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

Swordsmen of Gor

John Norman

Fresh from his exploits in the Steel Worlds, home of the Kurii, a savage alien race intent on conquering Gor, Tarl Cabot has been returned to an isolated beach, at coordinates apparently specified by the Priest-Kings, the masters of Gor and the enemy of the Kurii. His only companions are his beautiful new slave Cecily, and Ramar, a ferocious sleen bred in the Steel Worlds to hunt and kill. But why has he been returned to such a remote spot? Did the Priest-Kings wish their former agent to serve them once more? Did the Kurii intend to use Cabot to further their own ends? The truth, as Tarl will learn, is darker, and deeper, than either of these possibilities. In SWORDSMEN OF GOR, the latest book in John Norman’s best-selling Gorean saga, follow Tarl as he embarks on a new adventure with the Pani, a strange people with mysterious origins, and learn the dark, sinister truth behind his return to Gor, the Counter-Earth.

SWORDSMEN OF GOR

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

by John Norman

Chapter One

WHAT OCCURRED AT THE EDGE OF THE FOREST

“I had not dreamed it so,” she said. “How could it be so beautiful?”

She stood on the beach, Thassa, calm, the sea, before her, the forest behind her.

We watched the ship of Peisistratus ascending, almost vertically, and then vanishing, far off, a sparkle, in the bright, blue sky.

“You had seen only Earth,” I said, recalling that distant, desecrated, half-ruined world from my past, “and the Steel World, once ruled by Agamemnon.” The name ‘Agamemnon’ was not the actual name of he who was once a Steel-World master, but it was chosen, it seems, for obscure associations. In any event, the actual name, being in Kur, could not be well rendered into phonemes accessible to the human throat.

In any event, we need not concern ourselves with Agamemnon as he had been dethroned, removed from the Steel World in question, and brought to Gor by exiled, devoted liegemen. Too, without a body, he was little to be feared.

The Steel Worlds are not visible to the naked eye, nor even to relatively sophisticated telescopic instrumentation. Too, they lurk, like wolves, muchly concealed, amongst the scattered stones, some small, many mighty, of what, on Earth, is commonly referred to as the asteroid belt, on Gor, by those familiar with the Second Knowledge, as the reefs of space.

Ramar, the sleen, lame, rubbed against my thigh.

“You can live in this place,” I told him. “I do not even know where we are.”

To be sure, I knew we were somewhere in the vicinity of the northern forests, north of the Tamber gulf, east of Thassa, well south of Torvaldsland. This mode of orientation is not Gorean, the common compass of which, with its eight cardinal points, is oriented to the Sardar, the dark, walled, mountainous abode of Priest-Kings, but founded on the Gorean poles. I am utilizing this manner of speaking, as it seems to me not only convenient but suitable. Should this record, then, which is written in English, and will thus be unintelligible to most Goreans, this often a boon to the writer, assuring as it does a modicum of privacy, indeed, it commonly amongst Goreans counting as a suspect, secret writing, come into the hands of any who might be familiar with English, these directions will be reasonably well understood. I write in English because it is easiest for me. Although I speak Gorean fluently, I can read it and write it only with difficulty. This is not unusual with those of my caste, many of whom, by choice, are contemptuously, pridefully illiterate, holding themselves superior to what they despise as trivial, vulgar learning. The business of their caste, then, in their view, is not with the pen but with steel, not with ink, but blood. Let scribes, they say, be adept with letters, and such, for that is their business, little scratches and marks on scrolls, and such. But this is not for them, not for the Scarlet Caste. But, too, should not each caste concern itself with its own business, the metal worker with metals, the peasant with the soil, the mariner with the sea, and so on? I do not commend this view, but report it. Too, in all honesty, it is not that unusual to find refined, literate members of my caste. Some members of my caste are educated gentlemen, educated, distinguished, dangerous gentlemen. Gorean, incidentally, is written “as the bosk plows,” which requires an alternating laterality, the first line read from left to right, the second from right to left, and so on. I might also mention that certain measures, of, say, length and weight, and such, will be approximated in English, in terms of pounds, yards, inches, and such, rather than in terms of stones, paces, horts, and such. The Gorean pace is very close to the English yard, but the stone is well over a pound and the hort is somewhat longer than an inch. I think this way of doing things will be helpful to an English reader. An exception, though perhaps not the only one, is the “pasang,” a convenient, often-encountered linear measure, easily graspable, I think. It is, as nearly as I can determine, having paced it out long ago, between pasang stones in the vicinity of Ko-ro-ba, some seven tenths of an English mile.

“The air,” she said, “exhilarates me!”

“The air has not been fouled,” I said. “Goreans love their world.”

“It is all so beautiful,” she breathed, wonderingly.

“Earth,” I said, “was doubtless once much like this.”

“The gravity,” she said, “is much like that of the Steel World.”

“It should be identical,” I said. “The rotation of the Steel Worlds, which produces their surrogate gravity, is arranged to simulate that of Gor.”

“There is a purpose in that?” she said, uneasily.

“Certainly,” I said. “The Kurii want Gor. Would you not want Gor, as well?”

“Given the fall of Agamemnon,” she said, “Gor has nothing to fear.”

“That is false,” I said. “Agamemnon wished to act unilaterally, and have Gor for himself. Many others, and even many in his own world, found that ambition unacceptable, or, at least, unrealistic. The denizens of the Steel Worlds, on the whole, wish to obtain Gor cooperatively, and, after that, they can dispute it amongst themselves.”

“And would?”

“Of course,” I said. “They are Kur.”

“I suppose humans might, as well,” she said.

“That explains much of the history of Earth,” I said, “competition for territory, resources, and such.”

“And women?” she said.

“Certainly,” I said, “women are highly desirable resources.”

“As loot, as properties, and slaves,” she said.

“Of course,” I said. “They are always valuable, as counters of wealth, and such.”

“And, one supposes, as helpless, vulnerable vessels of pleasure,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, “as helpless, vulnerable vessels of pleasure, vessels of inordinate pleasure.”

“As animals, whom you use as you wish?” she said.

“Of course,” I said.

“Men are beasts,” she said.

“They are what they are,” I said. “And on Gor they do not pretend to be what they are not.”

Her hand went, inadvertently, not really thinking much about it, to her throat. She could not remove the light, flat, slender metal band which encircled it, attractively, closely.

“Gor is lovely,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, looking out, over the sea.

“Sometimes the Priest-Kings,” I said, “as a most cruel punishment, condemn an individual to Earth.”

“Condemn?”

“Precisely.”

“Those of Earth are unaware of the nature of their world,” she said.

“They do not much mind it,” I said, “for they have known nothing else, nothing better. But the poor man, or woman, who is sent to Earth from Gor, they well understand the harshness of their sentence.”

“I suppose they, their lesson learned, must hope in time for mercy, a pardon, a reprieve?” she said.

“Some are sentenced for life,” I said.

“I am much pleased to be here,” she said.

“Even as you are?” I asked.

“Certainly,” she said.

She was well legged, sweetly hipped, narrow waisted, and well breasted. I did not think she would need be disappointed at the price that would be likely to take her off the block.

She was the sort of woman who was eminently purchasable.

The block was designed with such as she in mind.

“Even as what you are?”

“Oh, yes,” she said. “Yes! Yes! Extremely so! And particularly and appropriately so!”

“It is right for you?”

“Yes, and perfectly so!” she said.

“Perfectly so?”

“Yes, absolutely, perfectly so!”

“On Earth you did not anticipate it,” I said.

“Certainly not,” she said, “though I now realize how pathetically, and needfully, half consciously, sometimes fully consciously, I longed for it.”

“I see,” I said.

“I did not realize then what it was, what it would be, to be overwhelmed, owned, and mastered.”

“You are content?” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “joyfully so.”

“But it does not matter,” I said, “one way or the other.”

“No,” she said, “I know that. It does not matter, one way or the other.”

I looked out to sea.

No sails were seen.

The horizon was clear.

“You, and others,” she said, “fought against Agamemnon, furthering the ends of other Kurii, those opposed to him. Are not you, then, and your colleagues, friends, allies, with them?”

“For a moment, we were,” I said. “It was a brief intersection of interests, a moment when we traveled a single road.”

“And that road has forked?” she said.

“I think so,” I said. “Kurii are intent, and steadfast.”

“But we have been brought here, and put here, alive.”

“Doubtless in virtue of an arrangement with Priest-Kings,” I said.

“Who are Priest-Kings?” she asked. “What are Priest-Kings?”

“Do not concern yourself with the matter,” I said.

“Curiosity,” she said, “is not for one such as I?”

“No,” I said. “Such as you are for other things.”

“‘Other things’?” she said.

“Certainly,” I said.

“I can no longer see the ship of Peisistratus,” she said, looking after the path of the ship, shading her eyes.

“I gather it is to make landfall within territories under the hegemony of Ar, and there disembark the Lady Bina and her cohort, and guard, Lord Grendel.”

“To what purpose?”

“I know not,” I said.

“She expects to become a Ubara,” she said.

“She is clever, and beautiful,” I said, “but the thought is madness.”

“But she was put there, with her guard, Lord Grendel. Do you think this is a guerdon for obscure services she rendered, or a gift to Lord Grendel?”

“It seems unlikely,” I said.

“If you have been placed here, in this verdant wilderness, at the will of Priest-Kings, whoever or whatever they may be, might not the Lady Bina and Lord Grendel have their purposes, as well?”

“I do not know.”

“Why have you been put here?”

“I do not know,” I said.

“I see nothing about,” she said.

“Nor I,” I said.

“You have your bow, some arrows, a sword, a knife,” she said.

“Rejoice,” I said, looking about.

“It does not seem we were put here to perish,” she said.

“No,” I said, looking back to the forest, “but we may perish.”

“There are animals?” she said.

“Doubtless,” I said.

“Men?” she asked.

“One does not know,” I said.

“We have some provisions,” she said, “bread, a bota of ka-la-na.”

“I will hunt,” I said. “We will seek water.”

“When Peisistratus disembarks Bina —” she said.

Lady Bina,” I said, sharply, narrowly.

“Yes,” she said, quickly, “Lady Bina.”

I wondered if she were testing me. That would have been unwise on her part. No love was lost between her and the beauteous Lady Bina, but that was no excuse for an impropriety in this matter, however inadvertent or slight. There were forms to be observed. Too, a chasm, a world, separated her from the Lady Bina. The gulf between a tarsk and a Ubara was less than the gap between one such as she and one such as the Lady Bina. To be sure, I had often thought that the Lady Bina would herself look quite well in a collar.

How did she expect to become a Ubara?

She did not even have a Home Stone.

And there was a Ubara in Ar, if only a Cosian puppet on the throne, Talena, a traitress to her Home Stone, Talena, once the daughter of the great Ubar, Marlenus of Ar, whose whereabouts, as far as I knew, were unknown.

“When Peisistratus disembarks the Lady Bina and Lord Grendel,” she said, “whence then he?”

“He will undoubtedly continue his work,” I said. I did not elaborate on the nature of his work, but she was substantially familiar with it. Peisistratus, and his crews, were in their way mariners and merchants. He doubtless had one or more bases, or ports, on Earth, and one or more on Gor, and I knew he had one on the Steel World from which we had been brought, that now under the governance of Arcesilaus, now theocrat of that world, and now, claimedly, Twelfth Face of the Nameless One.

“He is a slaver,” she said.

“He doubtless deals in various commodities, in various forms of merchandise,” I said.

“He is a slaver,” she said.

“Yes,” I said, “certainly at least that.”

“Predominantly that,” she said.

“Perhaps,” I said. “I do not know.”

“I saw the capsules on the ship,” she said.

“He is a slaver, certainly,” I said.

“Perhaps he thinks he is rescuing women from the ravages of Earth,” she said.

“That seems unlikely,” I said.

“At a price, of course,” she said.

“Oh?” I said.

“A rag, if that, and a mark, a collar,” she said.

“I doubt that his motivations are so benevolent, so thoughtful,” I said, “even mixedly so. And, on the other hand, his motivations are certainly not villainous, or malevolent. Do not think so. You know him too well for that. I think of him primarily as a business man, obtaining, transporting, and selling, usually wholesale, wares of interest.”

“Women,” she said.

“Perhaps an occasional silk slave, to delight a free woman,” I said.

“Mostly women,” she said.

“Almost always,” I said.

“They sell better,” she said.

“Of course,” I said. “They are the most fitting, appropriate, and natural form of such merchandise.”

“‘Merchandise’?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Goods?”

“Of course.”

“They view us as animals, as cattle,” she said.

“There is nothing personal in it, or usually not,” I said. “To be sure, one might take a particular female who has displeased one, in one fashion or another, and have her brought to Gor, to keep her, or see her sold off to the highest bidder, that sort of thing.”

“As cattle!” she said.

“No,” I said, “as less, as females.”

“It seems I have an identity, and a value,” she said.

“Certainly,” I said.

“But I was not brought to the Prison Moon by him, or by one such as he,” she said.

“No,” I said. “But do not be distressed, for he assured you that you would have been well worthy of selection and transportation, that you were exactly the sort of goods which would have been well enclosed, so to speak, in one of the capsules.”

I had found myself, months ago, imprisoned in a container on the Prison Moon, sharing the container with two individuals, a young Englishwoman, Miss Virginia Cecily Jean Pym, and a lovely Kur Pet, who had later come to be the Lady Bina. These were both free women and I, who had seemingly displeased Priest-Kings had been, apparently, enclosed with them as an insidious punishment, that, sooner or later, as I weakened, becoming more bitter, frustrated, outraged, and needful, my honor would be compromised, or lost. And, after that, I do not know what fate they might have planned for me, perhaps a hideous death, perhaps a wandering life of exile, beggary, and shame. One does not know. Both were, at the time, though without Home Stones, yet free women, you see, and thus, given the nobility of their status, not to be lightly put to one’s pleasure, certainly not without suitable provocation. It is difficult to convey the dignity, importance, and social standing of the Gorean free woman to one with no first-hand awareness of the matter. They have a position and elevation in society which far transcends that of, say, the free woman of Earth who is usually not so much free as merely not yet enslaved. The analogy is imperfect but suppose a society of rigid status, of severe hierarchy, and the rank and dignity that might be attached to the daughter of, say, a royal or noble house. One in such a society would not be likely to think of bedding such an individual, at least as a serious project. To be sure, a Goth, a Turk, a Saracen, a Dane might have fewer inhibitions in such a matter.

Kurii had raided the Prison Moon, freed me, and brought me to what was then the Steel World of Agamemnon.

But this event and various ensuing events, as I understand it, have been elsewhere chronicled.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Ramar,” I said, “must be freed.”

“Is that wise?” she asked.

“I do not know,” I said. “But it was for this reason that I had him brought to Gor.”

I had first seen Ramar in an arena on the Steel World, a milieu in which his ferocity, might, and cunning, in virtue of dozens of bloody victories, were renowned. Bred for dark sports, trained to hunt and kill, he was a prize of his breed, a champion of his kind. Later, in the insurrection, he, and other sleen, as Agamemnon grew more desperate, uncertain, and frightened, had been freed, that they might hunt down, destroy, and devour his foes, in particular ill-armed humans who might be party to the rebellion. A Kur, unarmed, is a match for a sleen. A Kur, armed, has little to fear, unless taken unawares. In turn, the revolutionaries, primarily the rebel Kurii, primarily on behalf of their human allies, had set a number of heavy, metal traps, more than two-hundred pounds in weight, baited with haunches of tarsk, traps fastened by heavy chains to large stakes sunk deeply into the ground, and in one such trap this beautiful animal, this great, fierce, dangerous, six-legged, sinuous monster, Ramar, had been caught. In this trap, held by its steel teeth, clamped deeply into his left rear leg, to the bone, bleeding and tortured, jerking against the stake and chain, then quiescent and silent, he would have died, of prolonged pain, or thirst. He was a large, noble animal, and beautiful in the hideous way in which a sleen can be beautiful, and it did not please me that such a creature should perish so miserably. Doubtless unwisely, I managed, with great difficulty, to open the trap, and the beast, freed, withdrew, vanished, limping, into the brush. He had not attacked me. Perhaps it had not occurred to him to do so. Later, we had encountered one another now and again. I think some record of this is elsewhere available. Following the denouement of the insurrection on the Steel World in question and, seemingly, in virtue of some interaction or agreement between Priest-Kings and victorious Kurii, it was determined that I, and others, were to be returned to Gor. Might we have hoped that our labors on the Steel World had pleased, or, at least, appeased, Priest-Kings? Could such forms of life be mollified? And could they not then have been satisfied, at last, and have seen fit, in their wisdom, to free us from their interests? Certainly we had, or some of us, however unintentionally or inadvertently, served them. Surely they now had less to fear from one of the greatest and most dangerous of the Kurii, Lord Agamemnon, an ambitious, skilled, determined, brilliant, gifted, implacable foe. In any event I had not been slain, or returned to the horrors of the Prison Moon. I now found myself again on Gor. I had then little hope that Priest-Kings had finished with me, as I would have fervently desired. Had that been so should I not have been returned, liberated and thanked, perhaps even bountifully rewarded, to my holding in Port Kar? But I was here, somehow, on this remote beach, the forest behind me. In leaving the Steel World I had brought Ramar with me. He deserved, I thought, the woods or forests, the plains or mountains, the openness and freedom, of Gor, not the steel platings and inserted gardens, the contrived geography, of a Steel World. Let him live as a sleen, in a world fit for him. Indeed, let men live in worlds fit for them. Too many live in their own Steel Worlds, and know not this, know not their prisons.

“He will turn wild,” she said.

“He is wild,” I said.

“He will become dangerous,” she said.

“He is dangerous now,” I said.

I unbuckled the thick, spiked collar from the throat of the giant, lame sleen, Ramar, and pointed behind us, to the forest. The large, round eyes regarded me, as though quizzically.

“Yes,” I said, “friend. Go.”

A protestive growl emanated from the throat of the beast. It wound its body about me, moving, curling about me. I thrust the heavy body from me.

“Go,” I said, sternly. “Yes, it is my wish.”

“He does not want to go,” she said.

“Go,” said I, to the sleen.

I then, impulsively, knelt down and seized the massive body about the neck, and buried my face in the fur of his shoulder.

“You are crying,” she said.

“No,” I said.

I then stood, and wiped my eyes with the back of my forearm.

“You are crying,” she said.

I scorned to respond to so foolish an allegation.

Ramar whimpered.

“The forest is there!” I said to him, turning his head with my hand toward the forest. “That is your world!” I said, pointing. “Go! Go!”

I watched the sleen take its leave, its left, hind foot marking the sand, where he dragged it behind him.

Then he was gone.

I then turned to regard her.

“Wipe the tears from your cheek,” I told her.

She obeyed.

To be sure, emotion is acceptable for women, and certainly for such as she, the sort which, though the least, is the most female of all women.

She had been one of the two women who had been enclosed with me in the small, transparent container on the Prison Moon, two who had been deliberately, carefully selected by Priest-Kings, with all their shrewdness and science, with all their malevolent expertise, to constitute exquisite temptations for me, who were intended to be such as would prove irresistible to me, either of them a suitable engine to accomplish in time the destruction of my honor, either one of which was a banquet to lure me, tormented and starving, inevitably, sooner or later, from the rigors of my codes.

I regarded her.

She who had become the Lady Bina had been, at that time, long ago, in the container, no more than a Kur pet, a human pet of a superior life form, the Kurii, one at that time not even speeched, one at that time no more than a simple, naive, luscious, appetitious little animal. Surely the little beast was exquisitely desirable, who could deny that, but even then the other, the dark-haired captive, the English girl, Miss Virginia Cecily Jean Pym, clearly the product of a pathological culture, inhibited, unpleasant, arrogant, nasty, with such clearly ambivalent feelings toward men, even hostility toward males, was the one on whom I most wished to lay my hands, she whom I most desired to seize and subdue, whom I thought it would be most amusing to have in my arms, and force to buck and squirm, and whimper and plead, and cry out and beg, and weep in my arms her helpless, unconditioned, grateful, rapturous submission, that of the shattered, devastated, begging female to the will of the possessive, uncompromising, owning male. I do not think that she was objectively superior to the Kur pet, and might even have brought a lower price than the Kur pet in most markets, but she was somehow very special to me. Indeed, I have little doubt that she had been selected for me, with great care and skill, perhaps from amongst thousands, that she had been matched expertly to my inclinations, preferences, and needs, inclinations, preferences, and needs of which I might not even have been aware. Two other factors, too, I suspect, were involved. As she had been matched to me, I suspect that I had been matched to her, as well. The Priest-Kings, I suspect, had, so to speak, fitted us together. Had she no need of such as I, the temptation would have been primarily mine, and it would have failed of its devastating symmetricality. But I, so desiring her, how helpless I would have been, had she been, sooner or later, similarly distressed and tormented. How could we have then failed to embrace, and therewith comply with the will and intrigues of Priest-Kings?

Do they not use us as their pawns, their dupes, and instruments? Using our congruent natures how could we, so subtly manipulated, have failed to dance upon their strings?

The other factor involved was one I sensed early, the deep nature of the lovely English female, but had confirmed only after the rupturing of the Prison Moon, after the destruction and melting of a steel gate, and the opening of the container, these events implicated in the Kur raid, in their hurried, transitory seizure of an artificial moon, or a portion thereof, in that fearful traversing of forbidden borders, an act of perhaps unwise transgression, the fruit perhaps of a strange wager, one in which the winnings, seemingly the liberation of a single, imprisoned warrior, and one commonly their foe, would seem small, put against the risks of loss, the possible retribution and reprisal of Priest-Kings, masters of Gor and her space.

Surely much was rushed for time was short.

Presumably within Ehn, so shortly, the ships of Priest-Kings might come to investigate, to succor, to retaliate, to recover their threatened, violated sphere, the Prison Moon.

Squirming in terror on the flooring outside the container, on its metal plating, amongst the clawed feet of Kur raiders, fearing to be destroyed, even eaten, by what to her were fierce and incomprehensible beasts, she had cried out “Masters!”

This had surprised me.

I had been startled, though I had sensed even in the container something of the deep nature, the hidden reality, of the lovely, petty, snobbish, supercilious Miss Pym.

Who knows the secret thoughts locked in the diary of a woman’s dreams? And how few of them would dare to open the pages of that intimate journal to a stranger’s perusal.

How tragically alone such women are!

And how natural it is that they should fear, at first, not to be alone!

Many fear even to speak to themselves, let alone another.

In her extremity, her elections of certain utterances were, of course, not to be unexpected in a female.

They are common in the history of worlds.

What have they to bargain with, save their beauty?

And will it be enough?

Is it sufficient? Is it enough that they will be spared, to be brought, perhaps rather sooner than later, to the sales block?

But such a cry was to be expected, not only in any woman at the feet of males, but particularly from one such as she, who, in a thousand ways, I discerned, sensed the fittingness of her position, her prostration.

Had she not been so, in one way or another, in her dreams, on the smooth, scarlet tiles of a conqueror’s palace, on the deep-piled rug within the tent of a desert chieftain, on the deck of a pirate’s vessel?

In a pathological culture, of course, many things are kept concealed, often those which are most illuminating and meaningful, most important.

She had shortly thereafter explicitly proposed herself as a slave, indeed had pathetically begged bondage. Indeed, a moment later, she had clearly, explicitly, pronounced herself slave.

These words, “I am a slave,” were cried out in full consciousness. They came from the subterranean depths of her, as a quaking, helpless, unexpected eruption of truth from the volcano of her being.

What a moment of release, of emotion, that must have been for her!

In that moment she had grasped her womanhood, only, to be sure, to soon desire to repudiate it, again.

But it was too late.

With those words, she had, by her own deed, become a slave.

And such words cannot be unspoken.

It is done.

She is then helpless to qualify, reduce, diminish, or revoke the words, for she is then a slave.

All that remains is that she be claimed.

That had been done later, weeks later, in the Pleasure Cylinder, a small adjunct or auxiliary world to the Steel World at that time ruled by Agamemnon, Theocrat of the World, Eleventh Face of the Nameless One. Three other such related worlds were the Hunting World, used for Kur sport, the Industrial World, in which its manufacturing was accomplished, and the Agricultural World, in which a variety of crops were raised under controlled conditions, largely by automation. Kurii are naturally carnivorous, but in the limited environments of the Steel Worlds a number of processed foods have been developed, with which they may be nourished. Humans, and other animals, too, of course, were commonly raised for food. Following the services of a number of human allies in the rebellion, however, humans are no longer eaten in the Steel World in question, and, I understand, in certain of the others. The “cattle humans” who were raised specifically for meat are herded about and cared for, or relocated, but no longer eaten. It is supposed they will eventually disappear as they are large, clumsy, lumbering beasts disinclined to mate. Their numbers in the past were increased by means of artificial insemination. The ships of Peisistratus, incidentally, were docked within the Pleasure Cylinder. It was from one of its locks that his ship had exited, and sped to Gor.

“Ramar is gone,” she said, looking toward the forest.

“Yes,” I said.

“You freed him,” she said.

“Of course,” I said. “He should be free.”

“Should I not be free?” she asked.

“No,” I said.

“I do not mind being as I am,” she said.

“It does not matter whether you do or not,” I said.

“I see,” she said. “My will is nothing.”

“Precisely,” I said.

“You would keep me as I am?”

“Of course.”

“Why?” she asked.

“You are a female,” I said.

“Many females are free,” she said.

“True,” I said.

“Do you think that women should be slaves?”

“The most desirable ones, of course,” I said. “They are of the most interest. The others do not matter.”

“I have heard that Goreans believe all women should be slaves,” she said.

“You could probably find a Gorean free woman who does not accept that, but then she has not been in the collar.”

“If she were in the collar, she would change her mind?”

“If she were in the collar,” I said, “it does not matter whether she changed her mind or not.”

“She would still be in the collar.”

“Of course.”

“I suppose that Gorean men,” she said, “believe all women should be slaves.”

“I would not know what all Gorean men believe,” I said, “but many Gorean men believe that all women are slaves, only that not all of them are in collars, as they should be.”

“I see,” she said.

I looked upon her, as one such as she may be looked upon.

She straightened her body.

“Shall I strip and assume inspection position?” she inquired.

I did not respond to her. I recalled she had earlier referred to the Lady Bina, but had omitted her title, as “Lady.” That title is given only to free women, unless it might be, in virtue of its inappropriateness, bestowed in such a way as to terrify one such as she.

In inspection position one such as she would normally be stripped, and standing with her feet spread, and her hands clasped either behind the back of her neck, or behind her head. In this way the breasts are lifted nicely, and, given the position of the hands, one has no interference to one’s vision, and, similarly, one may, perhaps walking about her, test her for firmness, and for vitality, and such things. Teeth are often examined, as well. A barbarian girl, brought from Earth, often can be told from fillings in the teeth. Another common mark is a vaccination mark, usually thought by Goreans to be an Earth brand. Goreans prefer, of course, Gorean brands, which are commonly clear, tasteful, unmistakable, and beautiful.

“You are no longer on the Steel World,” I said. “Here is a planet, with openness. You are not now encircled with curving walls of steel. Perhaps you think things will be different for you here.”

“Doubtless in some respects,” she said.

“Essentially?”

“I do not know,” she said.

“They will not be,” I said. “This is Gor.”

“I wear a collar,” she said.

“Precisely,” I said.

“Collar!” I snapped.

Instantly she faced me, holding her hands slightly behind her, and lifted her chin.

She had received, I saw, some training in the Pleasure Cylinder. This would have occurred before she had been claimed.

It was appropriate, of course, that she should have been apprised of such things, or several such things, even before her claiming.

In such a way, in so simple a manner, may be precluded various instructions with the leather.

In this position the collar may be conveniently read.

I held the collar with two hands.

“What does the collar say?” I asked.

“I cannot read,” she said. “I am told it says ‘I am the property of Tarl Cabot.’”

“That is correct,” I informed her. “Who am I?”

“Tarl Cabot,” she said.

“Then whose property are you?” I asked.

“Yours,” she said, “— Master.”

“You are a slave,” I said.

“Am I?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Even here?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Do you wish to be freed?” I asked.

“There is nowhere to go,” she said. “I could not live.”

“Do you wish to be freed?” I repeated.

“No,” she said.

“Why not?”

“I beg not to be made to speak,” she said.

“You are clad as a slave,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

She wore a Gorean slave tunic.

It was a brief, gray shipping tunic, from the ship of Peisistratus. It had a number inscribed on the upper left side, “27.” This number, as others, had been correlated with the numbers of a set of chaining rings, number 1 with ring 1, and so on. She with others of her sort had thus been chained in an orderly fashion, serially, in one of the ship’s corridors. By means of the numbers a girl, if removed from her chaining ring, can be returned to the same ring. Order, discipline, and precision are important in the closed environment of a ship. I had removed her from her ring several times during the voyage. The Lady Bina, on the other hand, had been accorded quarters, as she had insisted, in the cabin of Peisistratus himself, the captain, who then, with her guard, Grendel, had bunked with his men. It must not be thought surprising that the Lady Bina had been deferred to, for she was a free woman.

The girl before me was fetching in the shipping tunic, but that was not surprising as such tunics, even such as hers, a shipping tunic, are not designed to conceal the charms of their occupant.

The Gorean slave tunic, incidentally, is a form of garment with several purposes. In its revealing brevity and lightness it well marks the difference between the slave and the free woman, a difference of great consequence on Gor. From the point of view of the free woman it supposedly humiliates and degrades the slave, reminding her of her worthlessness, and that she can be bought and sold, that she is no more than a domestic animal, an article of goods, and such. The slave, on the other hand, as she grows accustomed to her status, and its remarkable value in the eyes of men, tends to revel in its enhancement of her charms, a pleasure which is likely to be seriously begrudged her by the more heavily clad free woman. Few women, of course, object to being found appealing, even excruciatingly desirable, by males. Do not even free women sometimes inadvertently disarrange their veils? So, many slaves, at least in the absence of free women, before whom they are likely to grovel and cower, and wisely, to avoid being beaten, luxuriate and rejoice in their beauty and its display. A slave tunic, you see, leaves little to the imagination. Other advantages, too, adhere to such garments. For example, as they commonly lack a nether closure, with the exception of the Turian camisk, the slave is constantly, implicitly, advised of her delicious vulnerability as a property, and reminded of one of her major concerns, which is to please the master, instantly and without question, to the best of her ability, in any way he may wish. The slave, on her part, too, cannot help but find such garments arousing. In their way they serve to ignite and stoke the slave fires in her lovely belly. It is no wonder slaves often find themselves at the feet of their master, kneeling, and begging. Too, such garments are supposed to make it difficult to conceal weapons. There is no place in such a garment, for example, for a dagger. To be sure, it can be a capital offense for a slave to touch a weapon without a free person’s permission, so there is little danger of the slave’s attempting to conceal a weapon in the first place. But the garment, too, makes it difficult, or impossible, to conceal a roll, a purloined larma, or such. When the slave shops, if she is permitted to use her hands, and is not sent out back-braceleted with a coin sack tied about her neck, she commonly holds the coins clenched in her fist, or, not unoften, either, holds them in her mouth. Such garments are cheap, too, of course, and require little cloth. Too, many are designed with a disrobing loop, by means of which the garment may be easily removed, to be swept from her, or dropped, to fall about her ankles, depending on the garment. The loop is usually at the left shoulder, as most masters are right-handed.

She turned away from me.

“We are now out of the Steel World,” she said.

“So?” I said.

“You freed Ramar,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Will you not now free me?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Do not be absurd. You are not a sleen. You are nothing, only a human female.”

“And one who belongs in a collar?”

“Obviously,” I said.

“In your collar?”

“In a collar,” I said, “whomsoever’s it might be.”

“In any man’s?” she said.

“In some man’s,” I said.

“Yours?”

“Not necessarily,” I said, “but in some man’s collar.”

“I belong in a collar?”

“Of course,” I said.

“I gather,” she said, “that female slavery exists on this world?”

“That is true,” I said, “and male slavery, as well.”

“But most slaves are female, are they not?”

“Yes,” I said. “Slavery is a misfortune for the male, for the male, or most males, are naturally free, and master, but bondage is apt for the female.”

“Females are not the same as males?” she said.

“No,” I said. “They are quite different, profoundly, radically different.”

“The male is to own, and the female is to be owned?”

“The female, as a female,” I said, “can find her total fulfillment only in bondage, only at the feet of a powerful male, who will see her and treat her as the property she wishes to be, and nature intended her to be.”

“I see,” she said.

“It does not matter whether you do or not,” I said.

“I am in a collar.”

“Yes.”

She looked away.

“I suppose female bondage has a justification,” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Nature,” she said.

“Certainly,” I said. “Nature. Let her tell you of the rightfulness of your collar.”

She spun about, tears in her eyes. She clutched her collar. “She has told me!” she cried.

“I know,” I said.

“But we are no longer in the Steel World,” she said. “Here, surely, whether I will it or not, you will free me!”

“If you are testing me, trying my patience,” I said, “I do not care for it.”

“But we are alone,” she said. “You need not now, nor could you, continue to hold me in bondage!”

“Do you wish to be freed?” I asked.

“No,” she cried. “I do not wish to be free! But you must free me! You are not Gorean! You are of Earth, of Earth! You have no choice but to free me!”

“I do not understand,” I said. Did she not know she stood on the soil of Gor, and was collared?

“You must take me away from myself!” she sobbed. “You must rob me of myself!”

“I do not understand,” I said.

“You are of Earth, of Earth!” she said. You have no choice but to free me! You must free me!”

“You think so?” I asked.

“Certainly,” she wept.

“Certainly?” I inquired.

“Certainly,” she said.

“Remove your clothing,” I said, “and approach me, with your wrists crossed, before your body.”

“What?” she said.

“Now,” I said.

In a moment I lashed her wrists together before her body. I then drew her, stumbling, by the loose end of the strap to the edge of the forest. There I thrust her against a tree, belly against the bark, and flung the free end of the strap over a branch. “Master!” she cried. I then drew her crossed, bound hands up, high, unpleasantly so, over her head, and fastened them in place, that by means of the same strap, it now tied beneath the straps on her wrist.

“Master!” she wept.

She was stretched, on her tiptoes.

“You have not been pleasing,” I informed her.

“Forgive me, Master!” she cried.

I removed my belt.

In a moment I was through with her, but it had been enough.

“Do you think you will be freed?” I asked.

“No, Master!” she wept.

“Perhaps I will sell you,” I said. The former Miss Virginia Cecily Jean Pym had not been pleasing.

“Please do not sell me!” she begged.

I replaced my belt, freed her and turned away.

In moments she had followed me, and was on her belly on the pebbled sand, naked, sobbing, licking and kissing my feet, in piteous supplication.

“Do you think you will be freed?” I asked.

“No, Master!” she wept. “No, Master!”

“I am Gorean,” I said.

“Yes, Master!” she said.

“Do you understand that, Earth female?” I said. “You are owned — owned by a Gorean.”

“Yes, Master!” she said.

“Do you understand the meaning of that?”

“Yes, Master!” she said. “I am a slave, only a slave, and no more!”

“The most abject, worthless, and meaningless of slaves,” I said.

“Yes, Master!” she wept.

“What a miserable lot is yours,” I said, “that of helpless, abject bondage.”

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“Perhaps you understand better now the peril and degradation of your condition?”

“Yes, Master!”

“Do you still wish to be a slave?” I asked.

“Do not make me speak!” she begged.

“Speak,” I said.

“Yes, Master!” she sobbed. “Yes, Master!”

“Why?” I demanded.

“For then,” she said, “as a woman, I am wholly myself!”

“Do you think you will be kept as a slave for any reason of yours?” I asked. “Perhaps because you wish to be a slave?”

“Master?” she said.

“What you might wish is not only unimportant,” I said, “but meaningless, absurdly irrelevant.”

She looked up at me, from her belly, tears in her eyes.

“It is irrelevant,” I said, “whether or not you want to be a slave, or desire to be a slave, or need to be a slave.”

“Master?” she said.

“You will be kept as a slave,” I said, “because you are a slave, and should be a slave, and it pleases men that such as you should be owned.”

“Yes, Master,” she sobbed.

“Your will is nothing,” I said.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“You were less than fully pleasing,” I informed her. “A slave is to be fully pleasing.”

“Yes, Master!” she wept.

“I think I will sell you,” I said.

“Please, no, Master!” she wept. “I will try to please you, Master, fully, Master, fully, fully, perfectly, in all ways! Please do not sell me, Master! Keep me, I beg you!”

“I will do as I wish,” I informed her.

“Yes, Master,” she wept.

“Perhaps you now better understand what it is to be a slave?”

“Yes, Master,” she whispered. “Yes, Master.”

She looked up at me, mine, her face run with tears.

I regarded her.

Her lips trembled with emotion.

Her face was sensitive, soft, and beautiful. It was nicely framed in glossy, dark hair, still a bit short, perhaps, but it would grow. Long hair, as is well known, is favored in such as she. Much may be done with it, aesthetically, and in the furs. Too, it might be noted, in passing, that the female was highly intelligent. That much improves a girl’s price. That would be important if I chose to sell her. Such women make the best slaves. They quickly learn what they now are. Too, compared to the more ordinary, or average, woman, they tend to be, at least initially, more in touch with, and more aware of, and more open to, their own deepest needs, and desires. They come into the collar, thus, half-prepared for bondage.

Gorean slavers do not bring stupid women to Gor. They do not sell well.

I looked down upon her.

I liked her as she was, at my feet, collared, naked.

She belonged there.

“Now,” I said, “we must welcome our visitor.”

She looked up at me, wildly.

“Clothe yourself, girl,” I said.

She scrambled on her knees to her discarded garment, hastily pulled it on, over her head, and turned, on her knees, to face the visitor.

She would remain kneeling until given permission to rise, as she was a slave in the presence of free men.

“Tal,” said the fellow, standing back, amidst the trees, in the shadows.

