found pleasing, she on whose mouth I had seen fit to impose closure, she whom I had left in precarious concealments and slave trussing. She was motionless. I doubted, however, that she was asleep. She would not wish to attract attention to her present straits. In the morning, with folks bustling about, she would probably be all right. Now, however, she might be plucked as easily as a larma, one overhanging a public path. I had scarcely arranged my blankets and put the pack down for a pillow when I saw an attendant enter the room, carrying a stripped female, her hands tied behind her, over his shoulder, her head to the rear, in slave position. I gestured to him, and, exciting my envy somewhat, he picked his way expertly among the sprawled, slumbering bodies to my space. "I shall return in an Ahn," he said. He then sat his burden beside me.

"You!" said the Lady Temione.

"Shhh," I cautioned her. "People are trying to sleep." She tried to struggle to her feet, but I gently placed her on the blanket beside me, on her side.

"This a terrible mistake," she whispered. "You know I am a free woman." "Yes," I said.

She had been relieved of her shackles, but her wrists were thonged behind her back. About her neck, however, there was now wound, in three close, unslippable loops, a heavy length of chain. Two links of this chain, not the end links, were fastened together in front with a heavy padlock. The two ends of the chain then, below the connected links, hung down in front, in an attractive, tielike, cravatlike, arrangement. There was a practical aspect to this as well, of course. The same chain, in virtue of the links selected, may be worn by any woman. Too, attached to this chaining, near the padlock, was a metal tag of some sort. I could not see it well in the darkness.

"Then release me!" she whispered.

"I do not understand," I said.

"You agreed this was a terrible mistake," she whispered.

"No," I said. "Yes, that you were a free woman."

"I do not understand what I am doing here," she said, "naked and tied beside you."

"Really?" I asked.

"It can not be that!" she said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I am free!" she said.

"But your bills are not paid," I said.

She made an angry noise.

"It seems that this time you did not manage to inveigle some fellow into paying them for you."

"What are you going to do to me?" she asked.

"What do you think?" I asked.

"Not that," she said.

"Precisely," I said.

"I am not an inn girl," she said. "I am a free woman! I am not subject to guest use!"

"Were you told you were not subject to guest use?" I asked.

"No," she said, hesitantly.

"So?" I said. "But I assumed, of course, as I was freea€”"

"Are you a virgin?" I asked.

"That is surely a personal matter," she said. "Surely that is my own business." "It would take only a moment for me to make the determination," I said. "No," she said, pulling back. "I am not a virgin.

"It would seem then," I said, "that at least once or twice you must have had to pay off fellows for their assistance."

"They were not gentlemen," she said.

"I think you will discover," I said, "that from now on you no longer possess bargaining power in such matters."

"I do not understand," she said.

"In the future," I said, "I think you will find that you will no longer have control over the gratifications which might be attendant upon your uses, nor over the numbers, times or natures of them."

"I do not understand," she said, frightened.

"I am pleased you are not a virgin," I said. "Thus our relationship can be much simpler."

"Am I truly available to you?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "I paid for you, for the Ahn."

"Paid?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"It must have been terribly expensive," she said.

"The price of an inn girl here," I said, "is three copper tarsks for the quarter of an Ahn."

"That is extremely expensive, is it not?" she asked.

"Terribly so," I agreed. I was not too pleased with the keeper. Surely he was a heinously gouging scoundrel. Other than that, however, he seemed a rather good fellow. Space 97, for example, did have one edge, the top edge, on the wall. "If a common inn girl costs so much," she breathed, "how could you even begin to afford someone like me? You must have been devastatingly smitten with my beauty!"

"You are actually a bit fat," I said, "but I think that could be worked off you, with a sparing, judicious diet, complex exercises, suitable disciplines, and such."

"Perhaps I should try to be pleasing to you," she said, impressed. "Why?" I asked. She was, after all, a free woman.

"You must have paid at lest a golden tarn disk," she said, "to have rights over me, for a whole Ahn."

"No," I said.

"Nine silver tarsks?" she asked.

"No," I said.

"Five?" she asked.

"No," I said. "I paid only a tarsk bit."

"What!" she said.

"Shhh," I cautioned her. "Do not awaken the guests."

"That is absurd!" she said. "I am a free woman."

"It is doubtless a great deal more than you are worth," I said.

"I will see to it," she said, "that I do not give you any pleasure." "I think," I said, "you will find it difficult to do anything about that," I pulled her to me.

"Beast!" she said.

"Your squirming," I said, "is delightful."

She cried out in frustration, and then held herself as still as possible. I smiled to myself. How fortunate for this woman that she was a free female, and not a slave.

"Yes," she said, angrily, trying to hold herself still, her hands behind her, tied.

I felt the tag, attached on the chain, near the padlock. "It seems to have the shape of a malformed tarn," I said, "a crooked neck, an enlarged right leg and talons."

"It does," she said, angrily.

"It resembles the sign within the palisade then," I said, "that which is visible for a pasang or so, down the road, the sign of the "Crooked Tarn'." "Of course," she said.

I jerked the tag, playfully. "And where is this little tag?" I asked. "It is on me," she said, seething, trying to hold herself still.

"Does it have writing on it?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. Surely it would.

"They must have shown it to you before they put it on you."

"Yes," she said.

"What does it say?" I asked.

"Debtor," she said. "Oh!" she said.

"What else?" I asked.

"My wrists have been thonged!" she said. "My hands have been tied behind my back! I cannot free them! Do you not know what that means? Do you not understand? I am helpless!"

"You should have paid your bills," I said. "I thought you were not supposed to move."

"Oh!" she said, angrily. Then, again, she said, "oh!" but softly, startled. I desisted in my attentions.

She controlled herself, and did not press against me.

"The word "debtor' is in large letter," she said. "Beneath it, in smaller letters, it says "Inquire at the Crooked Tarn pertinent to Redemption Fees. " "Would you like your hands untied?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said.

"Turn about," I said.

Swiftly she did so.

"Ah," I said.

"Are you not going to untie my hands?" she asked, anxiously.

"No!" I said.

"Beast! Beast!" she said.

I held her where she was.

"I am a free woman!" she said.

I desisted, again, in my attentions, but I kept her where she was.

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

"How does it make you feel?" I asked.

"It makes me fee vulnerable," she said.

"You are vulnerable," I said.

The palms of her hands, as she was, faced me. The palms of a woman's hands are extremely sensitive. I traced a little pattern in the palm of her right hand. "I am not a Kajira!" she said.

The pattern I had traced in her palm was that of a small cursive "Kef', the first letter in the expression "Kajira'. The cursive "Kef', in one variation or another, is commonly used as a slave brand for females.

"I suppose you had better get done with it," she said.

"With what?" I asked.

"With my humiliation," she said.

"I see," I said.

She pushed back a bit, but, because I held her, she could not reach me. "You may use me," she said. "I give you my permission."

"Your permission is not required," I said.

"I suppose not," she said.

"You are not in shackles," I said.

"They were removed," she said.

"Why do you suppose that was?" I asked.

"To make me more convenient to guests, it would seem," she said.

"Yes," I said.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I am untying your hands," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"You sound disappointed," I said.

"Certainly not!" she said.

I did wrap the thong about her left wrist, tucking in the ends. In this way it would remain upon her body, and be immediately available, if I wished to make use of it later. The symbolism of this, and the convenience of it, would not elude the Lady Temione. She was Gorean.

"May I turn about?" she asked.

"No," I said.

"Do you think the keeper's man anticipated that the thong might be removed?" she asked.

"He would certainly suppose it might be," I said. "He would recognize, of course, that it might be removed from your body, or, indeed, be used to tie you in any one of a hundred other ways.

She shuddered.

"But now that I am not shackled, or bound," she said, "might I not escape?" "You are within the palisade," I said.

"That is true," she said, thoughtfully.

"Too, even if you were outside the palisade, I do not think you would get too far, naked, with a chain on your neck, the identifying tag, and so on." "May I turn about?" she asked.

"Very well," I said.

"Am I attractive?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"For a free woman?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"I wish," she whispered, "that I was attractive, even for a slave." "I would not trouble myself, if I were you," I said, "about my lack of slave attractiveness."

"The warrior in the paga room," she said, "did not want me. He rejected me!" "You are only a free woman," I reminded her.

"You received kisses from the women outside, those chained to the rings," she said, "Amina, Rimice, and the others, if I may believe you."

"Yes," I said.

"And I told you," she said, "that you would never receive one from me." "Yes," I said. "I recall that."

"I relent," she said.

"Oh?" I said.

"Yes," she said. "You may kiss me."

I did not kiss her.

"May I kiss you?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

Softly her lips met mine. It was a brief, delicate kiss, frightened. Then she drew back.

"What is wrong? I asked.

"I am afraid of my feelings," she said.

"They are a part of you," I said. "Do not be afraid of them."

"Let us get on with it," she said, suddenly, angrily.

"With what?" I asked.

"Your use of me," she said.

"I see," I said. "I owe a silver tarsk, five," she said, miserably. "If you have paid only a tarsk bit for my use, it will take me, at that rate, months to earn my redemption from the keeper."

I was silent.

"So take me in your cruel arms like iron," she said. "Force me to pant and sweat, and kiss. Hurry!"

"There is something I think you must understand, first," I said.

"What is that?" she asked.

"You owe a silver tarsk, five," I said, "and I have paid a tarsk bit for your use, for an Ahn, but that does not mean that you are then reducing your debt by a tarsk bit."

"What?" she said.

"The usual arrangement in such matters," I said, "which doubtless obtains, unless you have been informed differently, is that the money you are earning, you are earning not for yourself, but for the keeper. It does not in any way diminish your debt."

"No!" she said.

"Yes," I said. "In this way the keeper gets some good out of you. Too, in this way he is less likely to lose money on, say, your feed."

"Then," she said, "he could keep me here as long as he wants! I could be kept here at his mercy, in this terrible place, as long as it is his will!" "You might, of course, be redeemed," I pointed out.

"Yes!" she said, eagerly. "I must fine a splendid gentleman, and piteously beg that!"

I did not, personally, think she would now be as successful in that sort of thing as she might have been earlier, when fully clothed. It is one thing for a free woman, tearfully, while in the dignity of robes and veil, to attempt to impose on a fellow's gullibility or good nature, and quite another for her to do so when she is unclothed. When a woman is naked it is sometimes hard for a man not to see her as a female. Clearly, too, the Lady Temione's body suggested the exquisite latency of slave curves.

"Perhaps you will find some fellow willing to do so," I said, "who will then expect that you will fling yourself into his arms, agreeing to be his companion."

"Yes," she said, thoughtfully. "I gather that that sort of thing has worked for you before," I said. "Yes," she said.

"And his reward then," I speculated, "would be a grateful peek through your veil?"

"I am a free woman," she said. "I trust not."

"Perhaps, then, a grateful glance, a squeezing of a hand, a heartfelt utterance of thanks?"

"The important thing," she said, "is to make certain that your bills have been paid, and that you are in the clear. After that, you may simply leave. I often merely turn my back upon them, for they are fools. They stand there then, knowing they have been tricked."

"I would suppose that that sort of thing might not work with all men," I said, "perhaps not with even all gentlemen."

"True," she said, "it is wise to reward some with at least the squeezing of the hand, an expression of gratitude, or such, before hurrying away."

"You must leave a few frustrated fellows in your wake," I speculated. "I enjoy frustrating me," she said, angrily. I gathered from her vehemence that she was disappointed in men, that she had decided to despise them, that she wished to hold them in contempt. I gathered, too, however, that she was fascinated with them, and that something in her feared them, or what they might be.

"Fortunately I managed to elude them," she said.

"I wonder what they had on their mind," I said.

"I have no idea," she said.

On Earth, as I understand it, there are certain romantic notions about, for example, that heroes may expect to «in» damsels in distress, so to speak, by the performance of certain heroic behaviors, which, for example, might bode little good to dragons, evil wizards, wicked knights, and such. These damsels in distress, once rescued, are then expected to elatedly bestow their fervent affections on the blushing, bashful heroes, and so on. Needless to say, in real life, to the disappointment, and sometimes chagrin, of the blushing, bashful heroes, this denouement often fails to materialize. Although such notions are not unknown on Gor, the average Gorean tends to be somewhat more practical and businesslike then the average hero of such stories, if we may believe the stories. For example, the damsel of Earth, if she found herself rescued on Gor, might not have to spend a great deal of time gravely considering whether or not to bestow herself on the rescuer. She might rather find her wrists, to her surprise, being chained behind her, her clothing being removed and a rope being put on her neck. She might then find herself hurrying along on foot, beside his mount, roped by the neck to his stirrup. If he finds her pleasing, he might keep her, at least for a time. If he does not, she will be soon sold.

"I must find a gentleman to redeem me," she said, "a true gentleman, one who will take pity on me and nobly buy me out of my difficulties."

"Another fool?" I asked.

"Yes!" she laughed.

I was silent.

"But do you think I will find one?" she asked, anxiously. "Never before have I been stripped and put in a chain collar."

"Perhaps," I said.

"I must!" she said, firmly.

There are many mythologies having to do with human beings. Many function like ideological garments, designed to conceal or misrepresent reality. The misrepresentations and concealments, of course, are then called "truth." Truth, crushed to earth, is supposed to rise again, but if it didn't, we wouldn't know it. Indeed, if it did have the temerity to show up, it could probably count on being suppressed again as rapidly as possible, in the name, of course, of "truth." The name of truth all prize; the face of truth most fear. Yet I think the nature of truth is not that terrible. It is just that it is different, and more beautiful than the lies. The demythologization of a man has yet to take place. His reality exceeds the myths; it is reality which is darker and more dangerous than the myths; but it is also glorious and more real.

"But what am I to do until I can find such a fool?" she asked.

"It is true," I asked, "that sometimes, when a fellow bought you out of your difficulties, you merely turned your back upon him?"

"Yes," she said.

"Turn your back upon me, now," I said.

"Please!" she said.

"Do so, now," I said.

She did so. "Oh!" she said, gripped.

"Bend forward," I said.

She obeyed.

"I think I can give you some idea," I said, "as to what you will be doing until you find such a fool."

"Please," she said, "Mercy!"

"Look at it this way," I said. "You lived off men, with very little recompense to them. You will now, in a sense, for the time being at least, merely continue doing that, that is, continue to receive your living from me, only now, as opposed to before, you will be doing something for it, indeed, a great deal. You are, at least, going to be good for something. Men, at long last, are going to get some food out of you."

"I am not a slave!" she said. "Oh!" she said.

"Before," I said, "men, in a sense, were subject to you. Now you are subject to them."

She moaned.

"You may move or not, as it pleases you," I informed her.

She writhed briefly, trying to reach back, but could not escape. She cried out in frustration, and then fear. She then lay extremely quiet."

"I am not a slave," she said.

"At least not a legal slave," I said.

She trembled, her entire body, interestingly, responding to these words. "a€”yet," I added.

Again her entire body, helplessly, wholistically, organically, spasmodically, responded.

"Please!" she begged. "Do not speak so."

The wholisticality of the female's response is an interesting one. Their response is a whole, physical, emotional and intellectual. Men have sex; women are sex.

"Why did you pay a tarsk bit for me?" she asked. "Why did you not pay for an inn girl? Were they too expensive? Could you have afforded one?" "I think so," I granted her. Thanks, of course, to the coins from the brigands' coin box, taken from them by the road, if nothing else, my finances were currently in excellent order.

"Then it was I, truly I, whom you wished delivered to your space," she whispered.

"Yes," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"I thought you could use a little humbling," I said, "and a little informing as to the nature of your womanhood."

"I hate you!" she said. "I hate you!"

Her body seethed with hatred. It was pleasant.

"I am giving you pleasure, aren't I?" she asked, angrily.

"Yes," I said.

She then tried to hold herself absolutely still.

"Too," I said, "of course, I find you of sexual interest."

"Really?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"Do you think anyone else would?" she asked.

"Certainly," I said.

"Oh!" she said suddenly, softly. "Ohh!"

"You moved," I said.

"I am a free woman," she said, angrily. "Yet I am at the mercy of the keeper! I am a free woman! Yet I was made to serve at the tables! Now I have been delivered to a guest, as though I might be a slave!"

I was silent. I did not tell her that the most common thing that is done with debtor sluts is to sell them into slavery.

"Do you think that I will find another fool?" she asked.

"I do not know," I said.

"I must," she said. "I must! Else something terrible might happen." "What?" I asked.

"I might be sold to the collar," she said. "Then I would be a slave!" "If I were the keeper," I said, "Such would certainly be my decision." "What?" she said.

"I would sell you into slavery," I said.

"Never!" she said. "Never!" "You should be a slave," I told her.

"No! No!" she said.

"You are moving," I cautioned her.

She cried out in frustration.

Then she said. "Oh!"

Then she asked, "Are you going to make me yield?"

"Of course not," I said. "You are a free woman/"

"Be done with it!" she said.

But I chose, somewhat perversely perhaps, to take my time with her.

Afterwards she clung tightly to me. "Oh," she sobbed, softly. "Oh, oh." She seemed confused, frightened, bewildered, at what had been done to her, at what she had felt. I thought the keeper's man must be due soon.

"I yielded, did I not?" she asked, frightened. "Did I not yield?" The chain, its loose ends, the padlock, the small metal tarn tag, indicating she was in debt to the Crooked Tarn, clinked on her neck.

"In a manner of speaking," I said. She had actually done very well for a free woman, new to the handling of men who could do what they wished with her. The Lady Temione, though the thought might have horrified her, as she was a free woman, had unusually powerful female latencies. Subject to men and the whip I had little doubt she would become extremely passionate, and eventually, even helplessly so.

"You owe a silver tarsk, five," I mused.

"Are you thinking of redeeming me?" she asked.

"I was thinking about it," I said. I must try to gain admittance to Ar's Station. It was invested by Cosians, and mercenaries. I might have use for such as she.

"I would be afraid to be redeemed by you," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"If you redeemed me," she said, "I would be in your total power. You would, in effect, own me."

"You are aware, of course," I said, "that you have, ultimately, no control over who redeems you, no more than a slave has, ultimately, any choice over who buys her."

"I know," she said.

I lay there, quietly, thinking. Yes, I thought, I might have use for a woman, or women, such as she.

"You took me like a she-tarsk," she said, poutingly. "You responded well to the taking," I said. "Perhaps it is fitting for you."

"You do not respect me," she said.

"You do not want to be respected," I said. "You want to be cherished, treasured, handled, abused, mastered, owned, subdued, forced to serve and love." She was silent.

"Someone is coming," I said. "Do you hear him, on the stairs?"

"No," she said.

"He is on the first landing now," I said. I sat up. "It is a male," I said. "I hear him now," she said, after a moment or two. "Oh!"

I had turned her to her belly, on the blanket, spread over the boards.

"My wrists!" she protested.

They were then thonged. I had drawn them behind her, and held them together there, crossed, with my left hand. With my right I had removed the restraint from her left wrist. A moment later she was bound. Originally, I had assumed it was the keeper's man, but the tread, now, seemed heavier. Lady Temione rose to her right elbow, her hands tied behind her. I thought I must know who it was. I glanced at the space next to me. He had arrived at the inn later than I, I supposed, as he had eaten later. If that was the case it was not at all unlikely that he might have been rented the space after mine. If so, that might make things a great deal easier. I would not even have to search him out, in the darkness. There was a fellow slumbering in space 99, in the corner. He must have come to the inn rather early, I supposed, to obtain one of the four coveted corner spaces. If the fellow coming up the steps was indeed who I expected it was, and had rented the space near me, and if things proceeded as I expected, I thought I might be able to enlist the support of the fellow in the corner. The second portion of my plan required a confederate.

"Ai!" I heard someone cry, a few yards away, near the entrance. The newcomer, it seemed, had had some paga, perhaps a second or third kantharos. I wondered if he had paid for them. I heard another cry of rage. There was then a blow. The newcomer continued on, somewhat unsteadily. Another guest cried out, angrily, and rose up. He backed away a step, however, when he saw that he did not come up to the newcomer's shoulder. Then the newcomer beckoned he should come forward. Frightened, he did so. Then the newcomer suddenly, without warning, doubled him with a blow to the gut, and he sank, groaning to his place. Another fellow half rose up, and another blow was struck, and the fellow fell back, to the side. Another fellow said something to the newcomer and the newcomer's sword half emerged from its sheath, and the other fellow rolled back, away, quickly, feigning sleep. The sword slammed back into the sheath. Two men moved at the noise. I saw the free woman, whom I had gagged and trussed, to whose clothing I had addressed the attentions of her own knife, which I had taken from her, and later destroyed and thrown away, lying very still. She was absolutely helpless, and her clothing, so cut and divided, could be lifted aside to anyone's convenience. It was no wonder she did not dare to move. I wondered what her thoughts might be, so helpless and vulnerable in her femaleness. Doubtless, disarmed and helpless, her beauty at anyone's convenience, her weakness manifested, she now knew herself much better than she had before. Sometimes such experiences help women understand that they are women. In a moment or two the newcomer was at the space, 98, next to mine. He looked down, angrily. I was pleased to see that he still carried the pouch.

He put it down, by the wall, with his helmet.

"Oh!" cried the Lady Temione, pulled half to her feet.

I noted the pouch had a lock. It would not, thus, be easy to open it and examine, or remove, the contents. To be sure, I was less interested in its contents than in something else. It would, of course, as he seemed to be some sort of courier, be a useful adjunct to a disguise.

He held the Lady Temione before him, her head back, his beard but inches from her throat.

"That is a free woman," I said, dryly.

With a noise of disgust he turned and cast her from him, to her side, to the foot of my space, on my blanket.

I did not know if her recognized her from before, from the paga room, or not. He was drunk. It was dark.

He looked about. As I thought, he would prefer the corner space. I did not think it would matter much to him that it was occupied.

"Ai!" cried the fellow from the space, lifted up, and suddenly thrown against the wall.

The newcomer thrust his face against the fellow's face, holding him back to the wall. "Why are you in the wrong space?" he asked him.

"I am not in the wrong space!" gasped the fellow.

He was then flung again against the wall.

"Why!" demanded the newcomer.

"There must be some mistake!" said the fellow. He was the same fellow, incidentally, happily, as I now noted, whom the newcomer had earlier ejected from his bath, and then drafted into service as a bath attendant. He was probably the sort of fellow who was very organized and rational, had come early to the inn, generally conducted his life in a sensible manner, and so on. To be sure, fellows such as the newcomer can be the bane of such fellows. Again he was flung against the wall. This was a bit noisy, but then I was not asleep. "I have the ostrakon for this space!" said the fellow.

"What has that to do with it?" asked the newcomer, again slamming him against the wall.

"Nothing, of course!" said the fellow, trying to get his breath. "I am sorry I am in the wrong space! I apologize! Forgive me! It was stupid of me!" The newcomer let him slip to the floor and the fellow hastily, crawling, fetched his belongings from space 99.

"You would not be thinking of leaving, perhaps to complain to the keeper, would you?" asked the newcomer.

"no, no, of course not," said the put-upon fellow.

He then placed his belongings in space 98, next to mine.

I frankly doubted that the keeper would be keen to mix into such an altercation, particularly one involving an armed mercenary, a fellow of the company of Artemidorus.

"You are a big fellow, too," said the put-upon fellow, looking at me. "I trust you do not want this place."

"No," I told him.

"If you do," he said, "I could always fling myself into the wall now. I have had experience."

"Do not be bitter." I said. "Get that thing out of my sight," said the bearded fellow, looking at Lady Temione. She still lay much where she had been thrown, away from him, on her side, much afraid to move, her hands tied behind her, her head toward my feet, the chain, and the tag, on her neck. She put her head down, not daring to look upon him.

"I rented her for an Ahn," I said. "I think the time must be nearly up, and the keeper's man should be along presently."

"What did she cost you?" he asked.

"A tarsk bit," I said.

"That is far more than she is worth," he said.

"Perhaps," I said.

"In many cities," he said, "one could have a coin girl for that." "True," I said. Coin girls were a form of street slave, usually sent into the streets around dusk by their masters, who commonly own several of them, with a chain on their neck, to which would be attached, normally, a bell, to call attention to their whereabouts, and a small, locked coin box. And woe to the girl who returns with coins jangling in the box! To be sure, in some places, one might even have a paga slave, or a brothel slave, for as little as a tarsk bit. "It is too much for a free woman," he said.

"Perhaps," I said.

"Particularly one such as that," he said, contemptuously.

"Perhaps," I said.

"Perhaps it is appropriate," he said, "a tarsk bit for a fat she-tarsk." "She is not really so fat," I said. To be sure, her figure could be considerably improved, and, if she became a slave, undoubtedly it soon would be.

"I have seen tharlarion," he said, "who were better looking."

Lady Temione, lying on her side, her hands tied behind her, stiffened in anger. I did not understand her response. Certainly she did not think that she was slave attractivea€”certainly not yet.

"They could not easily have charged less than a tarsk bit," I said, somewhat irritatedly. I must try to control myself. The tarsk bit, of course, in most cities, is the smallest-denomination coin in common circulation. "For so much," he said, "they should have rented her to you for a month."

"Perhaps," I said.

"Such she-tarsks are worthless," he said. "She probably doesn't even know what to do with her toes."

"Probably not," I admitted.

Lady Temione looked up, startled.

"She should have been put in a slave harness and sent to a training school," he said.

"I doubt that there are any nearby," I said.

"She should have been apprenticed to a slave," he said.

"Perhaps she will be," I said. "As I understand it, it was only tonight that she was put in the chain collar." Such training schools are normally found only in the cities. Usually, but not always, they are attached to houses of slavers. Needless to say, their students are seldom free women, but almost always slaves. The harness he referred to was undoubtedly not a security harness but a training harness, a complex affair, consisting of numerous straps and rings. It is useful, for example, in helping a woman learn how to serve a master while being denied the use of certain of her limbs, for example, her hands. It is commonly worn naked. Similarly, it helps the woman to adjust to her helplessness and her condition, as, in it, she may be fastened in an incredible variety of attitudes and positions. Its utility is limited by little more than the imagination of the master.

"You must be a strange one," he said to me, "to make do with a free female." "She does not have to remain free," I said.

Lady Temione shuddered with fear. The tag, and padlock, shook on her collar. "That is true."

He looked at the Lady Temione. She did not dare to meet that fierce gaze. Perhaps it was just as well. She might have been cuffed or kicked. I would not have approved had he done this, but under the circumstances, considering my purposes, I would not have interfered. As she was within my rental, and a free person, of course, the administration of any such discipline was really mine to do, and not his. If he wished to beat her, he should have requested my permission. Alternatively, he might have waited a bit, and paid her next rent fee himself. Any free person, incidentally, may discipline a slave. If this were not the case, then a slave, outside the knowledge of her master, might dare to be insolent to a free person.

"It would not be worth harnessing her," he said. "She would be too stupid to learn."

"Any woman can be taught," I said.

"I am a free woman!" suddenly wept the Lady Temione.

He went and crouched beside her. She put her head down, frightened, on the blanket.

"You are not a woman," he sneered. "You are a she-tarsk."

She sobbed.

"You are not worth sleen feed," he said.

"Do not interfere," cautioned the fellow in space 98, who had been ejected from the corner space. "He is dangerous."

"I do not expect to do so," I said. I did not object, of course, to his abuse of the Lady Temione. Indeed, the insults, in their way, while certainly overdrawn, were not altogether unjustified. The danger, of course, with one of my temper, was that I might suddenly feel a point of honor touched. Then, if I should fare up and say, pin the fellow to the floor with my blade, my plans would be seriously disrupted. I would be as placid as larl feigning sleep, as placid as a Dietrich of Tarnburg.

"What are you saying," asked the fellow, wheeling about.

"Nothing," I said.

He returned his attention to the Lady Temione.

"You are worthless," he told her.

"She does have auburn hair," I informed him. "I may be hard to see in this light."

"Then shave it off, and sell it," he laughed.

"The keeper might do that," I said.

Lady Temione moaned, helplessly.

This was, of course, a genuine possibility, particularly in this area at this time. women's hair, long and silky, plaited into heavy ropes, is ideal for the cording of catapults. It is far superior, for example, to vegetable fibers. It is also superior, in length and texture, to the hair of sleen and kaiila. By now, the hair of slaves in Ar's Station, and doubtless the hair of most of her free women as well, donated in the case of the latter as a contribution to the defense effort, would have been shaved off, or, perhaps, cropped short. If the keeper did decide to shave off, or crop, the hair of the Lady Temione, and, for that matter, the others, the Lady Amina, the Lady Rimice, and so on, he would presumably sell it to suppliers to the Cosians. Under the current conditions, of course, it would be difficult to get such material into Ar's Station. Indeed, in a sense, that was the same problem I faced, finding a way into Ar's Station.

"Worthless," snarled the burly, bearded fellow to the Lady Temione. The burly fellow stood up. I saw where he had placed the pouch.

He looked down upon the Lady Temione with contempt. "Get that thing out of my sight," he said. "I do not want my digestion spoiled for breakfast." I myself did not think I would have time for breakfast. I was planning on leaving rather early in the morning.

"Did you hear me?" he asked.

"The keeper's man will be along presently," I said.

"Do you cross me in this?" he asked.

"I would not think of doing so," I said. I located the hilt of my sword. I supposed that it might be less than noble to drive a blade through the body of a drunken fellow in the dark, but it was probably preferable, all things considered, to having one driven through myself.

"I will take her away," said the fellow next to me, hastily.

"It is not your responsibility," I said, somewhat ungraciously, I fear, considering the generosity of his offer.

"Look," said he. "I am now well practiced in smiting walls with my back, but I have had very little experience in dodging swords, leaping about unarmed, you understand, in the darkness, in the middle of a sword fight."

"Fight?" asked the burly fellow, interested.

"So I shall be pleased to return her to the keeper's desk," he said. I think the burly fellow reached for the hilt of his sword, but I missed it. My own blade left the sheath. I stood up.

The fellow between us moaned, and prepared to crawl rapidly to safety. "Oh!" said Lady Temione, lifted now, backwards, to the shoulder of the keeper's man who, unnoticed, had approached. "Slut rent period is up," he said. "Take her away," said the burly fellow, with a wave of his hand.

"That is my intention," said the keeper's man. He turned his back on us, and I saw, again, the face of the Lady Temione, facing backwards, held upon his shoulder in slave position.

"Put her in a tarsk cage," laughed the fellow. "That is where she belongs." Lady Temione briefly struggled in frustration on the shoulder of the keeper's man, squirming there doubtlessly more deliciously than she knew, and pulling helplessly at her bound wrists. She would be carried about and done with, of course, precisely as men wished. She looked back now in anger, but also in fear, at the burly fellow. Doubtless she thought she was attractive now. She did not understand, of course, how attractive, truly, she might be, subject to certain alterations in her condition. Our eyes met.

"Who wants a fight?" asked the burly fellow, unsteadily. He now had his hand on the hilt of his sword.

"No one," said the fellow between us, hastily, earnestly.

I did not think the burly fellow could well attack with the other fellow between us, not, at least, without cutting him out of the way. That would indeed be a poor way for that fellow to end his day, which had not been a very good one anyway. I sheathed my sword. I was not even sure that the burly fellow, in the darkness, realized I had drawn it. He himself had not proceeded further than to get his hand on his sword. I do not think he realized he was in any danger. "Are you the one who wants to fight?" he asked.

"Not me," I said.

"Then it is you!" cried the burly fellow, turning on the fellow between us. "No!" cried the fellow.

His response was surely prompt, I thought. It was assured and definite. It left little doubt about the matter.

"I am tired," announced the burly fellow.

"It is time then to go to sleep," said the other man. The burly fellow stood there for a moment considering this possibility. "Perhaps," he said.