“Tal,” I rejoined.

Chapter Two

PERTINAX;

A VESSEL WILL NOT BEACH

“Come forward,” said the fellow, gesturing toward the forest.

“You come forward,” I said, motioning him down, toward the beach. I did not know what might lurk in the forest.

“You want me within the circuit of your steel,” he remarked.

“You need not approach that closely,” I said. “Too, my blade is sheathed.”

“That seems unwise,” he said, “when greeting a stranger.”

“You do not appear to be armed,” I said.

I wondered if he realized how swiftly a blade might be unsheathed.

“Are you one of them?” he asked.

“One of whom?” I asked.

“I saw no ship,” he said.

“From the sky,” I said. “Do you know such ships?”

He wore a mottled tunic, irregularly green and brown. It would match in well with the background, with attendant shadows.

He did not have the blue and yellow chevrons which sometimes characterizes the lower-left-hand sleeve of the slavers, different, of course, from their more formal regalia, or robes, commonly blue and yellow, their colors. Some view the Slavers as a caste, others as a subcaste of the Merchants. The colors of the Merchants are yellow and white, or gold and white.

Had he been a slaver it was possible he might have been aware of the sky ships, so to speak, such as the disklike vessel of Peisistratus. On the other hand, the greater numbers, indeed, the vast majority, of Gorean slavers, one supposes, as Goreans of other sorts, had never seen such a ship. Indeed, many Gorean slavers, as many Goreans, might not even believe in the existence of such ships. They, of course, as most Goreans, would be well aware of the existence of Earth girls, from the markets, if from no other source, but they, as many Goreans, might suppose that Earth was somewhere on Gor, though doubtless far away. Much of Gor, you see, even from the point of view of Goreans, is, so to speak, terra incognita. Gor is somewhat smaller than Earth but having missed the cataclysm that drew, say, a sixth of Earth into space to form her magnificent single moon, leaving behind a mighty basin to become in time a vast ocean, her land area is quite possibly more extensive than that of Earth. In any event, much of Gor, to most Goreans, is unexplored, and consequently uncharted. There is thus no great difficulty in supposing the existence of unknown lands, even many of them, and one, perhaps, might be called “Earth.” And most Goreans, even today, would be as unacquainted with, and as skeptical of, the possibility of space travel as men of Earth might have been a thousand or more years ago.

The fellow, observing me carefully, came forward, some yards down the beach.

He was a tall man.

He glanced at the slave. “Her name is ‘27’?” he asked.

“You can read,” I said.

“Passably,” he said.

“‘27’ was a ring number,” I said. “Her name is Cecily.”

“That is a strange name,” he said.

“She is from Earth,” I said.

“That is far away,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“I am not unfamiliar with such women,” he said. “Some have been brought here, to content us.”

“There are others then,” I said.

“A few,” he said.

Gorean men need women, and by “women” they commonly understand the most luscious and desirable of women, the female slave. To be sure, the forests are dangerous, and what free woman would care to frequent them? Girls brought on chains, of course, have little to say about such things.

“She is pretty,” he said.

“She is not muchly trained,” I said, “and there are doubtless thousands who would bring higher prices.”

“Still, she is very pretty,” he said.

“Do you wish to challenge for her?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “I have a better.”

Unless there should be some misunderstanding here, one might observe that such challenges are not frequent, and normally require almost a ritual of circumstances. For example, aside from the usual impropriety of challenging one with whom one might share a Home Stone, Gorean honor militates against, if it does not wholly preclude, casual or unprovoked challenges. Obviously a skilled swordsman would have an advantage in such matters, which it would be inappropriate, and perhaps dishonorable, to press. Normally challenges would take place to recover a stolen slave, to protect a mortally endangered slave, perhaps to obtain a slave once foolishly disposed of, without which one cannot then bear to live, such things. Too, there may be economic constraints, as well, for if the challenge is not accepted, one is sometimes expected, depending on the city, the castes, and circumstances, to pay for the slave, with a purse several times her value. Few potential challengers then care to risk a refused challenge, as it is likely they cannot afford the slave, and must then retire in embarrassment. Many other possibilities enter into these things, but these remarks, hopefully, will give any who might chance to peruse these several sheets a sense of some of the prevailing customs in these matters. To be sure, brigands, pirates, enemies, and such, are not likely to concern themselves with challenges, but are rather the more likely, as they see fit, to attack, and kill. Similarly, in raids, and wars, it is understood that the property of the enemy, or quarry, or target, including not only his livestock and slaves, but even his free women, is legitimate booty. A proper challenge, on the other hand, is more akin to a duel, sometimes even to the setting of a time and place.

“You are a forester?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “You are in the precincts of the reserves of Port Kar,” he said.

“I did not know that,” I said.

The great arsenal at Port Kar has its shipyards, as well as its warehouses and wharves. To guarantee a supply of valuable, suitable timber, for example Tur trees for strakes, keels, and planking, needle trees for masts, and tem wood, the rare yellow tem wood, for oars, the arsenal claims and badges selected trees within given ditched areas in the northern forests, which supplies, largely in a raw state, together with others, more processed, such as tars, resins and turpentines, items primarily suitable for naval stores, are transported southward on Thassa to the Tamber gulf. Occasionally, it is rumored, the precincts set aside by Port Kar are raided, or exploited, or poached upon, by other naval powers, particularly those of Tyros and Cos. On the other hand, I frankly doubt that this is true. Both of those formidable maritime ubarates have their own reserves, and extensively so, as does Port Kar. Indeed, predictably, there are similar rumors abroad, I understand, that Port Kar predates on the precincts of Tyros and Cos, and other maritime ubarates. I take these rumors to be false, as well. The last thing Port Kar, or these other powers, needs is a land war, which would have to be primarily conducted by mercenaries. Cos is already overextended in this manner in the south, at Ar. Indeed, there now tends to be little interaction, at least ashore, amongst these powers. Much contest, however, is done for the mastery of certain sea lanes, particularly toward the south, and towards Tabor and Asperiche, and even as far south as Bazi, Anango, and Schendi. If the forests were less abundant, one supposes, of course, that wars would be fought for scarce, possibly dwindling resources. On the other hand the environed trees, and, in particular, those marked or badged, tend on the whole to be left unmolested, in the various precincts.

I was soon to learn, however, that these surmises, however sound in principle, required certain qualifications.

“Your Home Stone,” I said, “is that of Port Kar?”

“Yes,” he said, “but I have not seen her for years.”

“You were not born in the forests?”

“No,” he said. “There are few free women in the forests.”

Slaves are commonly used for work and pleasure. They may be bred, of course, as the livestock they are, at their master’s will. There are slave farms here and there, but they are rare, and often specialize in exotics of various sorts. It is expensive and time consuming to raise female slaves from infancy. It is easier and less expensive to allow others to raise them, so to speak, and then, when convenient, attend to their harvesting and collaring. There are many female slaves on Gor and it is often, to the irritation of venders, and the mortification and chagrin of the slaves, a buyers’ market. Almost all Gorean slaves are captures, having once been free women. The bred slave, other than in the sense that all women are bred slaves, is rare.

One might mention, at this point, a word or two about the stabilization serums, which were developed centuries ago by the green caste, that of the Physicians. By means of these serums a given phase of maturation, say, beauty in a woman, strength in a man, and so on, may be retained indefinitely. The caste of Physicians, long ago, construed ageing as a disease, the “drying and withering disease,” and not as an inevitability or fatality, and so set to work to effect, so to speak, its cure. Scientists of Earth, as I understand it, are only now beginning to sniff about the edges of this problem. A radical shift in perspective, of course, is necessary. And such conceptual reformulations, as is well known, are difficult, rare, and, oddly, often unwelcome. Major truths, no matter what the evidence in their favor, are often, in the beginning, denied, then ridiculed, then battled, and then, if the cultural situation permits, and insufficient numbers of the heretics, or proponents, of the new views are imprisoned or executed, grudgingly accepted, and then, later, hailed as obvious, and those originally most adamant in their opposition, perhaps having run out of penitentiaries and firewood, will claim credit for the discoveries to which they have so reluctantly succumbed. Indeed, can they not find passages in their texts which hint of those very secrets, and other passages which allude to them in now-transparent metaphors?

Claims to the effect, say, that ageing is, or is not, a disease are at least cognitive. One can be right or wrong about them. They should be distinguished from claims, or seeming claims, which are noncognitive, namely, which lack either truth or falsity. For example, it is impossible to confute nonsense for it is neither true nor false, and that which is neither true nor false cannot be shown to be either. The truth or falsity of such things is not hiding. It just does not exist. It must not be lost sight of in these matters, of course, that nonsense is often well armed. Consider poison. It, too, is neither truth nor false, but it is dangerous, and it can kill.

Please forgive the above digression.

I thought it germane to the narrative, however, to refer to the stabilization serums, because of the reference to the rare “bred slave.” Two characteristics of the economic condition, as is well known, are the scarcity of resources and the disutility of labor. Both of these conditions militate against the breeding of slaves, except in special cases, usually exotics, where the rarity is thought to justify the attendant expenditures. It is expensive and troublesome to raise a slave from infancy at one’s own expense and that is why slaves are seldom bred, at least on a wide scale. It is much more convenient to acquire them when they are ready for plucking, so to speak. Why raise the grapes when they are about, and one may pick them, as one sees fit, when they are nicely ready and ripe? To be sure, there are some slave farms which, after a few years, produce their annual crop, so to speak. On the other hand, these enterprises usually require a large initial investment, say, large physical facilities, and hundreds of breeding slaves, male and female, to be carefully matched and crossed, and it normally takes years for the first crop to be readied for market. And such farms, too, commonly deal in exotics. The most common exotic is the virgin slave who has been raised without the knowledge that men exist. Slaves, too, of course, may be bred for a diversity of colors, peltings, facial features, and such.

There is a technique, incidentally, based on a variation of the stabilization serums, for hastening physical maturation, but this is little used because one has then to show for one’s pains only an unusual child. Much can be done with the body, it seems, but little with the mind, saving, perhaps, by Priest-Kings in the recesses of the Sardar. Gorean men are not interested in children, even if they have the bodies of women. They find them uninteresting. Nor will they be of interest until several years have passed. Then they may be interesting, perhaps quite interesting. Humanity, one notes, exceeds physiology. Unfortunately, too, several of these children will suffer confusing stress, as they lack the emotional maturation to relate comprehensibly to the needs and demands of their grown bodies, bodies hastened beyond the horizons of a child’s understanding. Accordingly, this application of the stabilization serums is frowned upon in Gorean society, and in many cities is illegal. A much more benign, or, at least, more acceptable, application of the stabilization serums is founded on a related, and accepted, but opposing principle, the reversibility of all physical processes. In this application, within limits, adjustments to the serums may effect the restoration of youth. The usual application of this technique, as would be expected, is to return a middle-aged, or older, female, to her youth, health, energy, and beauty. As I understand it, this is normally done only with particularly selected women, ones whose once remarkable beauty, this usually determined from old drawings, paintings, and photographs, has faded. Brought to Gor, restored to their earlier vitality and beauty, and collared, they will find themselves, not surprisingly, of great interest on the block. All beauty, of course, is not confined to a particular generation. Would it not be nice to see Thais, Phyrne, Cleopatra, and such on the block?

The usual thing, of course, at least where girls from Earth are concerned, as free Goreans have access to these serums as a matter of course, is to pick out young, superb, slave fruit, and then bring it to the chains of Gor, and here, in the pens, or, at any rate, early in its bondage, subject it to the stabilization serums, that it may be protected from the ravages of alteration and deterioration. Gorean masters, predictably, tend to favor young, luscious, female slaves. Slavers, too, who wish to buy and sell them, wish them to stay this way, as their value is maintained and, in many cases, improved. Cecily, whom we have met in the preceding pages, was subjected to the serums not on Gor but in the Pleasure Cylinder associated with the Steel World ruled at that time by Agamemnon, Eleventh Face of the Nameless One. Though she was far from immortal, and might even be fed to sleen, she would retain her youth and beauty. To be sure, it would wear a collar.

Doubtless a value judgment is involved in such things.

One might balance, say, freedom, misery, and death, against bondage, happiness, and life.

One might consider two lives. In one, we might suppose a given woman who, with some good fortune, might live a life of, say, some eighty to ninety years, and live to watch her interest and beauty fade, and observe her once lovely body submit to the slow degradations of age, watch it dry, wither, suffer, decay, and weaken until it subsides into an infantile helplessness, characterized by misery and pain, or perhaps a semi-comatose, bedridden state in which, indifferent and drugged, she waits for an encroaching end which she no longer even understands. Conceivably that could be the choice of a given woman. Does it fulfill her? Does it make her happy? Has her life been a good life? Let us hope so. Then let us consider another life. Let us suppose a young woman is brought to Gor, to be collared and sold like meat off a block. She will learn she is property, and a slave. She will find herself at the feet of men, subject to discipline, chains, and the whip. She will find herself the most degraded and despised, and the most valued and sought-after, of women. She will be expected to kneel and obey. She will be dressed in revealing fashions. She will learn to labor. She will learn what it is to be roped, to wear a chain, perhaps to crouch in a tiny, locked cage. She will learn a life of radical and profound sexuality, in which she will be expected to perform for, and well please, a master, in ways which might have been beyond her hopes, dreams, and ken as a mere female of Earth. She will learn what it is, for the first time in her life, to breathe good air, to look into a blue sky, to see an unpolluted sunset or sunrise, to eat fresh and natural foods, to relish the taste of fresh bread, to be grateful for a piece of meat fed to her by a master’s hand, to put her tongue, if permitted, to a wine beyond what she thought might exist. The purpose of her life will be to please her master. She may fall in love with him, but she should be wary of letting him suspect this, and surely should not speak of it, lest she be peremptorily sold. And in this degradation she may live indefinitely. She learns to understand men and herself. She is likely, in most cases, to be rapturously content, and is likely to live in joy, but she is, of course, when all is said and done, only a slave. She is in a collar. It gives her security, and meaning, and happiness, and identity. Perhaps it is right for her. Could that be? But whether it is right for her or not, she cannot remove it. She is slave.

“How is it that a forester,” I said, “claims as his the Home Stone of Port Kar?”

“I once lived there,” he said, “before I took caste. At that time, long ago, there were few, if any, castes in Port Kar. She had no Home Stone. She was a den of thieves, as it was said, a lair of cutthroats, and such, a stinking maze of canals at the marshes, squalid and foul, and malignant.”

“And without honor,” I said.

“Yes,” said he, “and without honor.”

“I think once she had no Home Stone,” I said.

“That is true,” he said. “Can you conceive of a city, a town, a village, a hamlet, without a Home Stone?”

“There are probably such places,” I said.

“Then,” said he, “that changed. In a moment of crisis, in a time of confusion and terror, when a vulnerable Port Cos awaited the onslaught of the combined fleets of Tyros and Cos, the word spread, the startling mysterious word, a word like the flash of lightning, a word striking through the darkness, a word as mighty as the rallying of a thousand battle horns, as swift as the flight of a tarn, that there was now a Home Stone in Port Kar.”

“Jewel of Gleaming Thassa,” I said.

“Tatrix of the Sea,” said he.

“So you chose caste, that of the foresters, and came here, to serve the Home Stone hundreds of pasangs away?”

“The Home Stone of Port Kar may be served here as well as at the gulf, as well as in the shops of the arsenal, as well as on the wharves, as well as on the decks and benches of her ships.”

“True,” I said.

“I am fond of the forests,” he said. “Most are born to their caste. I chose mine.”

“Some do,” I said. To be sure, it is not easy to change caste, nor is it frequently done. Indeed, few would wish to do it. Goreans tend to be extremely devoted to their castes. In a sense they belong to their caste. It is surely part of their self-identity, and not only in their own eyes, but in the eyes of others, as well. And, indeed, there are few caste members who are not convinced that their caste, somehow, is especially important, even that it may be, in some way, the most essential or the most estimable of all. Surely the peasants, supposedly the lowest of all the castes, have this view. They regard themselves as the “ox on which the Home Stone rests,” and, in a sense, they may be right. On the other hand, where would any of the other castes be, or civilization itself, were it not for my own caste, that of the Warriors?

“You are pleased with the forests?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “When you see them,” he said, “you will understand.”

“Perhaps,” I said.

I was not clear why the Priest-Kings had arranged my being in this place at this time. I did suspect, however, that they had their reasons. Little took place in the Sardar which was not planned without an end in view, their own end.

“What is your Home Stone?” he asked.

“It is not that of Cos, or Tyros,” I said.

“No,” he said. “Your accent is different.”

As he was of Port Kar, or claimedly so, I thought it well to establish this matter. A state of war exists between Port Kar and the maritime ubarates of Cos and Tyros. To be sure, sometimes enemies meet affably enough.

“My sword, once, long ago,” I said, “was pledged to the Home Stone of Ko-ro-ba.”

“Long ago,” he said.

“I have served Port Kar,” I said.

“Were you there on the 25th of Se’Kara?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Were you?”

“Yes,” he said.

On the 25th of Se’Kara, in Year One of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, a great naval a battle was fought between Port Kar and the fleets of Cos and Tyros. Port Kar, on that occasion, was victorious. In the chronology of Ar, this battle took place in 10,120 C. A., that is “Contasta Ar,” or “From the Founding of Ar.” To be sure, I doubt that anyone really knows when Ar was founded.

“We are then in our way, are we not, ‘trust brothers,’” he said.

“It would seem so,” I said.

Certainly a bond would forever unite those who had been at sea on the 25th of Se’Kara, who had met Tyros and Cos that day.

From that day on they would be different.

“Were you there?” one seaman might ask another in the taverns of Port Kar, over kaissa or paga, the girl of his choice lying bound hand and foot by his table, waiting to be carried over his shoulder to an alcove, at his convenience, or wherever two fellows of that unusual polity might meet, perhaps even on a remote beach, by forests, and one need never ask “Where?”

But he had asked, in a way, had he not, for he had specified the date.

“Have you ever seen the Home Stone of Port Kar?” he asked.

“How is it that I, one not of Port Kar, should have seen her Home Stone?” I asked. “Have you?”

“Of course,” he said.

“I have heard,” I said, “that it is large and well-carved, and inlaid with silver.”

“With gold,” he said.

“I am not surprised,” I said. “In the cupboards of Port Kar, it is said, one is as likely to find gold as bread.” It was a saying. The corsairs of Port Kar venturing at sea, prowling the merchant routes, unannouncedly visiting coastal towns, and such, often returned to port well freighted with various assortments of goods, fruits and grains, weapons, vessels, tools, leathers, viands and wines, precious metals and stones, diverse jewelries, unguents, perfumes, silks, women, and such. These women are often wholesaled, given their numbers. Not infrequently they are wholesaled south to Schendi, for those of Schendi are fond of white-skinned female slaves. Slavers, of course, come from various cities to bid. Port Kar is well known for the high quality of her “fresh collar meat.” Many of these women, of course, on the other hand, are distributed as gifts by the captains or, more likely, retailed locally, for example sold to various local taverns. The women are usually of high quality or they would not be taken. When they are stripped, if ashore, before embarking, before returning to port, it is determined whether or not they are, as the saying is, “slave beautiful.” If they are not, they are freed and dismissed. If they are, they are taken aboard and chained, sometimes on deck, sometimes in the hold. If at sea, those who are less than “slave beautiful” are separated from the others, as though they might contaminate them, and kept for pot girls, laundresses, kettle-and-mat girls, and such. Interestingly, a kettle-and-mat girl, or such, in the collar, often becomes beautiful. In my view this far exceeds the matter of diet and exercise. In bondage a woman, even a beautiful woman, becomes more beautiful. The collar, it seems, has a remarkable and lovely effect on a woman. It softens her and, in it, in her place in nature, she becomes, as she must, doubtless for the first time in her life, a total woman. Mastered, at a man’s feet, she discovers fulfillments which were beyond her ken as a free woman. She finds an inward meaning and happiness and this is inevitably expressed in her features, bodily attitudes, and behaviors.

The free woman is to be sought and wooed; the slave is to be summoned, and instructed.

“It is surprising to encounter one here, for the beach is lonely,” I said.

“I was passing,” said he, “and noted you.”

“And one from Port Kar,” I said, “as well.”

“That is not so surprising,” he said, “for one of the major precincts of Port Kar is close, one of her major timber reserves.”

“Of course,” I said.

The ship of Peisistratus, I was sure, had not set us ashore at random. Coordinates would have been supplied, presumably as long ago as the Steel World.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“Tarl,” I said.

“A Torvaldslander name,” he said.

“It is a name not unknown in Torvaldsland,” I said.

“My name,” said he, “is Pertinax.”

“Alar?” I said.

“Perhaps in origin,” he said. “I do not know.”

“Is there a village nearby?” I asked.

“Some huts,” he said, “foresters, guards.”

“Why are you not armed?” I asked.

“The huts are nearby,” he said.

Whereas brigands, assassins, and such will strike an unarmed man, the common Gorean would not be likely to do so. It seemed clear to me that his unarmed approach was not then merely to reassure me but, in a way, to diminish, if not preclude, the possibility of himself being attacked. In Gorean there is only one word for “stranger” and “enemy.” Too, in the codes there is a saying that he who strikes first lives to strike second.

“What are you doing here?” he asked.

“I do not know,” I said.

“You were put ashore, marooned?” he asked.

“Perhaps I am to be met,” I said.

“Here?”

“Yes.”

He looked about warily.

“You asked earlier, if I were ‘one of them.’ Who are they?”

“Brigands, assassins, mercenaries,” he said. “I think they are from the wars, from the south, even from Ar. Hundreds have come, in many ships.”

“To this remote place?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said.

“They cannot be from Ar,” I said. “Ar has fallen, and been garrisoned by Cos and Tyros. Ar lies under the heel of Chenbar of Tyros and Lurius of Jad, of Cos. Ar is looted, bled, and chained. Ar is beaten, subdued, and helpless. Her riches are carted away. Many of her women are led naked in coffles, to Brundisium, to be put on slave ships bound for Tyros, Cos, and the islands. Myron of Temos, of Cos, is polemarkos in Ar. On the throne of Ar sits an arrogant puppet Ubara, a traitress to her Home Stone, a woman named Talena, a hypocrite and villainess, a female once the daughter, until disowned, of the great Marlenus of Ar himself.”

“Perhaps things have changed in Ar,” he said.

“Impossible,” I said. I had been in Ar. I had seen her helplessness and degradation, even how her citizenry was being taught to acclaim their conquerors, to blame themselves for the faults of others, to seek forgiveness for crimes of which they themselves were the victims. Wars could be fought with many weapons, and one of the most effective was to induce the foe to defeat himself. And so men, defeated and disarmed, must learn to rejoice in their weakness, and commend it as virtue. Every society has its weaklings and cowards. But not every society is taught to celebrate them as its wisest and noblest, its boldest and bravest.

“The strangers, hundreds of them, disembarked, from ship after ship, trek in long lines through the forest,” he said. “They are the dregs and rogues of Gor. I do not know their destination.”

“You,” I said, “have not come to meet us?”

“Certainly not,” he said. “And if others are to be here, to meet you, I am apprehensive.”

“You are afraid?”

“Yes,” he said.

“But you do not fear me?”

“No,” he said. “Were we not together on the 25th of Se’Kara?”

“Give me your hand on that,” I said.

“No,” he said. “I fear my hand is harsh, from the ax.”

“Forgive me,” I said.

“You will share my hospitality, of course,” he said, “for the 25th of Se’Kara?”

“With pleasure,” I said.

He who designated himself as Pertinax then smiled, and looked upon the kneeling slave, who, as was suitable, had been silent, as she had been unaddressed, and in the presence of free persons.

“Can she speak?” he asked.

“She has a general permission to speak,” I said. Such a permission, of course, at a word or gesture, may be revoked.

“You are generous with a slave,” he said.

“Many allow their girls that liberty,” I said. To be sure, the slave is to speak as a slave, and act as a slave, with suitable deference in words, tone of voice, physical attitude, and such. They are not free women. Sometimes a new slave thinks she may hint at insolence, or even manifest the barest glimmering, or thought, of disobedience, say, in a tone of voice, or a tiny gesture, or fleeting expression, but she is seldom going to repeat this infraction, even in the most transitory and petty manner. She is likely to find herself instantly under the switch or whip, put in lock-gag, be forbidden human speech, be put in the discipline of the she-tarsk, or worse.

“Girl,” said Pertinax to the slave.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“I understand your name is Cecily,” he said.

“Yes, Master,” she said, “if it pleases master.”

“If it pleases your master,” he said.

“Yes, Master,” she said, putting her head down.

“You are very pretty Cecily,” he said.

“Thank you, Master,” she said.

“Cecily,” I said.

“Yes, Master,” she said, lifting her head.

“You are in the presence of a free man,” I said. “Show him deference. Go to him, put your head down, and lick and kiss his feet, and then kneel before him and take his hands and lick and kiss the palms of his hands, gently, softly, moistly, tenderly.”

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“Yes,” said Pertinax, after a time. “She is a lovely slave.”

The kneeling, and kissing and licking the male’s feet, is a common act of deference in the female slave. Too, the holding of the hands, and putting one’s lips, and tongue, to the palms, humbly and gratefully, and kissing and licking them, is a lovely gesture. It can also, of course, ignite male desire. The slave is caressing the very hands which, if she be displeasing, may cuff and strike her. Interestingly, this same act can be quite arousing for the slave herself. So, too, of course, is something as simple as kneeling before the male.

“Back, girl,” I said. “Position.”

I did not think it wise to let her prolong such ministrations to a Gorean male.

Cecily drew back and knelt beside me, to my left.

“A Pleasure Slave,” said Pertinax, approvingly.

“Yes,” I said. “She is from Earth, as noted earlier. In that place, she is from a place called England.”

“I have never heard of it,” said Pertinax. “Was she free there?”

“Yes,” I said.

He regarded her, appraisingly, as a Gorean may look upon a slave. “Absurd,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Is she any good?” asked Pertinax.

“She now knows she is in a collar,” I said.

“Good,” he said.

I thought Cecily would look nice in a camisk, a common camisk. The camisk is much more revealing than the common slave tunic. It is a one-piece, extremely simple, suitable for slaves, narrow, poncholike garment. It is slipped over the head. It is usually belted with a loop or two of binding fiber. One may use the binding fiber to bind the slave. It is tied with a slip knot, which may be loosened with a casual tug, at the left hip, as most masters are right-handed. The common camisk is seldom worn publicly, in cities. One supposes the reasons for that are clear.

“Women make lovely slaves,” he said, wistfully, I thought.

“As you would know from yours,” I said.

“Of course,” he said.

“They are bred for the collar,” I said, “and they are not whole until they are within it.”

“True,” he said.

“Ai!” he said, suddenly, and, shading his eyes, looked out to sea. I turned, too. The slave started, but remained in position, not daring to turn about.

“A sail,” I said.

It was far off, a lateen-rigged sail, so presumably from the south, not the north. In Torvaldsland the common sail is square. Too, their ships commonly are clinkerbuilt, with overlapping planks, to allow more elasticity in hard seas. Most of the southern ships are carvelbuilt, so they ship less water. The northern ships commonly have a single steering board, whereas most of the southern ships are double helmed.

“Come back, into the trees,” said Pertinax, anxiously.

“I do not think they can see us from there, not yet,” I said, “but we will join you momentarily.” I bent to gather up the small bit of supplies with which we had disembarked the ship of Peisistratus. The girl came to assist me.

“The palms of our friend’s hands?” I said to her.

“Soft, smooth,” she said.

“He is not a forester,” I said.

“Who is he, Master?” she asked.

“I do not know,” I said. “He is, however, a liar and a hypocrite.”

“Master?” she said.

“Pretend something has been dropped, and you are looking for it, in the sand,” I said.

She began to feel about, in the sand.

“He has never seen the Home Stone of Port Kar,” I said. “It is not well-carved, inlaid with gold, and such. It is rough, and of common rock. It is not large, only a bit larger than a man’s fist. It is gray, heavy, granular, nondescript, unimposing. The initials of Port Kar, in block script, are scratched into its surface. It was done with a knife point.”

“How do you know?” she asked.

“I did it,” I said.

“He is not of Port Kar?” she said.

“I do not think so,” I said. “Certainly he did not speak of the 25th of Se’Kara as would one of Port Kar. He was probably not abroad upon turbulent, green Thassa on that remarkable and unusual day.”

“Then he is not a ‘trust brother’,” she said.

“He is no more a trust brother of mine,” I said, “than Myron, polemarkos of Temos.”

“I am afraid,” she said.

“Do not show fear,” I said. “Too, although we know he is a liar and a hypocrite, he may be a benign liar and hypocrite.”

“Master?” she said.

“I think he was to meet us,” I said. “Things would not make much sense otherwise.”

“But for whom does he work, whom does he serve, Master?” she asked.

“I would suppose the Priest-Kings of Gor,” I said.

“There is no other possibility?” she said.

“There is one other possibility,” I said.

“Master?”

“Kurii,” I said. “But not those with whom we were allied. Others. Others might have had the coordinates.”

“Former minions of Agamemnon?” she asked.

“Or of others,” I said.

“You have now found what you were looking for,” I said. “Put it in the sack.”

She obediently executed this small charade.

I rose to my feet, and she stood, too, beside me. I looked back, at the horizon. The sail was larger now.

“Hurry! Hurry!” called Pertinax, back amongst the trees.

We joined him in the shadows.

The ship, a common Gorean ship, small, light, oared, straight-keeled, ram-prowed, shallow-drafted, would be drawn up on the sand, if the night was to be spent here. It swung athwart, however, some yards from shore.

“Come,” said Pertinax. “It is dangerous to remain here.”

Men, some clambering over the side, lowering themselves, others leaping, entered the water, which at that point was waist to chest high. They began to wade ashore. These men were armed variously. Most had sacks slung about them. These tended to buoy upward in the water. More than one fellow steadied his approach with the butt of a spear.

“Who are these men?” I asked. They seemed a nondescript, but dangerous lot. There were some fifty men.

“Bandits, mercenaries, assassins, outcasts, men without captains, strangers, all strangers,” he said.

“What are they doing here?” I asked.

“I do not know,” said Pertinax. “Do not let them see you.”

“Where do they go?” I asked.

“They follow the blazings, the flags,” he said.

“To where?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he said. “Somewhere deep in the forest, perhaps to the headwaters of the river, well south and east of the reserves.”

“What river?” I asked.

“The Alexandra,” he said.

“I know it not,” I said.

“It is not a large river,” he said.

“And why might they go to the headwaters of that river?” I asked.

“I do not know,” he said.

“The river, I gather,” I said, “is narrow, but deep, sheltered by rock, as might be a fjord.”

“I thought you said you knew not the river,” he said.

“I do not,” I said, “but certain things would be needful, if certain purposes were to be served.”

“The men are unlawed, and dangerous,” he said. “Come away.”

He then withdrew silently into the woods, and I, and a slave, followed him.

I turned back, once.

The ship had swung about. Water fell from the oars. The ship would not beach.

It was growing dark.

Chapter Three

WE SUP WITH PERTINAX;

CONSTANTINA

“Is she First Girl, Master?” asked Cecily, angrily.

“No,” I said. “If she were I would have you at her feet.”

“Hear that?” asked Cecily, angrily, of the other girl.

“Stir the soup,” snapped the other girl.

“Do not quarrel,” said Pertinax, affably.

Masters seldom interfere in the squabbles of slaves.

His slave, Constantina, cast him a dark look. I found that interesting. One had the sense she was not pleased with chores. Certainly she had done little, and had seen to it that Cecily had done much, even to the gathering of firewood.

Pertinax and I were sitting, cross-legged, waiting to be served.

His slave, Constantina, seemed to me unpleasant, irritable, even surly. Perhaps it was because of Cecily. It is not unusual when one attractive slave encounters another attractive slave in the vicinity of her master that certain frictions may occur. Both know, so to speak, that they are meaningless, and no more than luscious toys for men, toys which, to their misery, and fear, may easily be discarded or replaced, and, accordingly, they tend to be acutely jealous of the attentions of their masters.

Slave girls are not unaware of their effect on men, or of those of other slaves.

They are well aware that it is not only they, but others of their kind, as well, which constitute delectable, tempting morsels for any male appetite.

The female slave cast amongst strong men is not unlike steaming, juicy, roasted meat cast among ravening sleen.

Indeed, few females of Earth, from their experiences on their native world, have any understanding of what it would be to be a female amongst men such as those of Gor; few such females would be prepared in the least for the possessiveness and power, the virility and lusts, of such men, natural men, and masters; and few would anticipate how exquisitely desirable they would appear to such men, and few would suspect how helpless and vulnerable, too, they would find themselves in the midst of such men, particularly were their necks clasped in the collar of a slave.

And yet I had the sense that Constantina’s attitudes might not be typical of the common slave, fearing for the loss of the interest or attentions of her master.

Indeed, she seemed to show not only myself, a stranger, but her master little deference. I found it of interest that he, for his part, seemed to accept this. I found this tolerance on his part surprising, and her laxity incomprehensible. I could not have expected this in a Gorean domicile, and if, unaccountably, it had occurred, I would have expected the slave to have been subjected to a sharp, immediate discipline, that presumably to be followed by a period of punishment, perhaps being chained uncomfortably for several Ahn, perhaps being housed in a tiny slave box for a day and a night, perhaps being smeared with honey and then being staked out, naked, spread-eagled, for insects, or such. I wondered if our host were Gorean.

Her behavior, too, had seemed untypical, at least of a slave, when her master had arrived with company. Initially, I had wondered if her response might not have been more to be expected of an ill-tempered, unhappy wife of Earth, a common form of contractual partner, or a Gorean free companion, a pledged partner, should her husband, or companion, appear at supper time with unannounced, unexpected guests. But it had soon seemed to me that her annoyance was less that of being taken unawares, or unprepared, and finding herself at a loss, and being thusly embarrassed, as a simple disinclination to the work itself. It was less a social contretemps, it seemed, than an imposition, that she might be expected to work, at all. I had the distinct impression that she was such as to not only evade and resent the performance of various domesticities, even those that might be commonly expected of her, but was literally unaccustomed to them, as well. Perhaps, I thought, she is new to her collar. I wondered if Pertinax was Gorean. It is unusual for a Gorean male to accept laxity in a female slave.

I thought she might profit from a bout with the whip.

That implement is ideally suited to reminding a slave that she is a slave.

I wondered that he did not strip and tie Constantina, and then let her squirm, jerk, and weep, under the implement.

I thought she would profit muchly from its attentions.

Constantina seems a rather fine name for a slave, I thought. It is not unknown, of course, as a free woman’s name. It did seem pretentious for a slave.

Her tunic seemed a bit ample for that of a slave, as the hem of its skirt came to her knees, and the neckline was modestly high, though open enough to show the collar.

The tunic itself was heavier and richer, and more closely woven, than was typical of such garments.

It was almost as though she might have designed it not so much as the garment of a slave, as a garment designed to resemble that of a slave.

She seemed to have excellent legs. I wondered that her master had not then, in his vanity, chosen to show them off. Gorean masters tend to be very proud of their slaves, rather as men of Earth are proud of their dogs and horses.

I thought she was nicely figured, though the size, weight and texture of the tunic tended to conceal this to some extent.

The tunic would be slipped on, over the head. There was, accordingly, no disrobing loop at the left shoulder.

On the other hand the “strip” command may be obeyed, even so, with grace and alacrity. The garment is usually slipped back over the head as the girl kneels.

Even in response to a simple, direct command, as suggested, the girl is expected to be graceful. Clumsiness is not acceptable in a slave; she is not a free woman. She is quite different, you see; she is a slave.

There are, of course, a number of disrobing commands in Gorean, which are less curt and brutal than the direct, blunt, unadorned “Strip.” For example, one might hear “Remove your clothing,” “Bare yourself,” “Disrobe,” “Show me a slave,” “I would see my slave,” “Why are you clothed before me?” “Exhibit my property,” “Display yourself,” “You need not wear your tunic at the moment,” “Remove the impediments to my vision,” “You are lovelier stripped than clothed, are you not?” “What do I own?” “To the collar and brand, girl,” “How were you on the block?” And so on.

There was, as noted, a collar on her neck.

I wondered if it was locked.

I supposed so.

If locked, I wondered who held the key.

Surely not she, as she was a slave.

In her way, she was not unattractive, but that was to be expected, in one who was a slave, or expected to pass as a slave.

Personally, on the other hand, I thought most Goreans would not have bid on her, as, clearly, she was not yet slave soft, or slave ready. There are enormous differences among women in these matters.

Although, as I have suggested, she was not unattractive, it must be understood that this was in an Earth sort of way, the way in which many Earth females may be accounted attractive, attractive more in the sense of what they might become, how perhaps they might be, rather than in the sense of what they currently are. By this I mean, despite certain suitabilities of face and figure, she had something of the tightness, the apparent inhibitions, the uncertainties, and confusions, masked with the compensatory arrogance, nastiness, and insolence, of many Earth females, afflicted with the customary ambivalences toward their sex, comprehensible enough, one supposes, given their backgrounds, educations, and conditionings, their subjection to an environment seemingly engineered to produce, depending on a variety of circumstances, and the person, symptoms or tortures ranging from anxiety and neurosis to ill temper, misery, nastiness, pettiness, boredom, and depression.

“The soup is hot,” said Constantina. “Surely you can tell that, stupid slave. Hurry, wrap the tabuk strips on their skewers, and put them to the fire. Are the suls and turpah ready?”

“If my eyes do not deceive me,” said Cecily, testily, “my neck is not the only neck which is encircled with a slave band.”