I was sure, now, that it would not prove necessary to run the fellow through, at least at this time. in such a thrust, of course, he in his present condition, there would have been little of honor. Too, it is difficult to use a sword in a professional manner in the darkness, and I tend to be vain about such things. The sword is less akin to darkness than stealth and the dagger. A recruit, under the circumstance, could have felled him.

"It is time to go to sleep," announced the burly fellow.

"Yes, you are right," agreed the other man.

This was the second time the burly fellow, this night, had been in considerable danger. He would probably not realize this, even in the morning.

"Sit down," said the burly fellow to me.

"Very well," I said, sitting down. The other man sat down, too, in his space. The burly fellow then stood there and looked about him. He was the only one standing in the room.

He had taken the first tub in the baths. He had created a disturbance in the paga room. He had had an excellent slave sent to him, perhaps even gratis. I suspected he had had a greater variety of food to choose from than I had been offered. He had traversed the sleeping room like a hurricane. I doubted he would be too popular with the other guests. Indeed, more than one fellow he had struck about, making his way to his space. He had even come directly to his space, in a diagonal, rather than making use, like other folks, of more neighborly, if lengthier, orthogonals. Too, it seemed he had shown me insufficient respect, not to mention the fellow next to me, whose paid-for space he had appropriated, nor those he had trampled upon, and struck about, in his passage to our area. I also did not appreciate his criticizing me, mostly implicitly, for my choice of rent sluts. I frankly thought I might have seem more in the Lady Temione than he had. If nothing else, considering the prices in the inn, she came cheap. He then sat down in the corner space, 99, the safest, most private space on the floor. "Do you snore?" he asked the fellow next to me.

"Never," the fellow assured him. "If you do," said the burly fellow, "sit up tonight."

"I was planning on that anyway," the fellow assured him.

I had little doubt the fellow between us planned on taking his leave as soon as the burly fellow slept. Could one really count, one wondered, on the burly fellow being in a pleasant mood when he awakened? Too, what if he should have some savage dream, and start thrashing about, knife in hand, in the middle of the night?

The fellow between us sat back against the wall. The burly fellow looked across at me, contemptuously. "User of she-tarsks," he laughed.

I noted he wrapped the strap of the pouch he carried about his left arm, three or four times. I supposed, like many such pouches, diplomatic pouches, so to speak, the strap would be cored with wire, and, inside, within the pouch itself, between the leather and a presumed lining, there would be a pattern of interlinked rings. These precautions make the pouch immune to the customary approaches of the cutpurse.

In a few moments the burly fellow was breathing heavily.

I put out my hand and detained the fellow in space 98 who, it seemed, was preparing to depart.

He moaned. "Why is it," he asked, "that I am never abused by small men?" "What is your trade?" I asked.

"I am a sutler," he said.

"Excellent," I said.

"I used to think so," he said.

That had seemed not improbably to me. There were mostly wagoners, of one sort of another, here, or refugees. He did not seem to be a refugee. For example, he did not have a companion, or children, with him. Similarly, most refugees could not have afforded an inn. Too, he did not seem to have the refinement of a high merchant nor the roughness of the drover. Drovers, flush with coins, would be here, of course, returning from Ar's Station. On the journey there they would be with their animals, probably verr or tarsk. "You are on your way to the Cosians' siege camp at Ar's Station," I hazarded.

"Yes," he said.

I had thought that, too, was probable, as he was at the inn. He would want its protection, probably, for his goods. Coins, or letters of credit, might be concealed about a wagon, but it is not easy to conceal quantities of flour, salt, jerky, paga and such, not to mention the miscellany of diverse items for the field supply of which one can usually count on the sutlers, such things as combs, brushes, candles, lamp oil, small knives, common tools, pans, eating utensils, sharpening stones, flints, steel, thumb cuffs, shackles, nose rings, binding fiber, slave collars and whips."

"I have a commission for you," I said.

"You want me to kill our friend in 99?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"It is perhaps just as well," he said. "If I failed to do the job neatly, and he awakened, and I was kneeling there with a bloody knife in my hand, one could not at all count on his seeing the matter from our point of view."

"You are right," I said.

"He has a terrible temper," he said, "and, under such circumstances, it would be hard to blame anyone for being cranky."

"I thoroughly agree," I said.

"What then?" he asked.

"Listen carefully," I said.

7 The Attendant

"Attendant!" cried the burly fellow, from one of the second tubs, that immediately behind one of the first tubs, that most convenient to the entrance to the baths. "Stir up the fire!" It was early, but most of the fellows who had been sleeping on the floor of the baths during the night had now taken their leave.

The fellow then attending on the baths, rather large for such a fellow, it might seem, hooded, too, perhaps to disguise scarring of such a nature as might turn the stomachs of bathers, enveloped in a cloak, hobbling, perhaps the result of a fall from tarnback, hurried, seemingly alarmed, to the bricked platform beneath his tub and stirred the fire with the fire rake.

"Build up the fire! Hurry, fellow!" said the bather.

"Yes, Sir, yes, Sir," rasped the hooded, cloaked fellow.

I had been confident, of course, from what I had seen last night, that if the fellow were to bathe he would pick that first tub, and then, behind it, that second tub. Some, and he was apparently among them, regard such as the most prestigious tubs. It was natural, then, that he, such a fellow, should select them. Somehow, it seemed that the fire in the platform under the tub in which he now reclined had not been built up this morning. He who was now in attendance on the baths hurried now, of course, to do so. The fellow, thus, who seemingly was fond of his luxuries, would have to wait for a time, and then, when the water was comfortably warm, could presumably be counted upon, if only in compensation for his discomfort and inconvenience, to dally for a while. He in attendance on the baths, shuffling about, occasionally muttering to himself, tended the fire.

I had anticipated that the fellow would wish to use the baths in the morning. For example, he had drunk heavily the night before and presumably could be counted upon to awaken in a few hours, thirsty and drenched with sweat. A horrifying hangover, too, considering the entire situation, was not too much to expect. In case he was less fastidious than we had anticipated, we had also taken the liberty of anointing the floor around his place with some representative elements extracted from the level's wastes' bucket. The presence of these in his area, particularly given the nature of his preceding evening, we naturally hoped he would explain to himself in the most natural way possible. "Ahhh," said the bather, leaning back.

"Is the temperature of the water satisfactory?" inquired he in attendance, hobbling over to the tub.

"Yes," growled the bather.

He in attendance put an armload of wood and shavings near the bather's tub, on the platform. In such a way, on a busy day at the baths, might some trips to the bins be saved. It is an old bath attendant's trick. He in attendance, however, was somewhat clumsy in doing this. The striking of a piece of kindling on the tub, for example, rather on the left of the tub, seemed to cause distress to the bather.

"Get out," ordered the bather.

"May I be of further service?" inquired he in attendance.

"Get out!" said the bather. "Get out!"

"Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir!" rasped the bent fellow, hobbling away quickly, as though frightened. Then, in a moment, he was on the other side of the latticework. On the other side of the latticework I looked back into the room of baths, not yet straightening up. beneath my cloak, of course, were the belt, scabbard and sword, his wallet, and the rectangular pouch, taken from the tub hook, under the diversion of the sound and blow of kindling to the left, on the tub. The bather, I noted, now lay back in the tub, his eyes closed. The real attendant was probably upstairs in the paga room, enjoying cakes and Bazi tea, a breakfast popular with Gorean on holidays. Certainly he had the means to do so. I had given him five copper tarsks.

I removed the burly fellow's helmet and clothing from the peg in the outer room. I then left the outer room of the baths.

8 I Take my Leave of the Crooked Tarn

I strode to the tarncot.

I did not think I would have much time to waste. I now wore the blue of Cos, the uniform of one of the company of Artemidorus, and carried the blue helmet, these things having been removed from the peg in the outer room of the baths. I smote on the gate of the tarncot.

My pack was on my back.

There was only one tarn in the cot, obviously a warrior's mount.

An attendant emerged from a shed to the side.

A wagon moved by, to the left. The tharlarion stables were in that direction. Folks were up, and stirring. I glanced up, to my right, at the high shedlike structure which would shelter the tarn beacon. It was not lit now, of course. The inn's tarn gate, as I stood, within the inn's grounds, was to its right. In this way, as one would approach the inn on tarnback, from outside the grounds, the gate would be on its left.

"Ready the bird," I ordered.

It seemed he might hesitate a moment, but he took in my appearance, the blue of Cos, the insignia of the mercenaries of Artemidorus, the helmet, my weapons, indeed, two swords.

"Now," I said.

He scurried back into the shed, where, doubtless, the burly fellow's gear was stored, the saddle, tarn harness, and such. I think he did not wish to delay one of the company of Artemidorus. Perhaps he had done so before, to his sorrow.

I looked back, towards the main building. I could see only normal signs of activity.

The great sign, on its chains, hanging from the supported, horizontal beam on the huge pole was quiet now. Some wagons were leaving. The world about smelled fresh and clean from the rain. There were puddles here and there on the stone flooring of the inn yard, itself leveled from the living rock of the plateau. The attendant now came forth from the shed. He had the saddle, the cloth and other gear over his shoulder.

"I trust the tarn gate is open," I said.

"Yes," he said.

"Good," I said.

"Obviously I was in a hurry. He was doubtless accustomed to impatient guests. On the other hand he would presumably not suspect in how great a hurry I actually was.

He then entered the cot, to ready the bird.

I went about the shed and cot, and crossed the yard, moving between buildings. I wanted to make certain that the gate was indeed open. It was. It had not been opened to facilitate my departure, of course, but, as a matter of course, during the day, for the convenience of new arrivals. The two parts, or leaves, of the gate, within their supporting framework, of course, opened inward. They were now fastened back. In opening, they swung back across the landing platform, which was a foot or two above the level of the height of the palisade. An extension of this platform, retractable when the gate was closed, and probably braced with hinged, diagonal drop supports, would extend beyond the palisade. There was a ramp leading up to the platform on the inside, on the right. The leaves of the gate were very large, each being some thirty feet in height and some twenty-five feet in width. They were light, however, for their size, as they consist mostly of frames supporting wire. Whereas these dimensions permit ordinary saddle tarns, war tarns, and such, an entry in flight, the landing platform is generally used. It is always used, of course, by draft tarns carrying tarn baskets. The draft tarn makes a hovering landing. As soon as it senses the basket touch the ground it alights to one side. The sloping ramp, of course, makes it easy to take the tarn basket, on its leather runners, no longer harnessed to the tarn, down to the yard. It is also convenient for discharging passengers, handling baggage, and such.

Not all tarn gates have this particular construction. In another common construction the two parts, or leaves, of the gate, within their supporting framework, lean back, at an angle of some twenty degrees. They are then slid back, in a frame, on rollers, each to its own side. This gives the effect of a door, opening to the sky. The structure supporting the gate, in such a case, with its beams, platforms, catwalks and mastlike timbers, is very sturdy. Narrow ladders, too, ascend it here and there, leading to its catwalks and platforms. Such a construction, of course, requires the more time-consuming, hovering landing of all birds, not simply draft tarns, carrying tarn baskets. It does, however, make the landing platform unnecessary. The construction of the Crooked Tarn, incidentally, was more typical of a military installation, in that it permitted the more rapid development and return of tarnsmen, coupled with the capacity to open and close the tarn gate in a matter of Ihn. The tarn gate's construction here suggested that the Crooked Tarn might not always have served as an inn. Probably at one time or another, before the founding of Ar's Station, it had served to garrison troops, perhaps concerned to monitor the more northern reaches of the Vosk Road. This was suggested, too, by its distance from the Vosk, which was approximately one hundred pasangs. The ordinary one-day march of the Gorean infantryman on a military road is thirty-five pasangs. The Crooked tarn, then, was almost exactly three days march from the river.

I loosened my blade in my scabbard and returned to the vicinity of the tarncot. The tarn was ready.

It was within the cot, tearing at a piece of meat, a haunch of tarsk, hung from a rope. The rope was some two inches thick. The suspension of the meat reminded me of the way peasant women sometimes cook roasts, tying them in a cord and dangling them before the fire, then spinning the meat from time to time. In this way, given the twisting and untwisting of the cord, the meat will cook rather evenly, for the most part untended, and without spit turning. The rope then, drawn tightly as it was, so tautly, so fiercely, toward the tarn, suddenly, a foot or so above the meat, snapped. The tarn then had the meat and the lower portion of the rope on the ground, the meat grasped in his talons, tearing it away from the bone.

I spun suddenly about, the sword half drawn.

The girl stopped, extremely frightened.

She put her hand before her mouth, the back of her hand toward her face. She stepped back, faltering, frightened.

She was slim, and extremely dark-haired, and very white-skinned. Her hair was drawn back behind her head and tied there with a yellow cord. Her breasts were bared. A black cord was knotted about her waist. Tucked over this cord in front was a long strip, some seven inches wide, of heavy, opaque, yellow cloth. It then passed under her body and was pulled up, snugly, and thrust over the cord in the back. The front and back ends of this cloth hung evenly, and fell about midway between her knees and ankles. the effect was much like that of the curla and charka, a portion of the garmenture, or livery, in which the wagon peoples of the south place most of their female slaves, save that the curla, the cord, was black and not red, and the chatka, the strip, was of cloth and yellow, not of black leather. She had nothing corresponding, of course, to the kalmak, or southern slave's brief, open vest of black leather, and the cord binding her hair was quite different from the koora, the red band of cloth commonly used to confine the hair of the southern slave. In all then, since she wore cloth and not leather, and less than the southern slave, her appearance, if anything, was even more slavelike than hers.

"Why are you not kneeling, I asked her, "and with your knees spread?" she was, after all, in the presence of a free man. Too, clad as she was, I assumed she must be a pleasure slave. Such kneel before men in the open-kneed position. She sank to her knees on the stone, and hastily spread them. The cloth looked well, fallen between her thighs, on the damp stone.

I looked upon her.

She was now in a position of subservience and respect, suitable for a woman before a man. I replaced the blade in the sheath.

She looked up at me, frightened.

I regarded her.

She had a beautiful face, exquisitely and sensitively feminine.

She lowered her eyes before my gaze.

She was slimly beautiful.

I regarded her garbing. It did afford her a nether closure, but it was, at least, a precarious one. In compensation it well bared her thighs.

"Are you frightened?" I asked.

"Yes," she whispered.

It seemed to me, interestingly enough, if I did not misread the matter, that she was extremely sensitive to, and timid concerning, the revealing nature of her garbing. I had the feeling, based on certain expressions and tiny movements, that she more than once resisted the impulse to huddle before me, her head down, covering herself with her hands. But she remained much as she was. Indeed, she even straightened herself, and lifted her body before me, timidly, as if for my consideration.

"What is wrong?" I asked.

It seemed she wanted to speak, but lacked the courage to do so.

"What is that in your hand?" I asked. She had something clutched in her right hand.

She opened her hand, holding it out a little, that I might see what she held. There, in the palm of her right hand, was a small sack, bulging, seemingly weighty for its size, from the look of it, a sack of coins. It was leather. It had strings.

"Move your hand," I said.

She did so.

"I see now why you were so frightened," I said. "You have stolen a sack of coins."

"No, no!" she said.

"Many masters," I said, "do not permit a slave to so much as touch money. To be sure, they might let her carry coins in an errand capsule, or an errand sack, tied about her neck, instructions to a vendor perhaps also contained within it, her hands braceleted behind her."

She looked up, frightened.

"And few masters, indeed, I assure you," I said, "even if so lenient as to let her venture to a market with a coin or two in her mouth, on a specific errand, would permit her to scamper about with a trove such as that which now seems to be in your keeping."

"You do not understand, she said.

"Kneel more straightly," I said.

She complied. I viewed her. I wondered what her master had paid for her. Probably a goodly price. She was worth such.

"How did you expect to escape the palisade?" I asked.

She looked at me, agonized.

"Were you approaching me, intentionally? I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"It was your intention, I gather," I said, "to attempt to bribe me, that I might abet your escape."

Tears sprang into her eyes.

"But do you think I would do other then to carry you into my own chains?" She trembled. She clutched the tiny sack.

"You have been caught," I said. "You are a caught slave. I will now turn you over to an attendant, for binding and holding, pending what punishments your master might see fit to visit upon you."

"You do not understand," she whispered.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"The coins are mine," she said.

"Surely you are an inn girl," I said, "though your collar is now off. "I do not have a collar, she said.

"That is surely an incredible oversight on the part of your master," I said. "I do not have a master, she whispered.

I looked at her, puzzled, such a woman.

"Am I truly pretty enough to be an inn girl? she said.

"Of course," I said, "and a superb one."

She looked up at me, elatedly, gratefully.

"Who is your master?" I asked.

"I do not have a master," she repeated.

"Do you seek to compound your crime with deceit," I said. "I am not a slave," she whispered. "I am a free woman. Oh!" I had seized her, half lifted her, and turned her from side to side, examining her slim, attractive thighs for the tiny brand which would confirm the matter. The most common brand sites, that on the left thigh, the favorite, and that on the right thigh, lacked slave marks. This determination, given the nature of her garmenture, could be instantly made. I then put her on her feet. "Oh! she said. She was not branded on the lower left abdomen. That is perhaps the third most favored brand site. I then checked several other brand sites, such as the insides of the forearms, the left side of the neck, behind and below the left ear, the backs of her legs, and her buttocks. I even examined the insteps of her left and right feet. Her body was not branded.

"I am a free woman," she said, so rudely handled.

"It seems you have not yet been branded," I said.

"I am not a slave," she said. "I am a free woman."

This did not seem to me possible, of course, clad as she was, in this place. "Do you not recognize me?" she asked.

"On your knees," I said.

Swiftly, she knelt.

"Don't you recognize me?" she asked.

I looked at her, puzzled. To be sure, something about her seemed familiar. "Crouch before me," she said.

I did so.

She put her hands before her face, the strings of the sack looped twice now about her left wrist. As she held her hands before her, rather to the bridge of the nose, they concealed the lower portions of her face, much as would a veil. "Ah!" I said. It was not so much at first, however, that I recalled her upper facial features, as hey would have appeared over the veil, if only because it had been very dark in the upper level when I had sought my space last night, as I recalled immediately, vividly, the appearance and positioning of her small hands. The small palms of them, with their delicate, extremely sensitive, exposed openness, faced outwards. It was in this way that I first realized who she was. During the night she had perhaps realized what she had done. Perhaps, then, she had sobbed with shame. Yet now, in the morning, presumably by now fully aware of what she was doing, she dared to again so hold her hands before a man. Even last night, once she must have realized how her hands were positioned, I recalled she had not quickly, shamed, turned them about, presenting their backs to me. One expects a Gorean woman, attempting to conceal her features from a man, to place her hands, cuplike, over her nose and mouth. As I have indicated, the lips and mouth of a female are commonly regarded as extremely sensuous features to a Gorean, hence the concern of many free women, particularly of high caste, in the high cities, to conceal them. A simple way to uncup the woman's hands is to take the small finger of her left hand in your right hand and pull that hand to the side, and then take the small finger of the right hand in your left hand, and pull that, too, to the side. This opens the barrier and reveals the mouth and lips of the woman to you. In this case, however, as she held her hands, with the palms facing me, I simply took her wrists and, gently, drew them apart. This exposed her lips and mouth to me. Her lips were slightly parted. She was breathing quickly.

"I remember," I said. Last night I had face-stripped her, before gagging her with her own veil. It had been very dark on the level last night, with only the tiny lamps far to the side and back, but I could see now, upon close examination, that it was indeed the same woman.

"You gagged me," she said. "You made it so that your will was imposed upon mine. I could not cry out or speak. You did not choose to permit it."

I nodded.

"And you tied me!" she said.

"Of course," I said. I had done so with her stockings, hand and foot. She looked at me, with awe in her eyes. Perhaps she had never been tied before. I considered her beauty. It seemed made for rope, and steel and leather. "Did you manage to free yourself?" I asked. I was curious to hear what she would respond.

"No," she said. "I was absolutely helpless. I could not begin to free myself. I was freed by an itinerant metal worker."

"I see," I said. "You knew I could not free myself!" she said, suddenly, reproachfully. "Yes, I said.

She shuddered. "Are slaves sometimes bound like that?" she asked.

"Sometimes," I said.

"You cut apart my clothing, and removed the hooks and fastenings from it," she said. "Yet you did not strip me. You left it lying upon me in such a way that my modesty might be protected. You even covered my head and face with my hoot, that I might not lie there face-stripped. Thank you."

I nodded.

"To be sure," she said, "the hood in such a placement functioned almost like a slave hood."

"True," I said.

"If I did not move I could not see," she said, "and if I did move I might well face-strip myself."

"The choice was yours," I said.

"And if I had as much as squirmed," she said, "I would have stripped myself." "Again," I said, "the choice was yours."

"As I am a free woman," she asked.

"Of course," I said.

"Had I been a slave girl," she said, "I gather I would not have had such choices."

"Probably not," I said. "The slave girl, normally, stays simply as men put her, for example, in such a case, presumably naked and bound."

"After you disarmed me, and made me helpless, what did you do with my dagger?" she asked.

"I destroyed it," I said, "and threw it out."

She nodded.

"Do you object?" I asked.

"No," she said.

"It could have gotten you killed," I said.

"I realize that now," she said. "It was terribly foolish to carry it." "True," I said.

"Beyond such matters," she said, "I should not have had such a thing. It was pretentious and wrong of me to have had it." "Perhaps you will avoid such mistakes in the future," I said. "I will," she said.

A woman's defenses are not steel, but such things as her helplessness and vulnerability, and her capacity to give astounding pleasure.

I stood up.

I glanced into the tarncot. The bird was finishing the meat, that which had earlier been suspended on the rope.

The attendant was near it, his hand on the harness.

I glanced back at the woman.

"I left you an amplitude of garments," I said, "though they would have to be redone, or resewn. They could, at least, have been clutched about you. How is it then, that you are dressed as you are?"

"It is appropriate for me," she said, "that I should have this to wear, or such things, or less, or perhaps nothing."

I did not respond.

She lowered her eyes. She seemed terribly embarrassed. Doubtless she was extremely sensitive about her degree of exposure. Yet she had herself arranged it so. She was extremely white-skinned. Doubtless this was in major part because she was very lightly complexioned genetically, but it was, too, in part, doubtless, because she would have commonly worn the ornate, heavy, stiff, cumbersome robes of concealment affected by most well-to-do Gorean women. The contrast between the robes of concealment and her present revelatory vestiture, more suitable for a property girl, must be particularly, and shockingly, dramatic to her, who knew her own antecedents and station. She must now be experiencing a wealth of new sensations, for example, kneeling on damp stone, and feeling the air upon her body.

I looked into the tarncot. The tarn was finished feeding now, and was being watered. The bone which had been within the meat lay to one side, with a tatter of rope, amidst straw. It was deeply scratched and furrowed. The bird thrust its beak into a tall, narrow vessel. It would draw water into that dreadful recess. It would then put its head back. Then, shaking its head, it would hasten the water down its throat.

"Ah," I said, suddenly bethinking myself of properties, "though you are a free woman I have you on your knees before me, as though you might be a slave. How rude! How boorish of me! I am sorry. Forgive me, Lady." I hastened to lift her to her feet.

"No," she said, quickly, again, frightened, kneeling.

I stepped back, puzzled.

"It is here that I belong," she said, "on my knees, before a man such as you." "I do not understand," I said.

"You disarmed me," she said. "You gagged me. You made me helpless, putting me in a trussing suitable for a slave. You pulled my hood down about my face. You made it so I could not see without risking my own face-stripping. You made my garments such that they were mere covers, strips and pieces, such that I dared not move, lest I be lying naked in a public place, such, too, that they might be lifted from me at a man's pleasure."

"I had not found you pleasing," I explained to her.

"It is my hope that in the future," she said, "I may be found more pleasing." "The tarn is ready," said the attendant. He led it from the cot, it stalking beside him, its head moving about, its eyes round, bright and sharp.

The woman, at the sight of the bird, shrank back, frightened.

"Farewell, free woman," I said.

"No," she said. "Please!"

"Take it to the tarn gate," I said. It was there that I should mount. "Please!" said the free woman.

The attendant led the bird about the cot and shed, toward the tarn gate. I followed him. There he led the bird up the ramp to the landing platform. Again I followed him. From this height I could see the countryside for pasangs about. The air was exhilarating. The tarn was excited. It opened its wings. The beams of the platform were very sturdy. The attendant untied the mounting ladder at the saddle.

I think it must have taken the girl great courage to follow me up the ramp, onto the landing platform, in the vicinity of that winged monster.

When I turned about, to regard her, she knelt swiftly, spreading her knees. It was in this fashion that I had had her kneel earlier, in the inn yard, before me, when I had assumed she was slave.

"Farewell," I said.

"No," she said. "Take me with you!"

"What?" I said.

"I have sold my things," she said. " I have now no more than what you see upon me, two slender black cords, and a strip of yellow cloth, and these coins!" She held them out.

"The purse is heavy," I said. "Buy what you need with it."

"I will give you them all," she said. "Take me with you!"

"I do not understand," I said.

"You have conquered me," she said. "You have taught me that I am a female!" I regarded her. She did look well on her knees.

"Oh, this did not just happen," she said. "I have known this about myself for years. I fought it for years. And now I surrender!"

"Completely, and without reservation?" I inquired.

"Yes!" she said. "Yes!"

"I see," I said.

"I am tired of living a lie," she said. "I am feminine, truly." "I see," I said.

"I belong to men such as you," she said.

That did not seem to me unlikely.

"Who are you?" I asked.

"I am Phoebe, Lady of Telnus," she said.

I smiled inwardly. Cosian beauties make excellent slaves. They are not unusual in Port Kar.

"That is a pretty name," I said.

"Take me with you!" she said. "I will pay!"

"In the direction I ride," I said, "there lies danger."

"I accept the risks," she said.

"Even as you are?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "yes!"

To be sure, the risks were doubtless less for women than for men, for the dangers would threaten primarily from men, and men would know what to do with women. Perhaps the worst that might happen to her would be that she would find herself in the chains of a slave, and laboring, under whips, as a female beast of burden. To be sure, she did face danger, as she was free. Free women, being persons, are far more likely to be killed then slaves, who are animals. Sackers, for example, particularly when the blood lust has passed from them, would not be likely to slay slaves, assuming they are docile and desperately concerned to be totally pleasing, any more than kaiila. They would simply appropriate them for their own.

"I do not need a slave at present," I said. Such did not accord with the first portion of my plan for entering Ar's Station.

"Take me as your servant," she begged.

"My servant?" I asked, looking upon the slim, kneeling, half-naked beauty. "Yes!" she said.

"The tarn is ready," said the attendant.

"I beg female fulfillment!" she said.

"You will not receive full female fulfillment as a mere servant," I said. Such is not totally owned.

"Take me then as a slave!" she said.

"I do not need a slave at present," I said.

"Take me then as a servant," she said. She held out the coins. "I will pay you to do so."

I considered her, her needs, her beauty, her desperation.

"And if I server well," she said, "perhaps later I will prove worthy of the collar.

She lifted the coins higher, pleadingly.

"What sort of servant is it which you wish to be?" I asked.

"Whatever sort of servant you desire," she said.

"A service without restriction, or reservation?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "such a servant!"

"A full servant?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "a full servant!"

"It is only as such a servant that I would consider taking you," I said. "Take me as a full servant," she said.

"In whose name do you ask this?" I asked.

"In the name of all women such as I, and all men such as you," she said. "You are but a hair's breadth from slavery," I said.

"It is my hope that you will eventually permit me to traverse that hair's breath," she said.

The tarn opened and closed its wings, and she lowered her head, turning it to the side, and shrank down, frightened, cringing, so low that her head was but inches from the ground. She was terrified of the bird.

I considered the mounting ladder.

"Take me with you," she begged, lifting her head.

I saw the desperation in her.

"I want to be myself," she said, "what I really am!"

"Do you know what you are asking?" I asked.

She shuddered.

"Where I am going," I said, "men do not compromise with females." She looked up at me, trembling.

"And clad as you are," I said, "I assure you men will see you as a female." "It is what I am," she said.

"Do you understand the nature of such men?" I asked.

"I do not desire a relationship with any other sort of man, she said. "Such men prefer slaves," I said.

"I will serve them as such!" she said.

The tarn moved again, shifting about, and she cried out, frightened, again shrinking small.

How terrified she was of the tarn!

She was very beautiful, so slim and piteous, kneeling on the heavy beams of the platform.

"No slave need I now," I said.

"Take me then now only as your servant, she said.

"My full servant?" I smiled.

"Yes," she said. "Then afterwards do with me what you will."

"You tempt me," I said. "You are a beautiful female, one worthy to be sold from a slave block."

"Let me buy my servitude," she said.

"I hesitate to carry a free woman into danger," I said.

"You would surely hesitate less," she said, "if I were a captive, or servant." "True," I said. "Them," said she, lifting the coins, "let me buy my captivity, and servitude."

I took the coins from her, and out them in my pouch. "Stand," I said. "Put your head back. Open your mouth, widely."

I determined in a moment or two that she was not concealing any small coins or tiny jewels in her nostrils, her ears, her hair or mouth. I then conducted her by the arm to the side of the threshold of the tarn gate and stood her there, her feet well back, her arms extended, the palms of her hands leaning against the wood. There was nothing concealed beneath her arms, as was easy to determine, she in this position. I lifted her feet one at a time, checking the insteps and between the toes for any taped materials. I then examined the rest of her body. "Oh!" she said. "Oh!" I then pulled the cloth up again, snugly, as it had been. I then pulled her back from the side of the gate, standing her again on her feet.

She looked up at me, reproachfully.

"it would appear that you are coinless," I said.

"I am," she said.

"Put out your hands," I said.

She did so, and cried out, suddenly, startled, as slave bracelets danced upon her wrists.

She lifted her wrists before her, as if not understanding how they could be so suddenly clasped in steel.

"You are now my captive," I told her, "and I am going to keep you, for a time, though for perhaps no more than a few Ehn, as merely my servant, though a full servant. At the end of that time, however long I choose for it to be, I will do with you as I wish, perhaps making you a slave, perhaps giving you to another, perhaps selling you into slavery, whatever I please."

She looked at me, frightened.

"Do you understand?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

I then thrust her, not gently, toward the tarn, until she stood near the foot of the mounting ladder, it dangling from the saddle.

There, in the proximity of the winged giant, she trembled.

"Hold still," I said. I then, with a piece of scarflike cloth taken from my pouch, a wind veil, sometimes bound across the mouth and nostrils of a tarnsman, usually at high altitudes, blindfolded her. A great many women, particularly the most sensitive and intelligent among them, fear tarns greatly. It is not unusual for them to become hysterical in their vicinity. It is not uncommon then for the tarnsman to hood or blindfold them. This aids in their control and management. Too, of course, if the woman is a captive, or slave, one may not wish her to understand where she is, or be able to retrace her route, or know where she is being taken. It is enough for her to know, when the blindfold or hood is removed, that she is in perfect custody. Sometimes a woman does not learn for weeks, sometimes until, say, the very night of her sale, where she is, in what city she finds herself.

"I can't see!" she said.

"That is the purpose of a blindfold," I said.

"You could punish me, couldn't you?" she said.

"Yes," I said.

"And you would, wouldn't you?" she said.

"Yes," I said.

I then put her on my shoulder, her head to the rear, as a slave is carried, and mounted the ladder. I put her before me on the saddle. She grasped the pommel desperately. At the sides of the saddle there are various rings, and straps, which may be used in fastening things to it, or across it. Needless to say, such may be used to fasten females in place. Lady Phoebe of Telnus was, of course, a free woman, and though she was a capture, in a sense, she had a special status with me. I did not, thus, throw her across the saddle, on her belly, or back, fastening her there in utter helplessness as I might have a common capture. I did, however, loop a left strap about her right wrist, and tie it back to its ring, and loop a right strap on her right wrist, tying it back to its ring. In this way, as she wore slave bracelets, although she might slip, she could not fall, and her hands would be kept in the vicinity of the pommel. I then put the safety strap about myself, and buckled it shut.

Once before, long ago, in the vicinity of the city of Ar, I had been lax in doing that. It had been fortunate that I had survived. It was a precaution which, if time permitted, I had seldom neglected thereafter. I thought of lithe, sinuous, olive-skinned Talena, the daughter of Marlenus of Ar until disowned, she having given evidence that she was a slave. After she had been returned to Ar by Samos, of Port Kar, into whose chains she had fallen, Marlenus, shamed, had had her sequestered, in the Central Cylinder. Now, in his absence, he having vanished in the Voltai Mountains, on a punitive raid against the tarnsmen of Treve, it seemed her fortunes were recovering. She had appeared at public functions. Her palanquin was now again seen abroad in the streets. Doubtless she was once again becoming proud and haughty. I had not seen the slave in her. On the other hand, Rask of Treve, and others, had. I, too, now, I suspected, might be more perceptive. Though she had been the daughter of a Ubar, and now, again, it seemed, stood high in Ar, she was, after all, only a female. I wondered what she might look like, naked and in chains, or writhing at my feet, trying to interest me.

"Oh!" said Lady Phoebe, softly.

"You are slim," I said, "but you are well curved."

"Thank you," she said.

"It is pleasant to caress you," I said.

She was silent.

"Do you object?" I asked.

"No," she said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"I am a full servant," she said.

Her body was unusually sensitive for that of a free woman. It was not slave, of course, but then she was not a slave. Such transformation in her, of course, might easily come with the collar, and discipline.

I again, briefly, considered the proud, haughty Talena, who had been the daughter of a Ubar, and who now, again, it seemed, stood high in Ar. Yes, she would, I thought, considering the matter carefully, look well in chains, or writhing at my feet, trying to interest me. Too, I recalled she had been contemptuous of me, and haughty and cruel to me, in Port Kar, scorning even the memory of my love, when I had been paralyzed, helpless to move from a chair, the victim of the poison of Sullius Maximus, once one of the five Ubars of Port Kar, before the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains. I wondered if she thought that I was still in Port Kar, perhaps huddled before a fire in that same chair, an invalid, its prisoner. But I had recovered, fully, receiving even the antidote for the poison of Torvaldsland. I suspected, however, she might have seen me from her palanquin in Ar. The following night an attempt had been made on my life in the Tunnels, one of the slave brothels of Ludmilla, from which the street called the Alley of the Slave Brothels of Ludmilla is named. Too, I had seen evidence near Brundisium that she was guilty of treason against Ar.

"Oh!" said Lady Phoebe.

"Ah, yes, Talena, I thought. Yes, I thought, now, upon reflection, that there had been a slave in her. Perhaps I had been a fool to let it get away. Yes, she might make an interesting slave, perhaps a low slave. Then I dismissed thoughts of her from my mind.

"Ohh!" gasped Lady Phoebe, crying out in the blindfold, squirming on the saddle before me. I heard the tiny sounds of the linkage of the slave bracelets. Her white thighs contrasted nicely with the smooth, dark, glossy leather. Sometimes they were flattened against the leather, as though gripping it for dear life, and, at other times, they rubbed, and squirmed, and moved helplessly, piteously, against it. I considered the glossiness of the saddle leather. I did not think she was the first woman who had been carried on it, or so handled. Her knees suddenly bent and she almost climbed up, about the pommel. I wondered if I should have fastened her ankles to rings, holding her thighs down and apart, on the saddle, forcing her to endure the sensations, for the most part relieflessly, within physical-restraint limits of my choosing.

"Oh, ohh," she Lady Phoebe.

"Be silent," I said to her.

"You have stopped!" she whispered.

"Be silent," I said. Had she been a slave, and not a free woman, this causing of the repetition of a command might have earned her a beating.

The attendant looked about. There was the sound of some commotion coming from the vicinity of the court.

"Here, my good fellow," I said to him.

"My thank, tarnsman!" he cried, not having expected a gratuity of such size. I was reasonably confident as to what the commotion might well be about, and so I thought I might as well take my leave of the Crooked Tarn. "You are generous, indeed, tarnsman," said the attendant, backing away now. It would scarcely do to be struck or swept from the platform to the moat some seventy or eighty feet below, particularly as one had just made an entire silver tarsk. Giving such a coin, of course, was, in its way, I suppose, a bit of braggadocio on my part, something of a gesture or flourish. On the other hand, I would not really miss it that much as I had extracted it from among the coins I had taken from the wallet of the fellow I had left in the tub, in the baths, the burly fellow who was of the company of Artemidorus.

I drew up the mounting ladder and secured it at the side of the saddle. The shouting, angry shouts, a tumult almost, was clearer now. Four or five fellows must have been involved. There were, too, if I am not mistaken, the sounds of blows, or, at least, sudden grunts and cries of pain.

I moved the harness, drawing the straps evenly, and the bird, anticipatory, alerted, stalked to the front edge of the landing platform, outside the portal of the tarn gate. From such a platform the bird, with a single snap of its wings, addressing itself to flight, is immediately airborne.

"Hold tightly," I told my servant.

She moaned. She clutched the pommel with all her strength.

"There is a fellow back there," said the attendant. "He is naked! He is fighting!"

"Oh?" I said.

"Yes!" he said.

"Interesting," I said.

"He has probably not paid his bills, and is trying to escape," speculated the attendant. To be sure, he did not seem eager to rush down and join the fray. "Disgusting," I said.

I myself had paid my bills properly before leaving the Crooked Tarn. It is the thing to do. Inns, after all, if no one paid their bills, would have a difficult time making a go of it. It is not really practical to hold every fellow for ransom, or, every lady for redemption. This is not to deny that some outlying Gorean inns, particularly where female travelers are concerned, function as little more than slave traps, an arrangement usually being in effect with a local slaver.

"He seems to be trying to come in this direction," said the attendant. "Interesting," I said.

If the fellow was really trying to escape without paying his bills, and this was a peculiar direction for him to be coming if that was the case, then I could hardly blame him. The prices at the Crooked Tarn were indeed outrageous. My own bill, for example, all told, had come to nineteen copper tarsks, and a tarsk bit, the latter for the use of the Lady Temione last night. The itemization of that bill, frightful to contemplate, had been ten for lodging, two for the bath and supplies, two for blankets, five for bread, paga and porridge, and the tarsk bit for the use of the Lady Temione, the only particular on the bill which might have been argued as within reason. I had done without breakfast this morning primarily to save time, but it could also have been done, and I think legitimately, in protest over the prices of the Crooked Tarn. Fortunately I had some dried tarsk strips in my pack. I did not know if the Lady Phoebe would find these appealing or not but she would learn to eat them. Too, she would learn to take them in her mouth from my hand. This would help her to learn that she was now dependent on men for her food.

"How is our friend doing now?" I asked.

"He is down! They have him. No! He is up!" reported the attendant. "Hah! Now they have a chain on him!"

"I wish you well," I said to the attendant. I had thought I might wait on the platform in case the fellow managed to reach it, and then take flight, but it did not seem now that he would get this far, at least this morning.

"I wish you well!" called that attendant, clinging then to a stanchion of the tarn gate.

I drew back, decisively, on the one-strap, and the tarn screamed and smote the air with its wings, and, my servant crying out in terror and clutching the pommel, was aflight!

Those who are horsemen know the exhilaration of riding, the marvelous animal, its strength, its pacings, its speed, its responsiveness, how one seems augmented by its power, how one can feel it, and its breathing, the movements of its body, sensing even the blows of its hoofs in the turf. It is little wonder that peoples knowing not the horse fled in terror when they first encountered riders, taking the rider and his mount for one thing, something half animal, half human, an awesome, unbelievably swift, gigantic, armed chimera, something that could not be outrun, that seemed to fly upon the earth, that seemed tireless, something irresistible, merciless and relentless to which it seemed the world must rightfully belong.

To such initial glimpses, fraught with fear, might harken the stories of the centaur, half man, half horse. And the legendary nature of the centaur, its appetites, its rapacity and power, harken back, too, perhaps, in the canny ways in which half-forgotten historical fact colors the fancies of tamer times, to the first perceptions of the horseman, and his ways, among those afoot. And even later, when the separation of man and mount became clearly understood, the fear of the horseman, and his ways, would abide. Fortunate that they lingered largely on the fringes of civilization. And yet, how often, as with the Hyksos, in Egypt, did they ride in from the desert like a storm, their horses among the barley. The mystique of the rider lingered unquestioned for centuries. Alexander would turn cavalry into a decisive arm. Centuries later the stirrup and barbarian lancers would crush the world's most successful civilization. The very word for «Knight» in German is «Ritter», which, literally, means "Rider." The ascendancy of the cavalry would remain unchallenged until the achievement of revolutions in infantry tactics and missile power, such things as the coming of the massed pikes, and the flighted clothyard shafts of a dozen fields. Something of the same joy of the rider, and mystique of the rider, exists on Gor in connection with the tarn as existed on Earth in connection with the horse. For example, if you have thrilled to the movements and power of a fine steed, you have some conception of what it is to be aflight on tarnback. There is the wind, the sense of the beast, the speed, the movements, now in all dimensions, the climb, the dive, soaring, turning, all in the freedom of the sky! There is here, too, a oneness of man and beast. There is even the legend of the tarntauros, or creature half man, and half tarn, which in Gorean myth, plays a similar, one might even say, equivalent, role to that of the centaur in the myths of Earth. Too, the tarnsman retains something of the glamour which on Earth attached to the horseman, particularly so as the technology laws of the Priest-Kings, remote, mysterious masters of Gor, preclude the mechanization of transportation. The togetherness of organic life, as in the relationship of man and mount, a symbiotic harmony, remains in effect on Gor.

I was aflight!

For a time I muchly gave the bird its head, and then, some pasangs out, drew it about, to sweep the sky in a vast circle, this centering about the inn, far below.

"You will caress me again, will you not?" asked my servant.

"Perhaps," I said, "if you beg it."

"I beg it!" she said.

"Hold to the pommel, tightly," I said.

She did so.

I would have time for her later. This was not the moment.

When one first ascends a new mount, or, indeed, masters a new woman, it is well to put them through their paces, to see what they can do, to see what they are like. In this case of the tarn one's very life can depend on such things as understanding its speed, its rate of climb, the sharpness of its turns, and so on.

My lovely, half-naked, blindfolded servant cried out, flung back, her arms almost straight, her small hands, the wrists braceleted closely together, gripping the pommel.

The bird hovered well, arrested in flight.

The girl gasped and cried out again, in fear, her back almost horizontal as the tarn climbed. The ascent was steep and swift. The air grew cold. Such a maneuver is often useful. More than once it had carried me above adversaries, their attack speed prohibiting so swift an adjustment in their trajectory. The girl clung desperately to the pommel. She seemed very frightened, for some reason. Too, now, clad as she was, in what was, in effect, no more than a curla and chatka, fit garments for a slave, not a free woman, she must be very cold. Doubtless she was in extreme discomfort. In a few Ehn I had established the approximate ceiling of the bird. The earth seemed far below. I could see the surface of a lake, like a shimmering puddle, to my right. I had not even hitherto known it was there. On the left, far below, I could see the Vosk Road, like a bright thread in the sun. "Please, let us go down. Let us stop!" she wept.

"You are braceleted," I told her. "Such matters are no longer within your control."

"Let us go down!" she wept.

"Are you cold?" I asked.

"Yes!" she wept. "But I am frightened, too! We are high, are we not? "Yes," I said.

"Please, let us go down!" she begged.

"It was my mistake to let you ride in such honor," I told her. "It is more appropriate for a woman on tarnback to ride differently, to be tied across the saddle on her back or belly, or, say, if she is one of a brace, perhaps wrist-tied to one end of a shared rope thrown over the saddle, or, say, tied to a ring at the side, this, too, providing a balance with the other captive. "I am a free woman," she said. "Surely you would not dare to tie me so." "I would think little of it," I informed her.

She shuddered, though whether with the thought of this restraint which I might, if I wished, impose upon her, or of cold, I do not know.

"Please, let us go down," she said.

"What does your will mean?" I asked.

"Apparently it means nothing," she said.

"Hold tightly, woman," I said.

"'Woman'?" she said. Then she screamed, a long, wild, wailing scream, as the tarn, responding to the four-strap, began a sudden, precipitous descent. With one hand I kept her on the saddle. Her hair flew above us, trailing like a flag. The tarn dove well. The swiftness of that descent is incredible. Its force, even arrested at the last moment, can break the back of a full-grown tabuk. I let the bird come within fifty yards of the earth before I reined back, and it swooped, low, leveling, over the grass.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!" she begged. "What are we doing! Where are we?" "We are within a man's height of the ground," I said. In such flight one can use the screening of a forest or of low hills, even buildings, to make an approach to an objective. Too, of course, lower flight, in general, reduces the possibilities of sightings.

"We are going too swiftly!" she said. "Please, stop!"

"It is better that you are blindfolded," I said.

"What are you going to do?" she cried.

"One must try out a tarn," I said.

"Monster!" she wept.

"Hold tightly," I said.

She moaned. She hunched over the pommel, clinging to it, sobbing.

She screamed, suddenly, flung to the left, as I drew the two-strap and three-strap at the same time, the tarn veering to the right. It was responsive. I then tested it in a dozen ways, to speeds, to flights, to turns. The girl was beside herself with fear. She sobbed, moaned, gasped, cried out, whimpered, and screamed, in turn, in the darkness of the blindfold, clutching the pommel, as the bird, obedient to the obligations of the harness, bent itself to his maneuvers. I was well satisfied. It was a warrior's mount, indeed.

"Please, please," wept the girl.

I had now returned the tarn to the vicinity of the Crooked Tarn.

I then made three passes near the Crooked Tarn, two over the palisade, over the tarn wire, and a third near its bridge and gate.

In the first pass I hovered the bird for a time, some fifty yards over a portion of the court on the top of the palisaded plateau, one rather behind and to the left of the main inn buildings, as one would face them, entering. There, sitting, heavily chained to a sleen ring, its plate bolted into the stone, wrists and ankles, fastened quite closely to it, was a large, naked, bearded man, the burly fellow. I gathered he had not had the means wherewith to pay his bill. Seeing me, he seemed somehow agitated, even extremely so. He could do little more, however, than crouch, struggling, and pulling, at the ring, his head back, his face upward. He was howling something, but I could not well hear what he said. It is perhaps just as well. I did wave the pouch on its strap to him, cheerily, before proceeding onward, to make the second pass. He did not seem pleased with matters. I supposed I could not, in fairness, blame him. In my second pass I hovered near the front of the inn building on the left, as one would enter. It was there that several sets of chains had enjoyed the possession of fair occupants, whose names, as I had learned in the paga room, all from the Lady Temione, were Rimice, Klio and Liomache, all from Cos, Elene, from Tyros, and Amina, a citizeness of Venna. These chains were now empty. I had taken the liberty early this morning, acting through my agent, a sutler, a splendid, if somewhat put-upon and long-suffering chap, whose name was Ephialtes, to redeem them all, my expenses in the matter, 182 C.T. for the five of them, being considerably defrayed by means of the loot I had acquired from the gang of Andron the evening before.

Doubtless they were initially delighted to find that they had been redeemed. Perhaps they had laughed and clapped their hands with joy. Their delight, however, had doubtless been tempered somewhat by finding their necks were being put in iron collars, collars on a chain. As I briefly hovered there, over the court, I could see, too, partly to my irritation, and partly to my amusement, to one side, some additional evidence of the business acumen of the keeper. He had not simply permitted the women to be redeemed. He had gotten something of value from them, perhaps as a penalty fee, or as something in the way of compensation for the inconvenience they had caused him, over and above the amount of their unpaid bills. There, to one side, on a rack, long and lovely, hung pelts of female hair. Such, as I have mentioned, particularly in time of siege, though there is always a market for it on Gor, is highly prized for the making of catapult ropes. I had little doubt that the fellow, given my suppositions as to his probably thoroughness in such matters, would not even have had the graciousness to shear the heads of the ladies. In shearing, you see, one might lose a fifth of a hort or so of hair. doubtless he had had their heads shaved. Many girls will strive hard to please, for example, to be permitted to keep their hair, or to be permitted to let it grow out again. There were six pelts on the rack. The sixth was a lengthy and lovely auburn. I had also, by means of Ephialtes, redeemed Lady Temione. Her redemption had cost me a silver tarsk, five. This was expensive, but she would look well on her knees, collared. All told then, at the exchange rate of 10 °C.T. per silver tarsk, the women had cost me two silver tarsk, 87 C.T. These women were now, if all had gone well, on their way to Ar's Station, probably chained behind, and attached to, the wagon of Ephialtes. The shaving of their heads would doubtless lower their value, but I did not object, because I was not particularly concerned with whether I made a profit on them or not. That was not their essential role in my plans. Indeed, if their heads were shaved, that might be just as well. That might suggest that they had come into the keeping of an exploitable fellow, one in desperate need of funds.

On the third flight in the vicinity of the inn I examined, hovering briefly, the area near the foot of the plateau, by the bridge. There were still some wagons there. I was particularly interested in one. At the side of it now, a stocky blond woman was kneeling. She was naked. A heavy chain was on her neck. It went back, under the wagon, where it was fastened. A fellow stood before her, holding a whip. I saw her put down her head, frightened, and kiss his feet. She was not the slender, dark-haired slave beauty who had been under the wagon last night, huddling in the tarpaulin, in the storm.

That one Ephialtes, if all had gone well, had purchased this morning. She would be made first girl over the coffle of "free women," the Lady Temione, and the others, that she might teach them something of discipline and the basic arts of giving pleasure to men, lessons which might soon make a serious difference not only with respect to the quality of their lives, but to the very existence of those lives, as well.

The canvas covering of the wagon had been drawn back, probably to air the contents from the dampness of the storm. No one seemed to be within the wagon, or about it, other than the pair at the side of it. I had little doubt, accordingly, that the blond woman kneeling before the fellow with the whip was his free companion, or former free companion. The girl who had been beneath the wagon last night, had been formerly purchased, and primarily purchased, I had suspected, in an attempt, I thought, by the fellow to encourage his companion to take her relationship with him more seriously. She had apparently done so, at least to the extent of treating the slave with great cruelty. But now the slave was gone, and there was a chain on her neck. He had apparently now gone to the heart of the matter. If she were still his free companion, it seemed she would now be kept in the modality of bondage, but perhaps she was now only his former free companion, and had been reduced to actual bondage, now being subject to purchase by anyone. I recalled how she had bent in terror to kiss his feet. There was no doubt that she would now take her relationship to him seriously.

It is difficult not to do so when one is owned, and subject to the whip. The woman would now discover that her companion, or former companion, a fellow perhaps hitherto taken somewhat too lightly, one perhaps hitherto accorded insufficient attention and respect, one perhaps hitherto neglected and ignored, even despised and scorned, was indeed a man, and one who now would see to it that she served him well, one who would now own and command her, one who would summon forth the woman in her, and claim from her, and receive from her, the total entitlements of the master.

I then turned the tarn, and brought it to a suitable cruising altitude. Below me now lay the Vosk Road, and we flew north. It would take a regiment of Gorean infantry, in normal marches, given time for the fortification of a camp in the late afternoons, and so on, three days to reach Ar's Station from the Crooked Tarn. I supposed that the wagon of Ephialtes, particularly if he let the girls ride, as he probably would, later, would make the same time. The common marches of Gorean infantrymen, for example, are usually accompanied by wagons, those of their supply train, proper, and vehicles such as those of sutlers and masters of camp slaves.

I did not know what the name of the girl whom I had used under the wagon last night had been. It did not really matter, as she was a slave. I had not bothered to inquire. Now, however, if I were to own her, I should probably give her a name. It is better, I think, for a girl to have some name to answer to. It is more convenient, too, for the master, I think, to give her a name. It is thus, for example, easier to refer to her, and to summon her and command her. Too, that she has a name put on her by your power, and that she understands the meaning of this, has a good effect on her. "Who obeys?" "Tina obey!" I suppose, too, one has upon occasion seen a lovely woman and wished that she might have a certain name, for one might think that an excellent name for her. If she is a slave, of course, and one owns her, one can give her any name of one's choosing, indeed, perhaps that very name which is, at least in your opinion, ideal for her. Too, she might beg a name she has always wanted, and, if it is acceptable to the master, he might put it upon her. Names, too, of course, may be used to humble and punish a woman, and such names, humbling names, and punishing names, are as much real names as the most beautiful of names. That is, then, who she is. Perhaps in the future she will try much harder to be pleasing, that she might be given a better name. I considered the lovely girl whom I had enjoyed last night under the wagon, in the storm. I thought she looked rather like a "Liadne." That was a beautiful name. I thought I would give it to her. I decided upon it. She was now, although she did not yet know it, Liadne.

I looked down at the Vosk Road, below. There were fewer refugees on it now than last night. Perhaps many had passed through the area last night. Perhaps now, for most practical purposes, the route was cut off.

My attention was then drawn to the girl on the saddle before me. She was bent low, cowering over the pommel, sobbing, grasping it with both hands. She had had a very difficult time of it. There was no gainsaying that. I took her by the hair and straightened her, and, turning her head, twisting her body, looked upon her. The blindfold was still well in place. She moaned. Her cheeks, under the dampened blindfold, were run with tears. These, too, had run upon her body. I then turned her about again.

We flew northward, in silence.

She sobbed.

I considered feeling pity for her, and then dismissed the thought, for it was weakness. She was a woman. Her wrists, too, were in my bracelets.

We flew further, in silence.

She wept.

I saw that she, though slender, was well curved, and beautiful.

"You may beg," I informed her. "What?" she said.

"You may beg to be caressed," I said.

"You're mad," she said.

"Is it your intention to be difficult?" I asked.

"Do not beat me," she said.

"You may now beg to be caressed," I told her.

"Have I fallen into the hands of a monster?" she cried.

She was a legally free woman, but she was now before me, half naked, blindfolded and braceleted, my captive and servant. Indeed, she had even purchased her captivity and servitude. I wondered if she regretted what she had done. She now, at any rate, understood it more clearly.

"Beg," I said.

"I am not in the mood," she cried.

I laughed. How amusing are free woman! Slaves learn to be in the «mood» instantaneously, at so little as a glance or a snapping of the fingers, and a pointing to the floor.

"Please," she said. "please!"

"Beg," I said.

"I beg to be caressed," she said, weeping.

I then began to caress her, she before me, weeping, trying to resist, captive and servant, clinging to the pommel.

"Monster," she moaned. "Monster." Then she sobbed, suddenly, partly with surprise, partly with sensation.

I chuckled. Her legs looked well, split, squirming, over the glossy saddle. "Monster!" she wept, her head back.

Her hands jerked, the fingers moving. She could not reach me. I heard the small sounds of the links, jerking taut, then relaxing, then jerking taut again, joining the bracelets.

"Perhaps you are now more in the mood?" I asked.

"Do not stop!" she begged.

"And what shall you call me?" I wondered.

"Oh," she moaned. "Ohhh!"

"Surely you are curious to know what you should call me," I speculated. "Yes!" she cried. "Yes! Yes! What shall I call you? Oh! Oh!"

"You may call me "master, " I said. "Yes, Master!" she cried.

I then held her still, trying to calm her for a time.

"I called you Master!" she cried. "Am I yet legally free?"

"Yes," I said, "but I think it will be well for you to accustom yourself to calling free men Master."

"Yes!" she said.

I decided that I would not yet grant her the collar, ripe for it though she might be. She was a free woman. I would make her wait longer, in frustration, for it.

"Please touch me again," she begged.

"You liked it?" I asked.

"I have now felt it," she said. "I now desperately need it."

"Even to the surrender of all you are, and have been?" I asked.

"You have tried out your tarn," she said. "Now, try me out!"

I regarded her. I thought she would look well, naked, tied absolutely helplessly, on her back or belly, over the saddle of the tarn.

"Master?" she asked.

It was a fitting tie for such as she.

"Perhaps later," I said.

I then folded my cloak about her, to protect her from the wind.

We continued northward.

9 The Camp of Cos

"Who is it?" she asked, kneeling in the darkness of the tiny tent, the large sack covering most of her body.

"It is I," I said, reassuring her.

I crouched beside her and unfastened the drawstrings of the sack which I had tied under her body and about her thighs, to hold it on her. I then pulled it from her and unbraceleted her hands from behind her back.

"Were you successful?" she asked, shaking her head, loosening her hair. "Cook," I said.

I then sat, cross-legged, in the tiny tent. We were just within the fringes of the Cosian camp. There were, in this vicinity, clouds of tiny tents and shelters, some of them belonging to soldiers, most to civilians, sutlers, merchants, slavers, and such. The nearest investment trench was a half pasang away. One could see the walls of Ar's Station from where we were. The girl busied herself, preparing food. It seemed peaceful here. It was difficult to believe that fighting took place daily in the vicinity of the walls, indeed, sometimes at night.

"There is little but porridge," she said.

I nodded.

There would be even less, I supposed, in most homes in Ar's Station.

"Have you heard anything?" she asked. She was putting twigs and leaves in a small pit outside the entrance of the tent.

"It is said the city will soon fall," I said.

"The defenses cannot be long maintained?" she asked.

"It is thought not," I said.

"You wish to gain entrance to the city," she said.

"Yes," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"I have business there," I said.

"Your accent is not of Ar," she said.

"I would hope not, in this camp," I smiled.

She used a tiny fire maker and set fire to the leaves and twigs. She blew on the small flame, encouraging it.

We could smell cooking fires about. It was near dusk.

"Your plans have not proceeded as you hoped?" she asked.

"I do not complain," I said. "Things might have proceeded better than they have, but they have gone much as I expected they would.

She added sticks to the small flame.

The first portion of my plan had been to reach Ar's Station as swiftly as possible, which meant, in effect, to do so on tarnback, and in such a way as to gain immunity from the attentions of Cosian tarn patrols. That I had managed. The patrols, which were thick in the vicinity, given my habiliments and accouterments, and my brandished pouch, presumably a diplomatic one, had taken me for a courier. Also, although I had not planned it, the presence of the blindfolded, braceleted girl before me, apparently a capture, presumably picked up enroute, and doubtless soon to be collared, added to the effect. The ears of the delicate Phoebe must have burned as she heard the snapping of wings near us and the shouting of ribald, raucous jests, of which her beauty and its probably disposition were the subject. At times I had even received an escort, which happily, at their patrol limits, had been suspended.

I had hoped, of course, somehow, ideally, to be able to enter Ar's Station on tarnback. As I had feared, however, this had not been possible. Even my garb as a courier had not permitted me access to the airspace over Ar's Station. I had been immediately pursued and fired upon by flights of Cosian tarnsmen. I had made the attempt in the afternoon and again in the evening of the first day I had arrived in the vicinity of Ar's Station. Had it not been for the strength of the bird and my start I might have been downed over the city. I had escaped the second time only with considerable difficulty, by taking my way over the citadel and harbor, past the chained rafts closing the harbor, and across the Vosk itself, eluding my pursuers only after a long run, under the cover of darkness.

In these attempts I had, of course, not taken Phoebe. I had no wish to risk a quarrel's penetrating that beauty, which properly refined and improved, would, in my opinion, not have shamed even the central block of the Curulean. Too, her weight, slight as it was, might have made the difference between falling to pursuers and eluding them.

I had, accordingly, before these excursions, sat her down, closely, before a small tree, her legs on either side of it. I had then tied a rope on her left ankle, looped the rope about another tree, a yard or so away, and brought it back, to tie about her right ankle. I did this is such a way, adjusting the length of the rope, that though her legs were forced to be rather extended, they were also permitted to flex enough for comfort. I then pushed her belly against the bark and braceleted her arms about the tree. The extension of her legs, of course, was such that she could not reach the ropes on her ankles with her braceleted hands. It also, of course, made it impossible for her to rise to her feet. I had sat her down there, and she would remain there, sitting, and as I had placed her. The location of the tree was close enough to the road that she might, if I had not returned by morning, call out, attracting attention to herself, thus saving herself, even if, at the same time, making it almost certain that soon thereafter her thigh would know the fiery kiss of slave iron, and her neck the clasp of a master's collar.

She built up the fire.

I watched her.

She unfolded and adjusted a single-bar cooking rack, placing it over the fire. From this she suspended a kettle of water. The single bar, which may be loosened in its rings, and has a handle, may also function as a spit. "And what did you do today?" I asked.

"I knelt in a body hood," she said.

"It was only a sack," I said.

"It served," she said.

The sack I had drawn over her was an improvised body hood. There are several varieties of body hoods on Gor, which is not surprising in a society in which slavery, and particularly female slavery, is an essential ingredient. Most body hoods are made of leather or layers of stout canvas. I have seen at least one in which two layers of canvas were sewn about a lining of linked chain. They may be fastened by means of such devices as cords, straps and laces. They may be tied shut or locked shut.

The prisoner is entered into some body hoods from the back, her legs being placed through openings in the lower portion of the hood, the hood then being pulled up and, from the back, lacked shut. Most of these hoods do not have openings for the arms, but some do. In most hoods the arms are confined within the hood, either free within the hood itself or bound or braceleted within it. Some hoods are open at the bottom, and fastened on the prisoner by means of thongs or straps, often looped about the thighs. Others are constructed in such a way that they may be opened at the bottom, for the master's convenience. Sometimes the hood is thrust up and fastened about the prisoner's waist. The typical hood provides hand and arm security with the advantages of the blindfold. Most body hoods, unlike many common slave hoods, do not have provisions for an internal gag. The prisoner, of course, may be gagged before being hooded. The body hood, like the slave hood, tends to keep a female docile. This may be a particular advantage early in her training, when she may not yet fully understand her new nature and its meaning. Another advantage of the body hood is that it is intriguing and attractive on a woman, baring her legs but usually, unless the arms are also intriguingly bared, concealing the rest of her, this sort of thing exciting male interest, and yet in virtue of the predominant concealment afforded, making her seizure less likely than if she lying about more exposed in common hoods.

Slavers, in moving their wares through the streets, sometimes place them in body hoods. To be sure, it is more common to throw a cloak or sheet, which might be of various lengths, over their heads, this usually being fastened on them by means of a cord or strap looped once or twice about the neck and fastened under the chin. In many cities free women object to the marching of naked slaves through the streets. Still, even though the girls may be covered with cloaks or sheets, the men will usually come to watch, and call out to them, and jeer, and such. It is understood, of course, that the girls, beneath those cloaks or sheets, are slave naked. It is sometimes very trying, though also perhaps very instructive, for a new slave, perhaps a woman of a conquered city, to be marched thusly through the streets, stung with pebbles, pinched and slapped, subjected to the most intimate forms of raillery, jocosity and abuse. "Do you object?" I asked.

"No," she said, suddenly, quickly. Then she put herself on her belly, on the dirt floor of the small tent, before me. She lifted her head, looking up at me. "When," she asked, "may I use the word "Master' truly to you, in all honesty?" "But you are a free woman," I said to her.

"I beg the collar!" she said.

"Is that not an unusual request for a free woman?" I asked.

"My freedom is now a mockery," she said. "After what you have done to me these past two nights, how could I even thing of being free? Do you think that that delusion can be meaningful to me any longer?"

"You have then learned something about yourself?" I said.

"Yes," she said. "I have learned that I should be branded, that I should be in a collar!"

I smiled.

"Do not frustrate me," she begged. "Let me be what I truly am, in all honesty!" "The porridge water should be salted," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said, and crawled to the front of the tent.

"Salt it lightly," I said. She was learning to serve.

"Yes, Master," she said.