Constantina drew back her hand, as though to strike Cecily, but she stopped, suddenly, angrily, as Cecily, eyes flashing, was clearly prepared to return the blow, or worse. Fights amongst slave girls can be very disagreeable, with rolling about, clawing, biting, scratching, and such. One is reminded somewhat of the altercations that sometimes take place between sleen, in territorial disputes, mate competition, the contesting of a kill, and so on. In such frays, in the tangling, snarling, twisting, and swirling about, it is sometimes difficult to tell where one beast leaves off and the other begins. It can be worth an arm to try to separate fighting sleen.

“Why not have her serve naked,” said Constantina. “Is that not commonly done with collared sluts?”

“Why not have them both serve naked?” I suggested.

Constantina turned white. Had she never served so, humbly, hoping to please, fearing the switch if she did not?

“No, no,” said Pertinax, soothingly.

Constantina’s color returned. She seemed shaken. I found this of interest. Did she not know that, as a slave, she was a domestic animal, as much as a verr or tarsk, and was not permitted modesty?

Cecily seemed pleased at this slight turn of events.

Constantina’s hair was blonde and her eyes were blue. Cecily was a dark-eyed brunette. Constantina’s hair was longer than Cecily’s hair, and Constantina was a bit taller than Cecily, and a bit thinner than Cecily. Both would look well at the end of a man’s chain. I supposed Constantina’s hair must be a natural blonde, as Goreans tend to be very strict about such things. Few slavers will try to pass off a girl as being, say, blonde or auburn-haired, if that is not the natural hair color of the slave. In some cases their stock has been confiscated by the city and their establishment burned to the ground. If a girl with dyed hair is brought to Gor her head is normally shaved in the pens, that it may grow back in its natural color. Most slaves, like Cecily, are brunette, except in the north, where blondes are more common. I wondered if Constantina had been purchased in the light of someone’s notion of what might constitute an attractive slave. If this were the case, I was surprised an auburn-haired girl had not been chosen, as auburn hair tends to be prized in most markets. I wondered if Constantina’s buyer had been aware of that. To be sure, he might have found such women appealing, blondes, personally, for some reason. There is a supposition amongst some buyers that blonde slaves tend to be more sexually inert, and less pathetically needful in the furs, than dark-haired slaves, but this supposition is mistaken. Whatever the case may be initially, once the slave fires have been lit in a woman’s belly, whatever her coloring, and such, you have a slave at your feet. The blonde can whimper, beg, and crawl as needfully as any other slave.

It is pleasant to have women so, at one’s feet.

To be sure, a woman whose slave fires have not been ignited may have little understanding of this sort of thing, little understanding of the needs, sensations, miseries, and torments to which their embonded sisters are subject.

It is little wonder then that free women commonly hold female slaves in contempt, despising them for their needs.

How weak they are, they think.

But how alive they actually are!

And how the free woman, fearing to explore the edges of her consciousness, uneasily, perhaps angrily, perhaps inconsolably, senses how much she is missing, herself, to be found only in the arms of a dominant male, a master!

I glanced about the hut. I saw no slave whip on its convenient peg. This seemed an odd omission in a Gorean dwelling, at least one in which there was a slave, or slaves. It is not that the whip is often used. Indeed, normally, it is seldom, if ever, used, for there is no call for it. The girl knows it will be used if she is in the least bit displeasing, and so there is seldom a call for it. That it is there, and it will be used, if the master sees fit, is usually all that is necessary to keep it securely on its peg.

I had the sense that his slave, Constantina, was surly. It was almost as though she were distempered, to be expected to attend to her duties. I wondered if she attended to the hut, the firewood, and such, at all. Did Pertinax himself, our supposed forester, attend to such things? Were there other slaves about?

“I suppose,” I said to Pertinax, “you obtain little news here, so far from Port Kar.”

“One hears things occasionally,” he said. “Transients, like yourself, a coastal peddler, the arrival twice yearly of an inspector and scribe, to review the trees, to inventory the reserves.”

“You suggested earlier,” I said, “that things might have changed in Ar?”

“Did I?” he asked.

“I think so,” I said.

“A surmise,” he said, “based on the appearance of many intruders.”

“Surely harvesters, loggers, and such, come occasionally to cull the forests.”

“Of course,” he said, uneasily I thought.

“When will they be due?” I asked.

“One does not know,” he said. “It is intermittent, depending on the needs of the arsenal, of the fleet.”

“The fellows who disembarked from the ship,” I said, “did not seem harvesters, loggers, or such.”

“No,” he said. “Not they.”

“Who are they?” I asked. “What is their business?”

“I do not know,” he said.

“The logs must be taken to the coast, for shipment,” I said.

“Of course,” he said.

“I saw no track amidst the trees, no road,” I said.

“It is elsewhere,” he said.

“I saw no stables for draft tharlarion,” I said.

“They are elsewhere,” he said.

“I am surprised there are no crews here, sawyers and carpenters, to dress and shape the wood, to cut planks and joints, such things.”

“It is not the season,” he said.

“I see,” I said.

I had then more evidence that our friend, Pertinax, and perhaps his slave, Constantina, were not what they pretended to be. For one who did not know the ways of Port Kar, it would be a natural assumption, one I pretended to make, that dressing crews would shape and plank a great deal of the wood before shipping it to the south. Indeed, I had often thought that that would be a sensible practice. On the other hand, the artisans of the arsenal, under the command of the master shipwrights, attended to these matters in the arsenal itself. The rationale for this, as it had been explained to me, was that each mast, each strake, each plank, each article of the ship, was to be shaped and customized under the supervision of the arsenal’s naval architects. Accordingly, it would be rare, if it was allowed at all, given the practices of Port Kar, and perhaps the vanity and arrogance of her craftsmen, intending to control to the greatest extent possible every detail of their work, to allow this carpentry to take place in a remote venue in which they had no direct supervision.

I would learn later, however, something earlier suspected, that something along these lines was taking place within the forest itself, outside the reserves, some pasangs to the south.

It had to do with the intruders, and the river, the Alexandra.

And it had little to do, I conjectured, even then, with the reserves of Port Kar and the needs of her arsenal.

“Foresters,” I said, “normally cluster their huts, in small palisaded enclaves, but I saw no other huts here, nor a palisade.”

Constantina cast a swift glance at me, and Pertinax looked down.

“The village is elsewhere,” he said. “This is an outpost hut, near the coast, where we may watch for round ships.”

“I see,” I said.

The “round ships” are cargo ships.

The Gorean “round ship” is not round, of course, though the Gorean would translate as I have it. It is merely that the ratio of keel to beam is greater in the long ship, or ship of war, more length of keel to width of beam, than in the “round ship.”

The round ship is designed for the carrying of cargo. The long ship is designed for speed and maneuverability. It is like a knife in the water.

“You are of the warriors, I take it,” said Pertinax.

“Why should you think so?” I asked.

“You carry yourself as a warrior,” said Pertinax. “Also, your weapon seems such as theirs.”

It was the Gorean short sword, or gladius, light, easily unsheathed, convenient, designed for wickedly close work, to move behind the guard of longer, heavier weapons, to slip about buffeted shields or bucklers. It was pointed for thrusting, double-edged for slashing. Lifted and shaken it could part silk.

“I have fought,” I said.

“You could be a mercenary,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

“But I think you are of the warriors,” he said.

“Perhaps of the assassins,” I said.

“You do not have the eyes of an assassin,” he said.

“What sort of eyes are those?” I asked.

“Those of a fee killer, an assassin,” he said.

“I see,” I said.

“You are a tarnsman, are you not?” asked Pertinax.

“I have not said so,” I said.

“But you are, are you not?”

“I have ridden,” I said.

“Those who know the tarn are not as other men,” he said.

“They are as other men,” I said. “It is merely that they have learned the tarn.”

“Then they are different afterwards,” he said.

“Perhaps,” I said.

“If they have survived,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

Many have died learning the tarn. The tarn is a dangerous bird, aggressive, carnivorous, often treacherous. The wingspan of many tarns is in the neighborhood of forty feet. Humans are small beside them. Many human beings will not approach them. It, like many wild beasts, can sense fear, and that stimulates its aggression. In facing a tarn a human being has little but will to place between himself and the beak and talons. To be sure many tarns are domesticated, so to speak, raised from the egg in the vicinity of humans, taught to expect their food from them, accustomed to harnessing from the age of the chick, and so on. In the past domestic tarns were sometimes freed, to hunt in the wild, and later to return to their cots, sometimes to the blasts of the tarn whistle. That is seldom done now. A hungry tarn is quite dangerous, you see, and the reed of its domesticity is fragile. There is no assurance that its strike will be directed on a tabuk or wild tarsk, or verr. Too, it is not unknown for such tarns to revert, so to speak. I think no tarn is that far from the wild. In their blood, it is said, are the wind and the sky.

I thought of a tarn once known, a sable monster, whose challenge scream could be heard for pasangs, Ubar of the Skies.

There had been a woman, Elizabeth Cardwell, whom I, for her own good, had hoped to rescue from the perils of Gor, and return to Earth, but she had fled with the tarn, to escape that fate. When the tarn returned I drove him away in a foolish rage. I had encountered the tarn again, years later, in the Barrens, and we had again been one, but at the end of local wars I had freed him again, that he might again take his place as the master of a mighty flock, that he might be again awing in broad, lonely skies, be again a prince amongst clouds, a lord amongst winds, that he might be again regent and king ruling over the vast grasslands he surveyed.

The woman, predictably, had fallen slave.

Encountering her I had left her slave.

I had encountered her again, later, in the Tahari.

Once, I would have given her the gift of Earth, returning her to the liberties, such as they are, of her native world, but she had fled. She had chosen Gor. It had been her choice.

Where was she now?

She was now in a collar, where she belonged.

I supposed I should sell her, perhaps to the mercy of Cosians, or into the beaded leather collars of the Barrens, or perhaps south to Schendi. Those of the Barrens and Schendi know well what to do with white female slaves.

She had made her choice.

She had wagered. She had lost.

She looked well, as other women, in her collar.

“But you are a tarnsman, are you not?” persisted Pertinax.

“I have ridden,” I said. I was not clear why this might be important to him.

“I think the tabuk strips, the suls and turpah, the soup, all, must be ready,” said Pertinax. “Let us have supper.”

The hut was now redolent with the odors of which, for a forester, at least, must have seemed a feast.

“There is paga,” said Pertinax.

“Of the brewery of Temus of Ar?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Pertinax.

“It must be rare in the forests,” I said.

“Yes,” said Pertinax.

“It is my favorite,” I said.

“I am glad to hear it,” said Pertinax.

“Serve the men, slave,” said Constantina.

Cecily looked at her, startled.

“Surely you will both serve,” I said.

“He is right,” said Pertinax, cautiously. It seemed he might be afraid to incur the displeasure of the slave.

Angrily, Constantina went to the side to fetch trenchers and utensils, to assist Cecily, who was already, ladle in hand, at the kettle, apportioning servings into two bowls, forward. Two other bowls were in the background, which might do for the slaves, later, were they given permission to eat. The first food or drink is always taken by the master, but, commonly, following this, the slave receives permission to share in the meal.

Cecily, kneeling, head down, placed one of the bowls before Pertinax, which was proper, as he was the host. I was then similarly served.

Constantina, irritably, was placing food on the trenchers, flinging it onto the simple, wooden surfaces. I noted that she was sharing out, already, four trenchers. How did she know she would be given permission to eat? I noticed she put very little on one of the trenchers. I supposed that was the one for Cecily. This irritated me. Cecily after all, was the slave of a guest. I don’t think Cecily noticed, at the time. She did later.

“You have a Home Stone here somewhere?” I said to Pertinax. Usually the Home Stone is displayed in a place of honor. I did not, however, detect its presence. In his own hut, if it has a Home Stone, it is said that even a beggar is a Ubar.

“This is an outpost hut,” said Pertinax, “a temporary place, a mere domicile of convenience. I have no Home Stone here.”

“But elsewhere?”

“My Home Stone,” he said, “is the Home Stone of Port Kar.”

“Of course,” I said.

I noted Constantina take a bit of meat from one of the trenchers, presumably her own. Cecily had carefully, earlier, removed the tabuk strips from their skewers and had laid them on a plate to the side. From that location Constantina had selected hers, and later, those for others. The suls and turpah, too, had been put to the side, for servicing onto the trenchers.

Constantina must have noticed my eyes on her. She put down her trencher, on a small stand to the side, and, bending down, handed a trencher to Pertinax.

“Thank you,” he said.

That was interesting, I thought. He had thanked one who was merely a slave.

She then fetched another trencher, mine, it seems, and brought it to my place, and, bending down, put it toward me, for me to take it. I did not, however, take it.

She looked at me, puzzled, irritated.

“On your knees,” I said to her, unpleasantly.

She cast me a look of fury.

“Kneel,” I said to her.

She looked at Pertinax, angrily, but he merely smiled.

“Now,” I said.

Angrily she knelt beside me, clutching the trencher. Her knuckles were white.

I had repeated a command. It should not be necessary to do that. Such is cause for discipline. Cecily looked frightened. Slaves, of course, are to obey immediately, and unquestioningly. Exceptions to this practice should occur only if the slave has not heard the command or does not understand it. If the masters should ask, “Must a command be repeated?” the slave knows that she is in jeopardy; at the least, the master is thinking, “Whip.” At such a point, the slave will doubtless do her best to make it clear to the master, honestly, that she did not hear the command or does not understand it. “Please be merciful, Master,” she might plead. “I did not hear Master.” Or, say, “Your girl desires to please, but she does not understand what she is to do. Please tell her, Master.” The girl might, of course, honestly suspect that the master did not say himself as he intended. An inquiry in such a case, is simple, and should clarify matters. She might, of course, beg permission to speak, and attempt to discuss or review the command, perhaps if she fears the command might have been ill considered, perhaps contrary to the master’s own best interests. For example, it would not be regarded, or, perhaps better, should not be regarded, as a breach of discipline if the slave were to remonstrate against, or at least question, the advisability of a master’s putting his own life or welfare in jeopardy. Few slaves will happily bring a master his cloak if he is in no condition to walk the high bridges, or, more dangerously, enter for some reason unarmed amongst enemies. In the end, of course, the master’s will is definitive. It is for the slave to hear and obey. In all such matters, ideally, however, common sense and judgment should hold sway.

“Head down,” I said to Constantina.

She put her head down, before me.

I waited for a few moments, and then took the trencher. “Draw back,” I said to her. “And wait, kneeling.”

She moved back a little, regarding me with fury, but obeyed.

“You look well on your knees,” I said.

She made a tiny, angry noise, but remained as placed.

I glanced to Pertinax, to see if he objected to my treatment of the slave. But his eyes were alight. I wondered if he had never seen his own slave so.

I wondered if she were a slave.

Pertinax was not a forester.

“Perhaps the slaves may now feed,” said Pertinax.

“Surely,” I said.

It was at that time that Cecily, regarding her trencher, first became aware of its lightness. Constantina had given her little, and, I suspected, that little was not of the best.

After a bit I snapped my fingers that Cecily should approach me, and then, bit by bit, as she knelt by me, and extended her head, delicately, I fed her. She was not to use her hands, of course. Such homely practices remind the slave that she is dependent on the master for all things, not only for her collar, her clothing, if any, and her life, but even the tiniest morsel of food. Bit by bit I fed Cecily and watched her take the food gently, delicately, between her small, fine white teeth. Some of the sul I let her lick from my fingers.

I stole a glance at Pertinax, and noted that he, as I had suspected would be the case, was almost aflame with admiration and awe, with delight and envy. To have a beautiful woman so at one’s mercy, so much in one’s power, so much one’s own, fills a man with triumph and joy, even with exultation. He then begins to understand what it can be, to be what he is, a man. To be sure, Goreans take this sort of thing much for granted.

Cecily took the food gratefully from me, and seemed almost dreamily content. Sometimes, head down, she kissed softly at my hand, and fingers.

“Slave, slave!” hissed Constantina.

“Yours, Master,” Cecily whispered to me.

“Slave!” cried Constantina.

“Perhaps,” I said to Pertinax, “you might similarly feed your girl.”

“Never!” said Constantina.

“That will not be necessary,” said Pertinax.

“Perhaps it is time for paga,” I said.

Pertinax made as though to rise, but I motioned him to remain as he was, and he, with a glance at Constantina, a glance almost apologetic, resumed his position.

“Cecily,” I said.

She rose, and went to the side. In a moment she had removed the lid from the vessel, set it aside, and half-filled two goblets. One she placed where Constantina might reach it, and the other she brought to my place, holding it, and knelt there. She lifted her eyes to me, to see if the serving ritual might begin, but my eyes cautioned her to wait.

I glanced back at Constantina, where she knelt, seething with rage, with humiliation.

“Is she a pleasure slave?” I asked Pertinax.

“Scarcely,” he said, almost laughing, as though the idea were somehow preposterous.

Constantina cast him an ugly glance.

I had told from her manner of kneeling, of course, that she was not a pleasure slave. There are a variety of ways in which a pleasure slave may kneel, but the most common is back on her heels, knees spread, back straight, head up, the palms of her hands down, on her thighs. Sometimes, when her needs are muchly upon her, she may kneel muchly like that, save that her head may be lowered humbly, daring not to meet the eyes of the master, and the backs of her hands, not the palms of her hands, may be down on her thighs, which exposes the delicate palms of the hands to the master, a lovely hint of hope and petition. As is well known the small, soft palms of a woman’s hands are sensitive and alive with nerve tissue, though far less so than what they are symbolizing, the moist, pleading tissues of her begging, heated belly.

“Any woman can be made a pleasure slave,” I informed Pertinax.

“I should like to think so,” he said.

A tiny, angry noise escaped Constantina.

“Where is your whip?” I asked Pertinax.

“I have none,” said Pertinax. “It is not necessary.”

“You are mistaken,” I said.

“Would you dare to whip me?” asked Constantina.

“Were you given permission to speak?” I inquired.

“She has a standing permission to speak,” said Pertinax, hastily.

“In her case, that may be a mistake,” I said.

Pertinax was silent, and looked away.

“Would you dare to whip me?” persisted Constantina.

“That is for your master to do,” I said.

“He dares not do so,” she said, haughtily.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Let us have paga,” said Pertinax, quickly, affably.

“Serve your master,” I said to Constantina.

She seemed startled, but no more so, I think, than Pertinax.

I gathered that this relationship, the ritual serving of drink to the master by a slave, was unfamiliar to them.

By now it was overwhelmingly clear that Constantina’s relationship to Pertinax was not that of a slave to her master, even should she be a slave, perhaps in some legal sense.

She picked up the goblet.

“Both hands,” I informed her.

She put both hands on the goblet.

The justification for this grasp is practical and aesthetic, practical in the sense of assuring greater control of the vessel, and aesthetic, having to do with symmetry, and a framing of the slave’s beauty. But, too, in this fashion the position of the slave’s hands is clear. No hand is free, for example, to grasp a dagger, or slip powder into the drink. Long ago, in Turia, it is said that a free woman, armed with a dagger, disguised as a slave, attempted to assassinate a Ubar in his cups. Fortunately for the Ubar the attack was botched. Unfortunately for the would-be assassin, she failed to make her escape. It seems her anonymous employers had had no intention that she should escape, as arrangements for such a withdrawal might have been dangerous, and might have resulted, should confederates be captured, in the exposure of their identities. Fleeing, she had found doors locked before her. Captured and put under the iron, the Ubar would later find much pleasure in her. Too, as she had been of high family in Turia, her public bondage, exposure in triumphs, and such, afforded the populace much delight. No longer carried in her sedan chair by slaves, for whom citizens must make way, she was now less than a tarsk in the city. Surely she had been chained in more than one paga tavern. One wonders why a woman would have risked so much. One wonders if there are secret wheels, and springs, and engines, deep in the mind and heart, which impel one to travel fearful, beckoning roads. One wonders why some women place themselves at risk, why they undertake hazardous journeys and voyages, why they walk the high bridges at night, such things. Perhaps she was, in her way, courting the collar. If so, she found it. It is hard to understand the mind, and even harder, one supposes, to understand the heart.

In any event, both hands are to be on the goblet.

She rose to her feet, holding the goblet with both hands. She approached Pertinax. She bent down, and, irritably, extended the goblet to him.

“On your knees,” I told her.

Angrily she knelt.

Pertinax much enjoyed, I could tell, having her on her knees before him. How right she looked.

I wondered if, somewhere, there might not be a man in Pertinax.

Again, she extended the goblet to Pertinax.

“No,” I said to her.

“I am on my knees,” she snapped. “What more do you want?”

“Have you never served wine or paga to a man?” I inquired.

“What do you want?” she asked.

“Cecily,” I said, “it seems we have here an ignorant slave. Instruct her.”

“I, too, Master,” she said, “am ignorant. I am little trained.”

“That is true,” I said, “but do what you can.”

“I will not be instructed by a slave,” said Constantina, adding, quickly, “such a slave.”

“Then you will be stripped and instructed by my belt,” I said.

“I protest,” said Pertinax.

“You have no Home Stone here,” I said.

“It is my hut,” he said.

“I am not sure of that,” I said.

“You are not my master,” she said. “You cannot whip me!”

“Are you sure of that?” I asked.

“No,” she said. She then looked at me uncertainly. Perhaps for the first time she sensed she was looking into the eyes of a man who could bring the whip to her back and legs. I saw she was trying to deal with this thought. Too, I saw a flicker in her eyes, perhaps of fear, but, too, perhaps of something else, as well.

She had never before been, I suspected, subject to a male.

Certainly one does not go about punishing the slaves of others, though free women tend to be rather free in this regard, and most Goreans are not above reprimanding errant slaves, whether their own or those of others. An errant slave girl is not above being, say, knelt and cuffed by a free person. Do not all slaves call free men “Master,” and free women “Mistress”?

Too, Constantina was clearly in need of discipline, and I suspected I might be willing to make an exception to my general reservations in her case.

To be sure, if she were a free woman, the whip would not do at all. Free women on Gor, as on Earth, are free to do much what they wish, with little or no fear of consequences. They are free to do almost anything, without fear of punishment. This indulgence and latitude are not extended, of course, to the slave.

“Master?” asked Cecily.

“Begin,” I said to her.

“You are before your master,” said Cecily. “Split your knees.”

I sensed Cecily would enjoy this.

“Never!” said Constantina.

“Now, slave!” snapped Cecily.

Constantina threw me a pleading glance, but I fear she found little comfort in my gaze.

“Ai!” said Pertinax, softly.

Constantina knelt before him, her knees spread, in the position of a Gorean pleasure slave. I gathered he had never had this woman so before him.

Obviously he, if not Constantina, was muchly pleased.

“Press the metal of the goblet to your belly,” said Cecily. “Press it in there, so that you can feel it. Really feel it, the metal against your belly. Surely you understand this, the metal against your belly. More. Better. More. Good. Now, to your breasts, softly but firmly. Feel the metal.”

There was a change in the breath of Constantina. She cast me a glance, almost piteously. I think she did not understand her sensations.

“Look at your master, not mine,” said Cecily, unpleasantly.

Constantina turned to Pertinax, unwillingly, it seemed, the goblet at her breasts.

“Now,” said Cecily, “lift the goblet to your lips, and, gazing over the rim at your master, kiss the goblet, tenderly, and lick it, lovingly, lingeringly, for he is your master, and he is permitting you, a mere slave, to serve him. Keep your eyes on your own master, slave!”

Constantina turned back to Pertinax.

Then she put down her head, frightened, for perhaps it was the first time she had seen him regard her as what she was, or supposedly was, a slave.

“Now,” said Cecily, “extend your arms, holding the cup, to your master, and put your head down, humbly, between your extended arms.”

This is, of course, a beautiful sight.

Pertinax, it seemed, would almost forget to accept the cup. Perhaps he was unwilling to let the moment go. Then he accepted the cup, and drank.

“Thank you,” he said.

“You do not thank her,” I informed him. “It is a great honor and privilege for a slave to be permitted to serve her master. Too, it is what she is for.”

“True,” said Pertinax.

“That was not so hard, was it, girl?” I asked Constantina.

“No,” she said.

“No, what?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “— Master.”

“You may now draw back,” I said, “but you will remain in the vicinity, kneeling. You may be required later.”

“‘Required’,” she said, uncertainly.

“For further serving,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “— Master.”

Pertinax seemed unable to take his eyes from her. I wondered what their relationship might be.

“May I serve Master paga?” inquired Cecily.

“Yes,” I said, and she served me paga, and well. I trusted Constantina was attentive.

How incredibly beautiful was the former Miss Virginia Cecily Jean Pym!

Then she withdrew, a bit, to kneel in the background, where, unobtrusively, she would be at hand, should she be needed, or wanted, or desired. The slave does not withdraw from the master’s presence without permission.

I finished the paga and set down the goblet.

“I thank you for your hospitality,” I said to Pertinax.

“It is nothing,” he said. “I hope you will stay the night.”

“The others, I gather,” I said, “have not yet arrived.”

“What others?” he said.

“I do not know,” I said.

“I do not understand,” he said.

“Perhaps we should talk,” I said to Pertinax.

“Remain as you are,” I said to Constantina, for it seemed she stirred, and would have risen to her feet.

She was not accustomed, it seemed, to obeying men. I found this odd, as she had a collar on her neck.

“By all means,” said Pertinax, uncertainly. “But talk of what?”

At that moment, far over the roof, high, outside the hut, far overhead, there was a thunderous noise. It was like a sudden, passing surf, a storm in the sky. It lasted no more than a part of an Ehn.

“Master?” said Cecily, startled.

Constantina seemed frightened.

Perhaps she had at one time seen tarns.

I did not leave my place.

“Migratory tarns,” said Pertinax.

“The tarn is not a migratory bird,” I said.

“Forest tarns,” he said.

“Tarns are of the mountains and the plains,” I said. “They do not frequent the forests. They cannot hunt in them, for the closeness of the trees.”

“Perhaps it was thunder,” he said.

“You may be unfamiliar with the sound,” I said, “but I am not. That was the passage of several tarns, perhaps a tarn cavalry.”

“No,” he said, “not a cavalry.”

“Not one disciplined, at any rate,” I said.

In a tarn cavalry the wing beats are synchronized, much as in the pace of marching men. Normally this is facilitated, unless surprise is intended, by the beating of a tarn drum, which sets the cadence. One of the glorious sights of Gor is the wheeling, the maneuvering and flight, of such cavalries in the sky, a lovely sight, in its way not unlike that of a fleet of lateen-rigged galleys abroad on gleaming Thassa, the sea.

“A very large band of mercenary brigands?” I suggested.

“They are not mounted,” said Pertinax.

“I do not understand,” I said.

“Do not speak,” snapped Constantina. “Be quiet, you fool!”

Pertinax subsided, and looked down.

I rose to my feet and went to my things, gathering in some few articles, and then returned to face Constantina, where she knelt. I took her by the hair and, as she cried out, twisted her about and threw her to her back, and knelt across her body. She squirmed, helpless, pinioned. She looked up at me, wildly, protestingly, frightened, as I thrust the wadding into her mouth, and then, turning her to her belly, secured it in place behind the back of her neck. I then, with binding fiber, as she lay on her belly, lashed her wrists together behind her back, tightly, and so served her ankles, as well, which I then bound, high, to her wrists. Such a tie is very unpleasant. I then lifted her in my arms, carried her outside, and threw her to the leaves, in the darkness, some feet from the hut entrance. I then returned to the hut, and resumed my place, cross-legged, across from Pertinax.

“I have no interest in killing you,” I said to Pertinax, “but I think we should talk.”

“By all means,” he said.

“I doubt that you are Gorean,” I said. “Certainly you are not of Port Kar, and you are not a forester. My slave and I were set down on the beach, doubtless to be met. You arrived, supposedly, as a matter of coincidence. I do not believe that. Whom do you serve?”

“Men,” he said.

“Priest-Kings? Kurii?” I asked. Certainly Priest-Kings knew the coordinates for the landing of the ship of Peisistratus, but, so, too, it seemed possible, did Kurii. Certainly the coordinates had been transmitted through Kurii to Peisistratus.

“I know nothing of Priest-Kings and Kurii,” said Pertinax. “Are they not mythical?”

“No,” I said.

“Men,” repeated Pertinax.

“Men who serve Priest-Kings, or Kurii?” I asked.

“Men,” he said. “I know nothing more.”

“I think you do not fear the intruders in the forest, those who come in ships,” I said. “I think you understand them.”

He said nothing.

“Explain to me the tarns,” I said.

“They are from Thentis,” he said, “most of them, some from elsewhere.”

Thentis is a high Gorean city, east and north of Ko-ro-ba. It is famed for its tarn flocks.

One thinks of “Thentis, Famed for her Tarn Flocks,” rather as one thinks of “Glorious Ar,” of “Ko-ro-ba, the Towers of the Morning,” of “Port Kar, Jewel of Gleaming Thassa,” and so on.

“How do you know they were not mounted?” I asked.

“They are raised, but are young, and not trained,” he said. “Few but hardy tarnsters, or tarnsmen themselves, would dare to approach them in their present state. They are linked together by long ropes. They are being delivered to a rendezvous, in the forest.”

“Near the Alexandra,” I said.

“Yes,” he said, startled.

“There is a mystery here,” I said. “What is its nature?”

“I know little of it,” said Pertinax, “but I can link you with those who do.”

“As you did not discourse with me of these things,” I said, “I gathered that there were others who could, for whom you were waiting.”

“They are in the forest,” he said. “They will not be coming here. I will take you to them, in two days.”

“Your slave,” I said, “is badly in need of discipline.”

“As she has been treated this evening,” he said, “I think she is more aware than hitherto that she is a female.”

“It is unfortunate,” I said, “that some women must be reminded of that.”

“She thinks of herself as a man,” he said.

“She is mistaken,” I said. “Her thinking must be corrected.”

One could see clearly she was woman, even if she did not understand that, except perhaps in some peripheral sense.

Certainly she was nicely shaped. And I thought she might, given some instruction, and a sense of what it was to be a slave, sell well.

It is interesting, I thought, the Book of Woman. How few have opened that book. Is the seal, I wondered, so securely fastened? Is it truly so hard to break? How many women themselves have feared to open that book and read what is written there. But some do open the book, with whatever trepidation, and read what is written there. And then, page by page, they peruse the ancient text, and in it, ever more deeply, page by turning page, discover themselves, and I think there is no final page for that book, for the book is without an end, for it is the Book of Woman.

“She is from Earth, is she not?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“As are you?”

“Yes,” he said. “But so, too, I gather, are you, and your slave. Your accents.”

“English,” I said.

“It seemed so,” he said.

“You are Canadian, or American?” I surmised.

“Canadian,” he said.

“Your slave,” I said, “is Canadian?”

“No,” he said. “She is American, from the eastern seaboard of America.”

“An excellent area for slaving, I understand,” I said.

“Perhaps,” he said. “I would not know.”

I recalled Peisistratus, who had sampled women from various nations and continents, had spoken highly of several areas, Canada, Australia, England, France, Germany, Japan, Taiwan, Hawaii, the southwest of the United States, its west coast, its eastern seaboard, and such. It was pleasant, he had remarked, to take beautiful, highly intelligent, sophisticated, civilized women, so often unhappy, some even stupidly at war with their sex, and teach them their collars.

“She is from New York City,” said Pertinax.

“Not originally,” I said. “Her accent is different. I lived there for a time.”

“Then from elsewhere,” he said.

“An immigrant to that metropolis,” I said, “perhaps from Cleveland, Cincinnati, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, or somewhere.”

“I do not know,” he said.

“Perhaps one determined and ambitious, and one not too scrupulous, one intending to achieve wealth and success at any cost.”

He smiled. “Yes,” he said.

“As many others,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“And now,” said I, “she is in a collar on Gor.”

“Yes,” he said.

“But it seems she does not yet know the meaning of her collar,” I said.

“No,” he smiled.

“Teach it to her,” I said.

“You do not understand,” he said. “She is my superior. There are riches behind her. It is she who recruited me.”

“A slave has such power?” I asked.

“It would seem so,” he said.

“In two days, as I understand it, you are prepared to unravel this mystery for me?”

“We will leave in two days,” he said. “There is to be a rendezvous. I will conduct you to the place.”

“You think you will then be through with the matter?” I asked.

“Surely,” he said.

“You are entangled here,” I said.

He regarded me, uneasily, startled.

“No,” he said.

“We shall see,” I said.

“Should we not free Constantina?” he asked.

“Leave her where she is,” I said. “Let her squirm in the darkness and leaves, for a time. It will do her good.”

“Is that appropriate?” he asked.

“Quite,” I said, “as she is a slave.”

“Perhaps she will work herself free,” said Pertinax.

A small sound of mirth escaped Cecily.

Pertinax looked at her, puzzled.

“She was bound by a warrior,” I explained.

“I see,” said Pertinax.

“She might, of course,” I said, “be stolen, say, by some of the brigands to whom you have occasionally alluded, or, say, be dragged away, by a sleen, to be eaten in some secluded place.”

“We must bring her in, instantly,” said Pertinax, “and free her!”

“Shortly,” I said. “You know who I am, I take it.”

“You are a tarnsman,” he said, “one known as Tarl Cabot.”

“You have read my girl’s collar?” I inquired.

“No,” he said.

“You have been waiting for me,” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“I am Tarl Cabot,” I said. “That is of less interest, I take it, than the fact that I have ridden.”

“That you are a tarnsman, yes,” he said. “I think so.”

“Master!” said Cecily. “I hear a stirring outside.”

“Yes,” I said, “it is a sleen.”

“Master!” she cried.

“It has been there for a time,” I said.

“I cannot go out,” said Pertinax, turning white. “I am no hunter, no sleen master. I am no match for a sleen. It would kill me!”

“Do not be concerned,” I said. “I saw it when I went out. The sleen is a tenacious hunter. It clearly had another trail in which it was interested. At the most it will investigate your Constantina, poking her a bit with its snout, or such. In its hunt she will be no more than an inconvenience or distraction. It might not even be hungry. It is probably gone by now.”

“Bring her in,” said Pertinax. “I beg you!”

“She is only a slave,” I reminded him.

“Please!” he said.

“To be sure,” I said, “she will not be worth much on the block if she has been mauled by a sleen.”

“Please!” he insisted.

“I saw the beast,” I said. “I watched it. There is no danger.”

“Please!” he insisted.

“It was otherwise occupied,” I said.

“There might be another,” he said.

“The sleen is territorial,” I said. “It is unlikely there would be another in the vicinity.”

“Please! Please!” he said.

“Very well,” I said. I then left the hut and went to where I had left the girl. The sleen was gone, as I had anticipated. I could see a little, from one of the moons, which was ascendant, but not yet full. The leaves about her were muchly crushed, which suggested she had done, at least at first, a good deal of squirming and, as she could, rolling about. I also saw sleen tracks near her, and could smell sleen on the leaves. She had been unable to call attention to what she must have deemed her harrowing predicament, given the gag. One might have heard something if one were quite close to her. When I came to her she had fainted. I picked her up, and carried her into the hut, and Pertinax, gratefully, closed and bolted the door. I removed the bonds and gag from the unconscious girl and replaced the binding fiber in my pouch, and left the gag out, to dry. She murmured then, in misery, and, half-conscious, huddled, trembling, on the floor of the hut.

“Let us see more of her legs,” I suggested.

“No!” cried Pertinax.

I thrust up the tunic so that I could see more of her legs. She was nicely legged, but one expects that in a slave.

The girl whimpered, but, terrified, made no effort to readjust her tunic. It was as though she realized that various things might be done to her as others might please, and that she must abide their will.

Pertinax regarded her with visible excitement. Had he never seen a slave?

“It is late,” I suggested. “Perhaps we should retire.”

“There are blankets,” said Pertinax.

“Good,” I said.

“And there are two mattresses, filled with grass,” he said.

“Why do you have two?” I asked.

Pertinax did not respond.

“Cecily and I,” I said, “if you have no objection, will share this mattress.”

“Certainly,” said Pertinax.

“Surely you should have the mattress, Master,” said Cecily, “and I should sleep at your feet.”

What she had in mind was doubtless a common arrangement in a Gorean dwelling, of which she had been apprised by other slaves while in the Pleasure Cylinder associated with the Steel World from which we had recently departed. It is common for the slave to be slept at the foot of the master’s couch, chained there to a slave ring. But in such a situation she is likely to have at least a mat and, commonly, deep, luxurious furs on which to recline. Indeed, the slave is often put to service on such furs, which are commonly spoken of as “love furs.” If she has been displeasing, of course, she may be slept naked at the foot of the couch, on her chain, on the bare tiles or stones of the floor. That is not so pleasant, and, of course, it gives the slave some time to consider how she might endeavor to be more pleasing to the master. It is a sign of favor with the master for a slave to be allowed to share the surface of the couch. On the other hand, I suspect it is commonly done, except perhaps in a house with many slaves. Certainly it is pleasant to have a slave at one’s side, of whom one may make use at any Ahn of the night or morning. It is a cusp in a slave’s bondage when she is first permitted to the surface of the master’s couch.

“Later, perhaps,” I said. “I have not had you in more than twenty Ahn.”

“Yes, Master,” she said, pleased.

Pertinax crouched down beside Constantina.

She lay still, as though frightened, disbelieving, or numb.

“Let me help you to your couch,” he said.

“No,” I said, standing up, approaching them. “You, Pertinax, are master. It is you who will have the couch, and not the slave. She will sleep at the foot of the couch, on the floor, or outside.”

“Surely not,” protested Pertinax.

I nudged the slave with my foot, not gently, and she reacted, and whimpered. “Do you understand, slave?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “Master.”

“Then crawl to your master,” I said, “kiss his feet, and beg to be permitted to sleep at the foot of his couch.”

Constantina, on all fours, head down, her long hair to the floor, crawled to Pertinax, bent down, and kissed his feet. “I beg to be permitted to sleep at the foot of your couch, Master,” she said.

“Ai!” cried Pertinax, half in consternation, half in delight.

“Well?” I asked Pertinax. “A slave awaits an answer to her petition.”