The days I had spent here had not been fruitless. I had muchly reconnoitered. I had thought that perhaps I might have been able to ascend the walls of Ar's Station on one of the scaling ladders, in a morning attack, but I had soon thought the better of it. Resistance was still such that few Cosians could reach the parapets, and those who did were usually driven back. Whereas I supposed it was possible that I might enter the city in this way this modality of ingress seemed dubious at best. It was difficult to see how my projects would be furthered if, while attempting to identify myself and explain my mission, I were to be cut open with a boat hook. Similarly I was not interested, in the midst of friendly overtures, in receiving a bucket of flaming oil in the face or, say, being struck from a ladder by a roofing tile brought from the interior of the city. I had also considered trying to enter the city through its main gate, in the confusion, when it opened for sorties by the defenders. There had been no sorties, however, for twenty days. That in itself was an index of the straits of the defenders, their will and numbers. Also, it did not seem to me practical to try and enter the city during the daylight hours from the harbor side because of the besiegers. Similarly, during the night hours, it seemed the defenders might be unusually alert.

I did not, of course, know any appropriate signs and countersigns. One might well be set upon as soon as one tried to haul oneself unto a wharf. Indeed, they probably patrolled the pilings and such in small boats. An additional problem, at least to a swimmer, I had gathered, from talking with some of the soldiers, were Vosk eels. These often lurk in shadowed areas, among the pilings beneath piers. Whereas they normally feed on garbage and small fish it is not unknown that they attack swimmers. In the last few weeks, too, given the fighting at the rafts, and in the harbor, predictably, river sharks, usually much farther to the west, had made their appearance.

My second plan, or the second portion of my plan, involved the women from the Crooked Tarn. Late this afternoon, as I had expected, they, in the keeping of the sutler, Ephialtes, had arrived. I had made contact with him away from his wagon and I had had him blindfold the women, with the exception of Liadne, the first girl, and the only slave among them, before I inspected them. Liadne, who was delighted with her name, showed them off to me, proudly. She had done a good job with them, in only three days. The free women knelt very straight, their bellies sucked in, their shoulders back, their breasts thrust forward. Too, they knelt back on their heels, their knees spread, as those of slaves. They were all there, Lady Temione, Lady Amina, the Vennan, Lady Elene, from Tyros, and Ladies Klio, Rimice and Liomache, all from Cos. All of them had, or had desired, to exploit men. now they knelt before me, not knowing who it was before whom they knelt. I regarded them. Once they had been haughty, proud free women. They now knelt within the fringes of a military camp, frightened, confused, chained, blindfolded, shave-headed prisoners. They did not know in whose power they were, or what their fate might be. I had plans for them, or some of them. They, or some of them, would learn soon enough what these might be.

I watched Phoebe pour some meal into the boiling, salted water.

Temione and Klio had had marks on their bodies. Perhaps they had dared to be initially recalcitrant, at least to some small degree. Perhaps, incredibly enough, they had even had some reservations, free women, to being handled and treated as slaves, being stripped, and chained behind a wagon, for example, or to having to obey promptly and perfectly the orders of a slave, Liadne, who had been put over them, as first girl, kneeling before her, addressing her as Mistress, and such. Perhaps, free women, they had dared, at least initially to think that they might be above such things. They had learned differently. Too, their treatment might, in some trivial ways, perhaps smooth, or make a bit less traumatic, the transition to bondage, which was a likely, as well as suitable, disposition for them. To be sure, there is probably no fully adequate way for one to anticipate, or prepare for, psychologically, the actual transition to bondage, even if one eagerly seeks it, even if one welcomes it joyously, for with it comes a new and profoundly different understanding of one's self and nature; by it, you see, a categorical and radical transformation of one's realities is effected; in it one realizes, suddenly, that one is now no longer what one was before, that one is now something absolutely different, that one is now no longer a free person, but a property, subject to buying and selling, an animal, a slave. Phoebe knelt near the fire, back on her heels. Occasionally she would kneel, up, off her heels, and stir the porridge.

"Keep you back straight," I told her.

"Yes, Master," she said.

Her body was slim, her hair was long, bound behind the back of her head with the black cord.

Others about, too, were cooking.

She still wore the garmenture so much like the curla and chatka, the cord at her belly and the long, single strip of cloth, the latter passing over the cord from the outside to the inside in front, and then up, and over it again in the back, moving from the inside to the outside, the whole then, above the cord, pulled up and adjusted, snugly.

She stirred the porridge.

The bottoms of her feet were dark with dirt.

There was a scuffling sound outside and, looking up, we saw a stumbling woman, naked, a rope on her neck, her hands tied behind her, being dragged among the tents. She cast us one wild, desperate glance, and then was dragged past. Phoebe knelt even straighter.

"I think it is a good thing that I kept you covered in my absence yesterday and today," I said.

"Master?" she asked.

"Do you know why I did so?" I asked.

"That I may learn discipline?" she said. "That I may learn that I am truly your servant, and what it is to be the servant of a man such as you? And that I may learn to be a good servant?"

"Such things," I said, "but there is, too, another reason."

"What is that?" she asked.

"That it is more likely that you will be here when I get back," I said. "I would not run away," she said.

"I was not thinking of that," I said.

"I do not want to run away," she said, "but, too, I would be afraid to run away."

"But you are a free woman," I said. "It is not as though you were a slave." "But if you caught me," she said, "you would punish me, would you not, and terribly?" "Yes," I said. "But still it would not be as though you were a slave." She shuddered. "If I were a slave," she said, "if I were to be branded and collared, I would not even dare to think of running away."

I nodded. Gorean, she was not unacquainted with the severities typically inflicted upon wayward slaves, slaves foolish enough to attempt escape. Too, escape, in effect, is impossible for the Gorean slave girl. The lay, the culture, and such, are not set up to permit it.

"But why then?" she asked.

"That it would be less likely that you would be stolen," I said.

"Really?" she asked, pleased.

"Yes," I said.

"Do you really think a man might want to steal me?" she asked.

"Of course," I said.

"Would you?" she asked.

"I might consider it," I said. "I think you would look well on all fours, bringing me a whip in your teeth."

"Phoebe has gathered, the last two nights," she said, shyly, "that she may not be without attractions to master?"

"Perhaps," I said.

"Even though I am a free woman?" she asked.

"Most slaves begin as such," I said.

"I want to live for a master," she said, suddenly, looking at me, "and to give him pleasure. I want it to be the meaning of my existence!"

"I see, free woman," I said.

"'Free woman'!" she said. "I am free in name only! You know that in my heart I am a slave!"

"True," I said.

"I want a master to be everything to me," she said, "even if he scarcely notices me, or cares if I exist."

"I see," I said.

"But you have not imbonded me!" she chided.

"No," I said.

"If I were stolen," she said, "I wager that that oversight would soon be remedied." "Probably," I said. "Particularly if it were done by a professional slaver."

She hummed a little tune.

"Surely you fear the whip," I said, "and the hazards of the collar?" "The whip is good for us," she said. "Perhaps it is hard for you to understand that, as you are not a woman. It makes our womanhood a hundred times more meaningful. The essential point here is not being whipped, of course, which hurts, but being subject to the whip, and being truly subject to it. You see the distinction, I am sure. We know that men are by nature sovereign over us. That comprehension requires no greater insight. Accordingly, men must then either fulfill their nature, or deny it, and in denying their nature, deny us ours, for ours is the complement to theirs. Accordingly we despise men who surrender their natural sovereignty. Surely we would not be so stupid, would not be such weaklings and fools as to do that, if we were men. It would be too valuable and glorious a thing to give up. Its surrender would be a tragedy. But we are not men! We are women, and want, truly, with everything in our hearts and bellies, to be women, and we cannot be women truly if men are not truly men! Lay down the whip, and we will attack you, and undermine you, and use your own laws, institutes and rhetorics to destroy you, inch by inch. Lift it, and we will lick your feet in gratitude. Own us, dominate us! Enslave us, properly, so that we may love you as women are meant to love, wholly and irreservedly, totally, without a thought for ourselves!" She looked at me, tears in her eyes. "Is it so wrong to want to be ourselves?"

"But there are hazards in slavery," I said.

"I accept them," she said, "and would try to please my master." "You would be well advised to do so," I said.

"I know," she smiled.

"Attend to the porridge," I said.

She removed it from the fire and covered it, to let it stand for a bit. She then set out two bowls, with spoons, and two trenchers, for some bread.

She served, deferentially.

I considered her flanks, and breasts. They were excellent. Although her garmenture was assuredly scanty, she was more extensively clothed than many of the women in the camp. There were men here.

She spooned the porridge into the bowls and set the bread, wedges, from a round, flat loaf, on the trenchers, and knelt back. She would wait, of course, until I had taken the first bite.

Considering the size of the besieging force there were not as many women in the camp as might have been expected. I hoped this would work in my favor. The paucity of women, relatively, rent slaves even bringing a copper tarsk a night, had largely to do with the coming and going of the slave wagons, which tended to carry off most of the captures, apprehended refugees, women who had fled from Ar's Station for food, giving themselves into bondage for a crust of bread, and such, to a dozen or so scattered markets, markets such as Ven, Besnit, Port Olni, and Harfax.

I bit into the bread and Phoebe then, too, began to eat, taking a small spoonful of the porridge.

It had become dark now.

We could hear the pleasure cries of a woman a few tents away.

"Do you think she is free?" asked Phoebe.

"Probably," I said. "There are not too many slaves in the camp now." "What do you think he is doing to her?" she asked.

"Mastering her," I said.

"Do you think she is tied?" she asked.

"Probably," I said.

She looked down, shuddering, blushing. The intensification of sexual pleasure, both physically and psychologically, by the application of selected restraints is well known.

"The women I have seen in this camp," she said, "do not appear to be overdressed."

"They are prisoners of strong men," I said. She listened to the girl's cried. "She is passionate," said Phoebe.

"She had probably been given little choice," I said.

"Nonetheless," said Phoebe, "she is passionate."

"Her destiny is doubtless to be the collar," I said.

"So, too, I would were mine," said Phoebe, boldly. "You are already a captive and servant, a full servant," I said. "I would go beyond that," she said, "to my ultimate meaningfulness, that of the slave."

"Eat," I said.

"Yes, Master," she said.

I considered, again, the women from the Crooked Tarn. They had knelt well, their knees spread as those of slaves. Liadne had done well with them. I had wanted them to learn, of course, not only discipline, but something of the arts of pleasing men. Liadne, herself, was not an experienced slave, for, I recalled, she had been startled to find herself utilized, with her ankles chained, but she would still, presumably, be worlds of sensuousness beyond the simple free women in her charge. What could she have shown them in three days? Something, I supposed. Perhaps little more than how to make slave lips and do a little squirming, naked. That might be enough, however, for my purposes. The Cosians in the front trenches, and behind the earthworks and hurdles, who would have borne the brunt of sorties in the past, and had doubtless contributed more than their share to the assaults, would not, I thought, be averse to finding a woman among them, particularly one naked and on a chain.

"She is quiet now," said Phoebe.

"He is probably letting her subside," I said.

"What is that?" she asked, suddenly, lifting her head.

"War trumpets," I said. I rose up and went outside the tent. She followed. Others, too, about, from others of the small tents, had emerged.

From Ar's Station came the sounds of trumpets, far off. "It is a night assault," I said.

We looked toward the city.

We could see lights there. These were probably bundles of sticks set afire by defenders, and thrown, suspended on chains, over the walls, to illuminate them. "There must be many women left in Ar's Station," she said.

"Doubtless," I said.

"How they must be afraid," she said, "hearing such alarms." "Perhaps," I said.

"There are many encampments of slavers, and slavers' men, and cages, and slave wagons about," she said.

"Yes," I said.

The women of a city are, of course, among its prize loot. The women of Ar's Station, even the youngest and most beautiful, might now be pale, and drawn and scrawny, but water, and slave gruel, forced down their throats if necessary, could bring back their color, and fatten them for the block. Females, of course, make superb acquisitions, and gifts.

We listened for a time to the distant trumpets, watched the small spots of light in the distance.

Those about us, one after another, returned to their tents. It was only another attack, far off.

"Men are dying there," I said, looking toward Ar's Station.

"I am afraid," she said.

"Go into the tent," I said.

We reentered the tent and finished our meal, in silence.

"Do not try to enter the city," she said.

"Your thigh would probably look well, roped to a post, awaiting the branding iron," I said.

"Master?" she asked.

"Do not move when the iron presses into you," I said.

"Am I to be enslaved?" she asked.

"My remarks are general," I said.

"You are planning on leaving me!" she said.

"I do not know if I will see you again or not," I said.

"Do not try to enter the city!" she said.

"Come here," I said. "On your knees."

She approached me, as commanded. She then knelt there, slimly, beside me. "Clasp your hands behind the back of your neck," I said, "and do not interfere." "What are you doing?" she asked.

"Kneel up, off your heels," I said.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"This garment you are wearing," I said, "what is, in effect, a chatka, I am shortening and transforming into two slave strips." I drew the long strip before the cord in front back over the cord so that it would no longer hang midway, or about midway, between her knees and ankles but was now about eighteen inches long. The garment then lopped below her body. I then cut the garment a bit behind and below the cord in front. I then moved her about and treated the garment similarly in the back, drawing the strip back over the cord so that it was now only about eighteen inches long, and then cutting it off a bit below and behind the cord. She now wore two slave strips, each about eighteen inches long, one over the cord in front, one over it in back.

"Face me," I said.

She obeyed.

"What have you done?" she asked.

"Exactly what you think I have done," I said.

"You have removed nether shielding from me!" she said.

"Yes," I said.

"Restore it," she said. "Quickly! There is enough left of the cloth! Please!" She gasped.

I had thrown the remaining portion of the cloth into the fire.

She watched it burn, in dismay.

"Do you feel vulnerable?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said.

"In such ways may one increase the passion of a female," I said.

She shuddered.

"You are aware, of course," I said, "that these pieces of cloth might be pulled away, easily."

"Yes!" she said.

"Keep your hands clasped behind the back of your neck," I said.

"Now what are you doing?" she cried.

"In the future," I said, "the cord will be tied in this fashion, or in some equivalent fashion."

She moaned, looking down.

I had refastened it in a simple bowknot, a sort of knot which on Gor, in certain contexts, as in the present context, is spoken of as a slave knot. It is called that, I think, because it is sometimes prescribed by masters for the fastening of slave garments. Its advantage, of course, is that it may be easily undone, by anyone. It is fastened at the left side of the girl's waist, where it is handy for a right-handed male, facing her. "Now," I said, "it is possible not only to remove the pieces of cloth singly, but, if one wishes, one may easily, with a casual tug, remove the cord and, with it, both cloths together, simultaneously, expeditiously."

"Stripping me!" she said.

"Keep your hands clasped behind the back of your neck," I said. "yes." She looked at me, tears brimming in her eyes.

"Do you object to your new garmenture?" I asked.

"Surely I am entitled to object!" she said.

"Turn about," I said.

She obeyed. "Oh!" she said.

"You may again face me," I said.

She turned about, again, quickly, on her knees. She looked in dismay at the strip of cloth which I had taken from the back of the cord, as it now flared, and then turned black and crumbled, in the fire.

"Do you still feel that you are entitled to object?" I asked.

"No," she said. "No!"

"And why not?" I asked.

"I am your captive, and servant, your full servant!" she said.

I removed my hand from the strip of cloth tucked behind the cord, at her belly. "Keep your hands behind your neck," I said.

"Why are you doing this?" she moaned.

"You still have more to wear than most women in this camp," I said. She choked back a sob.

"Tomorrow morning," I said, "your neck will be in a coffle collar." She looked at me, wildly.

"You will be on a chain, with other free women. You will be in the keeping of my friend, and agent, Ephialtes, as sutler. He will take care of you, or sell you, or whatever, as seems appropriate. It was my intention that you be put in slave strips in order that your sense of vulnerability, and your passion, suitably, might be increased. Too, in this fashion, I am, to some extent, preparing you for the terrors and exposures of the coffle. I have removed one slave strip as a punishment, and a sign of my power over you. To be sure, this will even further increase your sense of vulnerability, and your passion. Too, it may also better prepare you for what you might experience on the coffle, the scrutiny and attentions of men, for example. The other women, incidentally, will be stripped, totally, and their heads have been shaved. As you will, at least for a time, have a slave strip, and your hair, you will be regarded as the "first' of the free women. All of you, however, will be subject to Liadne, a slave. She will be first girl over you. She has whip rights, and so on, over you, and behind her is the power of men."

"I understand," she said.

"She has also been given a slave tunic," I said.

"How often," smiled Phoebe, "did I, as a free woman, feel repulsion and horror at even the sight of such scanty, revealing garments, in which slaves were put. Not I would be grateful for so much.

I smiled. The tunic, in its way, put Liadne a thousand times above her charges. "But she is a slave, is she not?" asked Phoebe.

"Yes," I said. Thus Liadne, tunic or not, was infinitely far beneath her. Indeed, they were not even comparable. They were not even on the same scale. One was a person, the other was an animal.

"I would that I were as she," she said.

"Perhaps, someday, you will be," I said.

"My arms are weary," she said. "May I lower them?"

"No," I said.

"May I confess something to you?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"When in Cos, and elsewhere, as a free woman," she said, "I saw slaves in slave tunics I told you that I felt horror and repulsion."

"Yes?" I said.

"But even more," she said, "I wanted myself to be put in such a tunic, and be similarly subject to men!"

"I understand," I said.

"As I am a free woman," she said, "I am shamed, keenly, to wear what I now wear, but, if I were a slave, I do not think I would be shamed. I think, rather, I would be grateful, for I might as easily have been accorded nothing. Similarly, I do not really think I would object, if I were a slave, and not a free woman, to being naked on a chain. I think, rather, I would feel grateful and very proud, that men had found me attractive enough, and exciting enough, to put me there."

"There are many aspects to slavery," I said.

"I think I am aware of aspects, from the point of view of my female fulfillments, that you, as a man, may not fully understand," she said. "Perhaps," I said. "I do know that woman make excellent slaves." "Have you never wondered why?" she asked.

"Perhaps because they are slaves," I said.

"Yes!" she said.

"Such as you?"


"Yet even so," I said, "I suspect that there are senses of slavery, and aspects of slavery, that one can never fully fathom or anticipate until the experience is real for one."

"Doubtless," she said, shuddering.

I regarded her. She was lovely, kneeling before me, in the slave strip and cord, her hands clasped behind the back of her neck.

"May I lower my arms now?"

"No," I said.

"You are training me, aren't you?" she said.

"Perhaps," I said.

"I am afraid," she said.

"Do you know why I had you kneel as you are?" I asked.

"That you might busy yourself with my garmenture, without interference," she said.

"Are you modest?" I asked.

"Of course," she said. "I am a free woman."

"But when you first presented yourself before me, at the inn," I said, "you had bared your breasts."

"I think I have pretty breasts," she said.

"You do," I said.

"I bared them," she said, "because I did not wish to risk rejection." "So that is the sort of woman you are," I said.

"Yes," she said. "So not," I said, "how you could possibly object if you must display them again, and as I see fit, even as a slave?" she put down her head.

"You may lower your arms," I said.

She lowered her arms, and knelt back, on her heels.

"Knees spread," I said.

She complied.

"The slave strips looks well, fallen between your thighs," I said.

"Thank you," she said.

"Your thighs are pretty," I said.

She blushed.

"Yes," I said, "and your belly and breasts, and the rest of you." "Thank you," she said.

"Yes, you are remarkably lovely," I said. "Yes, I think you would make a lovely slave."

She trembled.

"What is wrong?" I asked.

"I am afraid," she said.

"Why?" I asked.

"I do not know anything of being a slave," she said, "should it be done to me! I know nothing of pleasing men! I do not even know the drapings of tunics, the tying of slave girdles!"

"Should you become a slave," I said, "submit yourself to your sisters in bondage, not as one who was recently a free woman but as one who is now the lowest and most ignorant of slaves, the humblest of tyros and novices. Watch them. Learn from them. Serve them. Bring them small treats which you might earn. Beg them to help you, to teach you their ways, their arts and secrets. Even such small things as the use of the tongue can make a great difference in whether you survive or not."

She trembled.

"Reach now," I said, "to the cord at the left side of your waist." "I do not even know how to strip myself before a man," she said, in misery. "There are a thousand ways in which it may be done," I said. She touched the cord. Her fingers were on it. Then she looked up at me. "How might a slave do this?" she asked.

"In one of a thousand ways," I smiled.

She moaned.

"A typical way might be as follows," I said. "The girl might stand or kneel before the master. She might say, "Your property begs to be permitted to reveal herself to you. Then, if the permission is granted, she does so."

"Your property begs to be permitted to reveal herself to you," she whispered, softly.

"But," I said, "as you are a free woman, you are not my property." She regarded me.

"And so I do not grant you permission."

"Are you angry?" she asked.

"No," I said, angrily. The slave was so visible in her, so near the surface, that it was maddening. How it strove to emerge, and become her, totally! That she, such a woman, should still be free was an outrage to all justice and rationality. Her thigh should bear a brand! She belonged in a collar!

"Master?" she asked.

I forced myself to remember that she, fittingly or not, absurdly or not, was at least at this moment, free.

"Master!" she pleaded.

She was not now a slave. I must accord her dignity and respect!

"Collar me!" she begged.

I seized her by the arms.

I held her.

But then, in the distance, we heard the trumpets, the horns.

"What is it?" she asked.

"It is the recall," I said. "The assault has been terminated."

"The city has not yet fallen," she said.

"No," I said.

I released her.

"Shall I build up the fire?" she asked.

"No," I said.

I went outside the tent and scuffed some dirt over the remains of the fire and then reentered the tent, and, from the inside, tied shut the flaps.

"It is dark," she said. "Lie down," I said.

I removed my belt, and tunic, and crouched beside her.

I put my hand down, into her hair, and lifted her head a bit, and turned it, in the darkness. With my other hand, I touched her neck.

"Collar me," she begged.

It would have been easy enough to do so, there in the darkness of the tent. "No," I said.

I then put her back, on her back in the dirt.

"Lift your body," I said.

She obeyed.

"Shall I free the cord?" she sobbed.

"I shall do so," I said.

"Do not leave me tomorrow," she begged.

"I must," I said.

I laid aside the cord and strip. "Do not lower your body," I said.

"It is now lifted to you, as though it were that of a slave," she said. I put my hand on her, gently.

"Oh!" she said, squirming.

"Excellent," I said.

She sobbed.

"I think," I said, "you might bring a high price in a slave market." "Do not leave me," she begged.

"I must," I said.

10 The Trenches; The Wall

"Behold Klio, the free woman," I said, whipping the sheet from her. She was on all fours in the trench and looked up, about her, with alarm, at the men.

There was raucous laughter.

I put a leash on her neck.

"She has already made her contribution to the success of Cos," laughed a fellow. "But not of her own free will, I wager," laughed another.

"You have leashed me!" protested Klio, looking back at me.

There was more laughter from the men.

"Keep you head down," one of the fellows advised me.

"There is not so much need now," said another fellow. "They seldom fire now without a clear target."

"Where am I?" asked Klio.

"You are within two hundred yards of Ar's Station," I informed her. She trembled. This was the most advanced of the Cosian siege trenches. Even the openings to the mines, now gated, and closely guarded, were further to the rear. The only closer entrenchments were sapping trenches, partly covered with wood, leading directly towards the walls. There were used not only for attempting undermine the walls, but also for providing cover to men advancing for assaults. The sapping trench, of course, requires much less labor on the part of the besiegers but, too, it is less difficult to detect and stop than the mines. The mine, of course, need not stop at the wall, but can proceed within the city and when opened, pour soldiers out, behind the walls. The wall mine is usually terminated in place with a system of supports. Then later, concerted with an attack, these supports may be burned or, more dangerously, struck away. The coordination between the collapse of the wall and the attack can be sharpened when the supports are struck away, the same signal, say, the blast of trumpets, initiating both actions.

"Where is Elene?" asked Klio. When we had left Ephialtes this morning I had taken both Elene, from Tyros, and Klio, from Telnus, along. Elene had been the third woman of the debtor sluts. She was the only one who had been a blonde. Klio had been second at the wall.

"I sold her, a hundred yards or so back," I said.

What!" cried Klio.

I had redeemed her, by means of Ephialtes, at the Crooked Tarn, for thirty-five copper tarsks, the cost of her bill, but I had sold her for forty, a modest, almost irresistible price, considering the value of women here, at least prior to the city's fall. A squad had chipped in and bought her. She would serve them all. Later they would probably play stones, or roll dice, for her. I had conveyed to the men, as though by inadvertence, that I suspected she might have little value as she had had her head shaved. I had suggested, too, I think, that I might be in need of money. As I was I made a profit on her which, when I had left the Crooked Tarn, I had never really counted upon, nor even anticipated. To me she had not been so much a property on which to make a profit as an instrumentality in my plans. Still, in her way, she was a property, and, accordingly, I was not displeased to be able not only to utilize her in my plans but also make some money on her.

Her blond hair would in time grow out again and the soldiers would discover that she had an additional loveliness. Eventually I had no doubt she would bring a high price. Auburn hair is generally thought to be the most prized hair on Gor, but I myself generally prefer brunets. This is not to deny that blonde, suitably enslaved, and desperate to please, are not without interest. Blondes sometimes bring higher prices as their hair color is rarer, but once they are home, in the collar, they are, of course, no more than any other slave. In the end, in my opinion, the crucial factor is the individual girl. Everything depends on the individual slave.

"Yes, sold," I said, answering Klio's look of disbelief. There was laughter from the men.

"And before I sold her," I said, "she performed well."

"No, please!" said Klio.

I had, as though looking for a good price first on Elene, made my way through the network of trenches toward the walls of Ar's Station. A trench back, one of the siege trenches, I had sold her. Some of the fellows from this trench, the forward trench, had come back to watch. There had been no difficulty in moving through the trenches in my guise as a mercenary with one or two women to sell. I had followed them back, at their own behest, through one of the connecting trenches, to the lead trench. We had herded Klio before us, under the sheet, on all fours, encouraging her occasionally with a foot or the blow of the looped slave leash, not yet on her at that time.

"Did you already sell the best one?" asked on the men.

"You might think so, or not," I said. "I do not know. I think, from my own point of view, that I would prefer this one."

Klio looked back at me, frightened.

"I think I would prefer this one, too," said one of the fellows who had come back with me.

"She is a well-shaped beauty," said one of the men.

"Sirs!" protested Klio.

"We should have the best," said a fellow, "as we are the closest to the enemy." "Keep a lookout," said one of the men to another, one standing on a low wooden platform, at the forward edge of the trench.

"I think I would prefer her, too," said another.

"Yes," said another.

Klio looked about, I could see she was pleased to be so approved of, in her basic elements, as a naked female, but, too, she was alarmed, having some inkling as to what might be the entailments of such preferences.

"Have her perform," said one of the men.

I shook the slave leash, now on her. This movement was transmitted through the leather, until it jerked and snapped at the ring, on the leash collar.

"No," said Klio, "please!"

"What?" I asked, puzzled.

"Sirs," cried Klio, "soldiers of Cos, warriors for truth and justice, redressers of wrongs, kinsmen from across the sea, I am Lady Klio, of Telnus, of Cos! I am a free woman! I beg your kindness, your indulgence, your protection! Rescue me from this barbarian. Clothe and honor me! Return me in dignity to freedom!" "Many of these fellow," I said, "are not of Cos, but are mercenaries in the service of Cos."

She looked about the faces, frightened. On many faces there was amusement. "I am of Telnus," said a fellow.

"I, too," said another.

"Free me!" she cried. "I demand it!"

They smiled.

"Some of these fellows have not had a female in a long time," I said. "Had?" she stammered.

"Yes," I said.

These men were front-trench fighters, most of them. Probably in defense, and in support of assaults, and in assaults themselves, they had been muchly employed and risked. The siege had been long and bitter. Those who were not of Cos, and were mercenaries, fighting only for their fees, and some loot, perhaps a female or two, and gold, would presumably not be much moved by appeals to Cosian heritages or patriotism. Their loyalties would be less to Cos than to their captains and comrades. In some cases, they might be loyal, as well, to their word, to their oaths and pledges, and, if they understood what they were marking at the recruitment tables, their contracts. And the fellows from Cos itself, and from Tyros, and their close allies, were surely by now, if they had not been before, hardened veterans, men unlikely to be swayed by the self-serving appeals of beautiful women, men accustomed to seeing such women, of whatever city, in terms of the collar and chain.

"Why are you not in Telnus?" asked a fellow.

Klio was silent, in consternation.

"She lived from men, following them and exploiting them," I said.:She was a debtor slut. I paid her bills and thus came into her de facto ownership, through the redemption laws."

"But he did not free me then!" she cried.

"No," I said.

"Where did you pick her up?" asked a fellow.

"South, on the Vosk Road," I said, "at the Crooked Tarn."

"I know that place!" said one of the men.

"I, too," said another.

"I was once well taken at the Crooked Tarn," said the first man, "by a wench whose redemption cost me three silver tarsks, plus travel money, supposedly to get her back to Cos. For all this I received not so much as a kiss, she informing me that that would demean our relationship, putting it on a physical basis. She only laughed at me, from a fee cart, moving rapidly away, with my purse, waving the redemption papers, signed for freedom, in her hand. I was a fool. Often since I have dreamed of her in my power, naked and in a collar, my slave! I would use her well! Her name was Liomache."

I was interested to hear this. Had I known it I would have brought Liomache along. It seemed to me quite possible that the Liomache I had on the chain of Ephialtes might be the same woman. if so, she would be doubtless delighted to renew her acquaintance with the soldier. Certainly he, at any rate, would be delighted. Even if she were not the same woman, she had been making her living in the same way, and had had the same name. That might well have been enough to interest him in buying her. If she were the same woman, I did not think I would envy her, to find herself in the possession of her former dupe. She might too, I supposed, discover that their relationship might have, indeed, something of a physical aspect. Indeed, it would then be a totalistic relationship, the most totalistic relationship possible between a man and a woman, that in which she is total slave, and he absolute master. "This woman, in effect," I said, "made her living in the same way as your Liomache."

"Kill her," said a man.

"Do not kill me, please!" said Klio.

The eyes of many of the men were hard upon her.

"She exploited men," said a fellow.

"I will not do it again!" cried Klio.

She looked from face to face, but found little to comfort her in those countenances.

Too, besides their anger, these men were Goreans, and many of them regarded women in terms of the perfection of the collar. Too, many had been frustrated by free women, and free women in their own city. It was a rare fellow who did not, from time to time, regard the women of his own city as quite as suitable for collaring as those of other cities. Were they not all women? Many Goreans, for example, rejoiced in the situation in Tharna, where almost every female is a slave.

"I will not do it again!" whispered Klio.

"You may attempt to do it, as you please, in the future," I said, "but I think you will do it within the limits of the collar."

"Oh, please, no!" she wept.

"I have shaken the leash, once," I said. "You did not then perform. Fortunate it was for you then that you were a free woman, and not a slave. Even so, I was not pleased. Do you understand?"

"Yes!" she said.

"Now, when I shake it again, you will perform."

She put her head down, trembling.

"Do you understand?" I asked.

"Yes," she whispered.

"You must remember, gentlemen," I said, "she is only a free woman." I shook the leash and Lady Klio, naked, attempted to perform.

Some of the men laughed.

"Surely you can do better than that," I said.

She sank to her stomach, in the dirt, at the bottom of the trench, weeping. "Whip her," said a tall fellow, watching her, with his arms folded. She looked up at him, frightened.

His eyes suddenly glinted. I had not seen what passed between them but I suspect that he had seen in her eyes something swift, some flash of sudden fear and recognition, that she had seen him as her master.

Then she put down her head again and there, in the dirt, shuddered.

"On your knees," I said. "Now,"

She cried out, and rose quickly to her knees.

"Knees spread," I said.

She knelt there, her knees spread. She blushed crimson. It seemed she could not take her eyes off the tall fellow.

"Perform," I encouraged her. "Move. Call attention to your charms." Again the Lady Klio began to perform, as she could.

"It may not be much, gentlemen," I informed them, holding the leash, "but surely for such a woman it is an unusual activity. I suspect that she is not accustomed to doing it. Perhaps in the future she will be better at it. Look, gentlemen. Little as it may be, I suspect this is far more than was provided for the many chaps who paid for her meals, her lodging, her wardrobe, her transportation, her luxuries, her claimed needs, her numerous bills."

"Continue to perform," I said. "You may leave your knees, but do not rise to your feet."

She regarded me, in wild protest.

"Yes?" I said.

"Do not make me do these things," she begged. "Do not make me dance and writhe so. I am a free woman!"

"Your freedom will soon be a matter of the past," I told her. "How well you do now could influence the quality of your life in the future."

"Do not fear," I said. "I know you are truly a slave. I learned it in your kiss, when you were shackled at the wall at the Crooked Tarn. I think that perhaps, in the same kiss, you learned it."

The men laughed. She sneaked a glance at the tall fellow, and then, hastily, put down her head. He smiled.

"Lady Elene, of Tyros, your friend, whom you remember from the Crooked Tarn, and the coffle," I said, "is even now in a slave collar. " It had been put on her within moments of her sale.

Klio looked back at me.

"In her performance," I said, "the slave, unrestrained, emerged quickly and in moments the woman discovered that it was she. It pleased the men abundantly. It brought a good price. It is now collared."

Klio sobbed.

"Frankly," I said, "I had not expected you to be inferior to her." She looked at me, angrily.

"But perhaps the women of Tyros," I said, "are superior to those of Cos?" "I think not," said a man, rather angrily.

There was laughter from the others. I supposed he must be Cosian, natively. "But then," I said, "it is said, I have heard, that those of Port Kar prize Cosians as slaves."

"Show us what a Cosian can do," said a man.

"Thus," I said, "it seems that it is not, really, that the women of Tyros are superior to the women of Cos, but merely that, in your particular case, you are inferior to the Lady Elene.

She looked at me, again, angrily.

"But that is only to be expected, upon occasion, I suppose," I said, "that some woman of Tyros would be superior to some woman of Cos. Too, it is no disgrace to be inferior to the Lady Elene, who is quite attractive and, in time, might even make a dancer."

"I am not inferior to Elene," she said, angrily.

The men laughed at her vehemence.

She looked at the tall fellow.

I quickly then, that she would feel the authoritative signal of the leash and collar rings while she was looking at the tall fellow, shook the leash. "Ah!" said a fellow.

I was quite pleased then with Klio.

My expectation, I then felt, that she would prove to be the most exciting and desirable of the two, was borne out. That was why I had saved her for last, of course, for use in the trench closest to Ar's Station. To be sure, I might have been somewhat prejudiced, for I remembered Klio's lovely dark hair, and I tend to be partial to brunets. Who, eventually, would prove to be the best slave I did not know. Let such women compete desperately with one another, and with other slaves, each striving to be the best.

One of the men cried out with pleasure.

That had been an excellent leash move, to be sure. Klio displayed herself brilliantly on the leash. Such things seem very natural for a woman. perhaps they are, to some extent, like slave dance, instinctive, the biological template, or genetic dispositions for them, having been selected for thousands of years ago, the most pleasing of captive women, perhaps, those squirming best on their tethers, or in their bonds, tending to be utilized for sexual conquest. Perhaps, however, they are associated, in their way, with something even deeper, something clearly selected for, the biological need of a woman to belong, to be approved of and to love.

"Superb!" said a fellow.

I wondered if Klio, sensing these deep, dark, wonderful, frightening things within her, the rightfulness of the destiny of submission to men for her, and such, had not, perhaps in the privacy of her own chambers, before her mirror, put the leash on herself. Perhaps she had then, there, before the mirror, in the privacy of her own quarters, moved similarly. It is not unusual for women to do this sort of thing, alone, often in bonds and chains, expressing plaintively therein their longing for a master.

"Superb! Superb!"

Klio, I recalled, had chosen a dangerous way of life, one which she must surely have realized, on one level or another, might lead to the collar.

"'Klio'," I said to the men, "might be an excellent name for a slave, do you not think so?"

"Yes!" said more than one.

Klio flushed with pleasure. Somehow it seemed she became even more sinuous, more sensuous, then.

I saw that she was paying a bit too much attention to the tall fellow.

"On your belly," I said to Klio. "There, that fellow," I said, indicating a grizzled sapper to one side, his tools near him, "address yourself to him, about the feet and legs." He grinned.

"No!" said the tall fellow.

I had thought this move on my part might bring him into action.

Klio stopped, and turned, from her knees, to regard him.

"I will buy her!" he said.

"She is not cheap," I said. It seemed to me I might as well get what I could for Klio. I fear I must admit occasionally to a streak of opportunistic greediness. "A silver tarsk!" he cried.

"Done!" I said. I had not really expected anything like that. Klio, redeemed through Ephialtes, had only cost me thirty copper tarsks. Perhaps I should have held out for more, seeing the eagerness of the fellow, but, after all, I was taken by surprise by the splendid offer, and even opportunistic greediness has its limits, particularly when surprised.

"On all fours," I said to Klio.

Immediately she went to all fours.

"A silver tarsk," I said.

It was placed in my palm and I put it in my pouch. I then removed my leash and collar from her neck. I had not even returned the leash and collar to my pouch before I heard a decisive click and a small cry from Klio. She looked up, collared, a slave, at her master.

"She dances the leash dance well, does she not?" I asked.

"I will improve her in it," said he, grimly.

Klio quickly bend her head, unbidden, to his feet, and kissed them.

"Share her," said a fellow.

"Let her dance again," said another, "not in the leash."

"Proffer her to the arms of each of us," said another, "in turn." "She is mine," said the fellow.

"We are your comrade in arms," said another.

"True!" said another.

"Have no fear," said the tall fellow. "I will share the slave, and my good fortune, with you, but do not forget that in the end it is I alone to whom she belongs, that it is mine alone whose slave she is."

The men had crowded about Klio now, and I could hardly see her among them. Even the fellow from the low wooden platform, which gave him a vantage over the top of the trench, had joined them.

I backed away, unnoticed, toward the nearest sapling trench. In a moment I had then turned and was making my way rapidly toward the walls. In places the sapping trench was covered with planking, which might protect workers, or soldiers in their advance. In an Ehn or so I had come to its end, some twenty yards or so from the wall. Boulders lay about there, probably rolled from the height of the wall. Some were lodged at the trench, having crushed in the timber cover. The trench had not been taken around these obstacles. My heart was beating rapidly. I emerged from the trench, and waving a piece of white cloth, which on Gor is a truce cloth, as it is on Earth, climbed, slipping up, up the rather steep incline toward the base of the walls.

"Ho!" I said. "Do not fire! I am a friend. I have come here at great risk! I have a message for Aemilianus from Gnieus Lelius, Regent of Ar! Admit me!" There was silence from the height of the wall.

There were no posterns here, and the great gate was hundreds of yards away. Too, in such a time, it would surely not be open for one man.

I waved the white cloth vigorously.

That such a cloth may be used upon Gor as a truce cloth may have a direct historical connection with the similar device on Earth. Certainly many Gorean institutions and practices would seem to have Earth origins. On the other hand, in relationship to the Earth device may be merely a coincidental one, a white cloth, in effect, a blank flag, seeming to be a reasonably natural device to signify neutrality. Blank standards, too, or, more commonly, standards draped with white cloth, sometimes serve similar purposes. There are other devices, too, pertinent to such matters, particularly in formal contexts, such as the symbolic laying aside of arms, but I was certainly not, in this context, about to lay aside any arms.

"Admit me!" I cried.

Was there no one on the wall?

I looked back, toward the trench. I saw no unusual activity there.

"Ho!" I called, waving the cloth. "Ho!"

There was silence. "Is there no one there?" I called.

For a wild, irrational moment I wondered if the city might have been deserted. But that would not be possible, of course. The garrison and population could not have withdrawn unnoticed. The land side was invested. The countryside swarmed with Cosians, and their mercenaries and allies. The harbor was closed with ships and rafts. What was more likely, of course, was that there were few men on the walls. What defenders there were would presumably be summoned by alarms to threatened points. I feared my position might be noticed at any moment by Cosians, and that I might be trapped against the wall.

"Is there anyone there?" I called. I assumed that at the distance I could not be heard in the Cosian lines.

Suddenly a basket, on a rope, was flung over the wall and lowered.

I hurried to it. In it lay a golden tarn disk.

"You are mad to come in daylight," called a voice from above. "Put your food in the basket, quickly, and be gone! Hope that no one has seen you!"

I stepped back a few yards.

I thrust the white cloth in my belt.

There would be no point in climbing the rope as it could be cut or dropped, or, if I were not welcomed at the height of the wall, I could be cut from it there. "I am Tarl, of Port Kar," I called, "a city enemy to Cos."

"Do you have food?" called a man. I could see his face now, in one of the crenels at the height of the wall, some eighty feet above the embankment at the foot of the wall. It was gaunt, and hard.

"I come from Gnieus Lelius, regent in Ar," I called. "I bear a message for Aemilianus! Admit me!: I saw part of a crossbow at one of the other crenels. There crenels, like many, were wider on the outside then inside, constituting embrasures. This affords a wider range of fire by missile weapons.

"Do you have food?" called a voice.

"No!" I said.

"Go away!" it said. The basket, on its rope, maddeningly, drew upward some yards.

"Admit me!" I called. "Look! I have diplomatic pouch, too, taken from a courier of Artemidorus. It may contain matters of moment! Admit me!"

"It seems you offer us many inducements to admit you," called a fellow. "Admit me!" I cried, urgently. "Do not fire!" I called out to the fellow with the crossbow.

"Go away!" said one of the voices.

"You would be mad to enter this place," said another voice.

"He is a spy, who would see behind our walls, who would inquire into our defenses," said another.

"No!" I said. "Blindfold me, if you will. Take me to Aemilianus!" "You have been seen," said another fellow, the voice drifting down to me. I saw his hand, pointing out, toward the Cosian lines.

I turned about. I could see one or two fellows standing at the height of the trench.

"Your friends call to you," said a voice. "Make it back to them, if you can." I saw the crossbow move. Then, in another crenel, I saw another.

"Do not fire!" I called.

"Spy!" called one of the fellows.

"No!" I said.

"If you were not of Cos, you could not have come through their lines," he called.

"No!" I said.

"How came you through the lines?" called another.

"By trickery," I said.

I heard laughter, unpleasant laughter.

"Admit me!"

"Return to your friends," laughed another fellow.

"I am of Port Kar!" I cried. "I am a courier of Gnieus Lelius. Summon Aemilianus, if no other can admit me!"

"Your friends are in the trench," called a fellow. "They come to support you! perhaps you can make it to the trench. Run!"

I made no move to approach the trench. I looked back. To be sure, there seemed to be movement in the trench. I could see it here and there, from the embankment, in the openings between the wooden coverings.

"Admit me!" I cried. Then I raced, suddenly, to the foot of the wall. Two quarrels struck into the embankment where I had stood.

"Admit me!" I cried upward, from the foot of the wall. It would be hard to be struck from the wall in such a place.

"If you are a friend, show yourself," called a fellow.

"Come out where we can see you, friend," called another voice, enticingly. A quarrel then, suddenly, from the direction of the sapping trench chipped the wall, beside my head.

"They are firing on him!" said someone, from above.

Even before he had spoken two answering quarrels from the wall had leaped toward the trench, one skittering off one of the boulders there, then bounding oddly away, end over end, to the right, another passing half through some of the planking spread over the trench.

I heard the basket, scraping against the wall, dropping down, on the rope. I saw a fellow rise up, in the trench, his bow leveled. I moved, faster, then slower, laterally, watching him, toward the rope. His bolt struck the wall, flashing against it, ahead of me. He had overled his shot. I then had my hands on the rope, above the basket. I swung wildly, kicking away from the wall, and was then, for a moment, half climbing, half being drawn upward. "Fire!" I heard from the trench. Two more quarrels struck near me. "Fire!" I heard from above. I continued upward, sometimes climbing hand over hand, feverishly, as I could, the rope momentarily arrested, at other time then, the rope moving rapidly upward, doing little more than clinging to it, sometimes, again, both climbing and being drawn upward. I swung as I could, too, and kicked away from the wall, that the target of the men in the trench would move in more than one plane. More quarrels struck about me, bursting chips from the wall, some striking me like stinging pebbles, then, at last, after a seemingly endless ascent, hands burning and raw, I was at the height of the wall, some eighty feet above the embankment, and hands reached out, seized me, and pulled me inward, through a crenel. "My thanks!" I gasped.

I was flung to my stomach on the walkway behind the parapet. Hands held me down. My weapons and pouch were removed.

"Strip him and chain him," said a voice.

In a moment, lying on my stomach, on the walkway behind the parapet, I was stripped and chained, my hands manacled behind me, a chain running from the manacles down to join another chain, one strung between the shackles on my ankles.

"I am Tarl, of Port Kar," I said, "a courier, from Gnieus Lelius, regent of Ar!" "Hood him," said a voice. "Use that white cloth."

The white cloth I had brought with me, as a truce flag, apparently doubled, or folded, was put over my head and tied under my chin.

"Kneel him," said the voice.

I was dragged up, to my knees.

"Here are the things he had with him," said a fellow.

Inside the improvised hood I could see very little. I could make our shapes about me.

"Put a rope on his neck," said the voice.

A shape bent toward me. I was neck-roped.

"Release me," I said. "Take me to Aemilianus! The message in my pouch is for him. He may be, too, interested in the contents of the diplomatic pouch. I do not know. I took it from a courier of Artemidorus, south of here, on the Vosk Road, at an inn, the Crooked tarn!"

"Hooded, and on a rope, I do not think you will learn much of our defenses," said a voice.

"Take me to Aemilianus," I said.

"Silence, spy," said a voice.

"I am not a spy!" I said, angrily.

"Let us hang him," said a voice. "Let us show the sleen of Cos that we do not waste time with spies."

"I am not a spy!" I said.

"Good," said another voice, approvingly.

"Fasten the rope here," said a fellow, to my left, "and show them that their spy is thrown over the wall, hanging against the stone, within Ihn of his entry into the city.

"Excellent!" said another.

I felt the rope jerked on my neck.

I felt hands on my arms.

"They fired upon me! You saw it! I said.

"But they did not hit you," said a fellow.

"Would you rather that they had?" I asked.

"It might have been better for you, had they done so," said another, grimly. I was pulled to my feet.

"The rope is secure," said a voice.

"I came under a flag of truce," I said. "Is this how those of Ar's Station respect the conventions of war?"

The hands of the men were tight upon my arms. I could feel a breeze through the crenel to my left. Through the whiteness of the hood I could make out the opening.

"Hold," said a voice.

I heard the rope being unfastened. It was now, again, a tether.

"We had almost forgotten our honor," said the voice. "We are grateful to you for having recalled it to us. To be sure, it shames us that this should have been done by a sleen of Cos. Yet it does not matter. That it should be remembered is what is most important."

"I had not realized until now," said a man, "that we had suffered so much. I had not realized until now that we had been so deeply hurt, that our wounds were so grievous."

"Behind the trenches I think the Cosians are forming," said a fellow. "It is the morning assault," said another fellow, wearily.

"Stranger," said the voice which had first spoken of honor to me, "know that you have been spared now, in your entry into the city, because of the flag you bore. And tragically, I confess, nearly it was not so. But, now, beneath its aegis, beneath its shelter, guarded within its folds, you are as safe as through ringed by walls of iron. The honor of Ar's Station has it so. I give you thus the option, if you wish it, to return to those of Cos."

"Take me to Aemilianus," I said.

"I think you are a spy," he said. "I am not a spy," I said.

"You understand that if you go now to Aemilianus," he said, "that you forfeit the protection of the flag you bore."

"I understand," I said.

"Take him to Aemilianus," he said.

"Give me something," I said, as I was turned to the side, "if even a shred of my tunic, to cover myself."

"There are many Cosians forming," said a fellow, near the wall.

"You came as a spy," said the voice. "It is to Aemilianus as a caught spy that you will go."

Hands closed tightly on my arms.

"Take him away," said the voice.

11 Aemilianus

"There," said a voice.

I was forced down, on a hard surface, tiles, I thought, on my knees.

The white cloth I had used as the truce flag was removed from my head. I blinked, looking about myself.

I knelt, on tiles, to be sure, before a curule chair, on a stepped dais. To one side of the curule chair, kneeling below it, on one of the broad steps, collared and briefly tunicked, was a pale, blond slave.

"You may leave us, Shirley," said the man on the chair.

"Yes, Master," she said. Her head had been turned to the side, and her eyes had been averted. I was a free man and, had she looked upon me, without permission, she might have been punished. Slave girls do, upon the streets, occasionally look upon stripped free prisoners, sometimes even taunting them, and such, but they are not likely to do so, without permission, beneath the very eyes of their masters.

The name "Shirley' is an Earth-girl name but I suspected that she was not an Earth girl. Her accent, at any rate, did not suggest it. She might have been of Earth, of course. After a few months on Gor it often becomes very difficult to distinguish Earth girls from Gorean girls, at least without a careful examination of their bodies, for example, for fillings in the teeth, or an inquiry, they kneeling before you, into their specific antecedents. Goreans sometimes give Earth-girl names to Gorean girls, as they think of them as excellent slave names. To a Gorean ear names such as "Jean' or "Joan' have an exotic flavor, and are regarded as fit names for slaves brought in from such far-off, mysterious places as «Tennessee» or "Oregon." Such girls, too, coming to understand the sensuous connotations of their names on Gor come to regard them then no longer as common, or plain, names, but, like the Goreans, as thrilling, beautiful names, and come to revel in them, and try to live up to them, as superb slaves. To be sure, they know they wear them now only as slave names, theirs only by the will of a master.

It is true that Earth girls are regarded as slave stock by Goreans, but I think, at least these days, that there is nothing special about this, really. As the girl left I watched her. She was quite thin. Once, I through, she would probably have been much more fully bodied in her beauty. Once she might have been luscious, perhaps even voluptuous. By such signs I conjectured the paucity of rations in Ar's Station. I suppose, however, that she, and others like her, might be quickly enough returned to a former condition of desirability by so simple a means as the restoration of a proper diet, both with respect to quantity and quality. By such means do dealers prepare women, grateful for food, to bring higher prices upon the slave block. Her blond hair, too, had been cropped. In these times, I suspected there would be few unsheared free women. In the case of the slave girls, of course, their hair would simply be taken from them. The hair of the free women, on the other hand, would presumably have been donated, as a contribution to the defense of the city.

"Yes," said the fellow sitting on the curule chair, a strongly built man, through one now seemingly weary, one with a bloodied bandage about his head," she was once quite beautiful."

I turned my attention to the man. He had, with him, on his lap, the diplomatic pouch, opened, and the letter cylinder taken from my pouch. It had been sealed with wax and ribbon, the wax bearing the seal of Gnieus Lelius, regent of Ar. "Are you Aemilianus," I asked, "commander in Ar's Station?" "I am," he said, looking at me.

I glanced toward the retreated slave, who had turned to regard me.

The fellow on the curule chair smiled. "She has dared to look upon you?" "No," I said.

"They are so curious," he said.

I did not respond.

"Shirley!" he called, without turning to look at her.

"Master?" she answered, from near a side door in the back.

"Remind me, tonight," he said, "to whip you."

"Yes, Master!" she sobbed. She turned, then, and fled from the room. "They are women," I said. "They cannot help themselves."

"I do not object that she did what she did," he said. "It is only that, as she has done it, she is to be whipped."

"I see," I said.

"Even in hard times," he said, "it is good to maintain discipline." "Doubtless," I said.

"Do you know where you are?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"You are in the citadel," he said.

"I thought I might be," I said. It seemed a likely place to house the headquarters of the city.

"You are Tarl, a fellow of Port Kar," he asked, "as you told my men upon the wall?"

"I am Tarl," I said, "of Port Kar."

"And you claim to be the regent's courier?" he asked.

"I am the regent's courier," I said. "Why am I still stripped and chained?" "Does it not seem odd to you that the regent should employ as a courier one from Port Kar?"

"Perhaps," I said. "I had delivered letters to him from Dietrich of Tarnburg. Perhaps it then seemed plausible to him that I might similarly serve Ar." "Dietrich, the tarn of Tarnburg?" he asked.

"Perhaps some call him that," I said. "I have never heard him use that expression of himself, nor have I heard it used by those most close to him. I do not even think he would care for it."

"And how does he think of himself?" asked Aemilianus.

"As Dietrich," I said, "Dietrich, of Tarnburg, a soldier, a captain." "Dietrich, of the Silver Tarn?" he asked.

"His standard, it is true," I said, "is that of the Silver Tarn." "He is a mercenary," said Aemilianus, bitterly.

"He now holds Torcadino," I said, "to halt the advance of Cos to the south." "I do not believe that," said Aemilianus.

I then realized the degree of isolation of those in Ar's Station. Aemilianus was ignorant of something so basic as the action of Dietrich at Torcadino.

"Surely there is something so that effect in the letter, or letters, from Gnieus Lelius, which I have delivered."

"You, too, are a mercenary," he said, bitterly.

"I have served for fee," I said.

"Anyone's gold can purchase your steel," he said.

"Perhaps not anyone's," I said. Some mercenaries chose their causes with care. "Do you know the contents of the diplomatic pouch, for indeed, it seems to be such."

"No," I said. "As you must have seen, its seal was unbroken."

"Perhaps you were apprised of its contents before it was sealed?"

"No," I said. "I took it from a courier for Artemidorus at the Crooked Tarn, an inn, south on the Vosk Road. I told your men this."

"Do you expect me to believe that?" he asked.

"Where else would I have obtained it?" I asked.

"Perhaps from the hands of Artemidorus himself," said Aemilianus.

"I do not understand," I said.

"I am prepared to believe that you might well not have known its contents," he said.

"Why?" I asked, puzzled. "If you did know its contents," said Aemilianus, "I do not think you would have dared to bring it here."

"What are its contents?" I asked, not much pleased at hearing this. "Its contents are not even in cipher," said Aemilianus. "Does it not seem unusual to you that Artemidorus, a tarnsman, an astute commander, should transmit military documents in so careless and open a fashion?"

"Perhaps he is overconfident or arrogant," I said. "I do not know." "Does it not seem strange to you?" asked Aemilianus.

"Yes," I said, "it does."

"I think," said Aemilianus, "this was intended to come into my hands." "I doubt that," I said. "What does it say?"

"It is an intelligence report," he said. "It gives the numbers, and positions, of the forces of Ar."

"May I inquire where they are?" I asked. I had pondered this many times. "I will tell you where they really are," said Aemilianus. "They are moving by forced marches to our relief."

"By what route?" I asked, puzzled.

"North on the Vitkel Aria," he said.

"No," I said. "I came by the Vitkel Aria. They are not there. No one has seen them for hundreds of pasangs from here."

Aemilianus smiled.

"May I ask where the report claims them to be?"

"The report claims they are in winter quarters at Holmesk, one hundred pasangs south of the Vosk."

"In winter quarters," I asked. "While Cos is at Torcadion, and Ar's Station under siege?"

"Y9u see the absurdity of the report," said Aemilianus.

"Yes," I said, awed.

"Had you known the contents of the report perhaps you would have declined to carry it," he smiled.

I almost rose in the chains, but I was pushed down, back onto my knees. "I submit, Captain," I said, urgently, "that incredible though it seems that the report may be accurate." The situation had suddenly begun to assume an alarming shape in my mind. I was confident, as Aemilianus was not, that the report was authentic, even if, in some respects, it might not be reliable. Aemilianus laughed, and, so, too, did several of the men about.

"Where are the relief forces of Ar?" I asked. "Where?"

Aemilianus looked at me, angrily.

"Even though you are isolated her, and invested," I said, "surely you must understand that the siege of Ar's Station can be no secret. You must realize that a relief force would have been dispatched, that it should have arrived by now. If you are so sanguine about your prospects, I suspect that your men, those out on the walls, are not. I have been among them. They are hungry. They are gaunt and drawn. They are not buoyed by optimism. I suspect that they, even if you do not, realize that any relieving force should have been here by now, and long ago!"

I heard a sword, half drawn, behind me. Then it was returned, angrily, to its sheath.

"The report is inaccurate," said Aemilianus. "It is not even intelligently conceived. It gives such numbers for Ar's troops at Holmesk as would mean that the main might of Ar is in the north, which is unthinkable. Such forces would not be needed to raise the siege. Ar, too, in such a case, would be in effect undefended, her territories, if not herself, at the mercies of Salarians, Travians, Tharnans, even men of small cities like Tarnburg and Hockberg. "There could be treachery," I said.

There was an angry murmur from those behind me.

"You have been abandoned," I said.

"Let me cut his throat," said a man behind me.

"All that stands between Ar and Cos," I said, "is the presence of Dietrich of Torcadino, where he has seized Cosian supplies and engines."

"He could not take Torcadino," said Aemilianus. "He has too few men." "It was done by stealth, through the aquaducts," I said.

"He would have too few to hold it," said Aemilianus.

"The Cosian siege train was captured within Torcadin," I said. "The city itself, as last I heard, though invested, has not been attacked. Indeed, the Cosian main forces, which I assure you are not inferior in numbers to those of Ar, are probably now in winter quarters, perhaps a tenth of them in the vicinity of Torcadino. The situation of Cos was clear. She could not proceed without the siege train and it would take some months to replace it."

"And what do you suppose will eventuate? asked Aemilianus.

"I do not know," I said. "Once Cos has engines again she might attack Torcadino, if only to punish Dietrich. If I were Myron, Polemarkos of Temos, he in command of the Cosian forces on the continent, I would myself turn toward Ar, wasting no time at Torcadino, a subsidiary objective. Dietrich would then escape, but he would not have the forces necessary to do more than harry the Cosian advance to Ar, and, once those forces are out of Torcadino, they might well be hunted down and dealt with, with only a fraction of the might of Cos."

"Why would Dietrich of Tarnburg risk this perilous intervention?" asked Aemilianus.

"There are valuables, women, and such, in Torcadino," I said.

"And such may be found in a hundred towns and cities," said Aemilianus. "He has no love for either Ar or Cos," I said. "He prefers the victory of neither. Any such victory, with its achieved hegemony, might end, and would surely threaten, the existence of the free companies. Too, many fear in it the destruction of social openness, of pluralism and freedom, as it now exists on Gor."

"And do you share such sentiments?" asked Aemilianus.

"I would not look forward eagerly to a world dominated by either a Marlenus of Ar or a Lurius of Jad."

"Such would bring peace," said Aemilianus.

"The peace of chains," I said.

"Is not peace more important than anything else?" he asked.

"No," I said.

"I find it hard to believe that your own interests in these matters is so abstract and elevated."

I did not respond to him. He need not know the secret motivations, which I could confide to few, underlying my original journey to Ar, that journey in which I had been detained at Torcadino. He need not know, for example, the contents of the secret papers which I had obtained at Brundisium last Se'Kara, papers which I had swiftly burned. In those papers had been clear the treason of one who currently stood high in Ar.

"I shall now explain to you the situation as it actually exists," said Aemilianus. "The main Cosian forces are here, at Ar's Station. She lacks the troops to penetrate south. She wants power in the Vosk Basin, that is the best for which she can hope. Torcadino is an ally of Ar, and has never fallen. There is no southern invasion force from Cos. The story about Dietrich of Tarnburg is a fabrication. This pretended intelligence report, absurdly conceived, is intended to lead us to despair. It is a ruse to bring about the surrender of the city. Do they really think we would believe that this report just happened to fall into our grasp, at this time? Do they intend for us to take it seriously? It is not even in cipher. The implicit absurdity of this document, suggesting that Ar would stand about with almost the totality of her might while we are under attack, that we have been, in effect, abandoned, makes it clear that the relieving forces of Ar must actually be quite close, perhaps only a day or two away."

There were sounds of agreement, perhaps rather desperate ones, behind me. "I do not know the location of the main body of the might of Ar," I said, "but I suspect it is exactly where this report states it is, and that this report is apprising Artemidorus of the situation. I do not know why it is not in cipher. Perhaps this information is not really that secret, at least to Cosians. After all, it is not easy to conceal the whereabouts of thousands of men from a foe with tarn scouts. I would also suggest to you that there is indeed a Cosian invasion force in the south, and one that makes the one here look like a squad. Your conjecture that Cos could not field such land forces assumes that these forces must consist of her own troops. That is not true, of course. You must realize that even here the majority of the men who face you are not Cosian regulars but allies and mercenaries."

"Do you realize the cost of supporting such forces?" asked Aemilianus. "Lurius is willing, I suspect, to gamble the gold of Cos on victory, and recoup his investment a thousandfold in the future."

"There is not so much gold in Cos and Tyros," said Aemilianus.

"It may not all be from Cos and Tyros," I said.

"From whence then?" asked he.

"From cities interested in a Cosian victory," I said, "and, too, I suspect, from Ar herself."

I felt a knife at my throat, above the rope tether there.

Aemilianus made a small, negative gesture. The knife was pulled back.

"You do not know the message in the letter cylinder," he said.

"No," I said.

Did you see the regent close the cylinder, and affix his seal upon it?" he asked.

"No," I said. "It was handed to me by a subordinate, in the condition in which you received it."

"It is a little joke on the part of the regent," said Aemilianus.

"A joke?" I said.

"Yes," said he," your allegiances and treachery were discovered in Ar, long before you came here."

"I do not understand," I said.

"The bearer of this cylinder, who calls himself Tarl, of Port Kar," read Aemilianus, "is a Cosian spy. Deal with him as you please."

"No!" I cried. I tried to rise but I was forced down, again, on my knees. I was held there. One fellow had his foot on my tether about my neck, keeping my head low. I put back my head, as I could, to look at Aemilianus.

I heard grim laughter about me.

It is a trick!" I said.

"And you are the one who has been tricked," smiled Aemilianus.

There was laughter.

"Did you truly think we might surrender the city?" asked Aemilianus. "So you really think not know how long and bitter has been this siege? Do you not know how lengthy and terrible has been the fighting? Do you not know the losses of Cos, as well as ours? Do you really think we do not know what fate would await us if we opened the gates?"

I was then held even more sternly, and the tether, under the fellow's foot, was shortened further.

"But where," asked a young fellow in the back, the first time he had spoken, "are the relieving forces of Ar?"

"It is my hope that they are on their way here," said Aemilianus.

"But why have they not arrived?" asked the young fellow.

"Do not forget your age," said a man.

"I have been on the wall as much as you," he said.

"I do not know," said Aemilianus.

"It is possible, is it not," asked the young fellow, "that they might arrive too late?"

"It is too possible," said Aemilianus.

"The safety of the city is in your hands, Captain," said the young fellow. "The security of her citizens is your responsibility. I think the in the light of the events that have taken place you should consider an alternative."

"Who would do this?" asked Aemilianus.

I did not understand their discourse.

"I would," said the young man.

"No!" cried an older fellow. "We would die to the last man before we would have recourse to such an action!"

"They would laugh at us!" said another.

"You were not on the river," said Aemilianus.

"With your permission, Captain?" said the young man.

"Go," said Aemilianus, resigned.

"No!" cried another man, but the young fellow had turned, and was already taking his way from the room.

"He will never make it from the city," said a fellow.

"He will be dead by dusk," said another.

"Listen," said a man. "The trumpets."

"The morning assault has begun," said another.

Aemilianus rose up, unsteadily. "Gentlemen," said he, "let us to our stations." Then he looked down, wearily, upon me. "I understand," he said, "that on the wall, you were nearly hung."

I looked up at him, as I could, but said nothing. "Perhaps it is just as well that you were not," he said. "Hanging is too swift a death for a spy."

I struggled, futilely.

"Put him with the other spy," said Aemilianus.

12 The Cell; The Spy

The tether on my neck was removed.

I stood before an opened iron door.

"Remove his shackles," said an officer.