“You may do so,” said Pertinax, his voice unsteady.

“Thank you, Master,” she said, and went to her place.

Cecily drew away her tunic, like the beautiful, uninhibited, shameless little animal she was, and knelt beside the mattress, at its lower left side, and lifted it a bit, and kissed it. She looked at me, expectantly, hopefully, to learn my will, and I reached down and seized her by the hair and, as she winced, in pain and delight, I drew her beside me on the mattress.

Even in the Pleasure Cylinder the slave fires had been well lit in Cecily’s lovely, helpless, vulnerable little belly, and she had soon found herself, as is common with female slaves, their victim and prisoner.

How the flames of their needs goad slaves to the feet of masters, even to the feet of those they may loathe.

I did not begrudge Cecily her ecstasies, nor would I hinder them. Some masters try to shame their slaves for what they cannot help, indeed for responses for which the master himself may have been significantly responsible, particularly if they have known them as lofty, frigid free women, now, by their will, reduced to begging animals. That, however, seems to me cruel. It does help the slave, of course, to see herself as a slave, in misery and shame, as she recalls her former contempt for such things in slaves. Now she herself understands what it is to be in the throes of being mastered.

And at a given point she throws her head back and says, “Yes, yes!” to the collar, and is whole.

Cecily, in her yieldings, was muchly pleasured, and her master, too, if it must be known, was well pleased with his slave.

Constantina had risen to her knees and was looking, hollow-eyed, dry-eyed, across the hut at us. There was a little light, from the embers of the fire.

“She is a slave, a slave!” said Constantina.

“Yes, yes, yes,” gasped Cecily, beside herself with collar rapture.

“Disgusting! Disgusting!” said Constantina.

“Pertinax,” I said, “take your slave, and put her to use.”

“No, no!” said Pertinax, frightened.

I then rolled to the side, and struggled with the vital thing in my arms, kissing, and licking me, gasping, wanting more, and more.

Later, an Ahn or more later, Cecily was asleep, and, I gathered, so, too, was Constantina. I lay awake, looking up at the beams and thatch of the hut’s roof. Who was I to meet in two days, or so?

“Cabot,” I heard.

“Yes,” I said, softly.

“You spoke of entanglement,” said Pertinax.

“Yes,” I said.

“I am to be paid,” he said, “and then I am done with matters.”

“I do not think so,” I said.

“What of her?” he asked.

“The slave?”

“Constantina,” he said.

“She, too, is entangled,” I said.

I was now confident that his employers were not representing Priest-Kings, but others, perhaps brigands, or merchants, somehow associated with Kurii. Some Kurii, I was sure, from the Steel World, would have had the coordinates for our landing. Certainly they had been transmitted through Kurii, and the security may have been lax, or deliberately compromised. It was a common practice for Kurii to recruit agents on Earth, usually through confederates, often slavers. There were doubtless several possible networks involved in such matters. Diverse and subtle are the tentacles of the Steel Worlds.

My convictions in this matter had primarily to do with Constantina. It seemed to me quite unlikely that she would have been recruited by Priest-Kings. What need had they, in their plenitude of power, of such instruments? She was, on the other hand, exactly the sort of woman whom slavers, abetting the schemes of Kurii, would choose to recruit. When their services were no longer required there were always other things that could be done with them. There was always the block, and collar. Such women, vain and egotistical, self-serving, greedy and deceitful, dazzled by dreams of riches and power, would think little of betraying others, but it seldom occurred to them, for some reason, that they might, in their turn, be betrayed as easily.

Expecting to be returned to Earth, to power and riches, they would commonly find themselves incarcerated, perhaps thrust into tiny cages, bewildered, grasping the bars, awaiting their sale.

Why not?

They had served their purpose.

Let them now be good for a little something further, say, whatever handful of coins they might bring on the block.

“What are we to do?” asked Pertinax.

“Link me with those who hired you,” I said.

I do not know if he slept then.

For my part, I knew that the Priest-Kings, for some reason, had arranged to have me set down on the beach, which was not far away, no more than a quarter of a pasang from this hut.

I was then certain that another was to meet me, one who truly stood in the service of Priest-Kings.

On the morrow, I would go again to the beach, to the point where I had been landed.

It was there, surely, I was to be met.

It rained heavily that night, the storm coming in from Thassa. I supposed that the seas might have been high for two or three days, perhaps for hundreds of pasangs offshore. That might delay the arrival of a ship, one approaching from the west, say, from Tyros or Cos. Gorean vessels, incidentally, are usually shallow-drafted, and usually tend to keep in sight of land. Few would risk the open sea in an inauspicious season. In storms, many would beach. On the other hand, ships from Tyros and Cos, if they were to reach shores to their east, could not coast, but must address themselves to the open sea, and for days.

I decided that on the morrow I would return to the beach.

Chapter Four

A SAIL

I stood back amongst the trees, looking out to sea.

It was early morning.

I had left the hut of Pertinax a few Ehn earlier.

It was very pleasant near the shore, with the smell of Thassa, with the cool, penetrant air, the sense of the salt of her churning waves, the sound of the surf, the incoming tide, the wash of sea weed on the shore, the water with its soft, fluid rush across the sand and amongst the stones, and then its circuitous return, and then its advance, and then again its return, and the wheeling and intermittent crying offshore of broad-winged coast gulls. Too, as it had rained the preceding night, the higher rocks and the sand above the tide line were still dark with damp. The forest, too, with its moist soil and its glistening, rustling canopies of wet, dripping leaves, shaken in the wind, had about it its sweetness of life.

I wondered if human beings were good for such a world.

Yet if they did not inhabit her would such a world not have been something of a waste, for who, then, would know how beautiful she was?

The Gorean, incidentally, is not a soiling and a plague upon his world, nor is he so arrogant as to deem himself superior to it, its guardian or steward. He regards himself, rather, as a part of her, as much so as a leaf, or tree, but an unusual part, of course, a part which knows itself a part. He is a partaker of its warmth and cold, its winters and summers, its light and darkness, its day and its night, its storms and serenities. He loves his world but he does not understand it for what it is not. It is beautiful but, too, it is awesome and terrible. With equanimity, not caring, it brings forth life and death, flourishing and destruction, growth and decay. It is a world that contains not only the beauty of grass and the blossoming of the talendar but the fangs of the ost, the coils of the hith, the jaws of the larl, the frenzies of flocking, feeding jards, the sudden, wrenching, twisting strike of the nine-gilled shark, the claws of the sleen, the beak and talons of the tarn.

The beach seemed deserted.

No furrows marked where the keel of a long ship might have been drawn ashore.

The horizon seemed clear, gray, and cool, but clear.

It had seemed likely to me that I would have been met by agents of Priest-Kings, but I had encountered only Pertinax, and a woman called ‘Constantina’. These, I was sure, stood in place of Kurii, some Kurii. How much they knew of their role in these matters I was not sure. The human agents of Kurii were seldom enlightened, I supposed, as to the ramifications and depths of the plans of their employers, nor the remote objectives of such plans. I was aware of the usual dispositions of their female agents, once they had fulfilled their purposes. They would not be returned to Earth, with the promised emoluments of their service, riches, at least. This might lead to complications, a request for explanations, inquiries, and such. Kurii, as many predators, are fond of concealment, until they act. Too, their female agents could not be well integrated into Gorean society, with its orderings, its clan and caste arrangements, its rank, distance, and hierarchy. Such women did not even have the protection of a Home Stone. Too, they were, like slaves, selected for their beauty, and this placed them in jeopardy in a world such as Gor. A tabuk doe, so to speak, amongst larls, will not be long without her collar. Gorean males are not men of Earth. I was less certain of the fate of male agents, such as Pertinax. It seems there would be little point in sending them to the quarries or mines. Perhaps they would simply be killed. Certainly they would not be allowed to withdraw from the services of Kurii. That would be highly unlikely. I supposed they might be kept, then, to be used again. Knowing a native language of Earth they might be of continuing value as agents. Too, they could be rewarded on Gor, if not on Earth, where curiosity might be aroused, and in ways which would be unlikely on Earth, but appealing to males. Indeed, many males, one supposes, might prefer Gorean rewards to those of Earth, for example gold, power, slaves, and such.

In moving to the beach I had, as was my training, been alert to a variety of particulars, movements and shadows, the integrity of brush, the branches overhead, the nature of the ground underfoot, was a leaf pressed down here and there, was that a pebble possibly dislodged, such things. There was nothing unusual in this, and the circumspection and alertness involved, the care taken in one’s passage, would have been typical of one of my caste, and certainly in negotiating an unfamiliar and perhaps dangerous terrain. Too, I suspected there might be another, or others about. Was I not to be met?

But no rendezvous had taken place, not with agents of Priest-Kings.

It occurred to me that such an agent, or agents, might have been waiting, and had been killed.

On the other hand, I had detected little or no uneasiness on the part of Pertinax or his slave, Constantina, which might have appertained to such a deed.

To be sure, they might know nothing of it. Kurii might know. But why would Kurii have agents of theirs meet me here at all?

It would have to do, one supposed, with the intruders, with flights of tarns, but I understood nothing of this.

Or had such things to do with Priest-Kings, and their plans?

And were Kurii here intent on turning something to their own advantage?

From the shelter of the trees, I looked across the water.

The horizon was still clear.

When I had left the hut of Pertinax, or the hut he utilized, he, and Cecily, had been asleep. I did not think Constantina had been asleep. To be sure she appeared to be asleep.

It interested me that Pertinax had identified Constantina as his superior. Indeed, he had informed me that she had recruited him.

It seemed unlikely a slave would be so charged, so privileged.

I heard the tiny sound a few yards away.

I had been waiting for it.

Constantina, you see, had not truly been asleep. I had been reasonably sure of that.

In approaching the shore, I had left an easy trail leading to the beach, but had then doubled back, and waited in the shelter of some trees, a few yards back, and to the side, from which point of relative concealment I could both survey the beach and monitor my original trail.

As I expected, Constantina was moving toward the beach. Interestingly, she did not seem to be following the trail I had left, quite obviously, I had thought. Rather she was just moving cautiously, directly, toward the beach. I had little doubt she was trying to spy on me, though, given her clumsiness, and her apparent lack of awareness of the trail I had left, the word is perhaps more complimentary than it needed be.

Kurii would know, of course, that the coordinates of my landing would be known to Priest-Kings. Indeed, they were specified by Priest-Kings.

These coordinates, too, or, better, the locale in question, would have been made clear to Pertinax and Constantina.

The agent, or agents, of Priest-Kings, it seemed, then, were either late for their appointment, or had been killed, and their bodies disposed of. That Constantina had come to the beach, to spy on me, suggested to me that either the agent, or agents, of Priest-Kings had not yet arrived, and Constantina was concerned to detect their presence, or, if they had arrived, and been disposed of, Constantina was unaware of that fact.

As indicated earlier, I was reasonably sure that neither Constantina nor Pertinax were harboring any surreptitious knowledge of murders recently wrought. If such murders had taken place I did not think that Kurii would have risked entrusting Constantina or Pertinax with a cognizance so dreadful and solemn, lest it be betrayed by some careless word, some inadvertent expression, a surprising hesitation, some gauche, unwary phrase, or pause.

There had been a storm last night, and it had moved in from the west, from Thassa. That might have delayed a ship, as she hove to, or was blown off course. Too, who knew what weathers might have prevailed in the last several days.

Priest-Kings, you see, seldom use their own ships in the vicinity of Gor’s surface. They tend to protect their mystery or privacy zealously. The dark, palisaded Sardar itself, the abode of Priest-Kings, is sealed away. It is sacred, and forbidden. Accordingly, the agents of Priest-Kings, on the surface of Gor, tend to move as Goreans would move, and commonly appear indistinguishable from ordinary Goreans. The sight of large metal vessels, coming and going, might make the Priest-Kings seem too comprehensible, remarkable, and powerful, but comprehensible. Humans are likely to fear best what they cannot see; what they can see they may investigate. Too, the caste of Initiates, which claims to mediate between humans and Priest-Kings, with their sacrifices, and such, would obviously prefer for Priest-Kings to remain as invisible and mysterious as possible. Thus they can interpret their “will” as they please, as the wind blows, so to speak, or, perhaps more accurately, as the gold depresses the scales. To be sure, many Initiates doubtless take themselves seriously.

Constantina was quite near now.

She was doing her best to move stealthily. Whatever her various qualities, properties, values, and virtues might be, which might make her of interest to a man, her strong suite was obviously not woodcraft. She was looking toward the beach, and, forward, from side to side. She seemed puzzled, that she did not see me.

Where could I be?

Suddenly she stiffened, pulled back, against me, her cry stifled by my hand across her mouth.

“Tal,” I said to her.

She squirmed, helpless.

I held her for a time, until her struggles subsided, until she knew herself my prisoner. I then removed my hand from across her mouth, but held her by the arms, from behind.

“What are you doing here, girl?” I asked.

“‘Girl’!” she said.

“‘Girl’, ‘Slave’,” I said.

She struggled, again, in my arms, held from behind, but could not free herself.

“Girl, slave,” I said.

“Nothing!” she said.

“I think we should have a talk,” I said.

“I was come to fetch water!” she said.

“You cannot drink the water of Thassa,” I said. “If there is a spring about, it is not here.”

“I lost my way,” she said.

“Where is your yoke, with the attached buckets?” I asked. “Doubtless you would look well, carrying water in such a device.”

“I was looking for the spring,” she said.

I then drew her by the right arm, she stumbling, to the edge of the trees, at the border of the beach.

There I thrust her back against a small tree and, pulling her arms behind her, fastened her wrists together, behind the tree, so that she stood before me, fastened in place.

She pulled at the ropes a bit, futilely.

She looked at me, angrily. “Let me go!” she said.

“Why were you following me?” I asked.

“I was not following you!” she said.

“You are aware that you can be seen easily, from the shore?” I said.

She looked about, frightened. “Yes?” she said.

“There may be intruders about,” I said. “I saw several disembarked yesterday. Pertinax tells me that there have been many of them. Some may still be about. Others may arrive.”

“I do not understand,” she said.

“I thought you might,” I said.

“This is Gor,” she said. “Do not leave me here, a woman, bound as I am!”

“Then you acknowledge yourself a woman?” I said.

“Of course!” she said.

“And you are not a man?”

“No,” she said, “I am not a man — I suppose.”

“You suppose?” I asked.

“I am not a man,” she said.

“You are quite different?” I said.

“Perhaps,” she said, jerking at her bonds.

“Perhaps?” I inquired.

“Yes,” she said. “I am quite different!”

“I wonder if you understand that,” I said. “That you are radically different, wholly and absolutely different, wonderfully different.”

“Wonderfully different?” she said.

“Yes,” I said, “but you have not yet learned your womanhood.”

“I hate being a woman!” she said.

“That is because you have not yet been put at the feet of men,” I said.

“Untie me,” she said.

“I like you as you are,” I said.

“Untie me!” she said.

“Free yourself,” I said.

“I cannot!” she said.

“Then you will remain as you are,” I said.

“I was not following you,” she said. “I was fetching water, I lost my way.”

“And forgot containers, in which water might be brought?”

She was silent.

“Perhaps, rather,” I said, “you wished merely to look upon the sea, in the early morning, to hear the gulls, and such.”

“Yes,” she said, “that is it!”

“But you feared to be caught, unengaged in labors, lest Pertinax, your master, beat you for dalliance?”

“You have found me out,” she said, sadly. “Please do not inform my master.”

“Your severe master?”

“Yes,” she said, head down, “I do not wish to be beaten.”

“You have never been beaten in your life,” I said.

She looked up, angrily.

“It is hard to know whether there is a man in Pertinax or not,” I said. “If there is, it is hard to see, for the spineless urt.”

A flicker of a smile crossed her countenance.

How she despised him!

Women despise men for weakness, and fear them for strength.

“And I doubt you have ever looked on anything,” I said, “without considering how it might be put to your advantage.”

“That is not true!” she said.

“Perhaps when you were younger,” I said.

“Let me go!” she said.

“You are a mercenary, of sorts,” I said.

“I am a mere, worthless slave,” she said, humbly, “only a Gorean slave girl.”

“We are going to have a talk,” I said.

“Release me!” she demanded.

I stood back, and, for a time, regarded her.

“Do not look at me like that!” she said.

“Why should I not do so?” I inquired.

“It, it makes me uncomfortable!” she said.

To be sure, the tunic was a bit long, and heavy, but her arms, at any rate, were bared.

“Please,” she said.

“A slave,” I said, “should hope that she would be so looked upon, and should hope that she would find favor in a man’s eyes.”

“Beast!” she said.

“You are a slave, are you not?” I asked.

“Certainly!” she said.

“And your master is Pertinax?” I said.

“— Yes!” she said.

“What is your brand?” I asked.

“I am not branded!” she said. “That is a cruel thing to do, and Pertinax, my master, has not had it done to me.”

“A slave should be branded,” I said.

“I am not branded,” she said.

“Do I have your word on that?” I asked.

“Certainly!” she said.

I then went to her tunic, and, on the left side, lifted the tunic to the hip.

“Monster!” she wept, and pulled at the ropes.

The common branding site is the left thigh, just under the hip. The common tunic, of course, covers the brand. A side-slit tunic makes the brand easily detectible, and certain other garments, as well, for example the common camisk.

“Do not!” she said, pulling away.

Some masters, after all, are left-handed.

“Beast, beast!” she said.

I smoothed down the tunic, on both sides, and she pressed back, against the slim trunk of the tree, and turned her head, angrily, and looked to the side.

“You are not branded,” I said, “at least not obviously.”

“I told you that,” she said, angrily.

“I thought you might be lying,” I said.

“I was not,” she said.

“A slave should be branded,” I said. “It is an explicit recommendation of Merchant Law.”

“My master is too kind to brand me,” she said.

“It is not a matter of kindness,” I said. “It is simply something to be done with a slave, routinely.”

“Well, I am not branded,” she said, turning to look at me, angrily.

“You are sure you are a slave?” I asked.

“— Certainly,” she said. “If you look closely, perhaps you can see that I am in a collar!”

“Do you like your collar?” I asked.

“Of course not,” she said. “It is humiliating, degrading, and hateful.”

“Is it uncomfortable?” I asked.

“No,” she said.

“Most slave girls love their collars,” I said. “Many would not trade them for the world.”

“I see,” she said.

“They are certificates of their attractiveness, that they are of interest to men, that they have been found worth collaring.”

“I see,” she said.

“Collar!” I snapped.

“What?” she said.

She had not lifted her head, exposing her throat and the encircling collar.

I approached her and examined the collar. “This collar is not engraved,” I said. “Should it not identify you as the property of Pertinax, of Port Kar?”

“It is a plain collar,” she said.

“Doubtless it is locked,” I said.

“Certainly,” she said. “I am a slave.”

I turned the collar, and tested the lock, and then turned it, again, so that the lock was at the back of the neck.

“You see!” she sniffed.

That she seemed so calm about this convinced me that she had access to the key, that either it would be within the hut, or, perhaps, more likely, on her person. It seemed clear to me, from what I had seen of her relationship with Pertinax, her supposed master, he would not have it.

I was reasonably certain she would be terrified if the key were not in her own possession.

In the hut, it might be available to others.

I supposed, then, that the key would be about her person, somewhere.

“What are you doing?” she said.

“Here,” I said, “at the hem.”

“Do not!” she wept, trying to pull away.

It was a moment’s work, with the point of my knife, to free the key, which I then held before her.

She averted her head, in misery.

I wondered if she knew the penalties to which a Gorean slave might be subject, for such a crime.

I supposed not.

“Come back!” she cried.

I had turned about and walked down, toward the shore, and stood there, my ankles in the lapping water.

“No!” she begged.

I spun the key far out into the waves.

“No, no!” she called.

I then returned to where I had left her.

“The collar is locked!” she said. “I cannot take it off!”

“That is common with female slaves,” I said.

“You do not understand!” she hissed.

“What do I not understand?” I asked.

“Nothing, nothing,” she said, sullenly.

“Do not fear,” I said. “With proper tools the collar may be easily removed. Any metal worker, with the proper tools, could manage the business without difficulty.”

“Beast!” she said.

“How does it feel to be collared, truly collared?” I asked.

“I hate you!” she said.

“Now that you are truly collared,” I said, “I think certain other adjustments would be in order.”

“Stop!” she said.

But, tied, as she was, she could not deter my work, and I carefully, without being extreme, or excessive, in the matter, shortened the skirt of her tunic in such a way that it would be more typical in length for that of a Gorean slave girl.

“Beast, monster!” she hissed.

“I do not think Pertinax will mind,” I said. “And if he wishes to shorten it further, to make it truly ‘slave short,’ or ‘slave delightful,’ he is free to do so.”

“Do you not understand!” she exclaimed. “If someone sees me like this, they will take me for a slave!”

“You are a slave, are you not?” I asked.

“— Yes, yes,” she whispered.

“And I did not slit the skirt at the left thigh,” I said, “so Goreans will assume it is branded. If it were discerned that it lacked the brand, they would doubtless soon see that the oversight, one scarcely pardonable, was remedied.”

In her distress I do not think she even understood what I was saying.

I then fastened my hands at the neckline of the tunic.

“No,” she said. “No!”

“Why not?” I asked.

“I am not a slave!” she said. “I am a free woman!”

“Perhaps you are a slave and do not even know you are a slave,” I said.

“No, no!” she said. “I am free, free!”

I did not remove my hands from the neckline of the tunic.

“Speak!” I said.

“I was hired!” she said.

“You and Pertinax,” I said.

“Yes!” she said.

“To whom are you in fee?” I inquired.

“Men,” she said, “anonymous. I was approached on Earth, and it was I who recruited he whom you know as Pertinax.”

“Your Gorean is acceptable,” I said.

“We were given weeks of intensive training on Earth,” she said, “and more on Gor.”

“Continue,” I said.

“I was given a retainer of one hundred thousand dollars,” she said, “and so, too, was Pertinax, and we are to receive one million dollars each at the accomplishment of our mission.”

“The deposit was seemingly made to a given bank, one selectively chosen, and you were furnished with what appeared to be documentation of this,” I said. “But I am confident the money was never in actuality deposited.”

She regarded me, wildly.

“To be sure,” I said, “you were doubtless given funds, which led you to believe the business was in earnest.”

“More than five thousand dollars,” she said.

“I see,” I said.

“I shall collect the rest when I am returned to Earth,” she said.

“Of course,” I said.

“I shall return to Earth shall I not?” she said.

“You are on Gor, girl,” I said, “and on Gor you will remain.”

“No,” she said. “No!”

“And there will be others,” I said, “as greedy, and foolish, as you.”

Wide were her eyes.

“You are, doubtless unknowingly, a minion of a life form known as Kurii,” I said. “Kurii, however one views them, have a sense of honor, a sense of what is appropriate, of what is proper. I assure you they have little respect for traitresses.”

“I do not believe you!” she said.

“As you wish,” I said.

“What would be my fate?” she asked.

“You are nicely faced, and figured,” I said.

“No!” she said.

“It would amuse Kurii,” I said, “that you would sell for a handful of coins.”

“You are trying to frighten me,” she said.

“You were not to be trusted,” I said. “Why should you expect that others were to be trusted?”

“I will not be frightened!” she insisted.

“When the iron is put to your thigh,” I said, “you will know what you are.”

“No!” she said.

“Then you will finally be worth something. Someone will get some good out of you.”

“No!” she said.

“Continue to improve your Gorean,” I said. “You may be well whipped for errors.”

“Let me go!” she said.

“But we have not finished our chat,” I said.

“Release me,” she said. “What if someone should see me as I am?”

“What is your role here?” I asked.

“Surely you do not expect me to speak,” she said.

“As you wish,” I said.

My hands tightened at the neckline of her garment.

“Do not!” she said. “You are of the warriors. You have codes. I am free, a free woman! I am not to be touched! I am to be treated with respect and dignity! I am not a slave! I am a free woman!”

I removed my hands from her garment, and stepped back.

“Now untie me,” she said.

I left her bound.

She did have nice legs. Such women put a strain on the codes.

“I think,” I said, “that you are indeed a free woman, but, you must remember, you are one of Earth, not Gor. There is a considerable difference. For example, you have no Home Stone.”

“What is a Home Stone?” she said.

“Surely you have heard of them,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “but I do not understand them.”

“I am not surprised,” I said.

She pulled at the bonds.

“Do not look at me like that!” she said.

“Do you not know how appealing to a man is the sight of a bound woman?” I asked. “Masters not unoften bind their slaves and order them to squirm. The slave then is well reminded of her dependency and helplessness. And the master, for his part, now knows the slave is wholly his, prostrate at his mercy, and he finds this pleasant, and stimulating. Too, the woman is aroused, as well, and knowing herself helpless, and wholly in the master’s power, is soon beside herself with readiness. This has much to do with dominance/submissive ratios, which are pervasive in nature. Too, much can be accomplished along these lines by merely dressing the woman as one pleases, and seeing to her obedience and service. The master/slave relationship is extensive and complex. It is not all a matter of putting the slave to one’s pleasure, though, to be sure, without that it is nothing.”

She then stood very still.

“Yes,” I said. “Women such as you strain the codes.”

“I am free,” she said. “Free!”

“Yes,” I said, “you are a free woman, but one of Earth. You do not have the status of a Gorean free woman. Compared to a Gorean free woman, sheltered by her Home Stone, secure within her walls, complacent in the unquestioned arrogance of her station, the women of Earth do not even understand what it is to be free. The Gorean free woman is glorious in her freedom. The free women of Earth are no more than the sort of women that Gorean slavers think nothing of enslaving. They see the women of Earth not as free women, but only as slaves who have not yet been put in their collars.”

“I am a woman of Earth!” she said.

“Precisely,” I said.

“Monster!” she said.

“But it is true,” I said, “that you are a free woman of Earth, at least as far as those women can be free, and thus that my codes, though the matter is controversial, much depending on interpretations, do suffice to give me pause.”

“Excellent,” she said. “Now release me.”

“But you have not yet explained your role here,” I said, “nor that of Pertinax.”

“Nor is it my intention to do so,” she said.

“Very well,” I said.

“Untie me,” she said.

I turned about, and looked out to sea. I was now sure of it. What had been hitherto no more than a dot on the horizon, perhaps no more than a sea bird resting on the waves, even sleeping, as they do, was now clearly, though still small, and far off, a sail.

“There is a ship,” I said, shading my eyes.

“There have been such ships,” she said, straining her eyes, pulling against her bonds, looking outward, toward the horizon.

“One came in yesterday,” I said, “from which were disembarked, following the surmises of Pertinax, your subordinate, and not master, bandits, brigands, or such.”

“Untie me! Untie me, swiftly!” she begged.

I wondered if an agent, or agents, of Priest-Kings might be aboard that vessel, now so far off, now seeming so tiny.

“Untie me, now!” she cried.

“As you are a free woman,” I said, “even though one of Earth, I have treated you with some circumspection. In the codes such matters are gray, for it is commonly supposed that a Home Stone would be shared. If you were a slave, of course, whether of Earth or not, the matter would not even come up. Too, as you may not understand, even a Gorean free woman is expected to show a fellow respect, as another free person. If she insults him, belittles him, ridicules him, or treats him in any way which he deems improper or unbecoming, sometimes even to the glance, depending on the fellow, she is considered as having put away the armor of her status, and may be dealt with as the male sees fit. This is particularly the case if there is no shared Home Stone. Other situations are also regarded as ones in which the woman has voluntarily, or inadvertently, divested herself of the social and cultural mantles usually sufficient to protect her freedom and honor, such as walking the high bridges at night, undertaking dangerous expeditions or voyages, traversing lonely areas of a city, entering into a paga tavern, and so on.”

“There is a ship there!” she said. “I can see it clearly!”

“Yes,” I said.

“Can they see us?” she asked, desperately.

“Perhaps,” I said. “They may have a glass of the Builders.”

“If they see me here,” she cried, “half naked, bound, collared, what will they do with me?”

“Put you on a chain, of course,” I said.

“But I am free!” she said.

“Perhaps for the better part of an Ahn, or so,” I said.

“I am free,” she said. “Your codes! Your codes! You must protect me!”

“My codes do not require that,” I said.

“You would not leave me here as I am!” she cried.

“You are mistaken,” I said. “That is precisely what I will do.”

I then turned away, to withdraw into the forest.

“Wait!” she begged. “Wait!”

I turned to face her.

“I will speak, I will speak!” she cried.

“As you will,” I said.

“Untie me!” she cried. “Let us hide! They can see us here. They may have already seen us here.”

“Possibly,” I said.

“Untie me!” she begged, wildly.

“Speak first,” I said.

“We were brought here, Pertinax and I, by a disk craft, and told to wait for you,” she wept. “We were to encounter you, and show you hospitality, and then conduct you into the forest, to a rendezvous. Pertinax knows the place. He has been there. The trail is marked.”

“What sort of rendezvous,” I asked, “with whom, and to what purpose?”

“I know little,” she said, “save that they would enlist your services.”

“My services are not easily enlisted,” I said.

“They will have a hold over you,” she said. “A woman.”

“What woman?” I asked.

“I do not know!” she cried.

“I understand little of this,” I said.

“It has to do with tarns, and a ship, a great ship,” she said.

“What woman?” I asked. “What woman?”

“I do not know,” she said.

I untied her hands and she pulled away from the tree, weeping, and fled back some yards into the forest. There I saw her stop for a moment and tear wildly, hysterically, at her collar. She could not, of course, remove it. It was nicely on her, a typical Gorean collar of the higher latitudes, sturdy, flat, close-fitting. She tried to jerk down the hem of the shortened tunic, on both sides, but it sprang upward again. She then cried out in misery, and disappeared into the trees, presumably to warn Pertinax.

Presumably he would see her differently now, given the alterations to her tunic. And he would note, too, from its shortening, and the ragged lower edges, that the key was no longer in its place.

Yes, I thought, he would doubtless see her differently now.

And doubtless she would be well aware that she would now be being seen differently.

To be sure, I did not think she had anything to fear from Pertinax. It would be quite different, of course with a Gorean male.

I then turned to note the ship, now something like a hundred yards off shore.

It was a round ship, more deeply keeled, more broadly beamed, than the long ship.

It would not beach.

A longboat was being put in the water.

It had four rowers and a helmsman, and one individual forward.

The individual forward, I supposed, would be he for whom I had been waiting, the agent of Priest-Kings.

I suspected that Constantina would by now be at the hut, begging, perhaps on her knees, in her desperation, and as she was now clothed, Pertinax to flee.

To be sure, it mattered little to me that she might observe the arrival of the newcomer.

Chapter Five

AN OLD ACQUAINTANCE IS RENEWED;

A NEW SHIP ARRIVES, AND DISCHARGES PASSENGERS AND CARGO;

I OBTAIN CONSIDERABLE INTELLIGENCE, BUT NOT ENOUGH

He waded ashore.

The longboat did not beach.

“You?” I said.

“From the time of the Five Ubars, in Port Kar,” he said.

“Before the ascendancy of the Council of Captains,” I said.

“It has been a long time,” he said.

“Do not approach too closely,” I said.

“I am unarmed,” he said, opening his hands and holding them to the sides. “But others are not.”

I did not unsheathe my weapon.

Two of the oarsmen from the longboat were in the water to their waists, and each held a crossbow, with a quarrel readied in the guide.

The other two oarsmen, oars outboard, and the helmsman, his hand on the tiller, nursed the boat, keeping it, as it was turned, muchly parallel to the shore. It could be easily swung about.

“Sullius Maximus,” I said.

“Officer to Chenbar, of Kasra, Ubar of Tyros,” he said.

“Traitor to Port Kar,” I said. “Mixer of poisons.”

He bowed, humbly.

“You recall,” he said, smiling.

“But you brewed an antidote,” I remarked.

“Not of my own free will,” he smiled.

He had been infected with his own toxin, which produced, in time, a broad paralysis, that he might prepare, if time permitted, its remedy. His lord, Chenbar, had not approved of poisoned steel, and I had once spared the Ubar’s life, on the 25th of Se-Kara. The antidote, proven in the case of Sullius Maximus, had been conveyed to Port Kar.

“I am pleased to see you are looking well,” said Sullius Maximus.

“How is it that I find you here?” I asked.

“Surely you know,” he said.

“Scarcely,” I said.

“Surely you do not think this is some eccentric coincidence,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“You are waiting for the agent of Priest-Kings,” he said.

I was silent.

“I am he,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“How else would I know of your location?”

“Kurii know,” I said.

“Who are Kurii?” he said.

“You do not know?” I said.

“No,” he said.

“How is it that you, an agent of Priest-Kings, know not of Kurii?”

“To serve our lords, the masters of the Sardar,” he said, “one needs know no more than they deem suitable.”

“Perhaps they are your lords,” I said. “They are not mine.”

“Are they not the lords of us all,” he said, “are they not the gods of Gor?”

“And are the Initiates not their ministers and servitors,” I said.

“One must allow all castes their vanities,” he said.

“Doubtless,” I said.

“I understand,” he said, “that you have labored, now and then, on behalf of Priest-Kings.”

“Perhaps,” I said.

“I find their choice of agents strange,” he said. “You are a barbarian, more of a larl than a man. You know little of poetry, and your kaissa is commonplace.”

“My kaissa is satisfactory,” I said, “for one who is not a Player.”

“You are not even a caste or city champion,” he said.

“Are you?” I inquired.

“Games are for children,” he said.

“Kaissa is not for children,” I said. Life and death sometimes hung on the outcomes of a kaissa match, and war or peace. Cities had been lost in such matches, and slaves frequently changed hands.

Too, the game is beautiful.

Its fascinations, as those of art and music, exercise their spells and raptures.

“To be sure,” he said, “you do have, I gather, a certain audacious expertise in certain forms of vulgar weaponry.”

“Less sophisticated and urbane, doubtless,” I said, “than the administrations of poisons.”

“Do not be bitter,” he said. “All that was long ago, and seasons change.”

“Seasons, like enmities, and tides, return, do they not?” I asked.

“I come to you in friendship,” he said, “as partisans in a common cause.”

“I do not think you are an agent of Priest-Kings,” I said.

“I find it difficult, too,” he said, “to suppose that you are an agent of Priest-Kings.”

“I do not think of myself as such,” I said.

“But you are here,” he said.

“At the will of Priest-Kings, yes,” I said, “but I do not know why.”

“I am here to inform you,” he said.

“How do I know you are an agent of Priest-Kings?” I asked.

“Perhaps I am an unlikely agent,” he said. “Who am I to know? One might say the same of you, if you are indeed an agent. Who is to tell Priest-Kings who will be their instruments? Are you privy to their councils, can you read the mists, the fogs and clouds, which hover about the Sardar?”

I supposed it was possible that this man might be an agent of Priest-Kings. Doubtless they selected their human agents with an eye to probity and utility, not nobility, not honor. Too, the moralities of Priest-Kings might not be those of men, or of Kurii. Too, I knew there was a new dynasty in the Nest. The remnants of the older order might, by now, dispossessed and superseded, neglected and scorned, have long ago sought the pleasures of the Golden Beetle.

“You have some token, some sign, some credential, or such, which might testify to your legitimacy here, something which might certify your authenticity?”

“Certainly,” he said, reaching within his tunic.

I tensed.

He smiled.

He withdrew a loop of leather from within the tunic, on which loop was fastened a golden ring. This ring was something like two inches in diameter, and the way it hung suggested its weightiness.

The golden circle, incidentally, is taken as the sign of Priest-Kings. Such circles are often carried by high Initiates, on golden chains about their necks. Too, they are likely to appear on the walls, and over the gates, and such, of temples, and, within temples, they invariably surmount altars. Staffs surmounted with this symbol are often carried by Initiates, as well, and such staffs invariably figure in their ceremonial processions. The gold is the symbol of that which is rare, is precious, is constant, and does not tarnish. The circular form is a symbol of eternity, that which has no beginning, that which has no end. The blessings of Initiates are accompanied by the sign of Priest-Kings, a circular motion of the right hand. These blessings, on feast days, may be bestowed on the faithful without cost. Sometimes, of course, such blessings must be purchased. The favor of Priest-Kings is not easily obtained, and Initiates, as other castes, must live.

“Anyone,” I said, “might fix a ring of gold on a leather string.”

“That is how you know its authenticity,” said Sullius Maximus. “For those endeavoring in fraud, to abet a ruse, would surely fix the ring on a chain of gold.”

“May I see the ring?” I said.

I was not interested in the ring, of course, but the leather string, for leather can absorb certain substances, such as oil, or the exudates of a communicative organ.

Sullius Maximus cast me the ring, on its leather loop. He did not care to approach me too closely. I did not blame him. Might not a knife swiftly, like a striking viper, dart from its sheath, find its home in a startled heart, and might not the very body of that heart serve an assassin as shield, sheltering the assailant from the vengeance of the crossbows’ metal-finned, soon-flighted penetrant iron?

I pretended to examine the gold. I lowered my head respectfully to the symbol, as one might salute the Sardar, but I kept my eyes raised, to keep in view its purveyor. The string, in which I was primarily interested, was bunched in my hand, close to the ring, and I took its scent. Without a translator I had no hope of deciphering the scent, but I recognized the voice, so to speak, of Priest-Kings, who communicate by scent. I had no doubt that that leather had been impressed with the message of Priest-Kings.

But I had no way of reading it.

I did not inquire of Sullius Maximus the location or fate of an appropriate translator, for I was confident he knew nothing of such a device.

It was lighter now, and I examined the string, visibly. On it, in two places, there were reddish brown stains.

“The string is soiled,” I said.

“Is it?” he asked.

“Blood,” I said.

“Interesting,” he said. “It was given to me as it is.”

“I do not doubt that it came into your possession rather as it is,” I said.

He bowed his head, in assent.

I now knew I would not be met here by an agent of Priest-Kings.

The agent of Priest-Kings had been intercepted.