My hands and ankles were freed. I was covered by two crossbows. Any suspicions or sudden move, I was sure, would result in the entry into my body of those two stubby, heavy iron bolts.

I was then thrust through the door and it shut heavily behind me.

I heard it locked.

I stood in a cell, on huge, flat stones, strewn with straw. There was more straw piled in the corners of the cell. It was not a small cell. It was perhaps twenty feet square. It was lit by a shaft of light, descending from a window high in the wall. This window was barred. The bars appeared to be some two inches in thickness and were set about two inches apart.

I tried the door. It was sturdy. The hinges were on the other side. It had an observation panel in it, which, latched, as it was now, could be opened only from the outside. There was also a narrow paneled opening in the bottom of the door, also locked now, through which, when it was opened, a pan, say, of water, or bread, or dampened meal, might be inserted. I looked about the cell. I checked the floor, the walls. It was a sturdy cell. It was the sort of cell in which inmates, to their dismay, soon discover that they cannot escape, that they are helpless, that they are truly prisoners.

I then turned to face the other prisoner.

She shrank back, naked in the straw. She was at the side of the room. She knelt there, frightened, her knees clenched closely together. When I had been entered into the room she had cried out in protest and cringed. She had moved her head and her hands for an instant in such a way as to suggest she wished to bring her hair forward, before her, to use it to partially cover her breasts and body, but then she moaned. She could not do so. Her hair, as she had recalled, almost immediately, had been cropped short. She did pull straw up, about the thighs and waist, to help hide herself. She now looked at me, wildly, kneeling, huddling in the straw, covering her body, as she could, with her hands.

"Why have they done this?" she asked.

"What?" I asked.

"Put you in with me!" she said.

"I do not know," I said.

Then she bend down further, making herself even smaller in the straw, looking up at me.

"Are you a gentleman?" she asked, plaintively.

"No," I said.

She moaned. "They must hate me so," she wept. "They have done this deliberately! It is not enough that they have removed my clothing and incarcerated me?" "You are a spy." I said.

"So, too, then must you be," she cried, "that you have been put in with me!" "It seems they think so," I said, irritably.

"I was caught!" she cried. "What will they do to me?"

"Are you a free woman?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said. "Of course!"

"I do not think it will be pleasant then," I said.

She moaned.

I looked up at the high window. There was nothing in the room which made it possible to reach it, even to look out.

"They hardly feed me enough to keep me alive!" she exclaimed.

"You are probably fed as well as others in Ar's Station," I said. "Look," she said. "They took my hair!"

"In that way," I said, "they have seen to it that you have done your bit for Ar's Station."

"The city must soon fall," she said. "We must then be rescued!" "The citadel," I said, "can be held long after the walls. They would have time to deal with us."

She put her head down, weeping bitterly.

"When are we fed?" I asked.

"At noon," she said, lifting her head, looking at me, angrily.

"Do they make you perform for your food?" I asked.

She looked at me, in fury.

"I see that they did," I said.

"No more," she said. "There is a woman warder now. The men were needed on the walls."

"Full usage?" I asked.

"No," she said, angrily, "such things as dancing, and posing, before the panel. They never entered the cell."

"Did you dance and pose well?" I asked.

"When I did not, I was not fed," she said, bitterly.

"Still," I said, "you escaped easily."

"Undoubtedly," she said, bitterly.

"Did you enjoy dancing and posing?" I asked.

"Are you mad?" she asked.

"Perhaps," I said. I smiled inwardly. I had noted a tiny movement about her, and a fleeting, frightened expression, before she had answered so belligerently. I saw that she was female.

I glanced toward the door.

"There is a woman warder?" I asked.

"Do not rouse your hopes," she said. "She does not enter the cell." "Who are you?" I asked.

"Claudia, Lady of Ar's Station," she said.:Where were you caught?" I asked.

"On the parapet," she said. "I did not even know I was suspected until I felt the rope on my neck."

I sat down in the straw, facing the door. "Tell me of these things," I said. "Doubtless my story, in its way, is not much different from yours," she said.

"Perhaps," I said.

She spoke more freely, not under my eye.

"I did not receive the promotion and advancement which were my due here," she said. "I wanted even missions to Ar herself, but others were chosen in my place. How wrong this was!"

"Continue," I said.

"I am a beautiful and brilliant person," she said. "Yet my perfections were insufficiently rewarded."

"Perhaps you are only a pretty mediocrity," I said.

"My talents were ignored," she said, angrily.

I thought she might, if only latently, have excellent woman talents.

"Then the Cosians were upon us," she said. "We were all in fear of our lives. It became clear, after weeks, that Ar was not coming to our rescue. It would be everyone for himself. The clever must save themselves. I would be clever. Sometimes at night the women go to the parapets, to lower baskets with money, for food. Some women, as you probably know, particularly those without money, stripped themselves and lowered themselves over the wall, surrendering to the first Cosian they met, selling themselves into slavery for so little as a crust of bread or a handful of gruel."

There was still food, though it seemed not much of it in the city. For example, even she, a caught spy, was still being fed. The women who did this, I suspected, lowering themselves naked over the wall, their bodies brushing and touching the stone in their descent, had had motivations deeper than hunger. Hunger, however, might have provided a convenient and excellent rationalization for their action. The nudity of the suppliants, of course, was only to be expected. Stripping themselves, baring their breasts, and such, is natural for female suppliants, before men. the nudity, too, would make clear their intent, and make it less likely that they might, in the darkness, be slain as mere fugitives. Nudity, too, makes it difficult to conceal weapons. For example, sometimes, when slaves are taken to Ubars, and such, they are stripped and wrapped in a scarlet sheet, if they are "red silk," and in a white sheet, if they are "white silk." They are then placed in the master's chambers, often through a panel in the door, the sheet remaining behind. A girl normally makes the journey only once in a white sheet, of course. Nudity, all in all, is not uncommon, in women surrendering to men. it is also not uncommon, of course, in slaves presenting themselves before masters.

"I see," I said.

"But such was not for such as I," she said. "I had no wish to risk being hooded and chained in a crossing stall in Tyros, being used to breed quarry slaves for Chenbar, the Sea Sleen."

I rather doubted that she, who was slight, delicious and well-curved, would have to fear that fate. Too, most women would spend very little time in a crossing stall. How long, after all, she placed there without slave wine, at the exactly ideal moment in her breeding cycle, does it take to impregnate a slave? Most such slaves are used in this fashion only once or twice, and then they are assigned other duties.

"I formed the habit of going to the wall with the other women, "fishing, as we spoke of it. I made certain, of course, that I went to the same place on the wall at the same time each night. The first few times I put money in the basket. Later, when I increased the amount of money, I received some bread and vegetables. Can you imagine? A silver tarsk for a few suls?"

"The prices are higher now," I said. I recalled there had been a golden tarn disk in the basket which had been lowered to me at the foot of the wall. "Then," she said, "I began to put messages in the basket, innocent ones at first, asking questions about the position of the relieving forces, and such." "I understand," I said.

"But my intent seemed quickly grasped," she said, "for shortly thereafter, with food, concealed under the cloth, in the bottom of the basket, were questions pertaining to conditions in the city."

"Did you respond to these?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"You were at that point a spy," I said.

"I did not think so, yet," she said. "Such information was surely general knowledge."

"Not necessarily to those outside the city," I said. "To be sure, there are usually informers, if not traitors, sometimes several, who can be relied upon for such details."

"the next time I drew up the basket," she said, "there was a very specific question, concealed in a wedge of Sa-Tarna bread. "Are you for Cos? it asked. The next night I lowered the answer, "Yes. "

"You were then a traitress," I said.

"Ar's Station had betrayed me!" she said. "It had not given me what I wanted! It had not even given me missions to Ar. Too, do you think that I, a person such as I, wanted to remain out here, on the Vosk River, all my life?"

"What happened then?" I asked.

"I then made clear my position, that I would bargain, and bargain severely." "You requested food?" I asked.

"I had food," she said. "I had hoarded it from the beginning of the siege, when it was still thought that Ar, any day, would arrive with her banners fluttering in the wind, dispelling the Cosians like the sun the fogs on the river!" "For gold then?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, "for gold, and jewels!"

"It seems you have little gold and few jewels now," I said.

I heard her move angrily in the straw.

"Once you had declared for Cos," I said, "I think you would have been wise not to begin bargaining for monetary returns."

"Why not?" she said.

"Because you had declared for Cos," I said. "Cosians, like those of Ar, or elsewhere, expect those whose allegiance has been freely given to serve as those who have given their allegiance freely, and not as merchants or mercenaries." "What difference does it make?" she asked.

"Occasionally such things mean the difference between riches and a collar," I said.

"I protected myself in my bargaining against such possibilities," she said, "demanding, as conditions of my cooperation, not only riches but my safety and freedom."

"That you not be made a slave, for example."

"Yes," she said. "But, suppose," said I, "that in the meantime, perhaps by others, you had been made a slave."

"Then that," she said, "would be the end of it. I would then be a slave. A slave is a slave."

"True," I said. The Cosians had agreed not to make her a slave, not to free her, if she had already been made a slave. As she had said, a slave is a slave. "I, too, demanded power in Ar's Station, should the city not be destroyed, for there were those here, those who had not granted me preferments, on whom I would have my vengeance. I even wanted some of the women consigned to me as slaves, so that I could sell them to men."

"You were thorough," I said.

"Yes," she said.

"You needed then only count on the honor of Cos."

"Men are honorable," she said.

"So, too, are some women," I said.

"My allegiance it to myself," she said, angrily.

"There are dispositions for women such as you," I said.

"I do not understand," she said.

"Proceed," I said.

"My terms agreed to," I said, "I received extremely specific instructions. These instructions to the supply of information on various topics, matters pertaining to supplies within the city, the condition of the gates and walls, and which were the weaker and less defended points, the numbers of the active garrison, civilian and military, the relative distributions and dispositions of these components, the numbers of the ready militia, the posting of guardsmen, the timing of their watches, and such. I could not find such things as the signs and countersigns. Too, I understand they are changed daily."

"Generally," I said.

"Bit by bit," she said, "I parceled out such information, as I could acquire it, each night. To be sure, some of the things I could not learn. In return I now received gold and jewels."

I smiled.

"Did you make your name known to your confidant, or more likely, confidants, at the foot of the wall?" I asked.

"I was too clever for that," she said. "I did, however, demand, and receive, a letter of safety, and an acknowledgment of services rendered, made out to the bearer."

"You are a clever woman," I said.

"I am extremely clever," I said.

"How came you then to be naked in a cell?" I asked.

She made a tiny, angry noise.

"Continue," I said.

"Perhaps I had excited suspicion," she said. "Perhaps guardsmen had noted my appearance frequently on the wall, at the same time and place. Once I had to strike another girl away from my place, fighting her for it. She did not understand my intensity. She had thought it perhaps only an excellent place for fishing. But it was my place! Perhaps my inquiries in the city, or my going about, examining places, had been noticed. Perhaps suspicions had been cast upon me by enemies. Perhaps some were angry that I had not had my hair cut for catapult cordage. Perhaps they were jealous of my beautiful hair! But I was a free woman! They could not make me have my hair cut, make me cut my beautiful hair!"

Her hair, now, of course, had been cropped.

I heard a small sound outside the cell, perhaps someone passing in the corridor outside. It must be, I thought, in the neighborhood of noon.

"Continue," I said.

"I grew bold," she said. "I would be rich. I saw Ar's Station, to my satisfaction, grow weaker each day. But when it fell, I would be safe! Too, I would have my vengeance on my enemies!"

"The city, of course, would be likely to be destroyed," I said.

"Either way I would have my vengeance," she said.

"I see," I said.

"Too," she said, "as you may recall, I had reserved my pick of certain women, to be consigned to me as slaves."

"Personal enemies?" I said.

"Of course," she said.

"Whom you might then sell to men?"

"Yes," she said. "And that pleasure would presumably remain mine even if Ar's Station were burned to the ground, and salt cast upon the ashes!"

"Of course," I said. "And so I went again to the wall, as I had so many times," she said. "This time the papers hidden in my basket pertained to the defenses at the great gate, the posting of guardsmen, the arrangement of their watches, and such. I put the basket over the wall, through the same crenel, and had begun to lower it. I had even feigned some weakness on the parapet, stumbling a little, as though I might be faint with hunger. I thought that I had acted skillfully. My attention was on the rope and basket. Then I felt the loops of a rope put about my neck, closely, tightly, and I was drawn backward. "Do not make a noise," said a voice. But I could not have made a noise, had I wished, so tight was the rope. I had made a noise, had I wished, so tight was the rope. I had wanted to drop the basket but I had had no opportunity to do so. There were three men. as one man had put his rope on me, making me his prisoner, another had taken the rope from my hands. A third, standing back, had a dark lantern. I had not even heard them approach. It took them only a moment, in the unshuttering of the dark lantern, to rifle beneath the cloth and money in the basket and find the papers. Their nature was immediately determined. I was immediately stripped. The rope which had made me its prisoner was then fastened on my neck as a tether. My clothing was put in the basket and lowered. I gathered that the nature of its message would not be lost on him, or those, below. The rope was then drawn up again and removed from the basket. My arms were then bound tightly to my sides with it, in what seemed a hundred coils. It is hard for me to make clear to you how helpless I felt. I was then drawn to my home, where my money and jewels were found, notes on my next reports and the letter of safety, with the acknowledgment of services. I was then conducted as I was, bound and naked, on a tether, before Aemilianus. I was knelt before him so. The evidence pertinent to my case, both from the parapet and from my home, was presented before him. That very night, I was put in this cell, as I am.

"And you now await the pleasure of those whom you betrayed," I said. "Yes," she said. In her voice there was terror.

I heard a sound behind the door, the placing of a pan on a stone.

"And what is your story? she asked. "I am a courier of Gnieus Lelius, Regent of Ar," I said, "mistaken for a spy." I was sure that there was significant treachery in Ar, and in high places. The regent's message, I was sure, had been removed from, or had never been inserted in, the letter cylinder. A substitution had been made, doubtless, of the contents of the cylinder or cylinders themselves. I had not, of course, seen the regent place the message in the cylinder and seal it. There would be nothing unusual in that, of course, for it is not permitted that couriers be present at such times. Seldom are they privy to the councils of state. Normally they simply receive the sealed letter or closed cylinder, or such, from a subordinate, later, and are on their cylinder, or such, from a subordinate, later, and are on their way.

"No! she said. "You are lying! You are trying to save yourself! You, too, are a spy!"

"Perhaps," I said.

The observation panel in the door slid back. Lady Claudia quickly hurried forward, to kneel a few feet before the door, back from it, thusly, but in easy view from the panel. "Kneel beside me," she whispered, tensely. "We are fed but once a day!" I saw no one in the observation panel. I remained sitting, as I was. "Kneel beside me," begged Lady Claudia. I then heard something like a stool or platform scrape on the stones outside the door. A moment later I saw a small head rise up behind the panel, that of a child or woman. I could see little, but it seemed to be a delicate head, covered closely with a white, scarflike turban, and I saw deep eyes, and a bit of veil, over the bridge of a fine, delicate nose.

"I se, Lady Claudia," said a woman's voice, from behind the door, amused, "that you will not be so lonely now."

"Glory to Ar!" cried Lady Claudia, frightened. Then she turned to me. "Kneel beside me," she begged, "or we will not be fed!"

I knelt beside her, and the woman behind the door laughed. Then she snarled, "Spies!" I did not think I could get my hand through the panel, as it was narrow. "Glory to Ar," said the woman behind the door.

"Glory to Ar! Glory to Ar! Glory to Ar!" cried Lady Claudia. Then she turned, distraught to me. I had been silent. "Please!" she begged.

"Glory to Ar," I said, three times. The woman behind the door laughed.

I wished I had a way to get my hands on her. Her small, turbaned, veiled head then disappeared from behind the opened panel and, a bit later, the low panel slid back and a pan of water was slide partway beneath the door. Lady Claudia went to it and took it back to the right, where she emptied it in a small, shallow cistern in the cell. She then slid it back under the door, and returned to kneel where she had been before. It did not seem probably I could get my hand well through the low portal, to seize an ankle or wrist. It was worth considering, of course. A male warder, taller, could see through the observation panel, and determine that we were kneeling in our proper places, at the same time that he might shove pans beneath the door with his foot. The woman would, however, would not be tall enough for that.

Her head again appeared behind the panel.

"Food pan forward," she said.

Lady Claudia immediately fetched a shallow pan from the side and put it about five feet in front of where she now again knelt. I gathered she had been well trained in these feeding procedures. Presumably to have put the pan forward earlier, before receiving the order, or permission, would have been regarded as presumptuous, and perhaps have resulted in its remaining empty for the day. "You are pretty, naked, Lady Claudia," said the voice.

Lady Claudia choked back a sob.

"Glory to Ar!" said the voice behind the door, sternly.

"Glory to Ar!" cried Lady Claudia, three times. I repeated this formula, as well, three times.

The head then disappeared again from the panel. At the same there was a tiny scrape, as of wood on stone, probably from a platform on which she had stood. There was then silence, no sound of pans, or such. I quickly, to the consternation of Lady Claudia, moved to the observation panel and looked through it. I saw the warder going down the corridor. She was barefoot, and wore tatters which barely covered her calves. These tatters appeared to be the remains of what had perhaps once been a double dress, now shortened. The hems of both the inner and outer skirt, doubtless in their shortenings, had been deeply serrated, each in a series of some seven or eight large, triangular points. These points were alternated in such a way that those of the inner skirt appeared between those of the outer skirt. Thus, though the general appearance of the garment suggested rags, they were, in their way, contrived rags. In a way, though she perhaps did not understand this, they invited a man to their removal. Perhaps it was her hope that if the city fell such a garment might save her life, sparing her for the collar. The white, scarflike turban on her head, I supposed, was a vanity, to conceal shortly cropped hair. The veil, of course, was appropriate for a free female. I observed her calves, her bare feet, the cleverly contrived rags she wore. Perhaps she had already rehearsed how she would surrender herself to a man. If the time came, I was sure, stern warder though she might pretend to be, she would submit herself quickly enough and appropriately enough, ending her farce, accepting nudity and a collar, to a master. She bent down and picked up a bucket, and, before she turned back, I left the observation panel and returned to my place.

"Do not leave your kneeling position at such a time," begged Lady Claudia, tears in her eyes.

The head appeared behind the observation panel and found us in our places. As soon as it left the panel this time I bent down to see if it might be possible to seize her somehow from under the door. But, to my irritation, a pan, into which had been ladled some meal and a piece of bread was thrust beneath the door with a rod. Lady Claudia rushed to the pan and placed the meal and bread in the cell's food pan some five feet in front of her and then replaced the delivery pan half under the door. It was pulled back with the rod. The warder, given that she was a female, had been well taught suitable alterations in the common routines of warders. Doubtless, too, somewhere there were men about, to back her up, if need be. I was angry. I then straightened up in time to be in place when she looked through the panel again. The use of the two pans is not primarily for security as one pan could be used, or an exchange of pans, provided suitable distances between the prisoners and the warders are maintained, but rather to keep pans localized to given cells. This helps to prevent the spread of infections and makes each cell responsible for its own hygiene.

"Please give us more to eat!" cried Lady Claudia.

"You are too fat now," said the warder. "Please!" begged Lady Claudia.:Lady Claudia, in my opinion, was certainly not fat. On the other hand, it was probably true that she had been better fed than most in Ar's Station, at least prior to her incarceration in the cell, given her former hoarding and the additional food she had obtained at the wall, in the basket.

"Are you afraid your pretty complexion will suffer?" asked the warder. "Please!" said the Lady Claudia. "Please!"

The panel slid shut.

"The she-sleen!" cried Lady Claudia. "How I hate her!" she clenched her fists. "I hate her! I hate her!" she said. She pounded her fists on the stone, the blows softened by the intervening straw. Then she looked dismally, angrily, at the bit of meal and the crust of bread in the pan. "Surely it is their intent to starve me!"

"Us?" I asked.

"Yes, us," she said.

"You are probably being fed as well as most in Ar's Station," I said. The men on the walls, hopefully, would receive more. Yet those I had met had seemed half starved. "Too," I said, "it is not unlike the rations given to new slave girls in their training period, when they are being taught their dependence on me for their food."

She made an angry noise and stood up. She made as though to move to the pan, but stopped short. "Oh!" she said. My hand had closed about her ankle.

"Get on your belly," I told her.

"What are you doing?" she exclaimed, angrily. She could not advance toward the food.

"Now," I said.

Angrily she went to her belly and I drew her back a foot or two by the ankle. She put out her hands but could not reach the food. I then got up and went to the pan. I picked it up and took it back, toward the back of the cell, where I sat down, cross-legged, the pan before me. She turned about, not daring to leave her belly, to look at me.

"You may approach," I told her. "But do not come close enough to touch the food."

She squirmed forward, desperately.

"Are you hungry?" I asked. "Yes!" she said.

"Would you like to eat?" I asked.

"Yes!" she said.

"Perform," I said.

"No!" she cried. "I am a free woman!"

"Very well," I said. I paid her no more attention. I fingered some of the meal into my mouth. It was in a glutinous, semisolid glob. It was neither sugared nor salted.

"Please!" she cried. She had not risen from her belly.

"Do you think you are still alone in the cell?" I asked.

"Please!" she begged.

I fingered more of the meal, a good two fingersful, into my mouth.

"I will perform!" she said.

"Stand up," I said, "back a bit, where I may see you." I put the pan to one side, on the straw, on the stone, and looked at her. She was not a woman of Earth. A woman of Earth, if not beaten, and swiftly forced to learn her womanhood, would doubtless have held out for a time, confident that Gorean men, like those to whom she had become accustomed on her native planet, would prove to be weak, that they would yield to her. They learn, soon enough, however, that the average Gorean male simply does not share the conditioned political conceptions of the female, which in so many cases have succeeded in crippling, weakening and demasculizing the men of Earth. She finds that she is viewed rather in the context of biology and nature. She quickly learns, too, that where women are concerned, and thus where she is concerned, the average Gorean male has a will of iron. She also quickly learns that he has, personally and culturally, the power to enforce this will.

"Stand straight," I said, "the palms of your hands on the sides of your legs." She did so.

The spy was lovely, though there was a kind of hardness, and nastiness, about her.

"Perform," I said.

"For such performances," I said, it is hard to believe that the guards would have fed you."

She looked at me, angrily. "Now," I said, "perform for me, as you did for them." "Not bad," I said, fingering more of the meal into my mouth. I was, after all, hungry, too. I had not eaten since early morning, at the small tent I had shared with Phoebe. To be sure, Lady Claudia would not have had anything since noon, the day before.

"Please!" she said.

"But I," I said, "am more demanding than the guards. Do you understand?" I put more meal into my mouth.

"Yes!" she said. She then began, again to try to please me, this time even more desperately. She did not do badly. Then, after a time, I helped her, giving her detailed instructions, putting her, here and there, and about the cell, through detailed woman paces. Then she lay on her belly before me, gasping, covered with sweat. I motioned that she should kneel near me, and I placed her hands on her thighs. I rubbed my hand on her head. The short-cropped hair was wet with sweat. I then, having her lean forward, eagerly. Sometimes I made her stretch, holding the food just a little out of her reach. Sometimes I had her lick and suck my fingers, too, which she did eagerly enough, that none of the meal would be lost. Then we had finished the bit of meal and bread between us. She knelt back, regarding me reproachfully.

"Stand," I said, "back a bit, where I can see you, straightly, with your hands on the sides of your legs, as you did before."

I then rose up and went to her, and looked at her, walking about her. Then I stood again before her.

I put my hands on her upper arms. "Look at me," I said. She lifted her head. "You are hard, and petty, and nasty," I said.

She looked up at me, angrily.

"But you are pretty," I said.

She did not respond.

"Yes," I said. "You will do."

"Do?" she said.

"Yes," I said.

"I do not understand," she said.

"Do not tire me," I said. I then flung her back, behind where we had stood, to the straw, and put her to my purposes.

13 Food

"My hair," she said, "is grown our more now."

"Yes," I said, rubbing the brush of it near my thigh, where her head rested. "I want my hair to grow out," she said.

I did not respond.

Chloe looked up at me, from where she lay, beside my thigh. "You have made me soft, and female," she said. "You would have it so, and have had it so. Now I can be no other than that, nor do I desire to be other than that."

"Kiss me," I said.

She did so, softly, obediently, much as might have a slave.

I had given her, for my purposes, the name "Chloe'. Technically, of course, as she was still a free woman, she was still Lady Claudia of Ar's Station. She had, however, however deceitfully, several days ago upon the wall, lowering her message in the basket, declared for Cos. Accordingly I had given her a Cosian name. It was a lovely name. She responded well to it, psychologically, socially and sexually. Further, she understood the propriety of its having been put on her.

Five days ago the walls of Ar's Station had been breached. Cosians were now within the city. The defenders, sometimes fighting street by street, and building to building, and those who could reach it, had now withdrawn to the citadel, bringing with them what belongings and supplies they could. In the citadel now hungry and miserable, besides he defenders, were crowded hundreds of women and children. Ar's Station was in flames. Smoke drifted even to our cell.

"What was that?" cried Chloe, leaping up.

I, too, leaped up.

There had been a rumbling crash from somewhere outside the citadel.

"I am not sure," I said.

Later that afternoon there were several more such crashes, all on the land side of the citadel.

"There is another," said Chloe, toward dusk.

"It is Cosians," I said. "They are clearing the ground outside the citadel, destroying the buildings, that they may bring their engines within range." We heard, from somewhere outside, the long, wild scream of a woman, perhaps from among the buildings, outside the wall.

Chloe looked up at me.

"She has been caught," I said.

It had had a sudden wild ring about it, as though she might suddenly, to her dismay, have felt ropes settle about her body, and draw tight.

"I, too, was caught," said Chloe. "And then, later, you too, caught me. I do not mind having been caught by you. I am pleased to have been caught by you." I pulled her up beside me, and kissed her. She snuggled into my arms, frightened.

"The slaves are out there, somewhere, aren't they?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"With their cages, and chains, and wagons," she said.

"Yes," I said.

"For hundreds of pasangs about," she said, "Women will be cheap for months." "Perhaps," I said.

"I envy them their chains," she said, "especially with what I have learned in your arms."

I put my hand gently on her head. She was still a free woman, and in the keeping of those she had betrayed. Well might she envy those whose fate would be merely a brand, a collar and the absolute helplessness and submission of Gorean bondage.

"Many of those captured," I said, "might be shipped to the islands, Cos, Tyros, Tabor, Asperiche and so on. If that is the case, they might not depress the market as much as you feared."

"You are kind," she said.

"Do you wish to be beaten?" I asked.

"No," she said quickly.

"And many, most, I suspect, of those women of Ar's Station who had not managed to flee earlier, at the approach of Cos, or somehow escape the city, are in the citadel."

"There must be hardly room to move in the citadel," she said. "Our quarters are doubtless among the most luxurious," I said.

"Why do they not take us outside and chain us to a post?" she asked. "Perhaps that the people do not tear us to pieces," I said.

She shuddered. The cell door, now, it seemed, so stoutly locked, might be serving as much to protect us as confine us. On the other hand, perhaps most of the people outside did not even know why we were here. If they did, perhaps they would have been at the door, trying to force it open.

"The Cosians must not bring their catapults into action, at this range," she said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"The people," she said. "The crowding. It would be terrible."

"I see," I said.

"Surely they would not do so," she said.

"I would conjecture that the engines will be in place by morning," I said. "But they will not use them!" she said.

"I would expect them to do so," I said, "with stones, and oil, and javelins." "There must be little food in the citadel now," she said.

Our rations, small though they were, had been halved. We were both weak. "Why do they bother feeding us?" she asked.

"I do not know," I said. I had some idea as to why they were probably feeding her, at least. I did not, however, want to speak to her of this. The observation panel in the door slid back. I saw the head of our warder rise up, behind the slot, as she stepped up, onto her platform. She still had the white, scarflike turban and veil. "Prisoners, forward," she said. "Kneel." We obeyed. It was toward dusk. It was not time to be fed.

"You, Claudia, slave girl," she said. "Knell behind him and to his left." A slave girl, in heeling her master, commonly follows on the left. That she follows indicates that she is subservient, that he is master and she slave; that she follows on the left is a cultural matter probably indexed to the fact that most Goreans are right-handed. Her presence on the left, thus, is not likely to interfere with his draw or the movements of his sword arm.

"You are pretty, slave girl," snarled the warder to Lady Claudia. "How natural you look there!"

"Yes!" said Lady Claudia to her. "I am a slave girl! He has taught me that I am a slave girl! I know it now!"

"Slave! Slave!" snarled the warder.

Lady Claudia, of course, was not a slave, not a legal slave, at any rate. She was still, legally, a free woman. I had seen no point in imbonding her. Similarly, I had ordered her not to submit herself to me, of her own free will, even when she had begged to do so. In either case, she could have been taken from me easily enough by force, and then freed, to be made again legally susceptible to whatever punishment they wished to visit upon her. To be sure, they might, if they wished, make her a slave themselves, or let her be a slave, either by my action or her own, and then, if she were a slave, do anything they wished with her.

I found it hard to understand the warder's hatred for Lady Claudia. It surpassed anything which seemed rationally connected with her culpability in the matter of espionage. The first time I had used Lady Claudia, the first day I had been in the cell, flinging her to my feet in the straw, I had taken little time with her. Later that afternoon, after I had slept, I had awakened and snapped my fingers. She was over against the far wall, wide-eyed, half covered in the straw, lying on her side, watching me. At my signal she had crawled across the floor, through the straw, and then knelt before me, her head down, submitted. I had taken her by the arms and thrown her again to the straw. I had not expected the intensity and helplessness of her response. Within the Ahn she had become, in effect, my slave.

That night I gave her the name "Chloe'. A transformation had soon become visible in her, over the next two or three days, in her entire body and personality. The hardness, the selfishness, the nastiness, the smallness, the pettiness, the meanness which had so characterized her began to melt away. In its place she was becoming soft and feminine, delicate and attentive, eager to please and serve, and loving. At first the warder was much amused by the imperious and uncompromising treatment to which my fair cellmate found herself subjected, taking great pleasure in her fate. Sometimes, in the first day or two, the warder would even watch us, encouraging me and jeering at the helpless, lovely spy. Soon, however, as it became clear that the Lady Claudia was becoming happier, and more fulfilled and more beautiful her attitudes changed, dramatically. The warder now begun to castigate her, and subject her to incredible verbal abuse, of the sort to which free women often subject slave girls. The Lady Claudia, on the other hand, though not even enslaved, did not seem to mind. She was beginning to understand, dimly, it seemed, what the nature of bondage might be for a female. The sterner I was with her the more she seemed to enjoy it. The stricter I was with her the more she loved it. When I would cuff her from me she would crawl back to my feet, kissing them. Treated as a woman, and finding herself in male power, she would look up at me, with love, awe and gratitude in her eyes. I scarcely dared conjecture what her responses might have been, had she known herself truly, helplessly, imbonded. I had little doubt that she would bring an excellent price on the slave block.

"Slut! Slut! Slut!" screamed the warder at her. Her hostility was clearly directed at the Lady Claudia and not me. She could not stand it, it seemed, that the Lady Claudia, almost before her eyes, had become beautiful. I regarded Lady Claudia, the «Chloe» of my uses. She had indeed now become beautiful, wholly and through and through beautiful. She was now very different from her former self. She could not now even dream of betraying Ar's Station, or men. Yet her former self had done so, and her new self, whether in true justice or not, could be held accountable for the action.

"Yes," said Lady Claudia, softly, humbly, then adding, meaningfully, somewhat maliciously perhaps, for she was still a free woman, "a€”Mistress." The warder cried out in fury and smote on the cell door with her small fists. "For what purpose have you interrupted us?" I asked the warder.

"I am not speaking to you," she said.

"But I am speaking to you, female," I said.