How then would I know the will of the denizens of the Sardar, even to judge whether or not I should honor it, or endeavor to comply with it?

“You have been to the Sardar?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, looking at me, narrowly.

“Recently?”

“Of course, to be given the ring, and the message.”

“What are the Priest-Kings like?” I asked.

“Surely you know,” he said.

“Tell me,” I said.

“They are like us,” he said.

“I am pleased to hear it,” I said.

“Only larger, stronger, more powerful,” he said.

“Of course,” I said.

“As befits gods,” he said.

“Of course,” I said.

“I recognize, and respect, and honor, your caution,” he said. “But now, if you are satisfied, I will execute my charge. I will deliver the message of Priest-Kings, and withdraw.”

“You received this message,” I said, “from the great Priest-King, Lord Sarm?”

“— Yes,” he said.

Sarm, of course, years ago, had succumbed to the pleasures of the Golden Beetle. I was reassured, then, that the Kurii still knew little of the denizens of the Sardar.

It is difficult to do contest with an enemy which is both mysterious and powerful.

I had little love for Priest-Kings, but theirs was the law and the rod which held in check the inventive and indiscreet aggressions of humans on this, their world. Had it not been for the governance of Priest-Kings, and their surveillance, and the enforcement of their prohibitions on technology and weaponry, I had little doubt that the suspicions, fears, and simian ingenuity of my species on Gor would have by now produced lethalities equivalent to, if not superior to, the madnesses which currently threatened the destruction of another world, the ruination of another habitat, the extinction of an indigenous species, my own, on that other world. The paw which first grasped a jagged stone can eventually become the hand which can, with the pressing of a switch, eliminate continents. How easy it is to poison atmospheres, and how easy, soon, to set axes awry, and roll a world into a star’s flaming maw. I supposed that the human species was one of the few species with the capacity to render itself extinct. I doubted that the Priest-Kings were overly concerned with the welfare of humans, but it seemed clear that they had no intention of sharing the psychotic pastimes of such a species, or of enduring the consequences of its stupidities, hence their weapon and technology laws. But the shield of Priest-Kings was concerned not only to protect their own world from the potential dangers of an eventually advanced and technologically armed humanity, mostly, originally, brought over millennia to Gor in Voyages of Acquisition for its biological interest, as were many other forms of animal life not native to the world, but, as well, from the incursions of a particularly acquisitive and predatory life form, the Kurii. Too, interestingly, the sheltering wing of the Priest-Kings, her declared protectorate, extended beyond Gor to another world as well, to her sister world, Earth. It, and its resources, were to be protected from Kurii. Let Kurii be denied Earth, with its wealth of water and hydrogen, be denied such a foothold and platform for their projects, so splendid a staging area for an approach to Gor. Let them remain, rather, in their distant, isolated, metal worlds, confined to an alien wilderness, an archipelago of debris between Mars and Jupiter, the Reefs of Space, the Asteroid Belt. It was interesting, I thought, that those of Earth owed so much, their world as they knew it, to an unknown benefactor, a form of life whose very existence was unknown to them. To be sure, I was confident that the motivations of Priest-Kings were self-serving and prudential, not moral, or at least not moral as humans might understand such things. If there were agendas here they were not ours; they were those of the Sardar.

“What is the message of Priest-Kings?” I asked.

“First,” said he, “return to me the ring.”

“Should I not keep it?” I asked.

“No,” he said. “It is meaningless to you. It is important to me. It is my token, my proof, that I speak for Priest-Kings.”

“You are to speak further,” I asked, “to others, at other times?”

“I do not know,” he said. “Put the ring down, on the sand. Step away. I will pick it up.”

To be sure, I had no translator, and was, accordingly, unable to read the message. I wondered if Sullius Maximus suspected that some significance, other than that which he had conjectured, might lie within the leather loop of the golden ring. He was a highly intelligent man. That was surely not impossible.

“Did Lord Sarm give you the token,” I asked, “in a box, a container, of some sort?”

Sullius Maximus regarded me, suddenly, alertly.

Yes, I thought, he is quite intelligent.

Presumably the agent of Priest-Kings, he who had been intercepted, would have had about himself not only the message but a translator. The translator would presumably, as it was outside the Sardar, open only to a code, and only at a certain time, and for a certain time. Presumably there would have been a schedule or envelope of two or three days in which it might have been utilized. The agent would have been instructed to process the leather band, which was, in effect, a scent tape, only in my presence, or, more likely, supply me with the code, and then withdraw. The scent itself, given its nature, as a covert message, would fade after a time, not having been imprinted permanently on the tape. These would seem fairly obvious security measures.

“There was a box,” said Sullius Maximus.

“But it was unusual, was it not?” I asked.

“Quite,” said Sullius Maximus.

I was sure that Sullius Maximus, and his presumed fellows, would have supposed the message was in the box, which was, in fact, unknown to them, either the translator, or contained the translator, and would have tried to open it. I did not think they would associate the ring, on its leather cord, with the box itself. I had little doubt that their efforts had been attended with surprising results. I remembered a metal envelope in which I had received a message, years ago, on a solitary camping trip, in the winter, in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I had neglected to follow the instructions, to discard the envelope. It had burst suddenly into flame. The fearful destruction of the object not only destroyed it, but was such that it might have blinded one in whose hands it lay, or burned them alive. It had been in my knapsack and I had managed to slip it free and let it fall to the snow, which it melted, for yards about.

“In what way?” I asked.

“— Ornate,” said Sullius Maximus, “small, crusted with jewels, such things.”

“I see,” I said.

I wondered if one or more of his confederates had been incinerated. Doubtless the agent of Priest-Kings would have resisted capture, and would have been quickly, brutally slain, it being presupposed that his life would be of small value, that he was the mere carrier of the message, a message presumably in the box, and the token, which they would have supposed was his identification, his certification to be the one to whom the Priest-Kings had entrusted the transmission of the message.

Sullius Maximus, and his fellows, then, would be unaware of the contents of the actual message.

But then, so, too, was I.

To be sure, the actual nature of the message, which might have been suspected by Kurii, and which, in any event, they would not have delivered to me, would be of less interest to them than the message, their message, which they would want delivered to me, as though it were the message of Priest-Kings. The will of Kurii then would be conveyed to me under the pretense that it was the will of Priest-Kings. If their designs held firm, and their deception was successful, I would then, supposing me obedient to Priest-Kings, pursue their design in place of that of the masters of the Sardar.

Given the presumed destruction of the “box,” supposed to contain the original message, presumably on its scroll, the Kurii, or their minions, utilizing the “token,” not understanding the nature of its imbedded message, and accommodating themselves to the situation as best they might, would deliver their own message orally.

Fortunately for me, they knew little of the Sardar, of Priest-Kings themselves, of their modalities of communication, of their caution, of their security measures.

“The ring, please,” said Sullius Maximus.

I put the ring, on its loop, down on the sand, and backed away from it.

Sullius Maximus approached it and, not taking his eyes from me, picked it up.

“My thanks,” said he.

“Smell the leather,” I said. “It seems to have been perfumed.”

“I know,” he said. “But I doubt the perfume would be popular in the paga taverns of Kasra.”

“Nor elsewhere,” I speculated.

He held it briefly to his nose, and then, with an expression of disgust, returned the loop and ring to a concealment within his tunic.

“Perhaps it would do for a free woman,” I said, “intent on discouraging the avidity of a suitor.”

“No,” he said. “Free women are women, and they desire to be desired. It gives them great pleasure to attract, and then deny and torment suitors. They find it gratifying. It is an exercise of power.”

“True,” I said. Gorean free women were famed for their arrogance and pride. It was little wonder that men often took such things from them. What a terror for a free woman, reduced to bondage, to know that spurned suitors may find her, even seek her out, and buy her. When a woman is stripped and collared, and knelt, and has the whip pressed to her then unveiled lips, she is scarcely any longer in a position to discomfort and torment a fellow. Rather she must then be seriously concerned for her life, and hope that she will be found pleasing, and fully.

“It was much stronger a few days ago,” he said. “The scent has faded, significantly.”

“Even since yesterday?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said, puzzled.

The agent of Priest-Kings was to have contacted me yesterday, I supposed, the day I had arrived on the beach, disembarked from Peisistratus’s ship. Instead I had been met by Pertinax.

“If you find it offensive,” I said, “you might clean the cord, wipe it free of scent — and blood.”

“I will,” he said, “now.”

“Now?” I said.

“I thought the odor might be pertinent to the authenticity of the token,” he said. “I noted that you took the scent.”

“You are perceptive,” I said.

“But the scent is fading,” he said. “If I accept an office anew from Priest-Kings, they will doubtless provide a new signature string, with the appropriate scent.”

“Thus you would clean the soiled string?”

“Yes,” he said.

“Why not discard it?” I said.

Whereas I was not sure the message was still readable, and I had no translator at my disposal, even if it were readable, I would have been concerned to retrieve the cord.

“No,” he said. “I think it best to keep the whole intact, lest inquiries arise.”

“I would suppose,” I said, “the ring is the token.”

“But on a strand of leather, not a golden chain,” he said.

“Doubtless you are right,” I said.

“Do you think the odor is important?” he asked.

“I do not know,” I said. “It might, as you suggest, be relevant to the authenticity of the token.”

“You took its scent,” he said.

I shrugged. “The odor was odd,” I said. “I was curious.”

“It meant nothing to you?”

“Little or nothing,” I said.

“I speculate,” he said, “you know as little of this as I.”

“I fear so,” I said. Certainly I had no idea what might have been the message of the string.

Then the helmsman in the longboat called out, “Hurry!” He was looking about. I looked out, across the water. A narrow spume of smoke rose from the round ship, near its bow. This was, I supposed, a signal to return to the ship. Such signals are silent, and in waters where it might be wise to be wary, drums or horns would not be used. At night, dark lanterns, shuttered and unshuttered, may be used. Other devices, more common on ships of war, in similar situations, are flags and banners. Needless to say there are codes involved, which may be changed when deemed appropriate.

Sullius Maximus backed away a step or two, looked briefly back, to the round ship, some hundred yards offshore. It had begun now to come about, its bow moving, turning, toward the horizon.

“It is dangerous here,” he said. “I must hasten.”

“Hurry,” called the fellow at the tiller, again. The two oarsmen turned the longboat toward the round ship.

“How, how dangerous?” I asked.

Certainly he had two crossbowmen at his back. And the beach was open several yards behind me. He was beyond a cast of the spear. This was a remote area. To be sure, he was well within the purview of a longbow.

“Attend,” said he, “fellow partisan of the plans of Priest-Kings, attend the commands of the Sardar!”

“What is your sudden concern?” I asked.

I saw no new sail on the horizon.

Something, of course, might have been seen from the height of the permanent mast of the round ship. A lookout is often posted there, with a Builder’s glass. He stands on a small platform, and is usually roped to the mast, or has his place within a chest-high ring of metal. The masts of the common Gorean warship are commonly lowered before entering battle. This makes the ship more amenable to her oars and less vulnerable to flaming missiles, which might ignite a sail on its long, sloping yard.

I wondered that Sullius Maximus had not been conveyed hither in a long ship. Surely Tyros has one of the most formidable fleets on Thassa.

Perhaps this had little to do with Tyros?

Perhaps a round ship would raise less suspicion?

Perhaps this was the very ship on which the agent of Priest-Kings might have had his passage?

“I speak in the name of Priest-Kings,” said Sullius Maximus, swiftly, as though by rote. “You are to attend me intently, and are to obey with perfection.”

“I am a free man,” I reminded him.

“Hear the will of Priest-Kings!” he said.

And so I prepared to hear the will of Kurii.

“You are to enter the forest,” said Sullius Maximus, “and seek out a forester, by name, Pertinax. The hut is nearby. You will know him by name, and by his possession, a blond-haired, blue-eyed slave. She is barbarian. She has tiny bits of metal in two of her teeth, and a tiny brand on her upper left arm. Her name is Constantina. They are to conduct you within the forest, to a rendezvous with a mariner from west of Tyros and Cos.”

That interested me, for few ships voyaged to the west of those maritime ubarates. There were, of course, some islands beyond Tyros and Cos, some smaller islands, spoken of, commonly, as the Farther Islands. I supposed, thus, that the “mariner,” if he were a mariner, must be from one of the Farther Islands. I was personally unaware of any who had sailed beyond those islands, and returned.

What Sullius Maximus had referred to as a brand on the upper left arm of Constantina was doubtless a vaccination mark. Few, if any, of the maladies which immunization was designed to prevent on Earth existed on Gor. It was natural for Goreans, hence, to suppose that this form of scarring was a brand, a deliberately inflicted mark, though not necessarily one indicative of bondage. Ritual scarring was not unknown on Gor, for example amongst certain of the Wagon Peoples of the southern plains, certain tribes south and east of Schendi, in the vicinity of the Ua, and so on. The girls were, of course, barbarians. Some Goreans supposed the tiny marks were “selection marks,” marks identifying choice females, suitable for eventual enslavement. This misunderstanding was presumably fostered by the fact that the great majority of Earth females brought to Gor were, in their variety of ways, choice merchandise or, to speak vulgarly, superb “block meat.”

“You are to take your orders from this person, or his superiors,” said Sullius Maximus.

“I do not understand what is going on here,” I said.

“Your duties will be explained to you,” said Sullius Maximus.

“What is the name of this ‘mariner’?” I asked.

“Nishida,” he said. “Lord Nishida.”

“Hurry! Hurry!” called the fellow at the tiller of the longboat.

Sullius Maximus then turned about, and hurried toward the shore.

He waded into the surf and, when he had boarded the small craft, the two fellows with crossbows followed him, and, in moments, their weapons stowed, they, and the other two oarsmen, were propelling the longboat toward the round ship. The fellow at the tiller had a steady hand, and the longboat was soon aside the round ship, and had been hoisted over the gunwales. At the same time the lateen sail was unfurled from its yard, and, swelling, took the wind, and the ship, like a stately bird, was aflight.

Sullius Maximus would have had no way of knowing that I had already made the acquaintance of Pertinax and Lady Constantina, nor in any event would this have much mattered. The principal point of his contact with me, I supposed, was to convince me that I had now kept my appointment with the agent of Priest-Kings, and had thereby received my instructions from the Sardar. I would be thus relieved of any inclination to await that contact, my possible suspicions having been thusly allayed. Presumably, too, assuming I was compliant to the will of Priest-Kings, I would now naively prosecute the machinations of Kurii, confident that it was in the cause of Priest-Kings that I labored.

What I had learned from Pertinax and Lady Constantina, of course, was rather similar to that which I had learned from Sullius Maximus, which was only to be expected, as they, though perhaps unbeknownst to one another, were in league. From Pertinax I had gathered the rendezvous in the forest might take place tomorrow, or soon thereafter. From Sullius Maximus, I had gathered that it was to take place with a “mariner” called Nishida. That did not sound to me like a Gorean name. Similarly, he had spoken of “Lord Nishida,” which suggested that the individual, if a mariner, at all, was not likely to be a common mariner. From Lady Constantina I had learned that a ship was somehow involved, and tarns. She had also suggested that I would be subject to a hold of some sort, presumably something that would guarantee my fidelity to the orders received. This hold, I had gathered, had something to do with a woman. I understood little of this.

Once this rendezvous had taken place it seemed to me unlikely that the Kurii would have further use for Lady Constantina. I rather doubted that she would be given to Pertinax, as he seemed still much of Earth. He did not seem to me a master. Naturally it would be appropriate to give a woman, particularly a good-looking woman, which Constantina was, only to a master.

They know what to do with such women.

I decided to return to the hut of Pertinax.

I supposed he would still be there, even if Lady Constantina would have urged flight. Too, I was sure Cecily would be there, as well. She had not been given permission to leave the area, nor did I think, in fact, she would wish to do so. Once, before, on a Steel World, she had fled. She had, of course, eventually, easily enough, a half-naked slave, branded and collared, been recovered. I had punished the Earth girl well for her indiscretion. She was now, as the saying is, more familiar with her collar. Now, the very thought of attempting to escape, or of even failing to be pleasing, and fully so, would fill her with terror.

Constantina, I had now discovered, was, as I had hitherto suspected, a free woman. I did not think she would inform Pertinax that I now knew her secret. It was, of course, one to which he would be privy. It would be important to her, surely, to try to retain her pretense of bondage, at least before Pertinax, when I was present. She would not be sure, too, of what consequences might accrue to her, from her employers, should they learn of her disclosures at the shore. Better to pretend things were as before. And, indeed, was her disguise not required of her, that she might, in relative safety, arousing little suspicion, negotiate the realms of Gor, her markets and streets, her fields and bridges, her wharves and roads? To Goreans, a free female of Earth would be surprising, at least. Too, there were few, if any, free women in the forests. These were not the locales to which a free woman would be likely to be brought, nor to which they would wish to come.

So now it seemed to me that I might well behave toward Lady Constantina, as before, as though I still accepted her as, and believed her to be, the slave of Pertinax. To be sure, it would now give me special pleasure to treat her as the slave she pretended to be. Let her, a proud, insolent free woman of Earth, used to the men of Earth, such as Pertinax, men whom she despised and might affront with impunity, and upon occasion, in virtue doubtless of wealth and authority, command, have to behave before me, and before Pertinax, as a mere slave.

I wondered if the adjustments I had made to her garmenture, and the fact that she no longer held the key to her collar, and could not now remove it, might help her have to have more of a sense of what it might be, to be a slave.

Certainly she would be uneasy.

I thought I would enjoy this.

And I was sure Cecily, too, would enjoy it.

Cecily, of course, believed her a slave, one, however, surprisingly in need of discipline.

Slaves desire to be kept in order, and certainly expect other slaves to be kept in order, as well. They find infractions of discipline almost incomprehensible, perhaps because they so seldom occur, and when they do, they are usually promptly and sharply punished. A slave expects to be punished if she is not pleasing. Indeed, if she knows herself to have been negligent or omissive, which sometimes occurs, she may beg to be punished, that she may feel that the balance, harmony, and order of her existence, of her very world, has been restored. If a slave is not treated as a slave she may become confused and frightened, for she knows she is a slave, and how she should be treated. Should a master begin to treat the slave as though she might be a free woman, she is likely to throw herself to his feet, and beg not to be sold.

The preciousness of the collar to the slave, and the fulfillments of her bondage, are not to be minimized. Commonly she lives to love and serve the master, to the best of her ability. She knows she is a slave, and how slaves are expected to behave. Accordingly that is how she does behave, as a slave.

Even free women, it seems, have some sense of these remarkable and profound fulfillments, and this accounts, one supposes, for their almost universal hostility toward, and contempt for, their embonded sisters.

The slave, it might be noted, is seldom, if ever, treated with gratuitous or wanton cruelty. She is subject to that, but what would be the point of it? To a Gorean such things would be incomprehensible, or absurd. What is important is the mastery, and firmness, to be sure a mastery and a firmness which is uncompromising and exacting, categorically and absolutely so, but also one which is commonly taken for granted, by both the master and the slave.

When a man has what he wants from a woman, a hot, helpless, grateful slave, one devoted and dutiful, a lovely property, vulnerable in his collar, why should he not be contented, well-disposed, and benevolent?

A man finds himself, a slave at his feet, and a woman finds herself, a slave, at the feet of her master.

And thus speaks the cave, the dances at campfires, and thongs. And thus, in the enhancements of civilization, speak bracelets, the collar, and the block.

I wondered if I should gather in Cecily, and try to make my way south, eventually to Port Kar.

This might expose me, and my holding, and properties, ships, treasures, slaves, and such, to the reprimand of Priest-Kings, of course.

And if I slipped from the surveillance of Kurii, and their minions, this, too, might place much in jeopardy.

Pertinax, for example, who seemed a nice enough fellow, might be punished for having failed his more remote employers. I doubted that the displeasure of Kurii could be lightly borne.

Primarily, I suppose, I was curious.

I did not know the will of Priest-Kings, and so did not know either how to thwart it, or abet it, even if I wished to pursue one of these objectives. But, similarly, I did not know what project Kurii might have afoot.

But I was curious.

I decided I would remain in the forest.

Sometimes high warriors, city masters, Ubars, generals, and such, play “blind kaissa.” Two boards are used, with an opaque barrier between the boards, so neither player can see the pieces of the other. An adjudicator observes both boards and informs the players whether a move is legal, whether a capture has been made, and so on. Thus, in a sense, the game is played in the dark. Gradually, however, from the adjudicator’s reports, particularly if one has much experience of this version of kaissa, one begins to sense the positions and strategy of the opponent. This game is intended to intensify and heighten the intuitions of battle. In Gorean warfare, of course, as in much traditional warfare, prior to electronic sophistications, one is often uncertain of the position, strength, and plans of the enemy. Too much in war, and often much of fearful moment, is “blind kaissa.”

And so, I thought, perhaps in the northern forests, I might try my hand at “blind kaissa.”

I would return to the hut of Pertinax.

It was at this time that I, facing the sea, looked to my left, several hundred yards down the beach, and, too, several yards out to sea.

I now suspected the meaning of the signal smoke near the bow of the round ship, and why she had recalled her longboat, had swung about and unfurled her sail. Presumably, her lookout had espied, far to her starboard, another sail. Gorean ships seldom approach one another, and when they do, it is likely that one or both have piracy or war on their mind.

Yesterday I had gathered from Pertinax that ships, perhaps several, had come to the local shores, and disembarked fellows of a sort whose acquaintance he was not eager to make. Indeed, while I had been with him, yesterday, one such ship had disembarked a number of armed men.

A small ship was there, her sail furled. She had some ten oars to a side; she was smaller than my Tesephone. She was of a sort that might be used in messaging, or packet work. She had swung parallel to the shore, her bow south. Several men were spilling over her port side, perhaps twenty or more. Some boxes, too, perhaps supplies, of one sort or another, were cast overboard, and these were being guided by wading men to the shore, where they were drawn up on the beach. I then noted, lastly, another form of cargo, one that had not been on the earlier ship, items strung together, which were then rudely, unceremoniously, disembarked, plunged overboard into the chilly waters. These items then, some immersed, now and again, others trying desperately to hold their heads above the water, were dragged through the surf to the shore, and then, barefoot, stumbling, shuddering, were knelt on the wave-washed pebbled sand, water, coming and going, swirling about their knees and thighs, where they huddled together, heads down, several clutching their arms about themselves for warmth. I counted some fifteen, though it was hard to tell, at the distance, as they were crowded together. Sometimes such properties, so linked, are spoken of as a “slaver’s necklace,” pretty beads, so to speak, on a common string. In any event they were chained together, by the neck. The chain seemed heavier than necessary, and the collars were high and dark. If the girl kneels upright, her back straight, as slaves are commonly expected to kneel, she cannot well lower her head in such a collar. The head remains lifted to the master, which can be fearful for a slave. She lowers her head by bending at the waist. I surmised they were low slaves. To be sure, even recent free women are sometimes put in such devices, that they become that much the sooner accustomed to their condition, that they are no longer free, but are now goods, now properties, now slaves.

Pertinax would have fled such fellows, I suppose, but I was curious as to their origin, and their business here, in this remote area.

Too, I was armed.

So I approached them, as though I might have been waiting for them.

Doubtless they were to be met, in one way or another, either at the beach, or later, in the forest.

I lifted my hand. “Tal,” I said.

“Tal,” said a fellow, and then one or two or more.

“You are late,” I said.

I had no idea if this were true or not, but the round ship which had recently departed, I was reasonably sure, had been late. Should it not have arrived yesterday, when I had been disembarked from the ship of Peisistratus?

“Adverse winds,” said a fellow. “We were much under oars. The sea was high.”

That accent, I conjectured, was Tyrian, or Cosian. They are muchly similar.

“How are things in Kasra?” I inquired. “In Jad?” These were, respectively, ports in Tyros and Cos.

One of the fellows looked at me, strangely.

“It is years since I saw Kasra,” said a man.

“I have not seen the terraces of Cos since the fall of Ar,” said another.

“They are mariners,” said the fellow who had first returned my greeting. “Most here are fee fighters, mercenaries.”

“You do not appear regulars,” I granted him.

I watched the small ship dip her oars and begin to move south. After a time, a hundred yards or so from shore, she dropped her sail.

“There was another ship here,” said a man. “We heard the lookout cry her position.”

“A round ship,” I said. “I could not persuade her to dally.”

Several of the men laughed. It was a laugh which would not have reassured Pertinax.

“How are things in Ar?” I inquired.

“Have you not heard?” said a fellow, incredulously.

“No,” I said.

“Ar has risen,” said another. “Only by forced marches, on which many perished, were we able to elude vengeful citizens.”

“Hundreds were captured, tortured, and impaled,” said another.

“We, and some hundreds, fought to open the streets which had been barricaded against us, to prevent our egress, to pen us helplessly within that sea of fire and blood,” said another, shuddering.

“Some of us,” said a man, “apprised of the danger, wary to rumors, took what loot we could, what we had acquired in the occupation, and more, and slipped away, into the night, before the great bars rang the rebellion.”

“Those were the fortunate ones,” said a fellow, grimly.

“I do not understand,” I said.

“You have heard of Marlenus,” said a man, “surely?”

“Of course,” said I, “Marlenus of Ar, of Glorious Ar, Ubar of Ubars.”

“Long was he gone from Ar,” said a fellow. “He disappeared, on a hunting trip, in the Voltai.”

“As time went on, he was supposed dead,” said a man. “Surely you know of the war betwixt Ar, and Tyros and Cos, and other polities?”

“Yes,” I said.

A hundred war banners, I feared, had been unfurled.

“Fortunate it was for Tyros, Cos, and their allies,” said a fellow, shuddering, “that Marlenus was absent from the city.”

I supposed that so.

“Mercenaries, and mercenary bands, were recruited from dozens of states, even from brigand bands, from outlaw leagues, eager for loot.”

There was some rueful laughter from several of the fellows about.

“These swelled the ranks of the spears of the island ubarates,” said a fellow.

The strength of the maritime ubarates was surely in their fleets, not in their ground forces.

“Ar neglected precautions,” said a man, incredulously. I wondered if he might not have been a banished warrior, from some city. I thought the scarlet would not have ill become him. “She failed to arm and deploy her formidable infantries.”

“I see,” I said.

These things I muchly knew.

I recalled that Dietrich of Tarnburg had fought a tenacious holding action at Torcodino, to delay the advance on Ar, to give her time to meet the avalanche, the swift confluences, of armed men who would descend upon her. But his action had been unavailing, and Ar had remained quiescent, even inert, though surely the screams of the tarns of war must have somehow reached her walls. Could they not heed the plaints of refugees, hear the drums of spearmen, sense the ponderous tread of war tharlarion? It soon became clear to many that conspiracy and treachery reigned within the Central Cylinder, and that the throne itself might now be festooned with the promises and wealth of the island ubarates. Ar, pathetic, confused, disorganized, and distraught, was unable to muster more than the feeblest of resistances, and these were muchly betrayed by commands from the Central Cylinder. Many of the best forces of Ar, her finest troops, her best officers, by intent, to divert them from the defense of the city, had been earlier ordered to the vast delta of the Vosk, to engage there in an alleged punitive expedition against supposed incursions from Cos and Tyros. These troops were deliberately undersupplied and misled. They were deliberately subjected to orders which were obscure or confused, even contradictory, orders the compliance with which would be almost suicidal in the terrain. These troops, as planned, had been decimated in the delta of the Vosk, and largely lost, the prey of heat and insects, of salt water and quicksand, of armed rencers, of serpents and tharlarion. Few, proportionately, had returned home. Some, dazed and starving, half mad, had reached the southern dikes of Port Kar, separating her from the delta. And when some managed to reach Ar, they found her surrendered to the enemy, garrisoned by the foe. Myron, polemarkos of the continental forces of Cos, he of Temos, cousin to Lurius of Jad, of Cos, was in command of the city, though he maintained a headquarters outside her pomerium. In this fashion it was proclaimed that Ar had been liberated and a new day had come about, one of harmony, peace, and amicability. Meanwhile the citizens of Ar were to believe their loss was a gain, their defeat a victory. They must atone now for the erstwhile glory of Ar, regret her former might, influence, and power. Now they must acknowledge her misdeeds, and celebrate her redemption by her friends and allies, the benign forces of Cos, Tyros, and their allies. And many sang, and congratulated themselves on their newly found virtue, while dismantling their walls to the scornful music of flute girls. Meanwhile, of course, the invaders tightened their controls and, for months, either randomly, as it pleased them, or systematically, in accord with the directives of the polemarkos, began to loot Ar of its wealth, its silver and gold, its jewelries and gems, its medical elixirs, its ointments and scents, its pagas and wines, its manufactures, its beasts, its slaves, and, in many cases, its free women, some put in paga taverns and brothels, others stripped and coffled, to be led to foreign markets, and some even, after transport from Brundisium, to Cos and Tyros themselves.

To be sure, all had not gone as smoothly as it might have for the invaders because, eventually, sporadic acts of resistance occurred. These were generally attributed to the work of a small group of resistance fighters, which became known as the Delta Brigade. Because of the vast, triangular spreading of the Vosk river, into dozens of smaller rivers, often mutually interfluent, flowing into the Tamber Gulf, which leads to Thassa herself, the sea, that area is known in Gorean as the Delka, or, better, the Delka of the Vosk. “Delka” is a triangular letter in Gorean, the fourth letter in her alphabet, derived, it seems, from the Greek letter “Delta.” The core of the Delta Brigade was surmised to be composed of veterans returned from the misdirected and ill-fated campaign in the Vosk’s delta, and thus the term “Delta Brigade.”

“Tell me of the rising, the rebellion,” I said.

“Woe to Cos and Tyros,” said a fellow. “Marlenus returned.”

“Where had he been, what had been his fate?” I asked.

“Much is unclear,” said one of the fellows. “It seems he was injured in a fall, whilst hunting, lost his sense of self, wandered perhaps, no longer knew himself.”

“Some think he might have been captured, and imprisoned in Treve,” said a fellow.

“Impossible,” said another.

“In any event,” said a bearded fellow, “it seems he emerged from the Voltai, thought himself somehow of the Peasants, and labored with them.”

“He was eventually recognized, in Ar,” said another.

“It was said by a mere slave,” said another.

“Interesting,” I said.

“A female,” said another.

“Was she then freed?” I asked.

Several of the men laughed.

“Forgive me,” I said. “I spoke foolishly.”

Gorean slaves were seldom freed. Indeed, there is a saying that only a fool frees a slave girl.

“Soon others recognized him, as well,” said another.

“Then he was concealed by partisans,” said another.

“He recovered his memory,” I said.

“It was strange,” said another.

“We know only the stories,” said another.

“He was like a child, it seems,” said another, “a powerful, dangerous child. He listened to what he was told. He learned what had occurred in the city, as it was patiently explained to him. He grew sorrowful, and then, slowly, angry. Then he said, ‘But where is Marlenus?’”

“This elated his sheltering partisans,” said another, “that he could recall that name. ‘Where is Marlenus?’ he asked, again, and again. ‘He must return,’ he was told. ‘Where is he?’ he asked. ‘In the city, it is thought,’ he was told.”

“He did not know himself Marlenus?” I said.

“No,” said one of the men.

“Continue,” I said.

“‘Who rules in Ar?’ he asked,” said the bearded fellow.

“‘Truly, or in name?’ inquired his interlocutor,” said another. “And he wished to know in truth who ruled, and he was told Lurius of Jad, in far Cos, but through Myron, the polemarkos, with the collusion of Seremides, master of the Taurentians, the palace guard. And then he asked who then ruled in name, and men feared to tell him, that it was she who had once been his daughter, before her dishonoring, and disownment, for the slur she had once cast on his honor.”

I knew something of this.

She had once been captured and enslaved by the tarnsman, Rask, of Treve, but he, having become, however unaccountably, enamored of a blond barbarian slave named El-in-or, gave her to Verna, a leader of Panther Girls, who took her to the northern forests. Later, on the northern coast, she was exposed for sale. There she had come within the cognizance of a slaver, Samos, first Captain in the Council of Captains of Port Kar. Eager to escape the toils of her cruel mistresses, and hoping that she might be returned to civilization, and even freed, she had begged him to buy her. And thusly had she performed a slave’s act, begging to be purchased, for in this act one acknowledges oneself purchasable, and thus a slave. I, later, at the time unable to walk, and muchly paralyzed by the poison of Sullius Maximus, encountered her in the house of Samos. I had had her freed and returned to Ar. It was by then common knowledge how she had been slave, and in what fashion she had come into the keeping of Samos. The honor and pride of a man such as Marlenus of Ar, Ubar of Ar, Ubar of Ubars, refused to sustain indignities of this enormity. Such affronts could not be brooked by an honor such as his. What an insult, profound and grievous, was this to his blood, and to the throne of Ar! He thus disowned her as his daughter, and had had her sequestered in the Central Cylinder, that her shame might be concealed from the city and the world.

Had she not been free when she was delivered to Ar it is quite probable she would have been whipped and sold out of the city.

Had she, when free, and not slave, been guilty of a stain on the honor of Ar she might well have been publicly impaled.

“But he asked, again, and again, in his slow, childlike way, who now, be it only in name, ruled in Ar,” said one of the men on the beach, “and the partisans took council, and decided to risk the disclosure, though they knew not what effect it might have.”

“‘Talena,’ he was told,” said another, “’daughter of Marlenus of Ar.’”

“Then,” said another, “as the story has it, he lifted his head, and his whole mien changed, and his body seemed to become larger and filled with power, and his eyes took on a strange, fierce, wicked gleam, and he said, quietly, and not in his slow, innocent, puzzled, childlike voice, but in another voice, a voice like iron and ice, ‘Marlenus of Ar has no daughter.’”

“The partisans looked to one another, their eyes alight,” said a man.

“It is then,” said another, “as the story goes, that he stood upright amongst the partisans, like a larl amongst panthers, and said, ‘Bring me a banner of Ar.’”

“‘Who are you?’ he was asked, ‘that you dare ask for a banner of Ar?’” said another. “’They have been forbidden,’ said a partisan. ‘They are concealed.’”

“‘Bring me a banner,’ he said, ‘one large, and broad.’ ‘Furled or unfurled?’ he was asked. ‘Furled,’ he said, ‘that it may then be unfurled.’”

“The partisans then gasped, realizing who it was who then stood amongst them.”

“‘Who would dare unfurl the banner of Ar?’ he was asked.”

“‘I,’ he said, ‘Marlenus, Ubar of Ar.’”

The unfurling of a furled banner, in given circumstances, when this is accomplished deliberately, slowly, and ritualistically, is far more than a sign of war; it is a sign of unappeasable purpose, of unmitigated intent, of implacable resolution. More than once the surrender of cities has not been accepted, but they have been leveled and burned, simply because a banner had been unfurled.

“‘How many swords have we?’ he is said to have asked, and then demanded maps of the city, that he might be shown the locations of intrusive garrisons. The men about him he appointed high officers, by his word alone.”

This was possible, as the word of the Ubar takes precedence over councils.

“Had we known Marlenus was in the city,” said a man, “we should have withdrawn.”

“Word,” said another, “was soon in the streets, and it swept from insula to insula, and to the lesser cylinders.”

“But we were not immediately aware of this,” said a man. “Surely the great bar had not yet rung, signaling the rising.”

“They planned swiftly, and well,” said another fellow, shuddering.

“Weapons had been forbidden to the populace,” said another, but many had been concealed, and there is little which may not figure as a weapon, axes and hammers, the implements of agriculture, planks, poles and sticks, the very stones of the streets.”

I nodded. A tyrant state always wishes to disarm the public, for it understands its secret intents with respect to that public, and wants it at its mercy. This disarming is always, of course, alleged to be in the public’s best interest, as though the public would be safest when least capable of defending itself.

“Many of Ar, particularly in the higher, richer cylinders,” said a fellow, “had collaborated with us, had abetted the occupation, had shared in the looting of the city.”

I supposed that was true. There were always such, in all cities, attentive to the directions of shifting winds.

“Proscription lists had been prepared,” said another.

I shuddered.

“It was safer to be in the blue of a Cosian regular,” laughed a man, “than in the satin robes of traitors.”

I feared then for Talena, arrogant traitress, puppet Ubara, occupant of the throne on the sufferance of invaders, sullier of her Home Stone.

Marlenus had returned!

“We awakened at dawn,” said a man, “startled, bewildered, to the ringing of the great bar, and rushed into the streets, to be met with steel and stones. They swarmed from everywhere, struck from everywhere. An arsenal had been seized. The cry of battle, ‘For Glorious Ar,’ was all about us. We cut down what we could, but they were everywhere, screaming, rushing at us. A fellow would kill two, and have his throat cut by a third.”

“We were outnumbered, dozens to one,” said a man.

“They were maddened, merciless,” said another. “Like starving blood-maddened sleen!”

“They had planned well,” said another. “A thousand avenues of escape were closed, even to the spilling of walls into the streets. We lost many, surmounting such obstacles, fighting our way toward the open.”

“Luckily,” said another, “much of the walling of Ar had been earlier dismantled by her own citizens, or we might have been unable to reach the fields, the marshes, the Viktel Aria.”

“What of Myron,” I asked, “his troops?”

“He was drunk in his tent,” said another, bitterly.

“Many of his troops,” said another, “those of the mercenary captains, given the emptying of Ar, and the lessening of loot, had deserted.”

“There were regulars, surely,” I said.

“Too few,” said another man. “It had been thought that Ar was pacified, that she required little attention, that the propaganda of Tyros and Cos had done its work, weakening and confusing Ar, dividing her and turning her against herself. Many troops had been recalled to the island ubarates themselves, others to the Cosian principalities on the Vosk.”

“They did engage,” said another man, “but not as they would have preferred. They had little time to form, as enraged thousands, many now armed with captured weapons, rushed forth from the city to deal with them.”

Commonly a large Gorean military camp is square, or rectangular. It is carefully laid out, and is usually severally gated, which allows for the issuance of forces from the interior in a variety of manners. Too, it is ditched, and palisaded, with lookout towers at the corners of the palisade. Watches are routinely maintained, and not unoften patrols reconnoiter the locality. I recalled, however, from when I had been last in Ar, that many of these provisions had not been supplied by the polemarkos. Though Myron had had his weaknesses, for paga, and, occasionally, for a slave, he was not a poor officer. The nonfortifying of the camp had been deliberate, a part of the charade that Tyros, Cos, and their allies, had come to Ar not as conquerors but as liberators.

“We soon heard,” said one of the men on the beach, “that a banner had been unfurled.”

“And that Marlenus had returned,” said another.

“That broke the spirit of hundreds,” said another.

It is interesting, I thought, what may be the effect of will, and a given leader, on a course of events, how such things, will and a given leader, as though by magic, can generate storms, can shake the earth, may turn even urts into larls, jards to tarns.

How does the leader know this will occur, I wondered. Or does he know?

“Hundreds escaped with their lives,” said a man.

“And thousands did not,” said another.

“The streets of Ar ran with blood,” said a fellow. “Traitors, hundreds, gathered together from the proscription lists, were taken outside the city and impaled.”

“The great road, the Viktel Aria, was lined, on both sides, for pasangs, with the bound, squirming, whimpering bodies,” said a man.

I nodded.

The vengeance of a Marlenus, I knew, would be a frightful thing.

“Many bodies were hurled, like beasts, into the marshes, for tharlarion,” said a fellow.

“Or into carnariums,” said another.

These were deep pits outside the city, used for the disposal of filth, of garbage, and such. Occasionally a new one was dug, and an old one covered over. Occasionally one was opened, even generations after its closure, that it might be reused, and the lingering stench might still overcome even a strong man. Usually these pits were tended by male slaves, with shovels, with the lower parts of their faces wrapped in scarves.

“The walls of Ar,” I said, “are doubtless being rebuilt.”

I must not make my serious concerns too obvious.

“With soaring hearts and singing,” said a fellow.

“And the flute girls who so tormented and mocked the earlier dismantlers of the walls?” I asked.

“Collared, naked, sweating, under the lash,” said a fellow, “they now struggle to bear stones to the builders.”

“They will be distributed later, as officers deem fit,” said another.

“Excellent,” I said.

I tried to keep my voice steady.

“And what of Talena?” I asked.

“A great price has been put upon her head,” said a fellow.

“Ten thousand tarns of gold,” said a fellow.

“Tarn disks of double weight,” said another.

“Then she escaped the city,” I said. “She has not been captured.”

“You seem pleased,” said a man.

“He is a bounty hunter,” laughed a fellow.

“You will not have much of a chance to get your capture rope on her,” said another.

“Every bounty hunter on Gor will seek her,” said another.

“Where would she go? How would she escape capture?” asked another. “I wager she is already captured, and her hunter is pondering how he might get her safely to Ar.”

“He may be negotiating for a better price, even now,” said another.

“Perhaps she was concealed, and sped to Cos,” I said. “Surely they owe her much. She did them much service.”

“Ar has risen,” said a man. “If she is in Cos, Lurius will deliver her to Marlenus as a peace offering, as a sign of reconciliation and proposed amity.”

“I do not think she is in Cos,” said a fellow, “or Tyros, either.”

“Where then?” said a man.

“I know not,” he replied.

“Where would she go?” asked the fellow who had spoken earlier. “Who would shelter her? She cannot just enter another city, even a village.”

I realized the fellow’s point. There would be the matter of clan, of caste, of identity, of Home Stone. The veils of anonymity are not easily donned in a closely-knit society.

“Surely she might bribe discretion,” said a man.

“And what bribe might she, unthroned and sought, a fugitive, offer to better the bounty of ten thousand tarn disks?” asked a fellow.

“Of double weight!” laughed another.

How much could the fleeing Ubara have taken with her, I wondered, given the suddenness of the turn of events, the surprise of the rising. A handful of economic resources, seized in a moment of panic-stricken flight, would not be likely to last long.

“Might she not have loyal retainers?” I asked. “Men who would die for her?”

“None would stand by her,” said a fellow, “once she no longer stood within the palisade of foreign spears.”

“She was despised,” said another, “even by those welcomed within the chambers of her treason.”

Too, I thought, how foolish to look for loyalty amongst the disloyal, to hope for honor from those who were without honor. Would the ultimate motivation of the conspirator not be the sanctity of his own skin? Frightened urts will turn on their fellows and lacerate them. They will kill one another for a drop of blood. Betrayal is a not infrequent behavior, and it is one to which one may easily become habituated.

“It is only a matter of time,” said a fellow, “until she is thrown, naked and in chains, to the tiles at the foot of the Ubar’s throne.”

“Woe to Talena,” said a fellow.

“She is a traitress to her Home Stone,” said a man.

“True,” said the fellow. “Let it then be done to her according to the ways of Gor.”

“And the mercy of Marlenus,” said another.

At this there was a coursing of rude, cruel, unfeeling mirth amongst the rough fellows on the beach.

And these fellows, I thought, were the very fellows from whom she might have hoped succor, for it had been blades such as theirs which had placed her upon, and protected her upon, the usurped throne of Ar.

But they were Gorean, and she was a female, and one who had betrayed her Home Stone. I did not doubt but what any one of them would have been pleased to have her bound at his feet.

On Gor a traitress is a prize.

Anything may be done with her.

“Are we to make camp here?” asked a fellow.

“No,” I said.

The fellows who had disembarked yesterday, even later in the day than the present Ahn, had entered the forest.

Too, I thought their employers, whoever they might be, would not want them to camp in the open.

I had gathered that the arrivals of these mysterious, armed visitors was surreptitious.

Obviously I could not inquire too closely into their business, their expectations, plans, and such, for it would be supposed I knew as much, or more, than they did at this point. I had learned a great deal in the past Ahn, but there was much I still did not know.

I wandered over to the huddled, kneeling cargo which had been rudely disembarked, that put into the water, with the crates, boxes, and such.

Some four or five of the newcomers followed me.

“Form a line,” I said to the girls, “facing me.”

On all fours, they formed this line, looking up at me.

There were, as I had earlier supposed, fifteen on the chain.

The chain, heavy and black, much heavier than it needed to be, dangled between them. The collars, as noted, were somewhat unusual, rather like punishment collars.

There was a cool breeze sweeping in from Thassa.

The cargo had not been brought much onto the beach and, as they were, on all fours, the cool surf washed up about them, swirling about their feet and knees, and covering their hands to the wrist.

The bodies of the girls glistened with water, from the nature of their arrival. Drops of water clung to their eyelashes. Their hair was soaked. In some cases it fell about their faces. It seemed, too, in some cases to have been hastily, unevenly, cut. Whereas long hair is commonly favored in slaves, it is seldom that a slave is brought to the block with ankle-length hair. On the other hand, Gorean free women often have quite long hair, in which they take great pride. It is not unusual that it might reach to the back of their knees. When they are enslaved it is commonly shortened, considerably. There are various reasons for this, as I understand it, for example, the slave learns that she is no longer a free woman, that her hair, its length, dressing, and such, is now at the disposal of masters, that the distinction between her and the free woman is to be clearly drawn, even in a matter as simple as hair, and that the envy of the free woman is not to be aroused at the sight of hair in a slave which might be the pride of a free woman. Too, the shorn hair is of value in a number of ways, not only for wigs, falls, and such, but, too, interestingly, because it makes the best cordage for catapults, far superior to common hemp, and such. Too, I supposed, if one wished to alter the appearance of a free woman, or, more likely, a former free woman, for some reason, perhaps to afford her something in the nature of a disguise, her hair might be shortened.

Here and there wet sand clung about their bodies.

The chain, and the collars, were dark with water.

One or two of the girls whimpered, with fear, or cold.

They were naked, as this is the way slaves are commonly transported. In this way there is less bother with clothing, its soiling, its cleaning, repair, and such. Too, in this fashion it is easier to keep the girls clean, with cast buckets of water, or forcing them into pools and streams, and such. In slave ships the heads are usually shaved, this reducing to some extent the dangers of insect infestation. Slave dips are not uncommon, too, after transportation, as a precaution against such infestation.

I examined the line. “Not all are branded,” I said.

“Not yet,” said a fellow.

“Position!” I snapped.

Three of the girls immediately went to position. Others, startled, looked about, in consternation, trying to understand what they must do, or perhaps, even, if “position” was truly to be expected of them.

Many free women, incidentally, have never seen a slave in “position,” though they may, to their disgust, or delight and envy, have heard the attitude described. This is not as surprising as it sounds for free women are not allowed in paga taverns, and such places, and would seldom have an opportunity to observe what takes place between a female slave, particularly a pleasure slave, and her master. The female slave, before a free woman, kneels, certainly, but commonly demurely, not as she would, and must, if she is a pleasure slave, before a male.

I called attention to one of the girls. “This is ‘position,’” I told the others. The others then, though doubtless some with misgivings, for a woman is extremely vulnerable before a male when she is in “position,” attempted, to a greater or lesser extent, to duplicate the posture and bodily attitude of the girl to whom I had called their attention.

I attended then to the line. “Oh!” cried more than one, when I kicked apart her knees.

I called the attention of the men to one of the girls, not branded, who was now, like the others, in position. Her lips were slightly parted. There was a slightly startled expression in her eyes, as of suddenly sensed possibilities and sensations.

“This one,” I said to the men, “will be soon heated.”

She lowered her eyes, but, in position, because of the collar, she could not lower her head.

“Yes,” said one of the fellows.

She shuddered. Was it with cold? Or was it because she had suddenly sensed, however fearfully, or curiously, or eagerly, the long-suspected latencies of her lovely belly?

“Soon enough,” said another fellow, “they will all heat quickly.”

I nodded. I did not doubt it.

“Some of these are new to the collar,” I said, “not even branded. Where did you get them?”

“These are all of Ar,” said one of the men. “The three who went immediately to position were taken from a paga tavern, which had purchased them, after their consignment to the collar by the judgment of Talena, then Ubara.”

I recalled that several women had been brought publicly, on various days, before the judgment of Talena, in her open-air court on the platform near the Central Cylinder. I supposed that she had been given quotas to fill by her superiors, largely under the pretext of reparations due the invaders, these because of the misdeeds of Ar, but how she filled the quotas might, I supposed, be muchly up to her. It did provide her with a convenient opportunity for evening a variety of scores and such, particularly with free women who might have found her diminishment in Ar, and her sequestration, a matter of some satisfaction or amusement. I recalled she had designated Claudia Tentia Hinrabia, who had been the daughter of a former administrator of Ar, Minus Tentius Hinrabius, for the collar. Claudia, a rival and critic of Talena, was the last of the Hinrabians. She was also a rival in beauty to the Ubara. These other women, however, I had not seen. They were new to me.

“When the fighting began, and it became clear how desperate it was,” said a fellow, “and how the city would be lost to us, we sought, in a brief surcease of battle, to sack up what coin we might, and other valuables, and prepared to fight our way toward the pomerium.”

“That is when we entered a paga tavern, the Kef, to gather in, and take with us, some recollected items of flesh loot,” said a man. He pointed, one by one, to the three women with brands, who had instantly gone to position, obedient to my command.”

I nodded. These were the women taken from a paga tavern. Perhaps once they had been free women of Glorious Ar but they were now marked-thigh girls, slaves.

All were quite attractive.

But that was not unusual with Gorean slaves.

The “Kef,” incidentally, is the first letter of the Gorean expression, ‘Kajira‘, which is the most common Gorean word for a female slave. More than one paga tavern is so designated, though not on the same street. There might be, say, a “Kef” on Teiban, another on Venaticus, another on Emerald, and so on. The small, cursive “Kef” is also the most common brand on Gor for a female slave. Each of the three slaves bore it, on the left thigh, high, under the hip.

“They came with us, willingly,” said a fellow.

“Quite willingly,” laughed another.

“Of course,” I said.

Those unfamiliar with the ways of Gor might suppose that a foregone consequence of the liberation of a city would be the freeing of certain slaves, say, those of the city who had been impressed into bondage. That is not, however, how the Gorean sees such things. Many Goreans are fatalists and believe that any woman who falls into bondage belongs in bondage, even that it is the will of Priest-Kings that her throat should be enclosed in the lovely circlet of servitude. Most, however, understand that when a woman has worn the collar, it is quite likely that she, in her heart, even if freed, will always wear the collar. She will need a master, and long for one. She understands herself as something which, ideally, belongs wholly to a man. In her heart, and her belly, she will always treasure the collar. The vanities and inanities of the free woman, with her hypocrisies and pretensions, will no longer satisfy her. She will always remember what it was, to kneel, to be bound, and to love. She will always remember the wholeness and beauty of her life as a slave, and the raptures of the collar. She has been, as it is said, “spoiled for freedom.” Too, Gorean honor enters into these things. That, say, a daughter should fall slave, is taken not so much as a lamentable tragedy, as it might be in some cultures, as an intolerable affront to a family’s honor. Goreans, after all, are well aware of the many remarkable and fulfilling aspects of female bondage, for they may own slaves of their own. They have little doubt that the embonded daughter will well serve her master. Indeed, she had better do so. But she is then an animal and regarded as lost, and well lost, to her family and Home Stone. Tarsks, verr, kaiila, and such, of course, do not have Home Stones. Thus, the family puts the thought of her aside, for she is now a slave. And, of course, to assuage the family’s honor she will be left a slave. To be sure, a woman of a city found enslaved within the city is commonly sold out of the city. Slavers, for example, will seldom sell a woman in what was once her own city. I was not surprised then that the three paga slaves, former free women of Ar, would accompany the mercenaries willingly, even eagerly. It would be far preferable to being pilloried naked, subjected to the blows and abuse of irate citizens, being publicly, ceremoniously, whipped, and then being transported out of the city, naked, standing, wrists lashed to an overhead bar, on a flat-bedded, public slave wagon, to the jeers of free citizens. In such a way, it is supposed, might be wiped away the dishonor which her bondage had inflicted on the city, at least to some extent.

“You knew these women?” I asked.

“They frequently brought us paga,” said a man.

“I see,” I said.

“We can rent them on leashes,” said a fellow. “They will bring good coin in the furs.”

“They are hot?” I said.

“A touch will make them beg,” said another fellow.

“Excellent,” I said.

I looked then to the other women.

“These others, too,” I said, “were then designated for the collar by Talena, then Ubara?”

“Not at all,” said a fellow. “These were confidantes, even cohorts, of the Ubara, women of high caste, rich, well-placed, favorers of the policies of the occupation, not only condoners but abettors of the predations of Tyros and Cos. Several became rich.”

“Collaborators?” I said.

“Precisely,” said a man.

“Several, in the fighting, learned they were on the proscription lists, copies of which were posted on the public boards,” said another.

“They knew themselves in frightful danger,” said another.

“They came to us and flung themselves to our feet, begging to be protected, to be permitted to accompany us in our flight.”

“We were in haste,” said a fellow, “as you may well suppose. Enemies were at hand, ransacking houses, scouring bridges, searching towers, closing in upon us. Our heads were at stake. We must seize what loot we could and flee for our lives.”

“‘Take us with you!’ they begged!”

“‘Remain behind, as befits your crimes,’ we told them.”

“‘No! Mercy!’ they cried.”

“‘Loathsome she-urts, detestable profiteers and traitresses,’ we cried, ‘remain behind, be hurled to eels, be cast amongst leech plants, be weighted and thrown into carnariums, view the city you betrayed from the height of high impaling stakes!’”

“‘No, please!’ they wept. ‘Show us mercy!’”

“‘What interest have we in free women?’ we asked.”

“‘In free women?’ they said, bewildered.”

“‘None,’ we informed them. We could hear the shouts of foes, nearing our hiding place.”

“We gathered what we could, which was little enough.”

“‘Take us with you!’ they wept. They were on their knees, their hands extended to us in piteous, frantic supplication.”

“Time was short.”

“We turned to face them.”

“‘Take us with you!’ they cried.”

“‘Why?’ we inquired.”

“They did not understand this question,” laughed a fellow.

“Free women are so stupid,” said another.

“‘Please, please!’ they cried.”

“‘Remove your veils,’ ordered Torgus,” said one of the men, indicating a large fellow nearby.

“‘Never,’ they cried,” recalled another fellow, grinning.

“We turned then to leave,” said another fellow, “but we heard ‘Wait! Please, wait!’ When we looked back they begged that we remove their veils, even to the ripping of them from them, as might be done with the insolence, amusement, and scorn of a slaver. But this, in our anger and contempt, we refused to do. ‘Remove your own veils,’ we told them.”

“‘Do not so shame us!’ they wept.”

“But in moments, by their own small, desperate hands, their faces were bared to men, men neither of their families nor companionship.”

“By their own hand they had face-stripped themselves,” said one of the fellows.

At this moment three or four of the girls on the chain burst into tears.

This is perhaps difficult for those unfamiliar with Gor to understand, one supposes, but the matter is cultural, certainly in the high cities. The face of a free woman, particularly one of high caste, of station, and such, is secret to herself, and to those to whom she might choose to bare it. It is not like the face of a slave, exposed to any herdsman or peddler, any passer-by, who might choose, however casually, to look upon it.

Some of the girls, careful to retain the posture in which they had been placed, lest they be struck, wept. They had not forgotten the moment, it seemed. Later, the sting of that humiliation would fade, and they would rejoice to be freed of the encumbrances of veiling, and revel in the feel of the air on their face, a face whose soft, luscious, inviting, vulnerable lips were now exposed to the sight, and kisses, of men.

Perhaps the closest analogy to this would be a woman of Earth complying with an order to remove her clothing before imperious strangers.

From the Gorean point of view, the face of a woman, you see, is the key to her self, the face, with its beauty, its softness, its special uniqueness, its myriad expressions, proclamatory of her feelings, her thoughts, and moods. How beautiful is a woman’s face, and how its subtlest expressions, even inadvertently, even unbeknownst to herself, may be fraught with the delicious treasures of betraying disclosures! The master reads the face of a slave; he may ponder the thoughts, the motivations, and intentions of the veiled free woman.

How precious is the veil to the free woman; she is not a slave.

The free woman is mysterious; the slave is not; she is at a man’s feet.

“‘Hurry, hurry!’ we were urged,” recollected one of the fellows.

“We could hear the men of Ar on the street, doors away,” said another.

“‘Submit, strip, pronounce yourself slave, hurry to the rope,’ barked Torgus to the dismayed, frightened women,” said a man.

“In moments,” said another man, “each hastened to submit.”

Submission may be rendered in a number of ways. The most important thing is that the submission is clear. A common posture of submission is to kneel, lower the head, and extend the arms, wrists crossed, as though for binding. Often a phrase, or formula, is employed, as well, often as simple as “I submit,” “I am yours,” “Do with me as you will,” or such. If one is of the Warriors the codes then require one to either slay the captive or accept the submission. Almost invariably the submission is accepted, as women on Gor are accounted a form of wealth, at least once they are collared. I know of only one exception to this almost invariable acceptance of a submission. A woman submitted and then, later, betrayed the submission, and stabbed he to whom she had submitted. The next time she submitted her head was cut off. It might be noted that the submission, in itself, strictly, does not entail bondage, but captivity. Nonetheless it is almost invariably followed by the captive’s enslavement. A woman who submits expects the collar to follow.

“Each then,” said a fellow, “divested herself of her robes, stepped from them, declared herself slave, and hurried to Torgus, who knotted a length of a coarse, common rope about her neck.”

“We made certain each was block naked,” said a fellow.

“Some had foolishly neglected, or forgotten, to remove their sandals or slippers,” explained another fellow.

“They were suitably cuffed?” I said.

“Yes,” said a man.

This was acceptable, as they were then slaves.

Those were probably the first blows they had ever felt.

“‘We are lost,’ we thought,” said a man. “For the men of Ar were at the door itself.”

“‘We are fee fighters,’ Torgus told us, ‘in no uniform. The men outside will not know we are not of Ar. Ar is a great city. Who knows all her citizens? Throw open the door, cry out “For Glorious Ar,” in suitable accents, and drag our prizes into the street. Given the length of their hair the men of Ar will assume these are free women, captured, in accord with the proscription lists. Cry out that we are conducting them to the impaling poles.’”

“You are clever,” I said to Torgus. “I gather that the ruse was successful.”

“For a time,” said the large fellow, Torgus.

“Until it became clear we might be fleeing the city,” said another.

“This aroused suspicion, and, forced to speak, the foreignness of the accents of some of us, for not all were skilled in the intonations of Ar, unsheathed the swords of men of Ar.”

“There was then fierce blade work,” said a fellow.

“The slaves lay naked on the ground, on their bellies, covering their heads, moaning, shrieking, while steel flashed about them.”

I nodded. They would await the outcome of the fierce altercation. They would affect its outcome no more than tethered kaiila.

They must wait to learn their fate, which would by determined by men.

“Many were trod upon,” said a man, “and sparks stung their backs.”

“Here, though, in the vicinity of the pomerium,” said a man, “we were not overmatched as in the city, and we were fee fighters, and mere citizens were opposed to us.”

“We lost men, and so, too, did they, and more, but we cut our way clear to the rubble of the dismantled wall.”

“Those opposed to us knew themselves outskilled and drew back, to summon reinforcements.”

“We then struggled over the rubble, dragging the slaves with us, and were soon beyond the pomerium,” said a man. “The camp of Myron had been overrun, but Cosian regulars, abetted by Tyrian contingents, and some allies, had regrouped and, well disciplined, and orderly, in their squares, had already begun the withdrawal northwest to Torcodino, and would from there march to the great port of Brundisium, where would await them ships of Tyros and Cos.”

“We, and hundreds of fugitives, with loot, and baggage, and slaves, attached ourselves to these units, and clung to the perimeters of their camps,” said one of the fellows on the beach.

“We lost no time shortening the hair of our detestable traitresses,” said a man, “to a length suitable to their new condition, that of slave. We would not want reconnoitering tarnsmen, flighted from Ar, to suspect that they might be refugees from the proscription lists, lest determined efforts be made to recover them.”

I supposed the women had no objection to this, despite the shearing of their beloved tresses being in its way a badge of degradation and servitude.

Surely it was better to be shorn of those treasured tresses than be betrayed by them into the hands of vengeful citizens.

And better, surely, the degradations of collars and their fair lips pressed to the feet of masters than the slow, lingering death of the impaling pole.

The three paga slaves had little to fear, of course, for their brands would protect them.

They were attractive, domestic animals.

Yet they, too, would be eager to escape Ar, for its Home Stone had once been their own.

Too, they were now different from what they had been, quite different, for they had known the touch of masters.

“It was a terrible march,” said a fellow. “We were afflicted from the air, arrowed by avenging tarnsmen. Sometimes small groups attacked the margins of our march. We knew not whether they were allied with Ar, or merely seeking spoil, or trying to curry favor with great Marlenus.”

“We must deal with brigands and thieves, within our own camps,” said another. “There were many desertions.”

“Bosk, and verr, and tarsks, were driven from our path,” said a man. “Fields were burned. Wells were filled in. There was little to eat or drink. They opened and closed the veins of kaiila, draining their blood into flasks. A single urt cost as much as a silver tarsk.”

“At last we reached Torcodino,” said a man, “and found safety within her walls.”

“It was there,” said a man, “that we put iron on the necks of our sluts.”

“They then well knew themselves slave,” said a man.

“Ten days later we accompanied the march to Brundisium,” said a man. “The regulars of Tyros and Cos, and their officers and slaves, were soon embarked, and gladly, with songs of joy, for their home islands, but it fared differently with many of us, the gathered mercenaries who had served the island ubarates.”

“The port police would not permit us within the walls of Brundisium,” said a man. “Refugees were unwelcome. They brought nothing to the city, there was no work for them, they were dangerous, they would be expensive to feed.”

“By heralds we were warned away from the walls,” said a man.

“‘Scatter! Begone!’ we were told,” said a man.

“Rumors had it that our slaughter was planned,” said another.

“It was at that time,” said a fellow, “that the strange men contacted us.”

“Of course,” I said.

I did not understand them, of course, but they would suppose this was all familiar to me. Strange men, at least, would be men, not, say, Kurii. That they spoke of them as “strange” interested me. How would they be strange? In demeanor, in language, in dress? I gathered, whatever might be the case, that they were men of a sort to which they were unaccustomed, men of a sort with which they were unfamiliar.

“Some hundreds of us were then soon within the walls of Brundisium,” said a fellow, “and were conducted to the wharves, thence, over several days, to be embarked on various ships, toward points unknown.”

“As here,” I said.

“It seems so,” said a man, looking about the beach, after the departing vessel, then to the looming forest.

“The ships would depart at intervals,” I said.

“Hirings and charterings took time,” said a fellow.

“I trust,” I said, “in the meantime you were comfortably housed.”

“In mariners’ billets,” said a fellow.

“The strange men were generous,” said another. “Each of us received, in copper tarsks, the equivalent of a silver stater of Brundisium.”

“They were generous, indeed,” I said.

“We had several nights to enjoy the taverns,” said a fellow.

“What of your slaves?” I asked.

“We chained them in the basement of one of the billets,” said a man.

“Apparently you could take them with you,” I said.

“Yes,” said he, who was called Torgus. “We were told that uses might always be found for such.”

“I do not doubt it,” I said. I glanced at the slaves, in position, the iron on their necks, the water swirling about their knees. They were soft, pathetic, and fearful. They were helpless. They were owned.

I wondered if Pertinax might have felt sorry for them. But that would have been absurd, for they were slaves. One might as well have felt sorry for a kaiila or tarsk.

A slave is not to be coddled, but mastered.

Yes, I thought, uses might always be found for such. Indeed, wherever there were strong men, uses might be found for such.

They were slaves.

“I have heard that Brundisium is plentifully supplied with paga taverns,” I said.

“Indeed!” agreed a fellow.

This was only to be expected, of course, in a port city, frequented with mariners, merchants, diverse transients, and such.

“One of the best is the tavern of Hendow,” said a fellow.

“It is on Dock Street,” said another.

I had heard of it. It was famed for the beauty of its slaves and the quality of its dancers.

“The slaves there vie with one another for permission to approach your table,” said a fellow. “They all want to serve you paga.”

“That is not unusual in a paga tavern,” I said.

“No,” said a fellow.

Sometimes the paga slaves are knelt at a wall, and one indicates his choice, she whom he will permit to serve him.

“And in the alcoves they whimper in their chains,” said a fellow, “begging to be permitted to bring you the most exquisite and prolonged of kajira delights.”

“Their master, Hendow, is a monster,” laughed a fellow. “It is little wonder his slaves strive with all their softness and beauty to well serve his customers. Woe to the girl who does not please a client of severe, massive Hendow.”

“Yes,” said a fellow, “perhaps at first they fear Hendow, but, shortly, in your arms, they are no more than slaves.”

I felt sorry for the men of Earth, so many of whom had never held a slave in their arms.

How different they would be, I thought, if they knew the mastery.

Who could do with a free woman, I wondered, who had once tasted slave?

It is no wonder free women hate their embonded sisters, and treat them with such contempt and cruelty.

“I think,” said Torgus, “we ought not to remain too long on the beach.”

“Certainly not,” I said.

“I have the countersign,” he said. “I await the sign.”

“It is not yet time,” I said.

“I think it is time,” he said.

“Who are you?” suddenly asked a fellow.

“Give us the sign,” said another.

“A ship arrived yesterday,” I said.

“Our ship is the last,” said Torgus.

“The sign, I have,” I said, “is ‘Tarns aflight‘.”

“I have no countersign for that,” said Torgus, very quietly.

“The countersign,” I said, “from yesterday’s ship, was ‘from Ar‘.”

“That is not the sign I was to expect, nor to answer with my countersign.”

“I suspect there is a misunderstanding,” I said.

I noted I was being ringed with fellows, but space was left, in which weapons might be drawn. Torgus stepped back, to put a few feet between us.

“He must be our contact,” said a fellow. “How else would he be here, to meet us?”

“We were warned of strangers,” said Torgus.

Tarns aflight,” I said.

From Ar, from Ar,” volunteered a fellow, hopefully.

“Yes,” I said, cheerfully, “’from Ar‘.”

I saw the hand of Torgus, and that of several others, move to the hilts of weapons. Their scabbards, on the whole, as mine, were at the left hip, suspended there on a shoulder strap. This is common if conflict is not imminent. If it is, the scabbard is often hung loosely at the left shoulder, where, the blade drawn, it may be instantly discarded. A hand in a shoulder strap, in grappling, for example, may serve to hold an enemy in place for, say, the thrust of a knife.

I did not draw my weapon, nor did any of the others.

Clearly they were undecided as to what to do.

“Your slaves are attractive,” I said. “What do you want for them?”

“They have already been purchased, by our employers,” said Torgus. “We are merely delivering them.”

Several of the girls looked startled at this intelligence. It seems they had not realized they had been sold.

“The sign,” said Torgus, “the sign.”

“Certainly,” I said, looking about. I detected a movement in the forest. “My superior will supply it. Mine was apparently for the ship yesterday. There seems to have been some confusion.”

“Apparently,” said Torgus.

“Wait a bit,” I said. “He will be here.”

“Are you not to guide us?” asked a fellow.

“No, my superior,” I said.

“How long must we wait?” said Torgus, glancing about. The beach was apparently more open than was to his liking.

I was sure that this ship would be met, and I must endeavor to keep things as they were, and hope that the contact would reveal himself shortly, and the sooner the better. Torgus was tolerant, but he was suspicious, and he was not a fool.

“How long?” asked Torgus.

“Not long,” I said. “A few Ehn, perhaps a bit more.”

I had seen a movement within the forest and, given the remoteness of the area, I was sure it must be connected with the new arrivals.

After a time, Torgus said, “We have waited long enough.”

“Wait a little more,” said one of his men, the fellow whom I had earlier conjectured might not have ill worn the scarlet.

Torgus shrugged. It seemed he attended this man, and respected him.

“I shall enter the forest,” I said, “and seek out my superior.”

“Remain where you are,” said Torgus.

“Very well,” I said. I thought I might be able to bring down two or three, but then I would have expected to be cut down.

If Cos and Tyros had paid these men good coin for their work in Ar, as I supposed they had, they would be skilled. I recalled how they had, as related to me, cut their way through several fellows of Ar to reach the pomerium, from whence they, together doubtless with other remnants of garrisons which had managed to escape the city, had joined in the general retreat from Ar.

“He is a spy,” said a fellow. “Kill him.”

Torgus drew his weapon.

“We do not know he is a spy,” said the fellow who might once have worn the scarlet.

“He is a spy,” said Torgus.

“If so,” said the fellow, “better to hold him, to bind him, and keep him for questioning.”

“Yes,” said Torgus, “that is best.”

“Who will bring the rope?” I asked.

I stood within the ring.

“He has drawn!” said a fellow.

“I did not see it,” said another.

“He is of the Warriors,” said a man.

Those of the scarlet are trained in such a draw. One does not indicate that one will draw. One does not glance at the hilt. One does not tense. One’s attention seems elsewhere, and the eyes of others will follow. The hand is not noticed. It is, I suppose, in a way similar to a magician’s sleight of hand. And then, surprisingly one notes that the weapon is free.

“Ho!” cried a voice, from the edge of the forest.

I had been right.

I could see some fellows amongst the trees.

Attention was then directed upon the newcomers. I stepped back, a little, amongst the fellows on the beach. The new arrivals might have noticed the semblance of a dispute on the sand, but such things might be common amongst fee fighters, rough men, fierce, and dangerous, undisciplined. Such men often adjudicate disagreements with steel. I was not in the scarlet. I might be, for all the newcomers knew, another of the fellows whom they had come to meet. How, at least for a few moments, would they know otherwise?

I sheathed my blade.

“I would leave, if I were you,” said the fellow next to me, who had drifted back with me. It was he whom I had thought might once have been of the Warriors. I supposed he might have murdered a man, or betrayed a Home Stone, some such thing. It seemed strange to me that he should be with these other fellows.

“My thanks,” I said.

But I did not move.

His accent seemed Cosian.

Mine he could probably not place.

Port Kar, of course, was at war with Cos, but that does not mean one had to keep it constantly in mind. There is a time to kill, a time to play kaissa, a time to share paga, a time to do business, a time to exchange slaves, and so on. As warriors are not politicians, their truces are frequent, their salutations genuine.

Besides, he might not be of Cos.

Many of the islands to the west had similar accents.

I moved forward a little.

One of the newcomers, he in advance of his cohorts, stepped forward, and lifted his hand, addressing Torgus, who had come forward, to meet him.

“Tal,” he said.

Torgus returned this greeting.

There might have been twenty fellows with the newcomer. Behind them, back in the trees, I saw seven or eight briefly tunicked slaves. Some carried poles, with coiled ropes. Such poles could be used for portering, the baggage fastened to them by the ropes. Sometimes captured panther girls, small bands of which occasionally roamed hundreds of pasangs to the south, were slung from such poles. They were bound, hand and feet, by their captors, to the poles, as might have been slain or captured panthers, the beasts from which they derive their name. They are fastened to the poles in such a way that they dangle, swinging, from them, their bellies to the pole, their backs to the ground. The poles are carried by female slaves, a great insult to the panther girl for they despise female slaves. And she does not know, of course, to what fate she is being carried. When they are returned to civilization, the captured panther girls, most of whom suffer from repressed sexuality, are stripped, branded, and collared, and taught their womanhood. They sell well, and some men seek them out, in the taverns. Wonders, it is said, may be wrought in such women by a switch, and a master’s hand. Supposedly they make superb slaves. And once the slave fires have been ignited in their bellies, they are, of course, as helpless, and needful, as any other slave.

Beyond Tyros!” said the newcomer.

Beyond Cos!” said Torgus.

Several of the fellows on the beach looked uneasily at one another. There was little, as far as we knew, beyond Tyros and Cos, some small islands, of course, usually spoken of as the Farther Islands, but nothing else, lest it be the World’s End, the edge of the sea, supposedly the plunge into the abyss, nothing.

Few ships, as far as I knew, had ventured west of the Farther Islands, and of those, as far as I knew, none had returned.

Thassa, it seemed, might be jealous of her secrets.

I moved forward. “Tal,” I said to the newcomer.

“Tal,” he said.

I had addressed him familiarly. This seemed to convince even Torgus that I knew him, and the newcomer supposed, as I had supposed he would, that I was one of the others, though perhaps one a bit more indiscreet or forward than might have been desirable.

The newcomers were nicely organized, and, in moments, much of the baggage had been lashed to the poles, and the briefly tunicked slaves shouldered the poles with the suspended cargo, and stood ready to depart. They were a good looking set of slaves, and the brevity of their tunics, which is a feature of such garments, left few of their charms to speculation. They stood very straight, but with the grace that is expected of a slave. Clumsiness, awkwardness, stiffness, and such, are not permitted to slaves; they are not free women. I noted that the slaves stole glances at several of the fellows on the beach. They knew they might be given to them. I went behind one of the women, at the aft end of a pole, and carefully turned her collar. She remained absolutely still. The collar was plain. I adjusted it then so that the lock was again at the back of the neck, where it belongs. I had learned nothing.

I then, in order to make myself useful, put the fifteen neck-chained girls, who had arrived on the ship, to their feet, and arranged them in a line, one behind the other. I gathered they had been marched in something like this order before, because of the gradations of height. I put the tallest girl in front, as that is the usual way the slavers arrange their “beads.” I then distributed several of the smaller packages, which had been left free, doubtless deliberately, amongst them, the heaviest to the taller, larger girls. Indeed, precisely fifteen such packages had been left, not attached to the poles borne by the fair porters come from the forest. Surely this was not a matter of coincidence. The new girls, too, then, were to carry burdens, perhaps their first.

“Place the boxes on your head,” I told them, “steadying them with both hands.”

This is a common way in which Gorean slave girls, and, indeed, free women of lower castes, carry boxes, baskets, bundles, and such. This form of lading is particularly lovely in the case of female slaves because the hands are thus fixed in position over their heads, almost as though chained, and the breasts are nicely lifted. Too, they then know themselves, as much as pack kaiila, bearing the burdens of men.

In moments the leader of the fellows from the forest had set out amongst the trees. A march then followed him, first his own men, then the portering slaves, with their poles and baggage, and then Torgus, and the fellows from the ship, and then, bringing up the rear, a lovely coffle, fifteen shapely pack beasts, the girls from the ship.

I thought they looked well on their chain, bearing their burdens.

Then the chain, at the edge of the forest, stopped.

I suspected it was terrified to enter that gloom.

And it was not being supervised. There was no master or switch slave behind them.

That was interesting, I thought.

But then what would they do, where would they go? How would they survive in the forest, naked and chained?

Their very survival depended on masters, and, as they were slaves, on pleasing masters.

The chain was clearly frightened.

All that they knew, and were familiar with, lay behind them.

One girl, the last on the chain, turned to look back at me, almost wildly, her hands steadying her burden.

It was she who had seemed, finding herself in “position,” perhaps for the first time in her life, to have come suddenly to a new sense of herself, to a new astonishing awareness of herself. The very assumption of “position” by a woman can have that effect. It is hard to be in “position” and not know oneself a female, and a particular sort of female. It is not only a symbolic posture for a woman, which she well understands, her kneeling, and vulnerability, and such, but it is an arousing posture, as well. I had seen her expression, her surprise, her apprehension, her fear, her curiosity, her incipient readiness. I had little doubt she would heat quickly, and might be the first of the lot to weep in need at the smallest touch of a master.

Then the chain moved, presumably frightened to remain where it was, presumably fearful of falling behind, and, the chain jerking against the side of her neck, she stumbled forward. Then she, with the others, had disappeared into the forest.

The women, I supposed, had not been named yet.

I recalled they had been recently sold, though to whom, or what, I knew not.