The head moved angrily, behind the slot. I wished I could reach the veil and pull it away from her, face-stripping her. I wondered if she would be pleasing. "Do not think that you can escape punishment by pretending to be a slave!" said the warder to Lady Claudia.

"Do not fear, my dear," said Lady Claudia. "I know that I am a legally free woman. I may be in my heart a slave, and I may be kept in this cell, and serve her, as a slave, but I know that I am legally free."

"Do you think the citadel will fall tomorrow," I asked, "or the nest day? And do you still wear artful rags, and go barefoot, and display your calves and ankles?"

Her eyes widened. She realized then I must have spied on her through the slot. I knew these secrets about her, whose import must be clear enough to any strong man. Her small brows knit in fury.

"Do you think you will have an opportunity to surrender to a man?" I asked. "Have you practiced how to tear your robes from your breasts, the words with which you will beg to be spared?"

"Sleen!" said the warder.

"I see that you have," I said, "noble free woman."

"Sleen!" she cried.

"Perhaps you would look well, naked," I said, "in a coffle."

"Sleen! Sleen!" she cried.

Lady Claudia laughed merrily.

"Laugh now!" she said. "But I will tell you why I have come. You, Lady Claudia, traitress and slut, have been sentenced by Aemilianus. Tomorrow, at noon, you are to be displayed above the wall, as an act of defiance, impaled!" Lady Claudia turned white.

"Ad for you," said the warder, addressing me, "I do not know what is to become of you. Aemilianus, for some reason, seems hesitant about you." The observation panel then slid shut, with a snap.

I caught Lady Claudia, that she not fall.

"I am sorry," I said.

"Is impalement swift?" she asked.

"It need not be," I said.

"I cannot move," she said.

I then lifted her and took her back, and put her gently on the straw.

I was not surprised that Aemilianus was less certain what to do with me. My own case, in his mine, must seem somewhat ambiguous. Why, for example, would I not have been dealt with directly in Ar, if they were convinced that I was truly a spy? Too, there was the matter of the documents in the diplomatic pouch. Were they really spurious, and had they really been intended to bring about the surrender of Ar's Station why would they not have been more realistically conceived, that they might have been more likely to achieve such a purpose? For example, why would they not have been in some cipher, one which might, after a reasonable effort, be broken? Too, why would such a purportedly authentic document contain information which must surely, at least to the officers of Ar's Station, seem militarily implausible, if not preposterous, for example, that Ar should have forces in the numbers named in the north, and unengaged! No, Aemilianus, weary and confused as he might be, was no fool. Doubtless he had begun to suspect that the report, though perhaps absurd or false, was authentic. Too, days had passed and the hoped-for relief from Ar, the advance of which he had speculated might have precipitated so desperate and foolish a ruse, had not materialized.

"It is terribly painful, impalement, is it not?" she asked.

"It depends on how it is done," I said.

"I am a traitress," she said.

"Once," I said. "No longer."

"I am afraid," she said. I kissed her, gently. I wished I had something to cover us with. "There is no hope," she whispered.

"There is always hope," I said.

"You are kind," she said.

"Do you wish to be beaten?" I asked.

"No," she smiled.

"There is hope," I said.

"How?" she asked.

"It is quiet outside," I said.

"Yes?" she said.

"You have not now, for some time, heard the crashing of buildings," I said. "Cos has the city now. There is nothing to keep them from undermining the foundations, firing the buildings, clearing paths through debris."

"I do not understand," she said.

"They have finished their work," I said.

"I do not understand," she said.

"The engines are probably in place," I said.

She looked at me, frightened.

"I would expect the attack to begin in the morning," I said.

"I am afraid," she said.

"I will defend you, as I can," I said. "They will have to enter the cell to fetch you out."

"Do not risk your life for me," she said.

"Why not?" I asked.

"Because I am really only a slave girl," she said.

"It is for such that men most cheerfully risk their lives," I said. "Oh?" she smiled.

"Certainly," I said. "You would not expect them to go to all that trouble for a mere free female, would you?"

"Monster," she said.

"And if you save her," I pointed out, "you can often keep her." "I see," she smiled.

"The slave girl, after all," I said, "is good for something. She has her uses. You can even sell her."

She laughed. "Enough free women, too, in their time," she said, "have doubtless been sold."

"Yes," I said. "They can be captured, bound and turned over to a slaver, and such."

"Had you captured me, somewhere, as a free woman, would you have sold me?" she asked.

"I might have kept you that evening in my tent," I said, "to see what you could do."

"I wish that we had met under different conditions," she said, "in the fields, or in my own bed."

I did not speak.

"If you had first met me in a slave market, I on a slave shelf or bench, chained there, a property, waiting to be purchased, would you have considered buying me?"

"Certainly," I said.

"Am I that attractive?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"That pleases me," she whispered. Then she shuddered. "But woe," she said, "I am a free woman."

"Yes," I said.

"I am afraid," she said.

I held her more closely to me.

"That is why they have been feeding me, isn't it?" she asked. "For tomorrow?" "I think so," I said.

She sobbed, against me. I felt her tears on my chest. Then, suddenly, she looked at me, concerned. "But what of you?" she asked.

"Do not concern yourself with me," I said.

"No," she said, "what of you?"

"Willful free woman," I chided her.

"What of you?" she pressed.

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

She put her head back, against my shoulder. The moonlight streamed in through the high, barred aperture. It was quiet outside. I held her in my arms, for a time, the naked spy, in the straw.

"Am I to be beaten tonight?" she asked.

"Is it necessary?" I asked.

"No!" she whispered.

"You are eager to serve, and be pleasing?" I asked. "Yes!" she said.

"Then it does not seem that there would be much point in it," I said. "No!" she hastened to assure me. "But if you were not pleased, you would, wouldn't you?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "or if I wished to do so."

She shuddered against me, with pleasure. "I wish," she said, her voice soft, thrilled, vibrant with soft, frightened emotion, "that I had met a man such as you, long ago."

"Had you done so," I said, "you presumably would not be here now." "I do not regret having known you, and having served you, and as you have made me serve you, even under these circumstances."

"You enjoy serving," I said.

"Yes," she said, "I do, and had I the choice I would choose to have no choice but to serve, and serve as you have made me serve, totally."

"It is time to go to sleep," I said.

"Can you sleep at this time, on this night?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

She then lay down in the straw, next to me. I heard her sob.

"I do not know if they will feed you in the morning or not," I said, "before they come for you, near noon. They might. In the event they do, do not eat the food. Give it all to me."

"All of it?" she said.

"Yes," I said.

"You would take the food, that food?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

"You could do that?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

She looked at me, puzzled.

"Surely you recognize that I would get more good out of it than you would," I said.

"Undoubtedly," she said, shuddering.

"Certainly," I said.

"I do not think I would be able to eat it, anyway," she said. "Good," I said. "Then there is no problem."

"No," she said. "There is no problem."

"Excellent," I said. I then, in a moment or two, I cannot remember it, was asleep.

14 Morning

"They are going to come for me before noon," she whispered.

The cell was in darkness.

"I know," I said. "I heard."

A few Ehn ago I had awakened instantly, hearing the movement of the observation panel. The warder had lifted a small, tharlarion-oil lamp to the aperture. "Prisoner Claudia, forward," she had whispered.

Lady Claudia had gone forward to kneel, before the door, dimly illuminated in the tiny bit of light coming through the aperture.

I had pretended to be asleep.

I conjectured it was something like an Ahn before dawn.

"Glory to Ar!" whispered the warder.

"Glory to Ar," moaned Lady Claudia. I do not think she had slept.

I then saw, in the light of the lamp, which had then been set on the floor outside the lower panel, the water pan put beneath the door. This was emptied into the small cistern by Lady Claudia, and the pan returned to the warder. "Is he awake?" inquired the warder.

"I do not think so," said Lady Claudia.

"Food pan forward," said the warder.

In a moment Lady Claudia knelt behind the cell's food pan, brought forward. "Glory to Ar!" whispered the warder. "Glory to Ar," sobbed Lady Claudia.

I think that the whispered tones of the warder were motivated primarily by her desire that Lady Claudia obtain her food and finish her feeding before I might awaken. In this fashion I might not take the food from her, or force her to share it. Perhaps she even expected her to be drawn out of the cell before I awakened, that I might awaken and simply find her gone. That might be easiest for them. Still I expected they would send two or three men to fetch her. Lady Claudia was now again kneeling before the cell's food pan, and the head of the warder, again holding the tiny lamp up, reappeared in the observation aperture.

"See?" asked the warder, whispering. "There is much more food there than usual, and meat!"

Lady Claudia looked down at the pan, in the dim light.

"Spread your knees!" suddenly hissed the warder.

Lady Claudia, startled, frightened, did so.

"There now," said the warder, amusement in her voice, "that is like the slave girl you are!"

Lady Claudia, interestingly, made no move to draw her knees back together. Rather she knelt there in that profoundly meaningful, indicative and vulnerable position, looking up at the warder. The food pan, which for once seemed amply filled, was before her, now almost as though framed between her knees.

"You and I know that you are really a slave, don't we?" asked the warder. "But we will not tell the men, will we?"

Lady Claudia said nothing.

"Do you know why you are fed so heartily?" she asked.

"It is a kindness to me," she said.

"No," laughed the warder. "It is to build up your strength so that you will squirm well on the impaling spear."

Lady Claudia looked at her, doubtless with horror.

"We want you to put on a good show for your Cosian friends," said the warder. "You may even last two or three Ahn."

Lady Claudia shuddered. In such an impalement, the female is usually simply set upon the spear. It is not necessary to bind them, straightened, they cannot reach the spear nor obtain any leverage for removing themselves from it. They are held upon it, helplessly, by their own weight. Usually such a fate is visited only upon a free woman. It is thought that it gives them time to consider and repent their ways. A slave girl, on the other hand, would be more likely, like meat, to be thrown to sleen.

"I heard them talking," said the warder. "They are going to come for you before noon, too. Perhaps they will come as soon as it is well light. I do not know, nor do you. Do you have six Ahn, or three, or two? Tremble within your cell, waiting to hear them come for you! When you hear the small sounds outside the door you will know they are here. When you see the door open you will know they have come for you! Eat well, naked spy!" The observation panel then slid shut with a click. I also heard the small latch drop into place, securing it, so that it could not be opened from the inside.

"They are going to come for me before noon," she had whispered, having crawled to my side.

"I know. I heard," I had told her.

"I wanted to bid you farewell," she said.

"Bring me the food," I said.

"Of course," she said, bitterly.

She turned about and crawled back toward the center of the cell where, feeling about, she located the pan of food. She then lifted it and rose up, and came back, slowly, feeling her way with her feet, through the straw.

"Why will they not wait at least until noon?" she asked, in misery. "It is a good sign," I said. "It is a very good sign." I did not explain this to her, but from so small a detail I gathered some estimate of the straits of the defenders, and the numbers and positions of the Cosians, and the menace of their engines.

"I do not understand," she said.

"We are on the cityside of the citadel, are we not?" I asked.

"Yes," she said. Even had we been brought to the cell blindfolded, there would have been no difficulty in making this determination. It was clear in the patterns of sunlight in the cell, that the cell faced south, the city. Too, even more obviously, we could hear the sounds of the city, and not of the harbor. Indeed, of late, we had even heard the sounds of collapsed buildings, some of them perhaps within a hundred yards of us.

"That is it," I said.

"I do not understand," she said.

"It is possible that you will soon be in greater danger from Cosians than from your compatriots of Ar's Station."

"You're joking," she said.

"That is why they will not be waiting until noon."

"I do not understand," she said.

"I do not even know if the citadel can stand until noon."

"That is absurd," she said. "It is impregnable."

"No," I said. "The defenders are worn and half starved. The buildings about the citadel have been brought down. The engines can fire at almost point-blank range. All the might of Cos in the north will be focused on this one small point, the citadel."

"What will happen?" she asked.

"The women and children will already have been moved to the harbor side of the citadel," I said.

"What will happen!" she cried.

"The citadel will be taken," I said. "Cosians will enter, with fire and wood. The noncombatants, the able-bodied men, the soldiers, the garrison, what's left of it, will then be forced to withdraw to the wharves and piers. Then they will be driven from them. I fear there will be great slaughter in and about the harbor. Perhaps few will escape."

"Surely terms will be sought," she said.

"The Cosians have waited long for Ar's Station," I said. "Doubtless they never guessed for resistance they would meet. They have lost many men. Their patience is at an end."

"It is my fault," she said. "Better that I had been what I rightfully should have been, a slave girl."

"It is not your fault," I said. "I doubt that your pittance of treachery made any difference whatsoever. It is the fault of Ar."

"But I am guilty," she said.

"Yes," I said, "and for your crime perhaps a reduction to bondage would be fitting. Too, given what you are, I think that such a fate would be quite appropriate for you."

"It is true," she whispered, "Master." I then turned my attention to the pan of food. "There is much food here," I said, "and meat. I doubt that even those at the central crenels, those on the towers, those defending the gate itself, feed as well this morning." "But you are only putting it to your lips," she said.

"I am tasting it," I said.

"Why?" she asked.

"It seems good," I said.

"What is your concern?" she asked.

"It is nothing," I said.

"What?" she asked.

"I thought they might have entered something into the food," I said, "in kindness, a painkiller, something with an analgesic effect, to ease your pain." "If they have," she said, "I would appreciate a little food."

"But they have not," I said. "Apparently it is true, as our charming warder told you, that they want you to squirm well on the spear."

She shuddered.

"They see no reason in encouraging espionage," I said.

"No," she whispered.

I then fed lustily. Strength flooded into my body. I had not eaten so well for days. Too, I had the girl, in effect, my girl, bring me water."

"That was good," I said.

"How is it that you can eat at a time like this?" she asked.

"You must keep up your hope," I said.

"I am a naked female," she said. "Men can do with me what they want." "True," I said, "but it may not be the case that every man wants to do exactly the same thing to you at exactly the same time."

"I suppose not," she said.

"And therein lies your hope," I said.

"What hope have I," she asked, "other than they might put me on the spear a little later, rather than a little sooner?"

"I think you have more than you know," I said.

"How?" she asked.

"You have unexpected allies," I said.

"Who?" she asked. "Outside," I said, "Cosians."

"How can they help?" she asked.

"Perhaps they can't," I said. "It is only a possibility."

"I think it is near dawn now," she whispered. There seemed a narrow fringe of lightness in the darkness, at the edge of the high window. We looked up at it. We could not reach the window, even if she were to stand on my shoulders. "I think you are right," I said.

"Oh!" she cried, startled, and threw herself into my arms. She looked up at me, wildly, frightened.

"It is the trumpets," I said. "They signal the attack."

There were answering trumpets from the walls.

There had been a great, ringing blare of trumpets from outside, perhaps hundreds of them. The response from the wall, in comparison, brace though it might have been, had seemed frail, indeed. When the trumpets had rung out there had been, too, from before the citadel, raised the war cries of thousands of men. These cried, too, had been answered by a ragged cheer from the walls. She looked up at me, half kneeling, half lying in my arms, in the darkness of the cell. A naked woman feels good in one's arms. I wished I owned her. They feel even better when you own them, and they know you own them.

We then heard a dull impact, from a distance.

"What is that?" she asked, alarmed.

There were then two more sounds, much like the first.

"Come here," I said, and pulled her, on her side to the outside wall, and lay in the straw on the floor there. It is safer there, where the floor, like a buttress, reinforces the wall. You are safer there, too, from showering stone, bursting inward.

"It is the artillery," she said.

"Yes," I said.

We could hear, too, from time to time, the sound of the kick and rattle, and vibration of cordage, of a catapult above us, on the walls. They are often roped down. Otherwise they can radically change their position, spinning half about, or even, literally, flinging themselves back off the walkway. They are easier to manage on softer surfaces, where the wheels can be dug in.

"You are covering my body with your own," she said. "Be quiet," I whispered to her.

"You are protecting me," she said. "You are sheltering me. You are a true gentleman! You pretend not to be, but you are a true gentleman! Oh! No! What are you doing? I am on my belly! Only a slave is had in this position! No! Oh! Oh!" "Do you think I am a gentleman?" I inquired.

"No," she said.

"What am I then?" I asked.

"My master," she said.

"But you are a free woman," I reminded her.

"Yes," she wept. "I am a free woman."

I continued then, for a time, to shelter her body. I was please that I was now more relaxed. I had enjoyed myself, but, too, my use of her, and as one might make use of a slave for such a purpose, had been a calculated one, to combat the waiting, the fear, the worry, the anticipation, the expectation, spread over Ahn. That sort of thing can gnaw at you. There is an optimum point for readiness and action. It was at that point that I wished to be when the door opened. We heard, more and more frequently, the impact of stones about us. Two assaults were forced back from the walls. When it grew lighter, and I feared they might soon come for her. I left her at the outside wall, and went to my former place in the straw, and lay there. The food pan I put back, a few feet before the door, where it could be seen through the observation panel. Its contents were now gone. I myself lay in the straw, perhaps too weak to move.

15 We Leave the Cell

"Come, come, little vulo," said the man, "do not be shy." He beckoned, coaxingly, to Lady Claudia, who was still near the outside wall, crouching there now, in the straw, numb with fear. I did not even know if she could stand. In his left hand he carried several coils of rope, and a leash and collar. She regarded him with horror. "Come, come," he said, advancing past me, lying in the straw. There were two others, with set crossbows, in their hands, standing within the cell, rather to the right of the door, a one would face it from the inside. At the door stood our warder.

I did not think the fellow with the rope really wanted to approach the far wall, the outside wall, or weather wall, too closely. From time to time we could hear, and sometimes feel, through the floor, the impact of the Cosian projectiles, the great stones, some of which would weigh a thousand pounds or more, flung by mighty catapults, some the size of houses. We could hear, too, as though far off, the rhythmical shock of the battering ram at the gate, where men toiled at the hundred ropes, beneath the long shedlike roof which protected them and the ram.

"We do not want to stay here too long," said the warder to the fellow with the rope. "It is dangerous on this side. Hurry!"

"Come here," said the fellow to Lady Claudia. "Kneel here, straightly, up, off your heels, yours arms at your sides." "Please!" begged Lady Claudia.

"Hurry!" snapped the warder.

I think the fellow did not much care to be the object of adjurations by such as the warder. I think he would have preferred to have found her not in a position of authority, small though her authority might be, but rather in a position more fitting for her, one more appropriate, too, to her sex and nature, say, naked on her belly, at his feet, subject to his kicks and whips. He said nothing, however. Rather, angrily, summoning up his courage, he went quickly to the Lady Claudia, seized her by the scrub of her hair and drew here, she half crawling, half being dragged, to the center of the cell, and knelt her there, in the position he had specified.

The warder laughed.

Did the fellow not know the Lady Claudia was a free woman? It seemed to me he handled her rather roughly, given that she was free. She was not, after all, a slave girl.

The rope, then, in coil after coil, was wrapped about the Lady Claudia. It was in this fashion, I had gathered, from her own account of her capture, that she had been bound on the wall, and brought before Aemilianus. This touch was doubtless to remind her of the events of that evening.

"Make it tight!" said the warder.

Lady Claudia winced as the ropes were drawn about her.

"Now the leash and collar!" said the warder.

In a moment, then, the leash and collar were fastened on her. She then knelt there, in the center of the cell, heavily bound, collared, the leash dangling down before the ropes bound about her.

"Splendid!" said the warder.

Tears ran down Lady Claudia's cheeks. She looked at me, and smiled. She pursed her lips a little, kissing softly, almost imperceptibly, at me. I watched, lying in the straw, my eyes half closed. I did not respond to her tiny, pathetic gesture. It interested me, however, that she bore me no ill will. Had I not led her to believe that I might be of assistance to her? Had I not tried to keep up her courage? But I realized now she had never expected me, really, in the moment of truth, so to speak, to act. It would be pointless.

"How touching!" said the warder. I made as though to try to rise, to my knees, my head down. It seemed I could not manage this.

"Remain where you are," said one of the fellows with a crossbow.

"He is too weak to do anything," said the warder. "He cannot even stand." She then went to stand before Lady Claudia. "The spear, my dear Claudia," she said, "is a single piece of solid, polished metal. It is very long, and less than a hort thick. It is tapered to a point. It fits in a mount."

Lady Claudia knelt there, with her eyes closed.

I made as though, again, to try to rise. One of the guards looked at me, and then looked away.

"Glory to Ar!" snarled the warder.

"Glory to Ar," wept Lady Claudia.

"Do you know what we are waiting for?" asked the warder of Lady Claudia. "No," whispered Lady Claudia.

There was then a sudden impact somewhere on the wall, perhaps not seventy-five feet from where we were.

"That was close," said one of the guards, uneasily.

As I had expected they would, they had more to worry about than what went on in the cell.

Again I struggled to my knees. This time I remained there, head down, as though unable to move.

"Stay where you are," said one of the guards. I was about seven or eight feet from him.

"We are waiting for the executioner to come for you," said the warder, delightedly. "He will come to fetch you, and take you to the wall, to the spear."

Lady Claudia put down her head.

"Glory to Ar!" cried the warder.

"Glory to Ar," said Lady Claudia. She had her eyes closed. That, I thought, was fortunate. The nearest guard looked at me, and then glanced back to the two women. The guards had been in the cell some time, at least a few Ehn. This, I had thought, would put them at their ease. The expectation of resistance, of course, is at its height early. If it were to rise again, which I did not really expect, or not significantly, under the current circumstances, presumably that would be shortly before their departure from the cell. They were now awaiting the arrival of the executioner, who was to fetch Lady Claudia to the spear. Their expectation of resistance, now, I thought, might be at its low. To be sure, that is an excellent time to be particularly prepared. Yet it is impossible to maintain an attitude of full alertness for an extended period of time. It is psychologically impossible. This meant that the initiative, in this situation, was mine. If they had expected resistance, of course, they might have thought, appropriately enough, that I might choose to act before the arrival of the executioner, as that would mean an additional fellow to deal with.

I had not, of course, realized that the executioner would come to the cell. If I had given the matter much thought, I would have supposed that he, or they, would wait on the wall. Such customs, I supposed, would differ from city to city. I was not pleased to hear about the pending arrival of the executioner, of course, as that might set me an additional problem, one I had not anticipated and one I certainly did not welcome.

It was not a mistake that I had lain in the straw where I had. I had, the day before, found a ridge in the stones there which would give me leverage, something to push away from. Too, I was barefoot. I would not slip. I lifted my head, dully, as though groggily, to look at the guards. They were half starved. Their reflexes, I was sure, would be slow. They would not have their full strength. The nearest guard looked at me, again, and I returned his gaze, dully. He then glanced back at the women once more.

"He is very skilled at his work," said the warder to Lady Claudia.:He will put you on the spear so gently that you will last a long time."

Lady Claudia kept her eyes closed, and she shuddered.

"But if her wants to hurry a little," said the warder, "he will tie weights on your legs."

Lady Claudia sobbed.

"How pretty you look, kneeling there, my dear, all tied up, and in your collar," she said. "Do not fret. He will be here soon! You will then be taken to the spear! You do not have long to wait! You will look amusing, wriggling on it! Glory to Ar! Glory to Ar!"

"Glory to Ar!" wept Lady Claudia.

At that instant I lunged forward and the nearest guard had barely time to turn his head before I caught him, and his fellow, taking them together, striking them with great force, I sprinting, thrusting, they off balance, and blasted them back, one loosened, sprung quarrel skittering about the room like a frightened animal, the other smote from the guide into the straw, against the wall, and I snarled, the noise not in that moment seeming human, and it was the terribleness of the warrior's exhilaration that was that instant in my heart, nostrils and mouth, and, one with each hand, struck back their heads against the stone. Had they not been helmeted their brains would have been on the stone. In the same moments I had freed the sword of one of them and I turned, crouching, snarling, to face the man near Lady Claudia. His face was white. Perhaps I seemed then to him more beast than man. I did not take my eyes from him and the door. The warder, cut off, too, from the door, had fled behind him. He weakly half drew his sword but before it could clear the sheath I was upon him, within his guard. He released the hilt. The blade fell back, into the sheath. I turned and kicked back and he grunted, collapsing. The warder bolted for the door but I caught her at the portal by the back of the neck and lifted her up and turned, and then flung her stumbling back toward the far wall. I then returned to the fallen warrior, and bent over him. He was gasping. His eyes were wild. Not taking my eyes from the warder, who now crouched down, against the outside wall, her eyes wide with terror over the veil, I seized him by the back of the neck, below the helmet, and lifted his head a few inches from the floor. He could offer no resistance. I then struck his head, back, in the helmet, on the stones.

"You have killed them, you have killed them all!" said the warder.

"No," I said. The first two had been in the greatest danger, but their helmets had saved them. It was not that I had lost control of myself in the rush of that first moment. I had not. It was rather that, in the exigencies of the situation, it had not been my intention to take any chances with them. But their helmets had saved them.

"Lie down," I said to the warder, "on your belly, in the straw, your head to the wall. Spread your legs as widely as you can. Cover your head with your hands and arms."

She sobbed, but did so. In this fashion she could not see what might transpire behind her, she could not easily rise, and she would have some protection from debris, if the outside of the cell wall should be struck.

I then stripped the clothing and accouterments from the fellow I had just struck, and donned them. I did, however, exchange swords, removing his from its scabbard and placing therein the one I had taken from the other guard. It was a looser fit, which pleased me.

There was an impacting on the side of the citadel, some hundred or so feet away. I could feel the jar, however, through the floor. The warder, over by the wall, moaned, her hands and arms over her head. I then put the three guards together, in a corner of the cell, and heaped straw over them. They could not be seen from the observation panel.

I then turned to the Lady Claudia who still knelt as she had been placed. Her eyes were wide. There must have been fifty coils of rope wound tightly about her fair person. On her neck was the collar; from it dangled the leash.

"Greetings," I said.

"You must flee!" she whispered. "Save yourself! I am known! Do not concern yourself for me!"

I removed the leash and collar from her.

"Do not stop for me!" she begged. "Flee!"

I began to remove the rope from her.

"The executioner may arrive at any moment," she said, miserably.

"He is more likely to think I am binding you, then unbinding you," I said. She moaned.

Then she was free of the rope. I looked at her, closely, as a master at a slave, and she shrank back. I saw that, indeed, she would bring a high price in a slave market.

"You must leave me behind!" she said.

"You are too pretty to leave behind," I said.

She looked at me, wildly, elatedly.

"Yes," I said.

She laughed, and smiled at me, through tears. "I am pleased if master finds me pleasing," she whispered. "Where did you ever hear talk like that?" I asked.

"I once heard a slave girl speak so to her master," she said.

"And what did you do then?" I asked.

"I ran home to my bed," she said, "to strike it with my fists, and to weep and squirm in frustration."

"Such words are appropriate for you, too, to say," I said.

"I know!" she said. "I know!"

I looked in the fellow's wallet, which I now wore at my belt. There was, as I had hoped, a crust of bread in it. Such things, in Ar's Station, in these days, might be kept in such places. It might be his secret horde, or day's ration. It was probably worth more to him than gold. I gave it to Lady Claudia and she, with two hands, gratefully, thrust it in her mouth, crumbs at the side of her mouth. "Look in the pouches of those other fellows, too," I said. "They might have some food. If so, eat it. Then come join me."

Quickly she did as she was told. It amused me to see with what alacrity she sprang up to do my bidding. It was as though, suddenly, she was a new person. I then went to stand near our warder, lying on her stomach in the straw, her head to the wall, her legs spread, her head covered with her hands and arms. Aware of my approach she widened her legs further. This pulled her artfully contrived rage, with their points, higher on her legs. I noted that she had excellent calves and ankles.

"There is food here," called Lady Claudia, softly, elatedly, from where she crouched, near the guards.

"Good," I said. "Eat it."

She thrust the bit of food into her mouth, feeding on it like a voracious little animal. She fed with the eagerness of a half-starved slave girl.

I looked down at the warder. "Put your legs together," I said, "and your arms at your sides, palms up."

She obeyed.

I then crouched down, beside her.

She moved, uneasily, but kept position.

"These rags, I said, "are doubtless contrived in such a way that they may easily be removed."

She squirmed in anger.

I did not touch them, however. I pulled back the warder's scarflike turban which, I had assumed, was worn to cover and hide a closely cropped head.

"OH!" she said. To my surprise, however, her hair, loosened from under the turban, would have, had she been standing, fallen well beneath her shoulders. "Oh," said Lady Claudia, interested, come now to my side, a piece of crust in her hand.

"Yes," I said. "Her hair has not been cropped."

The warder squirmed a little, angrily.

"As I recall," I said to Lady Claudia, "you had not had yours cut either." "No," said Lady Claudia, smiling. "I did not want it cut. I was too vain. I was too proud of it. I thought it too pretty to want to look like one of those girls who carries water in a quarry, or works in a mill or laundry, in the heat. Let other women sacrifice their hair, not me. But when I was caught on the wall it was cut quickly enough."

"Then as a punishment," I said.

"Doubtless," she said, "but, too, they had need of catapult cordage." "What is your name, prisoner?" I asked our warder.

"Prisoner?" she said.

"Yes," I said.

"Publia," she said.

"Are you free?" I asked.

"Of course!" she said.

"You will forgive me," I said, "but the most common brand sites are covered by your rags."

"Do you think," I asked Lady Claudia, "that Lady Public's motivations in the matter of keeping her hair were similar to yours?"

"I suppose so," said Lady Claudia, finishing the bit of bread.

"And you are probably correct," I said, "but there was one other, too, perhaps, which had not occurred to you?"

The prisoner moves a little, angrily.

"What was that?" asked Lady Claudia.

But I addressed a question to our prone captive. "What is your caste?" I asked. "The Merchants," she said. "That, on the whole, is a quite well-to-do caste," I said. "It is mine, too," said Lady Claudia.

I jerked the pouch from the prisoner's belt, breaking the strings. It was a weighty pouch. I tossed it to Lady Claudia, who examined its contents." "There is much gold here," she said.

"Put it in my pouch," I said.

Lady Claudia did so.

"How is it, Lady Publia," I asked, "that you, a member of the Merchants, and one who until a moment ago had a heavy purse, are barefoot, and clad in rags?" She did not respond.

"And such artful rags?" I asked.

She did not answer.

I fingered them. "I doubt that you sewed these yourself," I said. "They were probably done by a Cloth Worker. Consider the stitching, the tightness of the stitches, its regularity and fineness. It seems very professional. Doubtless though it was done according to your directions. The outfit is calculated to give the appearance of rags but, upon close examination, we discover it is more in the nature of a costume." I smiled inwardly. Slave girls, too, I knew, occasionally practiced such wiles with their brief, scandalous ta-teeras, supposed mere rags, befitting their degraded status. Yet I knew they often labored on such rags in such a way as to show an inch her, and conceal an inch there, in such a way that a masterpiece of sensitivity, vulnerability and provocation was achieved. By such means and many others do the luscious, loving, collared little brutes save themselves many a beating and drive their masters half mad with passion and desire.

"I congratulate you," I said. "The entire ensemble, the points and such, and the varying lengths thusly achieved, and the consequent, now-and-then baring of your calves, and such, is extremely well done. The entire ensemble reveals marvelous imagination and exquisite taste."

The prisoner made a small, pleased noise.

"The question remains, of course, as to why you might do such a thing." She lay quietly, not moving.

"The question may be easily decided, of course," I said, "by seeing whether or not these garments, unlike the garments of free women, can be easily, swiftly and provocatively removed, and, say, whether or not, in the typical fashion of free women, even of the lower castes, you are wearing underrobes." Her small fists clenched in fury.

"Accordingly," I said, "rise up on your knees, and turn and face me." She did so, in fury.

Then her fury turned to fear, timidity and docility as I held her veil. I drew it toward me, gently. Instantly she fell forward on all fours, to relieve the pressure on the veil, to keep it on her. Her eyes were now wild over it, held out from her.