In any event, names, if they were to receive them, would be given to them by masters. The slave in her own right has no name, no more than any other animal. As a slave changes hands, she is commonly renamed.

I looked after the departing march.

It was no longer visible.

Then, to my surprise, I heard, from deep within the forest, what was, unmistakably, the roar of a larl.

I found this anomalous.

The larl is not indigenous to the northern forests.

I had let the march proceed without me, and none seemed to be concerned with that.

I was hungry.

I would now return to the hut of Pertinax.

Chapter Six

WE TREK THE FOREST

It was the afternoon of the day following the encounters on the beach, first with Sullius Maximus, and later with Torgus, the fee fighter, or mercenary, and his cohorts.

I was now accompanying Pertinax, deeply into the forest, being led, I supposed, to the alleged rendezvous with one whom I had been led to believe would be an agent of Priest-Kings. I supposed, of course, for reasons earlier suggested, that this individual would not be an agent of Priest-Kings but, most probably, of Kurii.

As it would turn out these matters were darker and deeper than I had suspected, and, in a sense, perhaps unknown to either, both Priest-Kings and Kurii, in a way, were being used.

Agents of both Priest-Kings and Kurii were being applied, unbeknownst to themselves, it seems, to the ends of a third party, or, perhaps it might be better said that three stratagems were afoot, which were occasionally intertwined. Do not dark rivers sometimes flow in the same channel?

The light was mottled, filtering through the foliage of the canopy.

“We are not in the reserves of Port Kar,” I said to Pertinax. This was obvious, for the reserves are gardened, or nearly so, shrubbery cleared, trees spaced, and such, that they may grow exuberantly upward, muchly straight, and tall. One nurses, so to speak, the loftiest and best wood, before its harvesting. Too, we had crossed none of the ditches that act as boundaries to a reserve, whether one of Port Kar or of another polity. Here, in this part of the forest, there was a great deal of shrubbery, brush, broken branches, fallen timber, debris of various sorts. Occasionally one waded through leaves, as through thigh-high surf. Here the trees were muchly together, each challenged by the others, leaves competing for sunlight, roots engaged in their subterranean contests to absorb water and minerals.

“No,” he said.

“You have not been this way before,” I said.

“No,” he said.

“The trail, however, is clear,” I said.

“You see it?” he said, surprised.

“Yes,” I said.

It was not really difficult. I did not know the sign but it appeared here and there, each sign usually visible, some fifty yards or so, from the vantage point of the previous sign. It resembled a yellow stain, such as might have resulted from talendars being rubbed on bark, but, examined closely, given its articulation, it was clearly the product of intelligence, of some intelligence.

“I suspect that we had to come today,” I said. I recalled he had been quite clear about the time we would enter the forest.

“Yes,” he said.

This confirmed my suspicion that the stain, whatever might be its composition, would be temporary, evaporating, or lapsing from visibility, within twenty or so Ahn. I took this as confirming my view that we were dealing with Kurii, for their science could easily manage such a thing. To be sure, so, too, could that of Priest-Kings. I also suspected that there would be a scent, or a flavor, to such a thing, that it would attract insects who would eliminate any possible residue.

“Oh!” cried Constantina.

I had jerked on the leash.

She could not see, of course, as she was hooded. Too, her wrists had been bound behind her.

Cecily had been similarly served. She, too, was hooded, and her small, lovely wrists fastened behind her.

This morning, to her consternation, I had fashioned a hood for Constantina, from opaque cloth, which artifact, once it was well on her, and completely enclosing her head, I fastened in place with some string about her throat.

I had then tied her hands behind her back, and put her to her knees.

“What are you doing?” had asked Pertinax, uneasily, not that I think he much minded seeing Constantina as she then was.

Certainly I had seen his eyes on her frequently the preceding evening. Her appeal to him had been much enhanced, I gathered, by my judicious amendments to her garmenture.

Doubtless he, too, suspected that she was no longer capable of removing her collar.

That, in itself, can make quite a difference in a man’s view of a woman.

All in all, I think he was toying with the thought of her as a slave. What would it be, if she were truly a slave?

Would that not be pleasant for a fellow?

She did not object, of course, to the hooding and binding, as she was desperate to keep up her pretense of bondage before Pertinax. I was not supposed to know that she was a free woman.

“Is it not obvious?” I had asked.

“But, why?” he asked.

“She is a slave,” I said. “Why should she know where she is going?”

“I see,” he said.

Such practices help to keep the slave helpless, and dependent on the master.

“Hood me, too, Master,” begged Cecily.

“I intend to,” I told her.

She purred with delight. The slave responds well to restraints, and the uncompromising dominance which she yearns for with all her heart. Obviously she does not wish to be hurt, nor, generally, should she be hurt, unless she has been in some respect displeasing, and punishment is in order, but she does want to know herself slave, owned, and mastered. Accordingly she loves to be in the master’s power, whether merely heeding his word, obeying, or realizing, in frustration, that no matter how much she might wish to do so, she is not permitted to speak, or writhing in his bonds, helplessly exposed to his mercy, and caresses, should he choose to bestow them upon her, such things. She responds well to blindfolds, hoods, gags, ropes, straps, collars, slave bracelets, chains, and such. When I tied her hands behind her she put back her head in the hood, lovingly, and pressed against me.

Cecily, I thought, was coming along well.

From rope I had improvised a single leash, a common leash, by means of which, grasped at its center, I might control both girls.

I put them in this.

It was thus that they were being conducted through the forest.

Later unhooded, they would have no idea where they were, or how they had gotten there, nor where Pertinax’s hut might be found. The best they might do, given the time of day and the location of Tor-tu-Gor, Light-Upon-the-Home-Stone, the common star of Gor and Earth, would be to reach the coast, but, even so, would the hut of Pertinax lie to the north or south? And, of course, an isolated woman, or women, on Gor, undefended by men, whether collared or not, would be fair game for almost any Gorean male. It would be like picking up shells on the beach.

Constantina had stumbled.

“I beg to be unhooded!” she wept.

I then stopped, and Constantina, sobbing, stood still, waiting to be unhooded. She reached her bound wrists out a few inches from the small of her back. “Please, too,” she said, “untie me.”

Pertinax seemed pleased that the proud Constantina had begged, and had said “Please.”

This was not the Constantina with which he was familiar.

She stood still, waiting to be unhooded, and unbound.

Cecily stood docile, hooded and bound, on the leash, her head lowered. She knew it would be done with her as masters pleased, and she, a slave, wished to be done with as masters pleased.

I located a slender, supple branch, and broke it off.

“Oh!” cried Constantina, stung across the back of the thighs.

“Now,” I said, picking up the leash, “let us be on our way.”

We then continued our journey.

Chapter Seven

WE REACH A RESERVE;

THE SIGNS VANISH;

WE WILL WAIT

After an Ahn we came to the edge of a deep ditch, some twelve feet or so deep, and as wide. It extended for some hundreds of yards to the left and right. We could not see the corners, where it would turn and begin to enclose a large rectangle of ground.

It was a relief to have come through the tangles of our earlier passage. We had been moving largely eastward.

I stood at the edge of the ditch.

“Do not move closer,” I told Constantina and Cecily. “There is a drop here.”

I thought the reserve, what I could see of it, was awesomely impressive.

“Have you been here before?” I asked Pertinax.

“No,” he said.

“The signs continue,” I observed.

A wand was nearby, across the ditch and to the left. A ribbon dangled from it. I could see another wand or two, beyond it, to its left, along the ditch, and another to my right, perhaps a hundred yards away. I supposed such wands and ribbons, at intervals, lined the edges of the ditch.

“This is clearly a reserve,” I said.

“Clearly,” he agreed.

“It may be one of Port Kar,” I said.

“Perhaps,” he said.

“The ribbons will tell,” I said. They were green. That suggested Port Kar. Thassa, the sea, is generally green. Indeed, pirates commonly painted their ships green, to make them less discernible at sea, certainly while under oars, with the masts lowered. Colors in the Gorean high cultures, as in most cultures, have their connotations or symbolisms. Too, in the Gorean high culture, certain colors tend to be associated with certain castes, for example green with the Physicians, red, or scarlet, with the Warriors, yellow with the Builders, blue with the Scribes, white with the Initiates, and so on.

“This is very impressive,” I said. “I think I shall unhood Cecily for a moment. You may unhood your slave, too, briefly, if you wish.”

“How beautiful it is!” said Cecily.

“Unhood me!” demanded the Lady Constantina.

“Apparently,” I said to Pertinax, “your slave wishes one or more additional, corrective strokes of the switch.”

“No!” said the Lady Constantina.

She started to move awkwardly, turning about, pulling at her bound wrists, apprehensive, frightened, bewildered and helpless in the hood.

Was I behind her, again, with a switch?

“Be careful,” I said to her. “There is a drop.”

She stood very still then, whimpering.

“Hold still,” said Pertinax. “I will unhood you.”

“Wait,” I said to Pertinax. “I heard no suitable request.”

Constantina straightened her body, angrily. “Please,” she said, to Pertinax, in a voice venomous with irony, “unhood me,” adding, “— Master,” in a tone of voice which was more than anything else an insult.

“Of course,” he said, fumbling with the strings at her neck.

She would not have addressed me, I was sure, as she did Pertinax. Her contempt for him was in no way disguised. But then he was, of course, her employee, so to speak.

I was angry but would not interfere. She was, after all, a free woman. A slave who had spoken so to a Gorean master would have been instantly subjected to discipline, would have been instantly punished, and grievously, if not slain. She would never again dare to so address her master. In moments, sobbing, she would be at his feet, begging forgiveness. The slave addresses her master, and all free persons, with deference. She is a slave. She does not wish to die.

“It is beautiful,” I said, agreeing with Cecily.

“The prospect is not unpleasant,” said Constantina, freed of the hood.

The hair of both girls was damp, from the hood.

We stood before a reserve.

The trees were spaced, yards apart, and were lofty. There was a solemnity about the vista, as with colonnades stretching into far shadows, a world of living columns, with capitals of shimmering foliage.

They were Tur trees.

These are used mostly for strakes, keels, beams, and planking.

Needle trees, of which there were none here, are usually used for masts. They are a softer wood, and, less rigid, more flexible, are more inclined to bend with the wind and the yard, and so, under certain conditions, violent conditions, less likely to snap. Too, the wood is lighter and this is useful in the raising and lowering of masts. The yards, too, as would be supposed, are commonly of needle wood. Needle trees, too, come to maturity more rapidly than Tur trees, and may thus be the sooner and the more frequently harvested.

“Rehood your slave,” I said to Pertinax.

I was attending to this chore with Cecily.

Constantina jerked angrily, futilely, at her bound wrists and cast Pertinax a look of fury, which seemed to dare him to comply with my instruction.

“Now,” I said to Pertinax.

“Do you think it is necessary?” he asked.

“Do it,” I said.

“Very well,” he said.

Constantina’s angry features disappeared within the folds of the hood.

“Oh!” she said.

Pertinax had jerked the strings on the hood against the back of her neck, and had then knotted them snugly under her chin. She then knew herself nicely hooded. I think Pertinax enjoyed that. I thought there might be a man in him, somewhere. Indeed, I suspected he might now be ready to learn how to handle a slave leash, and I supposed that he would not be displeased to have Constantina on such a leash, a slave leash. Too, to get the girls across the ditch, it would help not to have them on a common leash.

So I cut the leash at the center, so that we had, in effect, two leashes. I then put Cecily over my shoulder, her head to the rear, as a slave is carried.

I was pleased to see Pertinax draw Constantina to him, on the leash.

I think she was surprised.

Perhaps she thought it was I.

When a girl is hooded it is hard for her to know who has her leash.

For example, a girl might be taken out, hooded, leashed, by one fellow, and, later, certain arrangements having previously taken place, arrangements unknown to her, she may, when she is knelt and unhooded, find herself, on her leash, looking up into the eyes of a stranger.

She has been sold.

To be sure, I supposed that Pertinax might at present be still somewhat diffident about leash-mastering a female.

Doubtless there was still much of Earth in him.

He could learn, of course.

I supposed a woman could usually tell, even in a hood, from the way the leash was used, whether or not she was in the custody of one accustomed to the leashing and handling of a woman.

When a woman is put through slave paces she is not unoften on a leash. Sometimes masters have contests with their girls in such a fashion. The winning girl often receives a sweet, the loser, often, two or three strokes of the switch, to encourage her to do better next time.

It is not unusual to leash a slave, for tethering her, for taking her on a walk, and such.

Slaves, on the leashes of their masters, are a common sight in the high cities, in the streets, on the bridges, and so on.

On a leash, a slave is nicely displayed.

“The signs continue,” I said. “We will enter the reserve.”

Pertinax made ready to lift Constantina in his arms.

“Do you think she is a free woman?” I inquired.

He looked at me, puzzled.

“See how I carry Cecily,” I said.

She was over my left shoulder, her head to the rear.

A slave is not likely to be accorded the dignities appropriate to a free woman. The free woman is to be carried, if carried at all, gently, respectfully, nestled in one’s arms. For example, one may not wish her to risk soiling the hem of her rich robes, or the brocade of her slippers. Sometimes a free woman will wait, before, say, a rivulet or puddle, even a small one, to be carried to safety by some lucky fellow. The manner of carrying the slave is usually quite different. She is carried as property, as though she might be no more than produce, and her head is to the rear so that, even were she not hooded, she cannot see where she is being carried. That is for the master to know, for the slave to learn. And so, in this way, even in such a small way, even in such a trivial way, we discover yet another way in which a distinction may be drawn between the slave and the free woman. In the manner of small fordings and such the slave will usually wade after the master, the water perhaps to her knees. Free women, of course, may own female slaves, whom they often treat with great cruelty. For example, if a female slave, owned by a free woman, dares to look at a male, she may be whipped. And it is not unusual, in these small fordings, and such, of which we spoke, for the free woman to put her slave into the mire, and use her body as a bridge, in this way protecting her garments and the daintiness of her feet and ankles.

In a moment then Pertinax had scooped up the Lady Constantina and had her over his shoulder, her head to the rear.

In this position even an unbound free woman is helpless.

I had seen more than one so carried, captured in war. She can do little but scream and pound her small fists futilely on a fellow’s back, squirm, kick her legs, and such.

I then, with some difficulty, descended into the ditch, and, then, on the other side, slowly, step by carefully placed step, made my way to the level. I was followed, momentarily, by Pertinax. Some dirt slipped, but he was then at my side. The declivity, though deep, was not steep. The ditch was not intended for defense. It was primarily a boundary, but it did, too, discourage the entry of animals into the reserve.

We put the girls on their feet, safely away from the edge of the ditch, into which they might have had a nasty tumble.

“There is the next sign,” said Pertinax, pointing.

“Yes,” I said.

I went to the nearest wand, and held up the green ribbon, which was dangling from it. I held it in two hands. As I had supposed, there was printing on the ribbon.

“Can you read this?” I asked Pertinax.

“Not well,” he said. “What does it say?”

“It is a simple legend,” I said. “It says ‘These are the trees of Port Kar.’”

“This is the reserve of Port Kar then,” he said.

“One of them,” I said. “These seem to be Tur trees, all Tur trees.”

I went to one of the trees a few yards back and to the left. It was tagged. It wore the badge of Port Kar.

“This beauty,” I said, looking upward, “has been marked. It is selected, marked for the arsenal, for the yard of Cleomenes.” I supposed it would be harvested in the fall, when it would have finished its season’s growth. The time of year, now, as nearly as I could tell, from the vegetation, was late summer. I hoped our business in the area could be finished before the onset of winter. Winters can be quite bitter in the northern forests. The yard of Cleomenes was one of the yards under the aegis of the arsenal of Port Kar, of which yards there were several.

I looked ahead, and some yards to the right, deeper into the reserve, where another sign, in its yellow, indicated our route.

“Let us continue our journey,” I said.

Pertinax offered me Constantina’s leash.

“Lead your own slave,” I said.

I moved ahead, with Cecily.

I heard Constantina gasp, as she was jerked forward.

We had been entered into the reserve now for perhaps the better part of an Ahn when the signs we had been following assiduously could no longer be detected.

I examined the last sign, the one beyond which we noted no other sign. It was clear, and, as yet, showed no sign of fading. It seemed unlikely then that the next sign, if there had been one, would have become undetectable.

“I think this is the last of the signs,” I said.

“No!” said Pertinax, alarmed.

“They seem not to continue,” I said.

“They must!” insisted Pertinax.

We looked about. Each sign had been reasonably obvious from the vantage point of the preceding sign. This pattern, however, clearly, no longer held.

“I do not understand,” said Pertinax, obviously concerned.

“What is wrong!” demanded Constantina.

“Was your slave given permission to speak?” I asked.

“She has a standing permission to speak,” said Pertinax, uneasily.

“Surely not when hooded,” I said.

“Oh?” said Pertinax.

“No,” I said.

“May I speak?” said Constantina, quickly.

Pertinax looked at me, and I nodded.

“Yes,” he said.

“Something is wrong!” she said. “What is going on? What is wrong?”

I smiled.

Women are so much at one’s mercy, so helpless, when bound, and hooded.

I went behind her and took her by the upper arms and held her. “Nothing is wrong,” I told her. “And, besides, curiosity is not becoming in a kajira.”

“Something is wrong, is it not?” asked Pertinax.

“I do not think so,” I said.

“What are we to do?” he asked.

“Wait,” I said.

“We have long trekked,” he said. “It will soon be dark.”

“We have some food, a bota of water,” I said.

“It is dangerous here,” he said. “There may be animals.”

“That is possible,” I said, “but I do not think there is much to fear in the reserve. The oddity of the ditch discourages the entrance of animals, and, as there is little grazing here, there would be few herbivores, and there being few herbivores, there will be few carnivores. Too, the human is unfamiliar prey to most carnivores, the panther, the sleen, the larl, and such. They will certainly attack humans, and humans are surely within their prey range, but, given a choice, they will usually choose prey to which they are accustomed, wild tarsk, wild verr, tabuk, and such.”

“There are no larls this far north,” said Pertinax.

“Yesterday, on the beach,” I said, “I heard one.”

Pertinax paled.

“We are probably too far north for panthers,” I said. “One is more likely to encounter them in the forests to the south.”

“Good,” said Pertinax.

“Unless, of course, some range this far north, but that is unusual. There should, however, be sleen about.”

I recalled one had been in the vicinity of Pertinax’s hut, when Constantina, who had annoyed me, had been put outside, gagged and bound, hands tied behind her, feet crossed, pulled up, and fastened closely to her hands, on the leaves.

It is an unpleasant tie.

I hoped she had found it instructive.

The common sleen burrows, and would have its den below the frost line. To be sure it is an adaptive, successful life form. In the vicinity of the Red Hunters, there are snow sleen. In certain waters, there are sea sleen, and so on.

“I wish I had a rifle,” said Pertinax.

“It is better that you do not,” I said. “If you possessed such a weapon, you would be in violation of the weapon laws of Priest-Kings, and liable to the flame death.”

“Surely there would be an inquiry, a trial, or such,” he said.

“No,” I said.

“At least you have a sword, a knife,” he said.

“Such tools would be of little help against large predators,” I said. “A spear would be better, or, if one had time, time for several arrows, the great bow.”

“I do not like this,” said Pertinax.

“Nor I,” I said. “Let us unhood the slaves. They know they are in the reserve. Thus, no security will be compromised.”

Both girls were then freed of their hoods.

I then sat them down, facing one another. We left the leashes on their necks.

“What are you doing?” asked Pertinax.

“I am tying their ankles together,” I said. “Now let us eat. We can feed them later.”

After Pertinax and I had fed, I went to Cecily, and knelt down, and she leaned forward, her hands tied behind her. I had some bread for her. She looked at me. I extended my hand. She kissed it, and licked it, the hand of her master. I then, bit by bit, fed her by hand, and then, when I thought she had had enough, I gave her of the bota. I then stood up, my shapely beast having been fed and watered.

“What of me?” demanded Constantina.

“What is done with you is up to your master,” I said. “Surely you know that, slave.”

“Untie me,” she said to Pertinax.

“Do not,” I said.

“I am hungry!” she said.

“Then you will take food from your master’s hand,” I said.

“Never!” she said.

“Then you will go hungry,” I said.

She tried to rise, but, as her feet, crossed, were bound to those of Cecily, crossed, she fell, and heavily, to her side. She struggled again, then, to her seated position. She realized then she could not rise.

Constantina cast me a look of fury, but, I fear, it was a mild thing compared to that with which she regaled Pertinax, who looked hastily away.

It was then an Ahn later.

Night, by then, was well fallen.

“I am hungry,” said Constantina. “Please feed me.”

“Are you ready to take food from your master’s hand?” I asked.

“Yes!” she said, angrily.

Pertinax, obligingly, approached her, and knelt down beside her.

“Not yet,” I told him. “You may beg to be fed,” I informed Constantina.

“I beg to be fed,” she said.

“Have you not forgotten something?” I asked.

“— Master,” she said.

Pertinax leaned forward.

“Not yet,” I told him. Then I addressed myself to the Lady Constantina. “You should be grateful that your master consents to feed you,” I told her.

She looked at me, angrily.

“Extend your hand to your slave,” I said to Pertinax. “Good,” I said, as he had done so. “Now,” I said to the Lady Constantina, “lick, and kiss, his hand, softly, tenderly, gratefully.”

“Ai!” said Pertinax.

I gathered that the Lady Constantina must, indeed, be very hungry.

“You may now feed the slave,” I informed Pertinax.

I thought this little exercise would do the proud Lady Constantina a world of good.

Certainly, now, she would better understand, even as a free woman, how she was in the power of men, should men choose to exercise their power.

Later, we separated the slaves, and tied the leash of each about a tree. We left their hands bound, but we untied their ankles.

I looked down at the Lady Constantina.

She lay on her side, looking up at me.

I glanced at her legs, and then I asked her, “Have you had slave wine?”

“What is slave wine?” she asked.

“It prevents conception,” I said. “Slaves are not to breed randomly. Their crossings are to be decided by masters.”

“I have not had slave wine!” she said.

“A pity,” I said.

“But I have had what I was told,” she said, “was the wine of ‘the noble free woman’.”

“Strange,” I said, “as you are a slave.”

“You know I am not a slave!” she whispered.

“Ah, yes,” I said, “sometimes, when I look at your legs, I forget.”

“Beast!” she hissed.

“As you have had ‘the wine of the noble free woman,’” I said, “it does not much matter. The substances, save in the pleasantness of their imbibings, are equivalent. Indeed, both have as their active ingredient sip root.”

“Do not touch me!” she said.

“I have no intention of doing so,” I said.

“I am a virgin!” she said.

“That surprises me,” I said.

“Why do you smile?” she asked.

“It is nothing,” I said. In some markets virgins sold well. That always seemed to me a bit strange. In any event, virgin slaves were rare.

“You think I am not attractive?” she asked.

“As a free woman of Earth,” I said, “I would think you are quite attractive.”

“I am!” she said.

“You are vain?” I asked.

“Perhaps,” she said, “but legitimately so. My beauty is obvious. It is a matter of fact.”

“I see,” I said.

“I am beautiful,” she said. “I am extremely beautiful!”

“For a free woman of Earth,” I said. “But you have not yet even been opened.”

“‘Opened’?” she said.

“For the pleasures of men,” I said.

“I see,” she said, icily.

“But more importantly,” I said, “you have not yet been awakened, softened, and sensitized. Your body is not yet a sheet of awareness. Are you even aware of the feel, the exact feel, consider it now, of the straps on your wrists?”

She shuddered.

“There are horizons, and vistas, of your sex,” I said, “sensations, feelings, hopes, apprehensions, awarenesses, fears, anticipations, yearnings, longings, of which you are totally unaware. You have not yet begun to learn yourself. You are still a stranger to nature, to yourself, and the world. You do not yet know who you are, or what you are.”

“I know very well who I am, and what I am,” she said.

“No,” I said. “It is only in the collar that women learn themselves. It is only in the collar that the flower of their sex opens, one by one, its vulnerable petals. It is only in the collar that a woman comes to her true happiness, and true beauty.”

“Kneeling before a man,” she said, angrily, “her lips pressed to his feet!”

“Certainly,” I said. “Can you not conceive of yourself so?”

“Yes,” she said, “in terror of my life.”

“Yes,” I said, “it often begins so.”

“Leave me,” she said.

“What do you think of Pertinax?” I asked.

“He is a despicable weakling,” she said.

I then left her, as she had requested. A Gorean male, commonly, complies with the wishes of a free woman.

They are, after all, free.

I turned about, and went to Pertinax. “Take the first watch,” I said.

I then went and lay down near Cecily.

“Master,” she whispered.

“Yes?” I said.

“My needs are much on me,” she said. “Caress me, please.”

“No,” I said.

The satisfaction of the slave’s needs is up to the master. Occasionally one frustrates them. It helps them to keep in mind that they are slaves. On the other hand, the sex lives of slaves are a thousand times richer and deeper than those of a free woman, if the free woman, with her hauteur and grandeur, has anything worth considering a sex life. There is no comparison with that of a free woman. The sexual experiences of slaves, as opposed to those of free women, are lavish, vital, frequent, and prolonged. The sexual experiences of the free woman are usually brief and disappointing. The life of the slave, on the other hand, is essentially a sexual life; sexuality irradiates her entire existence; it does not begin and end with a caress; in the collar she knows she is essentially a sexual creature, a slave, at the master’s bidding, and this knowledge imbues her entire life with an erotic glow, a permeating ambience. For the slave, polishing a master’s boots, tying his sandals, presenting him with food, greeting him at the door, kneeling, and such, are sexual experiences. Normally, of course, the slave’s petitions for attention will be entertained, and usually acceded to, and readily. This should be easy to understand. It is, naturally, usually quite pleasant to assuage the slave’s needs, as anyone who has done so knows. Having a slave at one’s mercy and forcing her through the throes, she perhaps jerking at her chains, of a succession of belly-wrenching, belly-rocking orgasms, is gratifying. Who does not want a naked slave, in her collar, sobbing, and bucking and squirming, and begging for more? Also, one usually has, if not a duty to content the slave, for nothing is owed to the slave, an inclination to do so. Surely this is easy to understand. She is so needful, and beautiful! Too, have not men been responsible for the tormenting acuity of those very needs which so distress her? Has it not been men who have seen to it, with an almost cruel intent, that slave fires will rage in her lovely belly? Should not those who have set such tinder alight satisfy the very needs they have done so much to ignite and intensify?

Cecily moaned, softly.

“Be silent,” I said to her, softly.

“Yes, Master,” she said. “Forgive me, Master.”

In several Ahn I knew she would be even more needful and desperate. One of the controls a master has over a slave, as the control of her food, her clothing, and whether or not she is to be permitted clothing, and such, is the control he exercises over her in virtue of her sexual needs. Slave fires, even when extinguished by the mercy of the master, will soon rekindle.

Any woman in whose belly slave fires burn knows herself slave.

Such fires will put her at the mercy of even a hated master.

“Master,” said Cecily.

“Yes?” I said.

“The signs have vanished,” she said. “Why do we linger in the reserve?”

“Because the signs have vanished,” I said.

“I do not understand,” she said.

“We will be met,” I said. “We will have a guide.”

“And signs are not to be risked?” she said.

“Not beyond this point, I gather,” I said.

“I see,” she said.

Chapter Eight

TAJIMA;

A WOMAN OF EARTH IS TO BE PRESENTED TO LORD NISHIDA

It was now the next morning.

I had had the second watch.

“Do not disturb him,” I said.

“Does he know we are here?” asked Pertinax.

“Certainly,” I said. “Sit here, cross-legged, beside me.” I looked over my shoulder, to the girls. “Slaves, kneel,” I said.

Pertinax assumed the suggested position, and, behind us, Cecily and Constantina knelt down.

They were still bound.

The rope leashes dangled from their necks.

We spoke in whispers.

We were some twenty yards from the fellow, who was engaged, I supposed, in certain martial exercises, certainly of a rather stylized, formal nature. I had never seen anything exactly like this before. He was standing, and sometimes wheeled about, gracefully. He had two hands on an unusual sword, with which he described certain evolutions, thrusts, strokes, a return to guard, and so on. It seemed ritualistic, but he was certainly intent on what he was doing. I had the sense of a severe concentration.

I was reminded somewhat of the Pyrrhic dances of Gorean infantry, particularly of those infantries who specialized in the tactics of the phalanx, rather than the shifting, melting, forming, reforming tactics of the squares. Nothing stood against the phalanx on level ground. The squares, however, were more flexible, and better suited to an uneven terrain. The Pyrrhic dances were used primarily as training exercises, but also figured in parades and martial displays, men shouting, spears clashing rhythmically on shields, the spear hedge rising and falling, wheeling about, a thousand spears in unison, this all to music. It is very impressive. This fellow’s exercises, however, were done by a single man and, as nearly as I could determine, from the distance, in silence.

He wore a light, loose, white robe, which came about to his knees. It had wide, but short, sleeves.

“I have been told of such fellows,” said Pertinax. “He is Tuchuk.”

“I do not think so,” I said. He did not look Tuchuk to me. The Tuchuks are, on the whole, short and broad, strong fellows, agile riders. This fellow seemed a bit taller, and certainly thinner, more lithe, more pantherlike.

“Tuchuk,” said Pertinax.

“There is no facial scarring,” I said.

“Surely not all Tuchuks are disfigured,” said Pertinax.

“They do not think of it as disfigurement,” I said, “but, if anything, as enhancement.”

“Surely they are not all scarred,” said Pertinax.

“True,” I said. And, indeed, it was true that not all Tuchuks were scarred. The scars were not easily come by. They had to be earned, by success in war, and such.

As noted, I had had the second watch.

In the neighborhood of dawn I had seen him through the trees. He was bare-headed. He carried a single sword. I saw him, and he saw me. We did not exchange a greeting. He determined that most of our camp was asleep, and then withdrew, to wait. He sat cross-legged for a time, facing our camp. Then, after a time, he had risen, unsheathed his unusual sword, and commenced his exercises.

I had the sense he did not wish to disturb the camp, but thought it appropriate to wait until it was awake.

This, I took, somewhat to my surprise, as politeness.

To be sure, it is dangerous to come on a sleeping warrior, which he would presumably take Pertinax to be. Normally one makes certain, if one’s intentions are peaceful, that any approached camp is well aware of one’s approach, even to one’s singing, calling out, pounding on a shield, or such. A surreptitious advance is usually taken as an act of war.

He took little note of the girls, other, I suppose, than to note that their wrists were bound behind them, and each, by the neck, was fastened to a tree. They were, in effect, tethered, as might have been kaiila. From his vantage point, he would not have been much aware of their quality as females, for example, their value as properties. To be sure, Constantina was priceless, as she was a free woman.

When he had begun his exercises I had come forward to the point where I might sit, and watch. I was careful, of course, not to approach too closely.

When Pertinax awakened, he discovered my absence, doubtless to his considerable uneasiness, and had seemingly, swiftly, cast about to locate me, which event took place shortly. He then awakened the girls and freed their rope leashes from the respective trees to which they had been fastened, and approached me, followed by the girls, still bound, but the leashes now dangling from their necks.

After a time, the fellow sheathed his sword, bowed to the southeast, and turned to face us.

He approached to within about fifteen feet of us, and Pertinax and I, which seemed appropriate, rose to our feet. In this way, though I do not think Pertinax was aware of this, we showed him honor. For us to have remained recumbent, so to speak, would have made it seem rather as though he was an inferior, reporting to us. “Remain kneeling,” I cautioned the girls. Cecily, of course, well aware that she was in the presence of a male, and one presumably free, had not stirred. Constantina, however, had seemed on the point of rising. At my word, of course, though she was not much pleased about it, she remained on her knees.

I lifted my right hand. “Tal,” I said. I hoped he spoke Gorean.

He seemed surprised that I had greeted him first. As he had come, presumably, to render us a service, to conduct us somewhere, his station, quite possibly, would have been subordinate to ours. I had never, however, put great store in protocol. I am English, but I was not derived, as far as I knew, at least recently, from strata in English society where such formalities or precedences much mattered. Too, I had lived for several months in the colonies, so to speak, and, as is well known, they tend be careless in such matters, even to the point of embarrassment. I sensed, however, that proprieties of one sort or another might be not only extremely important to this fellow, but might, to a large extent, govern his life.

“Tal,” he said.

“Tal,” said Pertinax. “I gather you have come to meet us. You are the first Tuchuk I have met.”

The fellow looked puzzled.

I was reasonably certain he was not Tuchuk. The Tuchuk face is commonly swarthy and broad. This fellow’s face, a subtle yellowish brown, was narrower than would be common with the Tuchuk. He did have high cheekbones. He did have the epicanthic fold.

I had little doubt this was a fellow of the sort of whom I had heard yesterday on the beach, the sort spoken of as “strange men.”

“How are the bosk?” I said to him.

“Some are in the forest,” he said, uncertainly, “outside the reserve.”

He would be referring to wild bosk, which can be surly and territorial. In forested areas, they are substantially forward horned, and attack, head down, directly. The Tuchuk bosk, on the other hand, usually have wide, spreading horns. When angered they attack, a bit to the side, to tear the enemy. They also hook nicely, and, if one is caught on the horn, one can be hurled a hundred feet. They are large and powerful. The straighter horns of the forest bosk are presumably an adaptation to the arboreal environment. The plains bosk are, as suggested, usually more widely horned.

“Are the quivas sharp?” I asked.

“I do not know the word,” he said.

“It is important to keep the axles of wagons greased,” I said.

He regarded me, strangely. “I would suppose so,” he said. “The wagoners attend to such matters.”

“Forgive me,” I said to him.

“It is a test?” he said.

“In a way,” I said.

He seemed troubled. “Have I failed?” he asked.

“Not at all,” I said. “You have done splendidly.” I then turned to Pertinax. “He is not Tuchuk,” I said.

“Very well,” said Pertinax.

Although there can be some variation in these matters I had rehearsed a common formal greeting often exchanged amongst Tuchuks. In response to my first question, a Tuchuk would most likely have informed me that the bosk were doing as well as might be expected; to my second question, that one tries to keep them that way, namely, sharp. The quiva is a Tuchuk saddle knife. Usually there are seven to a saddle. They are balanced, for throwing. In response to my third question, a Tuchuk would have been expected to agree, amicably, with some remark such as, “Yes, I believe so,” or “Yes, I think so.”

“Is one called Tarl Cabot, a tarnsman, amongst you?” he asked.

“I am Tarl Cabot,” I said.

“I am honored,” he said, “to greet a two-name person.”

I did not respond, as I did not understand what he had in mind.

“I am Tajima,” he said. “I am a one-name person, but I hope, one day, to be a two-name person.”

“It is my hope, as well,” I said, “that you will one day be a two-name person.” I was not sure, frankly, what I was doing here, but I gathered it must have been right, for he bowed, graciously. I bowed back, not sure of what was going on.

“We have located Cabot and brought him here,” said Pertinax. “Conduct us to your superior.”

“I will do the talking,” said Constantina, rising to her feet. “Untie me! Take this horrid rope off my neck.”

Tajima seemed startled.

“Who is the yellow-haired collar-girl?” he asked.

“I am Margaret Wentworth,” she said. “I am in command here. Tarl Cabot has identified himself. My colleague is Gregory White. Untie me! Free me of this disgusting tether.”

“She is a free woman?” said Tajima.

“Yes,” said he whom I had thought of as Pertinax.

“What of the dark-haired collar-girl?” asked Tajima.

“She is a slave,” I informed him.

“She is your slave?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“I was told to expect two free men and a slave,” said Tajima, “but I find two free men, and two slaves.”

“I brought a slave,” I said.

“I am not a slave!” said she whom I had thought of as Constantina.

“Lord Nishida,” said Tajima, “is fond of yellow-haired collar-girls.”

“I am not a collar-girl!” she snapped.

I supposed that, in a sense, Miss Wentworth had been a slave for some time, perhaps from the time she had been entered on certain records, or acquisition lists, at least from the point of view of slavers. They tend to regard such entries as effecting embondment, though, to be sure, there are various details to be later attended to, branding, collaring, and such. If one does not accept the slavers’ view of these matters, one would understand, at least, that the selectees had been designated for bondage.

I wondered if this “Lord Nishida” had put in a request for a yellow-haired collar-girl, if one had been included in, say, his “want list.”

“Miss Wentworth,” said Pertinax, for I shall continue to refer to him by this name, as it is familiar, and convenient, and as it would become his Gorean name, “is in disguise. As free women are apparently seldom, if ever, in this locality, we were advised to conceal her identity, to pretend that she might be naught but a mere, degraded slave, a low-value slave, such as might be brought hither.”

“‘Low-value’!” said Miss Wentworth.

“Whilst I myself,” said Pertinax, “assumed a disguise as a simple forester, assigned to the reserves of Port Kar.”

“Release me!” demanded Miss Wentworth.

Pertinax went to untie the wrists of Miss Wentworth.

“Wait, please,” said Tajima.

“Wait,” I told Pertinax.

“If there is a confusion in this matter,” said Tajima, “it will be clarified, three days from today, at the camp.”

“‘Three days’!” exclaimed Miss Wentworth!

“Two days with men,” said Tajima, “three days with females.”

“What camp?” I said.

“That of Lord Nishida,” he said, “in which men, some men, will learn the tarn.”

“‘Some men’?” I asked.

“We expect to lose several,” he said.

“See here,” said Pertinax, who, I am afraid, took the courteous attitude of our guide as timidity or diffidence, and as legitimating an occasion for aggressive, peremptory discourse, “Miss Wentworth and I have discharged our part of the bargain. We have delivered Cabot here, as specified. We are now to return to the coast, be met by a ship, receive our wages, and be returned home, to Earth.”

“‘Earth’?” said Tajima.