"No," she said, "please do not take my veil."

"I shall not do so," I said.

She gasped in relief.

"Lady Claudia will do so," I said.

Tears brimmed in her eyes.

"Surely you have looked upon her, unveiled," I said.

The prisoner sobbed.

"Stay on all fours," I cautioned her. In this way she would be unable to interfere. Too, she could not put her hands before her face.

The prisoner sobbed, and trembled.

"Remove the veil, carefully," I cautioned Lady Claudia. I had my reasons for not wanting it damaged.

"Please, no!" begged the prisoner.

The veil was fastened with a string and Lady Claudia, with two hands, lifted it gently from the head of our prisoner.

"She is beautiful!" said Lady Claudia.

"Please do not look at my lips!" sobbed the prisoner. But my hand was in her hair, holding her head up.

"She has excellent lips," I said. "Properly trained, she could probably kiss well."

"How beautiful she is!" breathed Lady Claudia.

"No more beautiful than you," I said.

"Truly?" asked Lady Claudia.

"Yes," I said.

Lady Claudia caught her breath for an instant, suspecting then, perhaps, how attractive she herself might be.

"You may kneel back," I told the prisoner, releasing her hair. She lost no time in scrambling back to her kneeling position, and put her two hands before her face.

"Put your hands down," I said.

"I do not have my veil!" she said.

Her lips, her mouth, her features, in all their expressiveness, with all their delicacy, sensuousness and beauty, it was true, should she lower her hands, would be bared. They would be exposed. One could look upon them, even idly. She had been face-stripped. Her face was now naked, as much so as that of a slave. "Now," I said.

She lowered her hands, sobbing.

I had denied her the delicacy, the modesty, the shield and defense of the veil, just as it is denied to slaves.

"Did you not expect to tear off your veil before Cosians?" I asked. She looked at me, angrily.

"I see you did," I said.

"One grows used to being without the veil," said Lady Claudia.

"Slave!" cried Lady Publia.

"I am as free as you!" retorted Lady Claudia.

"In the south," I said, "the women of the Wagon Peoples, even the free women, do not wear veils."

"Slave!" cried Lady Publia again to Lady Claudia.

"My face is no more naked than yours!" retorted lady Claudia.

"Naked face!" cried Lady Publia.

"Naked face!" responded Lady Claudia.

"On the other hand," I said, "the free women of the Wagon Peoples do wear clothes."

Lady Publia looked at me, suddenly, sharply.

"Those are pretty rags," I said.

She said nothing.

"Remove them," I told her.

Angrily Lady Publia removed the belt from her waist. It was a sturdy belt, flat, white, woven of ropelike material, quite capable of supporting the purse she had carried. It was, however, a hook-fastened belt. And she had unhooked it in an instant and, thus, freed, it fell back, behind her. She then, angrily, put her hands to the sides of her garment, up about the neck. It was a wraparound garment. She undid one hook there and, in fury, with her two hands, swiftly, easily, insolently, gracefully, slipped the garment away.

"Ah," said Lady Claudia, softly, admiringly.

Lady Publia straightened her body, pleased.

"Did you notice how she could do that, on her knees?" I asked Lady Claudia. "The garment is designed to allow that. You could perhaps imagine the difficulty of getting out of the customary robes of concealment while on your knees." "She is so beautiful," said Lady Claudia.

"You removed your garment well, Lady Publia," I said. "Doubtless you have practiced it many times. If I were a Cosian, however, I think you would have done it somewhat less insolently."

"Doubtless," she said.

"Under different circumstances," I said, "and if we had more time, it might be interesting to put you in a bit of slave silk, and teach you how to disrobe properly before a man."

She tossed her head.

"What formulas had you in mind to use to the Cosians?" I asked.

"I do not know what you are talking about," she said.

"Doubtless you rehearsed them well," I speculated.

She looked at me, angrily.

"Formulas?" asked Lady Claudia.

"'I bare my breasts before you. Make me a slave, "I surrender to you, naked. Spare me. I beg bondage, "I have endeavored to conceal my true nature from men, that I am a slave. Visit justice upon me, "I have stripped myself before you. let me live, that I may serve you as the most abject and loving of slaves, and such sayings," I said.

"Such saying stir my belly," said Lady Claudia.

"That is because it is the belly of a slave!" snapped Lady Publia.

"It would be easy enough to tell," I said, "if your belly, too, is that of a slave. I need only place my hand on you, and have you say such things, slowly, deeply and with feeling."

She regarded me with horror.

"But you are, of course, a free woman," I said.

"Yes!" she said. "Yes!" I saw then the nature of her belly, that she feared it would betray her.

"Had you never considered such sayings?" I asked Lady Claudia.

"Yes," she said, smiling, "often, but I had never really thought of them in such a formal way."

"But you never dared to kneel naked before a man, and say such things?" "No," she said, shyly. "I was much afraid. Bondage is a great step for a woman. It is so absolute, and different. It is natural for her to fear it. And now that I long to do so, he who is to me as master has forbidden it. It seems he wants to keep me as a free woman, at least for a time, for some reason."

That was true. I had my reasons.

"What did you expect to do," I asked, "if any, Cosians, or others, in darkened buildings or flaming streets, came upon you?"

"I had thought I would have had my letter of safety," she said.

"Do you think looting soldiers would have stopped to read your letter?" I asked. "Perhaps not," she smiled.

"So what would you have done?" I asked.

"What I suppose most any woman would do," she said. "I would have stripped myself and knelt, begging to be kept as a slave. Then, if I were fortunate, I suppose I would soon thereafter, my hands bound behind me, be following my master, on a cord and nose ring."

"It is not unlikely," I said.

"Slave!" hissed Lady Publia.

We then regarded Lady Publia, kneeling there, naked, in the straw, her tags back over her calves.

She had beautiful eyes and hair, and features. She had a marvelous belly, breasts, and thighs, a luscious love cradle. Women are so incredibly, so inutterably beautiful! They have been made for seizing in one's arms, and owning and collaring.

"She is very beautiful," said Lady Claudia.

I studied Lady Publia closely, to her acute discomfort, as she looked away, frightened, not wanting to meet my eyes. Yes, I thought, it is true, she is very beautiful, and those small, white limbs would look well in shackles, and that face, those breasts and thighs would exhibit well on the block, under the torches of an auction.

"Very beautiful," said lady Claudia.

"No more so than you," I said.

"Am I truly so beautiful," asked Lady Claudia.

"Yes," I said.

Lady Claudia put down her head, shyly.

I supposed it would not do to tell Lady Claudia, as she was still a free woman, but she was actually, at this time, at any rate, far more beautiful than Lady Publia. This was because she had now begun to get in touch with her womanhood. In the past few days in the cell she had begun to discover herself; she had begun to learn her femaleness.

"But you are a slave," snarled Lady Publia.

"Yes," whispered Lady Claudia, speaking not her legal status but her truth. Lady Publia laughed, scornfully.

Lady Claudia lowered her head, shamed.

I wondered if Lady Publia thought her own truth was different. She, too, after all, was a female.

"Slave!" sneered Lady Publia.

Lady Claudia did not respond.

In general physical characteristics, such as their height and figure, their eyes and hair, their complexion and such, they were rather similar.

Lady Publia regarded Lady Claudia scornfully.

Lady Claudia did not meet her eyes.

I thought they might look well, particularly if Lady Publia were improved, as a brace of slaves. Sometimes one can get more for two girls together, as a brace, each reinforcing or enhancing, or setting off, the other in some way, than one could get for them both, sold separately. To be sure, many buyers, when they buy more than one item, expect a discount on one or both of the items.

"Turn about now," I said to Lady Public, "and go to your stomach, as you were before, with your arms at your sides, the palms up."

She did so, and now lay as she had before except that now she was stripped. "You are a free woman, as I understand it," I said. "Yes!" she said.

I put her hair behind her back, over her shoulders.

"And what, then," I asked, "would you have done, if Cosians had come upon you?" "I am a free woman!" she said. "I am not a slave! I would never have surrendered!"

"I do not like her, Master," said Lady Claudia. "And I would not be as she. I would find that disgusting and terrible, as well as ultimately barren and miserable."

"I am not sure there are free women," I said, "except in a trivial legal sense." "I am such a woman!" cried Lady Publia.

"How such women shame women such as I, who are weak and needful, and loving," said Lady Claudia.

"In your weakness and need, and love," I said, "in your honesty, and truth, you are a thousand times stronger, and greater, then such caricatures of women, then such travesties of women, then such pseudomales and facsimile men, denying themselves and their feelings, holding themselves rigid, not daring to feel or be themselves."

"But men keep women such as I powerless," she said, touching her thigh. "Yes," I said, "and you love it."

"Yes," she whispered, frightened, looking down, trembling with emotion. I gathered together the scarflike material she had had wrapped turbanlike about her head, her veil and her "rags," and handed them to Lady Claudia. "What are you doing?" asked the prisoner.

"Put these over there, by the rope, and the leash and collar," I said to Lady Claudia.

She obeyed. She then returned, to be beside me.

"There are trumpets outside," said Lady Claudia, suddenly.

"It is another assault," I said. Almost simultaneously there were raised thousands of cheers.

"There are your friends, the Cosians," I said to Lady Publia.

"They are not my friends!" she said.

If there was a response from the walls, it was hard to make it out. "But yet you were preparing yourself quite carefully, hoping to be permitted to belong to one as a slave."

"Liar!" she cried. I saw her small fingers move, but she did not dare to clench her fists. The fingers moved helplessly, but the palms remained facing upward, exposed.

"You were bearing much gold," I said, "which, foolishly, you thought to offer to Cosians, that they might spare you and keep you as a slave. But that was stupid. For they would take the gold and then do what they wanted with you, putting you to the sword or not, as they pleased."

She cried out in anger.

"But if your thoughts in this matter had been correct," I said, "it might have been too bad, might it not, for many of the other women of Ar's Station, women less fortunate, less rich, than you, who lacked the means wherewith to purchase their lives?"

"That could not be my concern," she said, angrily.

"But I assure you, Lady Publia," I said, "the pertinent determinations in such matters, when the women are stripped and stood against a wall, are not made on the basis of gold."

"I suppose not," she said, bitterly.

"Why, too," I asked, "did you, a wealthy woman, of the Merchants, choose to wear artful rags, as though you might be a simple low-caste maid?"

She was silent.

"There are two reasons," I said. "The first is that you feared that the high castes and the richer castes, such as the Merchants, might be less likely to be spared by the enemy, that they might be the subject of more resentment, perhaps because of envy, or perhaps that they would be particularly sought out for vengeance, on the supposition that they, presumably the more powerful castes in the city, might be most responsible for the prolongation of the siege. You, on the other hand, by your disguise, so to speak, might hope to escape such a fate. Cosians would see you, you hoped, not in terms of politics, but merely in terms of loot. The second reason is more interesting. You wanted to be seen in terms of something well worth hunting and capturing. Thus the artful rages, apparently so inadvertently but excitingly, displaying your calves. You did not wish to be brought down with a quarrel at a distance but to find yourself at close quarters with captors. Then you would surrender to them."

"No!" she cried.

"It is for such a reason," I said, "that your rags were designed to be removed swiftly, so easily and gracefully, and on your knees."

"No!" she said. "No!"

"Lie quietly," I said. "And most interestingly, and objectionably," I said, "you had not had your hair shorn."

Lady Publia did not respond.

"To be sure," I said, "you wished to give the impression that you had done so. That was the purpose of the cloth you wore about your head. It was intended to make it seem as though you, perhaps in understandable vanity or embarrassment, wished to conceal shortly cropped hair. certainly I, at first, assumed your hair had been shorn."

"I, too," said Lady Claudia.

"Do you recall," I asked Lady Claudia, "that I earlier suggested that there might be a reason, other than reasons of your sort, for not having her hair cropped?"

"Yes," Lady Claudia.

"Do you now suspect such a reason?" I asked.

"Yes," she said.

"Yes," I said. "With such hair, such lovely hair," I said, toying with it, behind Lady Publia's back, "she would be more likely to be spared." Lady Publia tensed, angrily.

"Let other women have their hair shorn," I said, "donating it to the defense of their city. Not she. It, like the artful rags, their length, their ease of removal, and such, had its clever, calculated part to play in her plan. She would thus, retaining her hair, it enhancing her beauty, if captured, stand out like a paga slave among mill sluts. If selections were to be made, it then seems that surely she would be among the first chosen, not for the sword, but for the chain."

Lady Publia's small fingers moved wildly, angrily, but she dared not close her hands. The palms remained up, exposed.

"There are the trumpets again," said Lady Claudia.

"It is the recall," I said.

"Nut they will come again, will they not?" she asked.

"Yes," I said, "and, if necessary, again, and again." I looked down at Lady Publia.

"Does it seem fair to you," I asked Lady Claudia, "that Lady Publia should have such an advantage over the other women of Ar's Station?"

"I do not know," said Lady Claudia.

"It does not seem fair to me," I said. "When you were going through our friend's pouches over there, did you find any small knives, such as a hook knife or a shaving knife?"

I had a belt knife myself, which was sheathed on the sword belt, to the right, but at the moment I preferred something lighter-bladed, smaller and sharper, if it were available.

"One fellow had a shaving knife," said Lady Claudia.

"Bring it to me," I said.

"What do you want if for?" said Lady Publia, anxiously. In a moment Lady Claudia had returned with the implement.

"What are you going to do!" cried Lady Publia.

"Hold still," I said.

"No!" she wept. "no!"

In a few moments I discarded the small knife, throwing it to the side. Lady Publia was lying in the straw, bawling. She clutched her head wildly, in dismay, in disbelief.

"Kneel," I said, "facing me."

Weeping, Lady Publia obeyed, her hands still on her head.

"Now," I said, "if Cosians come on you, you will be on the same footing as the other women of Ar's Station."

Tears filled her eyes.

I had left her enough hair so that I could get my hand in it, in the scrub of it, so that I might use it as the guard had earlier the hair of Lady Claudia, to control her. Too, thusly, it as now of a convenient length for a Cosian to seize it, should that eventually occur. It was of about the same length as that of Lady Claudia.

Lady Publia, half hysterical, kept her hands on her head. This lifted her breasts nicely. Then, seeing my eyes on her, she wept and put down her head, kneeling low, her hands still over her head.

"Prisoner," said I, harshly, "on all fours."

She assumed this position.

"Go to the place where you put the clothing," I said to Lady Claudia, "by the rope, the leash and collar, and wait there." Lady Claudia hurried to the place.

I then stood up and looked down at Lady Publia.

"Lift your head, prisoner," I said.

She did so.

"Lift up one end of the rope," I said to Lady Claudia.

She did so.

I them, abruptly, seized Lady Publia by the scrub of her dark hair and pulled her, she crying out, half crawling, half being dragged, over to where Lady Claudia waited. It was precisely so that the guard, earlier, had treated Lady Claudia.

"Kneel here," I said to Lady Publia, indicating the same spot where Lady Claudia had knelt, "up, off your heels, your arms at your sides."

Frightened, Lady Publia complied.

It was exactly in such a position that Lady Claudia had been knelt by the guard. I then took the free end of the rope from Lady Claudia's hand and, exactly as she had been tied, with the many coils, beginning near her waist, began to bind Lady Publia.

"What are you doing?" moaned Lady Publia.

"Put on her clothing," I said to Lady Claudia. "Hurry." The most recent assault force, the third of the morning, had been recalled. This meant a lull. At such a time men could be freed from the walls. Too, it was now late morning.

"What does she think she is doing!" demanded Lady Publia, outraged. "oh!" "As I recall," I said to Lady Publia, "you recommended that the ropes be made tight."

"Oh!" she said. Then suddenly, again. "Oh!" Then, "please," she begged, "do not make them so tight!" Then, Oh! Oh!" she said.

Then she was trussed.

"Your calves and ankles," I said to Lady Claudia, "are as attractive as hers." Lady Claudia flushed with pleasure at my compliment. Then she said, delightedly, touching the garment. "I have not worn clothes in days!" I smiled to myself. I thought she might as well enjoy clothes, while she was permitted them.

"Now put on the veil, and wrap the cloth about your head, quickly," I said, "as she had them." "What it the meaning of this outrage!" demanded Lady Publia, squirming in the ropes.

"That is very good," I said to Lady Claudia. She, like Lady Publia, had dark brown eyes. If one did not know Lady Publia personally, or if one did not know her all that well, I did not think there would be any difficulty in Lady Claudia's being taken for her.

"What is this all about?" asked Lady Publia.

"Go to the fellows over there by the wall," I said, "and cut free one of their tunics. I need some cloth."

Lady Claudia did so, using a belt knife, taken from one of the guards.

"What is this all about?" said Lady Publia, again, insistently, angrily. I then put the collar about her neck. Its leash was already attached. She then knelt there, as had Lady Claudia, leashed and collared.

"I do not understand!" said Lady Publia, angrily.

I stood up, and looked down at her. She was on her kneed, bound. She trembled. Women understand that position.

In a moment Lady Claudia had rejoined me, carrying a good bit of cloth. "Release me," demanded Lady Publia.

"You are going to help us leave the citadel," I told her.

"Never!" she said.

"I have a plan," I said.

"Doubtless you think she can pass herself off as me," she said, scornfully. "I think so," I said.

At that moment there was a great impact somewhere, perhaps a hundred feet away. Lady Publia, bound at our feet, winced. There was a noise as the leash ring moved on the collar ring.

"It is the artillery," said Lady Claudia, shivering. "It has begun again!" "She is pretty," I said. "Perhaps Cosians might spare her."

"I think so," said Lady Claudia.

"Why do you speak so explicitly of Cosians?" asked Lady Publia suddenly, apprehensively. "Am I not beautiful?"

"Yes," I said. "you are."

"Then would not anyone spare me?" she asked. "Perhaps not just anyone," I said.

"You understand, do you not, Lady Publia," I said, "that there are many ways, behavioral and psychological, in which one can determine whether or not a woman's bondage is meretricious?"

"Yes," she said, frightened.

"Even so," I said, "one might be found who might not choose to spare you." "What are you waiting here for?" asked Lady Publia, frightened. "Why do you not run? Why do you not flee?"

"We are waiting for a caller," I said.

"Who?" she asked, apprehensively.

"Surely you have not forgotten," I said. "He was to have been along in a few Ehn. I expect him in a bit, the assaults now having abated."

"If she is to be me," said Lady Publia, suddenly, frightened, looking at Lady Claudia, wearing her former rags, veil and scarf, "what then is to be my role in this farce?"

While we had been talking I had taken the cloth with Lady Claudia had brought from the side earlier, that which she had cut from the tunic of one of the guards, and had been tearing it here and there, and working with it.

"Can you not guess?" I asked.

"No!" she cried. "No!"

"Perhaps," I said. I was now wadding one of the pieces of cloth into tight ball. "Are you not a Cosian?" she asked.

"No," I said.

"What is your city?" she asked, frightened.

"Port Kar," I said.

She suddenly turned white.

"Glory to Port Kar," I said.

"Mercy!" she cried.

"Glory to Port Kar," I said, regarding her, evenly.

"Glory to Port Kar!" she cried, desperately, fervently.

"Three time," I said.

"Glory to Port Kar," she cried, thrice.

I then thrust the small ball of tightly rolled cloth into her mouth, where, instantly, as it was actually a rather large piece of material, it expanded. "Those may be the last word you ever speak," I said. She looked at me wildly, tears in her eyes, squirming, shaking her head, protesting, making tiny noises, but I then secured the wadding tightly in her mouth, with two rolled strips of cloth, pulled back tightly between her teeth, and tied in back of her neck.

"When the executioner arrives," I said, "who do you think he is going to find, waiting for him?"

She turned white, squirming, shaking her head.

"You were not really very pleasing," I said. "Perhaps you would like to be more pleasing now?"

She nodded, desperately, tears bursting from her eyes.

"Hold her leash, close to the collar," I said to Lady Claudia, who was white-faced, too.

This would keep Lady Publia from plunging her head to the floor, at our feet. She threw her head back, in misery.

But I pulled it forward, by the hair, and covered it, with a large piece of cloth from the guard's tunic. I then, with a knife, and a cord of rolled cloth, put through holes in the bottom of the cloth, made it into a rough hood, and tied it on her, fastening it behind the back of her neck.

"Perhaps if you had been more pleasing," I suggested.

She then began hysterically, piteously, to squirm and moan.

I rose to my feet. I gestured to Lady Claudia to release the leash. It seemed she could hardly open her fingers but she did so. Lady Publia, as I had expected, as soon as the leash was released, put her head, secured in the darkness of the crude hood, wildly, piteously down, searching, groping, for my feet, to press her covered, parted lips and stopped mouth against them. Then I took the leash back between her legs, crossed her ankles, and bound them together with it. She was thus, having herself assumed this position, now, at my convenience, fastened helplessly down, bent over, on her knees. I stood up. I looked down at her. Yes, it was also a position of obeisance.

"See if anyone is coming," I said to Lady Claudia.

She hurried, distraught, to the cell door.

In a moment she had returned.

"Doubtless he will be along presently," I said.

Lady Claudia looked down, horrified, at our helpless warder. I crouched down by the prisoner. "The spear, as I understand it," I said, trying to recall the words of our warder earlier to Lady Claudia, "is a solid piece of polished metal, very long, and less than a hort in width. It is tapered to a point, and fits in a mount."

Lady Publia, squirmed on her knees hysterically. She uttered tiny, wild, protesting noises.

Lady Claudia looked at me wildly, over the veil. There were tears in her own eyes.

At that moment there was a hideous impact some forty feet or fifty feet from us and on the other side of the interior wall to the left, as one would face the cell door, in what, presumably would have been the cell adjoining ours, there was a bursting inward of brick and stone. In a moment there was a cloud of dust in the corridor, some of which drifted into our cell. I put my arm before my face. Lady Claudia's veil and Lady Publia's hood doubtless afforded them some protection.

We heard a cough in the corridor outside.

In a moment a tall fellow entered our cell. He wore a black hood, which, save for a narrow, rectangular opening for the eyes, covered his entire head. The hood and shoulders, in particular, were covered with dust. He struck some dust from his clothes and body. "The wall weakens," he said to me. "In a few Ehn they will be coming again. They are forming. We can no longer keep them back. Their engines are almost climbing the walls."

I nodded.

"You are Lady Publia, the warder?" he asked Lady Claudia.

"I am," she said, boldly.

"I do not approve of woman warders," said he. "It is a task for men." She tossed her head.

"Perhaps you regret having accepted the position," he said.

"Perhaps," said Lady Claudia.

At our feet, Lady Publia, kneeling, bent over, small, hooded, the leash tight against the back of her neck, unable to raise her head, squirmed and uttered wild, tiny noises. We paid her no attention, as she was the prisoner. I supposed, however, that perhaps she did, now, upon reflection, regret having accepted the position of warder. "You have pretty legs," said the fellow to Lady Claudia.

She did not respond.

"What is your caste?" he asked.

"The Merchants," she said.

"Why are you not in the white and gold," he asked, "on this, of all days?" White and gold, or white and yellow, are the caste colors of the Merchants.

She did not answer.

"You are not even in the Robes of Concealment," he said.

"They are not appropriate here," she said.

"You do not wear them because it is not appropriate for them here," he asked, "or is that why you are here, because it is not appropriate to wear such things here?"

"There are many places where they would not be appropriate," she said. "Yes," he said, "for example, on a Cosian sales block."

"I meant other places," she said.

"It is true," he said, "for example, in climbing the rubble, carrying stones to workmen on the walls, in tending the wounded, and such. Thus I wonder why it is that you chose to be here."

"It is cool here," she said.

"And perhaps you could feel more like a man here," he said.

"Perhaps," she said, as though angrily.

Lady Publia, in the hood, tied at our feet, made a small, wild noise, as of understanding, acknowledgment, dismay, regret, misery and pain. The fellow's question had apparently seemed profoundly meaningful to her, for some reason. At any rate, if she had had secret, internal pretensions to manhood, or to similarity to men, or something along these lines, it seemed unlikely she now retained them. I thought that she probably now realized she was something quite different, and in my opinion, something quite individual, authentic and wonderful, a woman. At any rate, she would know something that was indisputable, that she was at our feet, a helplessly bound female.

"From the look of it, woman," said he to Lady Claudia, "I do not think you have underrobes beneath those rags."

"That is my own concern," she said, loftily. "By nightfall you will probably be in a collar, licking the feet of a Cosian," he said.

"Perhaps," she said, angrily.

"And what of you, my little vulo," he said, not unkindly, crouching beside Lady Publia. "I wager that you, too, would like to have the opportunity to prostrate yourself before Cosians."

Lady Publia began to squirm and wriggle wildly, making piteous sounds.

"You must have fed her very well," said the fellow, looking up at Lady Claudia, whom he took for Lady Publia.

"She has a great deal of energy."

Lady Publia struggled wildly, trying to pull her head up, against the thick collar and heavy strap. But, in the end, she was exactly as she had been before. "Why is she gagged?" asked the fellow.

"That she not be able to make her identity known," I said.

Lady Publia stopped moving, startled.

"It is the orders of Aemilianus," I said. "he was not certain whether or not there were more than one spy of such a nature in the city. Accordingly, in this fashion, if there should be more than one such agent, Cosians would not know which of them was mounted on the pole. The hood, of course, has a similar purpose. To some extent, it might, though it seems a little late now, impair the functioning of their intelligence network in the city. Similarly the other agents, if there are such, might be intimidated or terrified, not knowing which of their number had been captured, how much was known, who might be next, and so on."

"The commander is a clever man," said the fellow.

"Yes," I agreed. I did have respect for Aemilianus as a commander.

Lady Publia squirmed, and wept. The hood was wet with her tears.

"Do not fret, little vulo," he said to her, putting his hand on her head, "you will soon be on the spit, cooking in the sun."

She wept and struggled.

"It seems there will be little difficulty in getting this one to squirm on the spear," said the fellow. Wild, tiny, piteous noises emanated from Lady Publia's hood. "Sometimes they wriggle well," he said, "perhaps because they are afraid, or because they think they can get off the spear somehow, or because they are trying to end it. Sometimes they try to hold themselves as still as possible. Sometimes then we use the whip on them, and sometimes not. If we let them take their time about it, of course, the penetration is sometimes as little as a hort an Ahn. The end result, of course, is the same."

Lady Publia squirmed hysterically. She uttered desperate, piteous, pleading sounds.

"Usually they are not this agitated," said the fellow. "Usually, by this time, they are numb with fear and dread, and offer no resistance. Many cannot even walk."

I recalled that Lady Claudia had been much that way earlier.

"It is time to go, vulo," said the fellow, getting to his feet.

Lady Publia, at his feet, shook her head wildly, feverishly, piteously, desperately, as she could, in the constraint of the collar. It must have burned the back of her neck. Because of the coils of rope I could barely see her back. "She begs for time, for mercy," said the fellow.

"Perhaps," I said.

She whimpered, piteously.

"Filthy spy," he said. He then, angrily, spurned her with his foot, thrusting her to her side.

Lady Claudia, wide-eyed, frightened, looked at the prisoner, lying on her side, helpless, and looked then, too, at the fellow. Perhaps she had never before seen a woman so treated, or at least a free woman so treated.

The fellow then freed the ankles of Lady Publia, and brought the leash forward, between her legs. He then coiled it to the leash ring. Then, one hand on her arm, the other on the leash coils, he pulled her to her knees.

Lady Publia whimpered piteously before him. I think she was now beginning, better than before, to understand her unenviable position. I feared she might collapse or faint. I was not certain she could even stand now.

"Think now on Cosian gold," he said, bitterly. She shuddered.

"Let us show your Cosians friends how pretty you will look on the spear," he said, angrily.

She shook her head, numbly.

"I am now giving you tether," he said. He shook out the leash. "When I pull twice on the leash," he said, "you will rise and follow me, responsive to, and conducted by, the leash."

But before he could draw twice on the leash, giving the prisoner her signal, she thrust her head down, to his feet, reaching for them, as she had earlier for mine. He let her find them, for a moment, and press, and rub, her face, her head, her gagged, covered mouth desperately, piteously against them.

"You seem to have the dispositions, and makings, of a slave," he mused. She lifted her head to him, in the darkness of the hood, pathetically, hopefully.

"And surely your body," he said, "so trim and excitingly shaped, is much like those that are found in slave markets."

She whimpered affirmatively, beggingly.

"But unfortunately," he said, "you are a free woman. she shook her head.

"You seem to have forgotten your brand," he said.

She made a small, begging sound.

"But perhaps all you free sluts are truly slaves and belong in collar," he said. He looked at Lady Claudia. "Your friend, Lady Publia, the warder," he said to the prisoner, "had pretty calves and ankles. doubtless those are displayed for the interest and delectation of Cosians, and masters."

Lady Claudia stood back, not answering.

I wondered if the fellow saw that Lady Publia was thinking of running.

"Traitress," said the fellow to Lady Publia.

Lady Publia then, suddenly, leaped to her feet and tried to run, but, in an instant, expertly, with a turn of the leash, she was flung to her side before him. He held the leash. His foot on it, near her neck, kept her head down. Lady Claudia's hand went before her veiled lips. She looked down at the helpless, prostrate Lady Publia. I supposed that perhaps Lady Claudia had never seen a woman subjected to leash control before.

"That was stupid," said the fellow. "Now, shall we begin again?" He took his foot off the leash. He shook the leash once, to alert the prisoner that a leash signal was imminent. Then he drew on the leash twice. "Stand," he said. "Follow."

Lady Publia struggled to her feet, then her legs gave out, under her, and she collapsed.

"Be warned," he said. "If I carry you, I shall carry you as a slave is carried." But I think Lady Publia now, truly, could not stand. I think that her bonds, the security of her gag, her inability to dislodge the hood, its effectiveness in concealing her, the ease with which her attempted escape had been dealt with, had all combined to make clear to her her utter helplessness, that she could not, in the least, by her will or action, alter the course of events. We had seen to it. Now she could scarcely move.

With a thong he addressed himself to her ankles.

"What is wrong with you?" asked the fellow, looking up at Lady Claudia. She stood there, frightened. It seemed she herself could hardly stand.

Lady Claudia looked at him. She put out her hand a little, piteously.

"Do not concern yourself with her," said the fellow, finishing with the knot, jerking it tight, on Lady Publia's ankles. "She is a spy."

Lady Publia struggled weakly, her ankles now thonged.

"It is a pity that such lusciousness must be destroyed," he said. "Such shapeliness has slave value."

Lady Publia whimpered.

As he considered the prisoner, Lady Claudia hurried to my side, keenly distressed, half beside herself. "You cannot let her go to the spear!" she whispered.

"I suppose once you were a haughty free woman," he said to Lady Publia. "You do not seem so haughty now. Doubtless once, too, you thought yourself very clever, when you betrayed your city and accepted Cosian gold. Now, however, I suspect that you are less sure of your cleverness."

I motioned that Lady Claudia should return to her place.

"What is wrong with her?" asked the fellow. "She pities the prisoner," I said.

"Spare her!" cried Lady Claudia, suddenly.

Her outburst was greeted by a frenzied squirming, and a renewal of tiny, pathetic noises from the prisoner.

"Do not take her to the spear!" begged Lady Claudia. "What can it matter? The city, I am certain, will soon fall. What difference will it make?"

I wished Lady Claudia would have kept her lovely face shut.

"Why do you think we have waited until now?" he asked. "Let that be the irony, if you wish, that today, of all days, when the citadel surely must shortly fall, when she is so close to rescue by her Cosian friends, but so far, that she, today, of all days, in full view of the foe, in justice and defiance, is placed upon the spear!"

Lady Publia shuddered.

Lady Claudia shrank back, horrified. She looked at me, wildly.

"Would you like a hand with her?" I asked. This would bring me close enough to deal with him.

"I can manage," he said. "Where are the others?"

"What others?" I asked.

"Usually there is a squad of three, with the warder," he said.