“A place far away,” I said. I did not know if Tajima was familiar with the Second Knowledge, or only the First, or, indeed, even if these distinctions were appropriate in his case. In any event, the place, “Earth,” as nearly as I could tell at the time, did not seem familiar to him.

“Our home, you fool,” said Pertinax.

I detected a brief flicker of displeasure in the eyes of Tajima, but his countenance, almost instantly, resumed its attitude of almost solicitous attention. I did not know Tajima, nor was I familiar with his background, but I sensed that he was of a sort which might be acutely sensitive, perhaps pathologically so, to the way in which he was treated. Rougher, bluffer fellows might have discounted or dismissed Pertinax’s rudeness as mere tastelessness or stupidity, or even found it amusing, but I did not think that this would be the case with Tajima. He did not seem to me to be the sort of person whom it would be wise to treat with contempt. Such things might be taken more seriously by him than other fellows, might rankle with him, might fester within him, might eat away at his pride, might not be forgotten, might seem to require attention.

“He is tired, and upset,” I said to Tajima. “Please do not mind him. He was thoughtless. He did not mean what he said. I apologize for him, and ask that you forgive him. He is sorry, very sorry.” Then I said to Pertinax, in English, “You are asking for your head to be cut off. Apologize, quickly.”

“He is a servant,” said Pertinax to me, in English.

“No matter,” I said to him, in English. I supposed there were formalities to be observed amongst these “strange men,” and that amongst them there might obtain extremely complex human relationships, which would be culturally articulated, quite possibly in considerable detail. I suspected he came from a hierarchical society, as that had been suggested by his demeanor, and his concern with one-name and two-name individuals, and so on. In such a society rigid protocols would doubtless obtain between superiors and inferiors, each, in his way, showing due respect, in some mutually understood fashion, to the other. Protocol, and courtesy, I suspected, would be important to them.

“I am sorry,” said Pertinax to Tajima. “It is only that I am anxious to return to the coast, meet our ship, and return home. Please forgive me.”

“Tell him,” I said to Pertinax, in English, “that it is not he who was the fool, but you.”

“I am the fool,” said Pertinax to Tajima, in Gorean, “not you. You are not a fool. It is I who am the fool, not you. I am sorry.”

Tajima, interestingly, looked to me.

“He is sorry, genuinely sorry,” I said. “Please accept his apology.”

Tajima turned to Pertinax. He inclined his head, briefly.

“Your apology,” I said to Pertinax, “has been accepted.” I thought it well to be clear on that. If it was not accepted, or was accepted with certain reservations, that would presumably be very important to know. Honor, I was sure, was somehow entangled in these matters.

“I am not a fool,” said Tajima to Pertinax.

“Of course not,” said Pertinax.

“There is no ship,” said Tajima.

“What?” said Pertinax.

“What!” exclaimed Miss Wentworth.

“No ship,” said Tajima.

“I do not understand,” said Pertinax.

“It is you who are the fools,” said Tajima.

“Where is our money, our gold?” asked Pertinax.

“If it exists,” said Tajima, “it is being applied elsewhere, otherwise than to fill purses such as yours.”

“Take us to your superior!” said Miss Wentworth.

“I shall,” said Tajima. “That is why I am here.”

“We shall see about this!” said Miss Wentworth. “I have suffered indignities enough. My disguise is now at an end.”

“That is possible,” said Tajima, politely.

“You are a dolt,” said Miss Wentworth. “This will all be explained to you by Lord Nishida. He will clarify everything.”

“I am sure he will,” said Tajima, politely.

It was interesting to me that Tajima seemed to take no umbrage whatsoever at the attitude and words of Miss Wentworth. It had been quite different with Pertinax. Tajima seemed to consider her insult as nothing to be dealt with within the context of honor, though perhaps, I supposed, it might be dealt with, and suitably, outside of that context, perhaps as one might see fit to deal with the behavior of a small, naughty animal.

“You have been unaccommodating, even insolent,” said Miss Wentworth to Tajima. “I will have you punished by Lord Nishida.”

“Your dress is quite short,” observed Tajima, as politely as ever.

“Beast!” she said.

She then faced me. “You, Cabot,” she snarled, “are responsible for much of this! You, too, will answer for my shame, my humiliation! I will inveigh with Lord Nishida to see to it that you, too, are punished. Tie my hands! Hood me! Lead me about, on a leash, like a slave! We shall see about such things! I am a free woman, a free woman!”

I did not respond to her.

I did not think I had much to fear, at least now, from Lord Nishida, whoever he might be. I had been brought to the northern forests for some reason. I was not yet fully clear on what, ultimately, that might prove to be.

“Present me to Lord Nishida, as soon as possible,” said Miss Wentworth. “I will be very pleased to see him!”

“I think he will be pleased to see you, as well,” said Tajima.

“I hope so,” she said, acidly.

“Yes,” said Tajima, “I think you should hope that.”

“I do not understand,” she said, uncertainly.

“It will not go well with you, if he is disappointed,” said Tajima.

“I do not understand,” she said.

Tajima then turned to Pertinax. “You are no longer needed,” he said. “You are free to go.”

“Go,” said Pertinax. “Where?”

“Anywhere you wish,” said Tajima.

“I am unarmed,” said Pertinax. “You cannot just leave me here.”

He was clearly, and justifiably, alarmed. He was not skilled with weapons, nor in woodcraft, as far as I knew. Gor was a beautiful, but a dangerous, perilous world. Surely it was muchly different from the world he knew, and, in a variety of ways, it could be unforgiving, and merciless. It had to be met on its own terms, with courage, and steel. Too, he was not Gorean. He knew not the ways of Gor. He had no clan, no caste, no Home Stone.

“Accompany us,” I said to him.

“Yes, yes!” said Pertinax. “Then we can explain matters to his superior.”

“As you wish,” said Tajima to Pertinax.

“This prerogative of departure is extended to me, as well, surely,” said Miss Wentworth.

“No,” said Tajima.

“‘No’?” she said.

“No,” he said.

Then Tajima turned to me. “Perhaps you would present the girl to Lord Nishida? I am sure he would look kindly on one who presents her.”

“You have traveled far,” I said. “You are, I take it, a loyal and trusted retainer of Lord Nishida. Therefore it seems to me that it would be more appropriate if it was you who presented her to your lord.”

“I serve,” said Tajima. “Are you the friend of the one who may go?”

“I wish him no harm,” I said.

“Then,” said Tajima, “I think it would be well for him to present her to Lord Nishida. Lord Nishida may then look upon him with kindness, perhaps even favor.”

“And might be inclined to spare his life?” I said.

“Precisely,” said Tajima.

I turned to Pertinax. “Do you agree to present Miss Wentworth to Lord Nishida?”

“— Yes,” he said.

“What is going on here?” said Miss Wentworth. “Untie me! Free me!”

I regarded her. She was pretty, in her way, so angry. I wondered if she knew how she looked, so helpless, so futile, so lovely.

“What are you looking at!” she snapped.

It was true. I fear I had not been looking at her in a way appropriate to look at a free woman.

“I agree with our friend,” I said. “Your dress is quite short.”

“I am a free woman!” she cried. “Untie my hands! Take this degrading rope from my neck!”

“If would be better if they were hooded,” said Tajima.

“Yes,” I said.

In moments the hoods were in place.

“Turn them about,” said Tajima.

This was done, both to the left and right, a number of times, as though randomly.

Soon, almost immediately, long before we were finished, both women were thoroughly disoriented. Neither would have the least idea of where she was being taken. When our destination was reached, wherever it was, neither would know how they had come there, nor where they were.

I picked up Cecily’s leash.

“Take Miss Wentworth’s leash,” I said to Pertinax. “It is, after all, you who are to present her to Lord Nishida.”

He picked up the leash.

“You do not mind having her on your leash, do you?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

He pulled twice on the leash, and she pulled back, angrily, in indignation.

“Things have muchly changed, have they not?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said.

He then drew twice more on the leash, quickly, firmly, and his hooded charge stumbled toward him. They were then standing quite close to one another. She must have sensed his nearness, for she trembled. She was, after all, a woman, quite close to a male. This doubtless made her uneasy. Too, he was a large male, and, indeed, one considerably larger than she. Then she steeled herself, with the stiffness of the free woman. He coiled the leash, and then held it, some four inches from her throat, and jerked her chin up, so that her head was lifted to him. Had she not been hooded and had dared to open her eyes, she would have found herself, close on the leash, looking into his eyes.

“Wait!” she said to him. “Wait! I shall see to it that you are punished, as well.”

Pertinax then loosened the leash, and stepped back from her, some seven or eight feet away.

“Yes,” she said, sensing his withdrawal, “keep your distance!”

The leash looped up from his hand to her neck.

She stood there, confident, now that he had retreated.

“They are right,” said Pertinax to her.

“What?” she said.

“Your dress is quite short,” he said.

She cried out with rage.

“She has pretty legs, does she not?” asked Pertinax.

“Yes,” I said. “They are very nice.” Indeed, that was one of the reasons I had shortened her tunic on the beach. Certainly that would improve her disguise, would it not? Too, slave girls often have lovely legs. That is doubtless one of the things slavers have in mind when they select them.

“We should be on our way,” said Tajima.

I joined him, keeping a soft hand on Cecily’s leash. I also allowed her a comfortable margin of slack. In this fashion, the slave is nicely guided, and she is, of course, never out of the control of the master. A hard hand on the leash is normally used only with a captured free woman or a new slave. The leash is considerably shortened, of course, if there is danger in the vicinity, say, animals, or uneven ground, or water about, or one is in a crowd, or such. In cities, sometimes display leashes are used, of colored leather, of beaded, even jeweled, leather, or of light, closely meshed lengths of chain, sometimes of silver or gold. Most leashes, on the other hand, are little more than functional, and usually of brown or black leather. Metal leashes are common if one wishes to chain the girl to a slave ring, a convenience with which Gorean buildings and streets are usually well furnished. The typical leash is long enough to permit the binding of the slave, if one should desire to do that. In walking a slave, particularly on the promenades, it is common to make certain that the leash describes a graceful curve, from the master’s hand up to the slave’s collar.

“You are from Earth,” said Tajima.

“Yes,” I said. “It is far away.”

“It is another planet,” he said.

“Yes,” I said.

And it was only a moment later that I realized he had spoken in English.

Chapter Nine

THE THATCHED HUT;

THREE TUBS

“When are we to be allowed to see someone important?” asked Miss Wentworth.

“I regret my unimportance,” said Tajima.

“Go away!” said Miss Wentworth.

With a courteous bow, Tajima withdrew.

The camp was quite large.

I had expected it to lie on the northern bank of the Alexandra, but it did not. It was toward the Alexandra, but well inland.

“Someone will pay for this!” said Miss Wentworth. “I will not be kept waiting!”

“There is no ship,” said Pertinax.

“I will see that there is one!” said Miss Wentworth. “Our agreements were clear. The arrangements were clear. We completed our part of the work, and now we must be paid, and returned to Earth, with wealth, wealth!”

“There is no ship,” said Pertinax.

“We will not be betrayed!” said Miss Wentworth.

“Are we ourselves so innocent?” asked Pertinax. “Are we not, ourselves, in our way, guilty of betrayal? Did we not engage, enthusiastically and uncritically, in betrayal, pretending to be what we were not, engaging to deliver a stranger, whom we knew not, to an uncertain fate, one we did not understand, and which might, for all we knew, have proven fatal?”

In a sense, I thought, their betrayal was deeper than they understood, for they had labored, however ignorantly, in the cause of beasts, Kurii, who would covet not only Gor, but Earth, as well. In a sense they had betrayed a world, and a species.

“I think,” said Pertinax, “we have been betrayed not so much by others as by ourselves, by greed.”

“Absurd!” snapped Miss Wentworth.

“You would do anything for money,” said Pertinax.

“So, too, would anyone!” she said.

“I used to think so,” said Pertinax. “I am no longer sure of it.”

“You are a fool,” she said.

“There is no ship,” said Pertinax.

“There will be,” she said. “I will demand it!”

“Perhaps you will be successful,” he mused. “One of your smiles can twist a knife in a man’s guts. I know.”

“Yes!” she said. She laughed.

I gathered she had had little difficulty in having her way with men.

“Brew me tea,” said Miss Wentworth to Cecily.

Cecily looked to me, and I nodded.

“Yes, Mistress,” said Cecily. Cecily knew enough to address all free women as “Mistress,” and all free men as “Master.” On the other hand, having been embonded on a Steel World, that of Agamemnon, later that of Arcesilaus, an unlikely place to encounter free women, she knew little of free women, at least of a Gorean sort. The only free woman with whom she had had contact with on the Steel World had been the Lady Bina, a former Kur pet, who was less a Gorean free woman than a remarkably beautiful, ambitious, vain little animal. I had warned Cecily of free women, but I fear she took my cautions too lightly. She thought my concerns exaggerated, and disproportionate to the likely reality. In my view, however, my concerns and cautions were not excessive, but practical and judicious. She seemed to believe that since the slave and the free woman were both women that there would be a sympathy, an understanding, a rapport, between them. She knew so little. The free woman was a person; the slave was a property, an animal, and an animal which, aside from matters of social advancement, position, wealth, and status, was commonly preferred a thousand times by men to a free woman. But Cecily was highly intelligent, and she would learn quickly, if only under a free woman’s switch. Her safety, of course, would lie with men, and masters, who would to the extent practical, given a free woman’s status and prerogatives, protect her.

We were housed in a small, thatched hut.

The door of the hut was open, but it might be fastened, when one wished, with thongs.

Once in the camp, with the license of Tajima, whom we took as our mentor and guide in these matters, we had freed the girls of their impediments, removing the hoods and leashes, and then unbinding their small wrists. The wrists of women look lovely, thonged, or braceleted, or such.

“I am a free woman,” had said Miss Wentworth to Tajima, rubbing her wrists. “Bring me some decent clothing, now, and arrange an audience, immediately, with your superior. I do not wish to appear before him, as I am, so shamefully garbed.”

“I am sure you will not appear before him so garbed,” said Tajima, politely, and left, quietly, as was his wont.

That, however, had been two days ago.

“Go out,” said Miss Wentworth, to Pertinax, “and demand an audience with someone, anyone!”

“I think we should wait,” I said.

“That would be best, I think,” said Pertinax.

“Then I shall go out!” she cried.

“I would not,” I said. “There are strong men about, Goreans.”

She stamped her small foot, petulantly, and jerked at her collar. It may be remembered that its key had been cast into Thassa, long ago. She could not remove it. To be sure, it might easily be removed with suitable tools.

In the meantime it would remain on her neck.

I had gathered, from earlier conversations between Pertinax and Miss Wentworth, that she had been the employee of a large investment firm and had been primarily utilized to solicit investments from male clients, in which endeavor she had apparently been unusually successful. Her ambitions, however, extended well beyond enticing wealth to her employer’s firm, and obtaining thereby the routine emoluments of a salary and commissions. Why should she herself not have the wealth which she so ably diverted into the channels of others, an illusive wealth to whose passage she stood so near but from which she was yet so far? She seemed to me little more than an unimaginative creation of her time, a creature of ambition and egotism set mindlessly upon the pursuit of the dazzling, gleaming bubbles of a meretricious culture. To be sure, she was quite lovely, and that was doubtless what first drew her to the attention of Gorean slavers. Here was a female, however, who would not only look well in shackles, but, first, might be turned to the advantage of purposes extending far beyond the coins she might bring when taken from the block. And so she had been approached. Pertinax had been a minor clerk in the same firm.

The movements of free women on Gor tend to be restricted, and monitored. One is always aware when they are about. They are precious. One pays attention to them. Slaves, on the other hand, are generally free to come and go, as they please, not much noticed. They may have to request their master’s permission to leave their domicile, and they may have to return at a stipulated time, subject to discipline, and, indeed, has one not seen them hurrying frantically through the streets hoping to cross their master’s threshold before the ringing of the fifteenth bar, but one is used to them, and pays them little attention when they are about in the streets, the alleys, the markets, the plazas, and parks, save, of course, to speculate on their lineaments and wonder how they might look at one’s slave ring. Accordingly, it is not unprecedented that a female Kur agent on Gor, to increase her mobility and anonymity, may be dressed as though she were, despite her freedom and importance, no more than a slave. And if that is the case, will she not require a male to complete her disguise, one who will pose as her master?

And, as noted, earlier, free women are rare in certain locales, such as the northern forests. Thus, if a project is afoot in such an area, and one may wish to have a female agent on hand, one who may be useful with respect to its success, it is almost certain that she will be disguised as a female slave, and, if her disguise is to be plausible, she must have one about who will appear to be her master.

Mr. Gregory White, a minor employee at the investment firm, was no more immune to the charms of Miss Margaret Wentworth than a great many other males. Indeed, he had long looked upon her from afar, acutely, and poignantly, well aware of the chasms, social and commercial, which separated him from such a different and special creature. A clever, beautiful young woman, she was well aware of his hapless infatuation, just as she was in the case of a number of other males of no interest or importance to her, whom she scarcely deigned to notice. It gave her great pleasure to be above them, remote, frosty, businesslike, inaccessible, beyond their level, out of their grasp. She was above them; they were beneath her. It was she who could come and go within the doors of the great and powerful, doors they could not even approach. Kur agents, of course, often recruited pairs, primarily, one supposes, for the reasons suggested earlier. When she learned that she might have to disguise herself as a slave, she almost withdrew from the project. She, a slave! How absurd! How disgusting! To be sure, this would have meant only that another would have been sought in her place, and she would have been placed on an acquisition list for a later pick up, not as an agent, of course, but merely as another slave, her beauty perhaps then indistinguishable amongst that of many others. The cages and pens, after all, are filled with beautiful women. When it became clear to her, however, that the offer was to be withdrawn, and her dreams of unusual wealth were fading, she swiftly relented, agreeing that it might be amusing to play such a role, that of a mere slave. She would need, of course, some fellow to pretend to be her master. They were willing to find her one, but, interestingly, for some reason, she suggested White. Presumably she did this because she thought him a typical, diffident man of Earth, one easily manipulated, one easily dominated. Too, of course, she was well aware of his infatuation, and this would add a delicious, exploitable nuance to the relationship, and put him muchly in her power. It would be amusing to dominate him, and order him about. She could imagine him hurrying to serve her, in this way or that. Yes, it would be amusing.

Her name would be “Constantina.” Not the best choice, perhaps, for it was more of a free woman’s name than a slave’s name, but she wanted something stately and impressive. A more typical slave name would have been, say, Lana or Lita, or, say, a more familiar Earth-girl name, such as Jane, Audrey, or Cecily. Earth-girl names commonly serve as slave names on Gor. That is perhaps because Goreans think of Earth girls as being of slave stock, of superb slave stock. Indeed, some Goreans look for them in the markets, and it is said they are seldom disappointed. And the name of White, whom she easily recruited, would be “Pertinax.”

Miss Wentworth paced back and forth in the hut, angrily.

Later, she was occasionally less certain of the wisdom of her choice in recruiting White, for he was much larger and stronger than she, was, in his way, strikingly good looking, and, annoyingly, was as swift, if not more so, than she, in learning Gorean and certain ways of Gor. Certainly the dolt could not be more intelligent than she! She would have found that intolerable. Accordingly, any evidence of his intellectual superiority she discounted. He was, of course, a man of Earth, and so there was little to fear. Sometimes she felt distinctly uneasy when she was near him, as a female, particularly when she was in her costume, that of a slave. Once, in a fearful dream, as I would learn, she had dreamed he had stripped her publicly in the company offices while others looked on, bemused, or unconcerned. Then he had thrown her to his feet, kicked her, and put a collar on her, and had then put her to his pleasure, while the others continued to look on, and later politely applauded. She recalled going to her belly, crawling to his shoes, and, head down, frightened, kissing them.

After that dream she was very surly, and bitter, toward him.

If she suspected he might be regarding her, perhaps the arch of her chin, the curve of a calf, the turn of an ankle, she would berate him savagely.

She took much pleasure in ordering him about.

Pertinax, or White, if you prefer, understood little of this, and merely, as a man of Earth, redoubled his efforts to please his demanding employer.

By now, some five days after being met in one of the reserves of Port Kar, the yellow signs which we had originally followed east from the coast would have disappeared. Had one followed them, and not been met, it would have been supposed that the likely destination of our trek would have laid still to the east. If one had then elected to continue in this direction, one would then have merely penetrated deeper and deeper, fruitlessly, and possibly dangerously, into the forests. The most direct route from the hut of Pertinax to the camp would have been, as nearly as I could determine, lacking maps and coordinates, either south by southeast, or, more likely, southeast.

The indirection, or circuitry, of our route had been a matter, I supposed, of security. Whatever projects might be afoot in the forests, they were, it seemed, a matter of great secrecy.

I had had a sense of where, in any event, approximately, we might be heading, probably to the Alexandra, some pasangs upriver, but how many pasangs I had no idea, fewer if the direct route was, say, south by southeast, more if it would have been southeast.

This surmise, however, as noted, proved to be incorrect, at least with respect to our destination being the Alexandra, or, perhaps better, it was not so much incorrect as premature.

I became more confident, day by day, that the Alexandra would figure in these matters.

“Is my tea ready?” asked Miss Wentworth.

“Nearly, Mistress,” said Cecily, who was tending the small pot on its rack, over a tiny fire, it in a small hole, a shallow hole, scooped out in the dirt floor of the hut.

“You are slow,” said Miss Wentworth.

“Forgive me, Mistress,” said Cecily.

“Take off your clothes,” said Miss Wentworth.

“What?” said Cecily.

“Completely,” said Miss Wentworth.

“‘Mistress’,” I suggested.

“Mistress?” said Cecily.

“Now,” said Miss Wentworth.

“Must you humiliate her?” asked Pertinax.

“Certainly,” snapped Miss Wentworth. “She is no more than a slave. They exist to be degraded and humiliated.”

Whereas a slave may be degraded or humiliated, or beaten, or chained, or such, at the merest caprice of the master, it is seldom done. There would be no point to it, particularly in the case of a girl who is trying to please. The slave, like any animal, is to be governed with understanding, sympathy, and intelligence. Too, the Gorean master is usually quite fond of his slave, though I suppose few would be likely to admit this. But, fond of her or not, discipline is not to be compromised. Discipline must be firm, strict, and unyielding. She is, after all, a slave. She is to be held under an exact, uncompromised, unswerving discipline. She expects that, and is not disappointed.

The least infraction, she knows, may be punished with the switch or lash.

That is doubtless why there are so few infractions.

The slave thrives under discipline; it comforts her, and orders and regulates her life; she is content; she is mastered; she rejoices in the discipline to which she is subject. She would not have it any other way.

The greatest kindness a man can show a slave is to put her to his feet.

Cecily cast me a frantic, plaintive look.

I think she hated Miss Wentworth, and Miss Wentworth, surely, was not her mistress. Cecily’s relationship to her, of course, was radically shifted, following the unwelcome revelation that her blond, blue-eyed rival in beauty, so to speak, was not like herself a slave, but a free woman.

“Do it,” I said, gently.

Tears in her eyes, Cecily slipped from her tunic.

“Serve me,” said Miss Wentworth.

“Yes, Mistress,” said Cecily.

“No,” I said to Cecily. “Serve me.”

“Yes, Master,” said Cecily, gratefully.

The word of the master, of course, takes precedence over the word of a free person who is not the slave’s master or mistress.

“What of me?” snapped Miss Wentworth.

“Serve yourself,” I said.

“Pertinax!” she snapped.

Pertinax then hurried forward, to fill another cup, which he then, promptly, delivered to Miss Wentworth.

The slave girl, incidentally, and I suppose this is obvious, does not serve a beverage to a free woman in the manner she would serve a male, and certainly not in the way she would serve her master. For example, in paga serving, as in a paga tavern, the serving is done in such as way as, in effect, to entice and seduce the male. In such a situation the girl is trying to interest and excite the male and, at the very least, is petitioning his attention, presumably with the alcove in mind. The use of the girl comes with the price of the drink, and thus which girl is summoned to the table, or which, approaching the table, is accepted, has an import which might not be obvious to the stranger to such establishments. To be sure, many fellows are out for little more than a drink. They enter, they drink, talk, and leave. The customer’s option need not be exercised. Even if one does not conduct one’s waitress, so to speak, to an alcove, it is pleasant, in any event, to be served by a beautiful woman, collared, perhaps belled, in a bit of diaphanous silk, if that.

As noted, then, the slave does not serve the free woman in the manner in which she is likely to serve a male, particularly her master. She would be savagely beaten, if not slain, should she be so ignorant or foolish as to do so. To the free woman the slave girl is, at best, a despicable convenience. She is loathed, probably because of her interest to men. The cruelty of the free woman to the slave is legendary. It is quite different from the usual relationship between a male master and his slave. Gorean slave girls dread free women. It is their fervent hope that they may be purchased by an attractive male, and, ideally, be his only slave.

Sometimes, of course, as an act of cruelty, a free woman, for her amusement, before company, consisting of other free women, will order a terrified slave to offer her drink as she might a male, and then, when she does so, she will be denounced. “What are you doing, you wanton slut? How dare you! Do you think I am a gross, lustful beast! I am a noble free woman, you miserable, disgusting, salacious hussy, you abject, collared she-tarsk! I am insulted! You will pay for that! Bring me the whip!” “Yes, Mistress,” weeps the slave, and hurries to fetch the whip which, to the amusement of the free woman and her guests, will be used on her.

The camp seemed to be, more than anything, a lumber camp, for logging was in process in the vicinity, and one, not unoften, heard the striking of axes, the crash of falling trees. These logs were trimmed, sawn, harnessed, and dragged by grunting, hissing draft tharlarion to staging areas where, skinned of bark, and piled, they awaited hoisting by weights and pulleys onto wagons, which were then drawn by tharlarion down a narrow, muddy road, soon disappearing amongst the trees. Interestingly, this road did not seem to lead west, toward the coast. Rather it seemed to lead southeast. As several of the logs bore the badges of Port Kar, at least some of them must have been taken from reserves, one supposed, illicitly.

I did hear, upon occasion, away in the forest, the scream of a tarn.

The camp was not palisaded, but its perimeters, for those expected to remain in the camp, not the work crews, were clear, a set of wands encircling the camp, rather like those which marked the reserves, but these wands bore no ribbons, with legends.

I had, in wandering about, intended, for my interest, to cross the border of the wands, to scout the area, but I had been warned back by a prowling larl, which was, as nearly as I could determine, although it was not collared, a guard beast. I understood then why the camp, despite the richness of timber about, was not palisaded, at least not in the sense of being encircled by a close-set wall of sharpened palings. It did, of course, in a sense, have its palisade. Such beasts were its palisade.

I held the cup of tea, and looked upon Cecily, who knelt before me. She knelt in the position of the tower slave, not that of the pleasure slave, as there was a free woman present. Cecily looked at me, shyly, and smiled. I, too, smiled. Well she knew that any beautiful woman on her knees, stripped and collared, is pleasant to look upon, in whatever position she kneels.

The position of the Tower Slave is respectful, and demure. Further, she is usually well tunicked, or even robed. To be sure, her collar must always be visible. It would not do to confuse her with a free woman. The position of the pleasure slave, of course, is also respectful, but it is also provocative, and inviting. It must leave no doubt in the observer’s mind as to what sort of slave she is. The palms of her hands are usually down on her thighs, and her head up, but, if she is petitioning caresses, as is not uncommon, the palms are usually up, the backs of the hands on the thighs. The palms of a woman’s hands, as is well known, are unusually sensitive, as might be noted, for example, if one were, lightly, with the tip of a finger, to trace the form of a “Kef” on them. The palms, then, so offered to the master, with their exposed, sweet, sensitive cupping, the backs of the hands down on the thighs, as though bound to them, as though not permitted to leave them without permission, present a sign not difficult to read. Too, at the same time, the girl’s head is usually lowered. This makes clear her humility and need, and how much she is at the mercy of the master, for the least touch. Variations, of course, occur. Sometimes, perhaps in markets, the girl will kneel with her wrists crossed behind her, as though bound, or will have her hands clasped behind the back of her head, or the back of her neck. This lifts the breasts, nicely.

“Oh,” said Miss Wentworth, impatiently, “have the filthy little tart, the disgusting trollop, put her clothes on!”

“She is neither a tart, nor a trollop,” I said. “She is a slave. That is less than both.”

The former Miss Virginia Cecily Jean Pym smiled. She was far, now, from her antecedents, from Mayfair, from Oxford.

She was now naught but a Gorean slave girl, on a world on which men knew what to do with such as she.

I did not, incidentally, despite Miss Wentworth’s command, or behest, give Cecily permission to reclothe herself. Without that permission she would remain naked.

Cecily was quite attractive.

And this is not surprising.

Is not a woman most attractive when she is naked, in a slave collar?

“Slut, then!” said Miss Wentworth.

“Every good slave,” I said, “should be a slut at her master’s feet.”

“Disgusting!” said Miss Wentworth.

“Not at all,” I said.

“Is that what men want, sluts?” said Miss Wentworth.

“Far more than that,” I said, “a slave. Every man wants a slave, a helpless, vulnerable, ardent, needful slave.”

“White,” she said, “does not!”

“I am Pertinax,” said Pertinax.

“What?” said Miss Wentworth.

“There is no ship,” he said.

“There will be a ship!” she cried. “I shall demand it!”

“I am Pertinax,” he said.

“You are mad!” she said. “That is over!”

“No,” he said, quietly. “It has just begun.”

“Pertinax,” she said, angrily, “is a man of Earth. He is civilized!”

“High civilizations,” I said, “have invariably held slaves.”

“He is a gentleman!” she said. “He would not want a slave.”

“Gentlemen,” I said, “have often held slaves.”

“Reassure him, Pertinax,” she snapped. “Tell him that no true man would want a slave!”

I thought it interesting, how words could be twisted about, and used as levers, as cudgels, as whips, and such.

“I am not sure of that,” he said. “Perhaps it is otherwise. Perhaps it is rather that any man who does not want a slave is not a true man.”

“Certainly men desire slaves,” I said to Miss Wentworth. “I think that is clear. Beyond that the dispute seems to me verbal. I suppose one could define the true tarn as one that does not fly, the true larl as one that does not hunt, and so on, but this does not seem helpful in understanding the world. Putting aside cultural and historical considerations, as somehow irrelevant, surprisingly so, or illegitimate, astonishingly so, one might ponder whether or not biology is relevant to the matter, for example the radical sexual dimorphism of the human species, genetic predispositions, the pervasive relationships in nature of dominance and submission, and so on.”

“I am a free woman!” said Miss Wentworth.

I was not clear as to the pertinence of her claim, which was uttered almost hysterically.

“There is also,” I said, “the test of life consequences. For example, what are the effects of one modality of life as opposed to another? Suppose one way of life reduces vitality, produces unhappiness, boredom, even misery, and anomie, a sense of meaninglessness, and another modality of life increases vitality, enhances life, produces happiness, charges one with energy, gives meaningfulness to one’s existence, and so on. Which is to be preferred?”

“I am a free woman!” she cried.

I was not disputing that. I wondered at her outburst.

She was still, of course, in her tunic.

Perhaps that was what motivated her outburst. Perhaps she wanted to utter something which might seem to belie her appearance, an appearance which doubtless made her uneasy, or somehow troubled her. Certainly Pertinax and I had no difficulty in accepting that she was a free woman. It did not seem, then, that she should be trying to convince us of that. Who then was she trying to convince? Pertinax naturally, from his background, I supposed, the antecedents of our situation, and so on, would think of her as a free woman. And I, too, thought of her as a free woman, particularly in view of her awkwardness, clumsiness, stiffness, and such, to say nothing of her manifest psychological and emotional problems. The contrast with Cecily was obvious. Cecily, now, not only accepted her sex, but rejoiced in it. At a man’s feet, owned, and mastered, she had found herself.

She had wanted to end her confusions and conflicts, and had discovered the sweetness and wholeness of a total surrender to the male, her master.

She kissed his feet and became herself.

“I am a free woman,” said Miss Wentworth, “a free woman, a free woman!”

“Of course,” I said.

“I wonder,” said Pertinax, thoughtfully.

Pertinax’s remark surprised me. I had not expected it.

“What?” cried Miss Wentworth.

“In the offices, amongst the desks,” said he, “did I not imagine you often not in your svelte business wear, and high heels, so chic and yet so provocative, so arrogantly, insolently, calculatedly, deliberately provocative, but rather barefoot on the carpeting, naked and collared?”

“You beast, White!” she screamed.

“You will address me as Pertinax,” he said.

“I do not understand,” she said.

“There is no ship,” he said. “Much has changed.”

“There will be a ship!” she cried. “Nothing has changed!”

“I have changed,” he said.

I had the thought, now, that Pertinax might leave a hut, to look after a trussed property, even were a sleen in the vicinity.

And certainly a property, helplessly trussed, lying outside in the darkness, might fervently hope that he might do so.

“I trust,” said Miss Wentworth to Pertinax, “you are not toying with contemplating the possible meaning of your bestial strength, that you are not tempted to acknowledge your desires.”

Pertinax regarded her, angrily.

How fortunate she was that he was not Gorean!

“Your strength and desires must be ignored,” said Miss Wentworth. “It is best if you can convince yourself that they do not exist. Struggle desperately to do that. If that is not possible, you must put them to the side. One must choose sorrow and righteous grief over opportunity and gratification.”

Yes, very fortunate.

“Why?” asked Pertinax.

“Because you are of Earth!” she said.

“Perhaps an Earth which has too long ignored certain truths,” he said, “an Earth in sorry need of recollection, of reformation.”

“You are a cultural artifact,” she said, “engineered to conform to imposed standards, as much as an envelope or motor.”

“No,” he said, “I am a man.”

“A cultural construct!” she said. “A manufactured product, designed to cohere with a complex set of systematically interrelated roles.”

“Surely,” I said, “a test of cultural value should have some relevance to the happiness and fulfillment of human beings.”

“No,” she said.

“To what then?” I asked.

“To the culture itself,” she said, “its prolongation.”

“I see,” I said.

A culture did seem to have its own dynamics, its own life, a life, a biography, to which the welfare or happiness of its components might be only indirectly related, if at all. A plant was organic, and the health of the plant assured the health of its components. A culture, on the other hand, though it might crumble and lapse into obsolescence, was commonly not organic, but mechanistic, and the functioning of the machine required not the happiness, health, or welfare of its parts, but only that they functioned appropriately, contributing to the pointless longevity of the machine itself.

“Is there no such thing as nature?” I asked. “Is there only misery, prisons, guns, and hatred?”

“Nature does not exist,” she said.

“You cannot be serious,” I said.

“It does not exist in any important sense,” she said.

“If not,” I said, “why must it be so fiercely contested, so strenuously fought against?”

“It is inimical to civilization,” she said.

“Only to unnatural civilizations,” I said.

“All civilizations are unnatural,” she said.

“Not necessarily,” I said. “There is no reason why a civilization cannot be an expression of nature, rather than her enemy, in its way an enhancement of nature, a celebration of nature.”

“There are no such civilizations!” she said.

“There have been several,” I said.

“None now!” she cried.

“I know of at least one,” I said.

“No!” she said. “No, no, no!”

“What are you afraid of?” I asked.

“I am not afraid!” she cried. She pulled down, desperately, at the hem of her tunic, with both hands. “Do not look at me so!” she cried to Pertinax.

“There is no ship,” said Pertinax.

I think Pertinax had begun to sense how a woman might be viewed, particularly one in such a tunic.

Women were not men.

They were quite different.

“Do not look at me so!” she said to Pertinax. “Are you some boor, or brute? Have you not been educated?”

“I was not educated,” said Pertinax. “I was trained, indoctrinated. Perhaps only now has my education begun.”

“Beast!” she cried.

“What of the test of life consequences?” I asked.

“I do not understand!” she wept.

“Does the mastery not fill a man with power,” I asked, “with zest, with vitality, with a sense of reality and identity, with a sense of fittingness, with a sense of being himself, with a sense at last of being a part of nature rather than a dislocated, lost, wandering fragment shorn from her?”

“Why have we not been brought before Lord Nishida!” she cried.

“The mastery fulfills a man,” I said. “What man is complete until he has at his feet a slave?”

“A slave! Oh, yes, a slave!” laughed Miss Wentworth, scornfully.

Then she turned to Cecily.

“Slave!” she said.

“Mistress?” said Cecily.

“You are a slave, are you not?” asked Miss Wentworth.

“Yes, Mistress,” said Cecily, frightened.

Surely Miss Wentworth could see that her fair throat was enclosed in the circlet of bondage.

“Worthless, degraded, meaningless, naked slave!” said Miss

Wentworth.

“Yes, Mistress,” whispered Cecily.

“You, slave,” cried Miss Wentworth scornfully to Cecily, “are you happy as a slave, do you want to be a slave, are you fulfilled as a slave?”

“It does not matter, Mistress,” said Cecily, “whether or not I am happy to be a slave, whether or not I want to be a slave, whether or not I am fulfilled as a slave. I am a slave.”

“Answer me, slut,” cried Miss Wentworth. “And speak the truth!”

“I must speak the truth, Mistress,” said Cecily. “I am a slave.”

“That is true,” I said to Miss Wentworth. “The slave must speak the truth. She is not a free woman.”

“Yes, Mistress,” said Cecily. “I am happy to be a slave. I want to be a slave. I am fulfilled to be a slave! It is what I have always been, and knew myself to be, and now the collar is on me! I am a slave, and should be a slave. It is what I am, what I want to be, and what I should be!”

“Disgusting, disgusting, disgusting!” screamed Miss Wentworth.

I did not understand her concern. If some women were slaves, and wished to be slaves, and loved being owned, and wanted to be at the feet of masters, why should she object? What was it to her?

“Have I come at an inopportune time?” inquired Tajima.

“No,” I said.

He had entered in his quiet, polite way, unobtrusively.

“Lord Nishida,” said Tajima, “regrets the delay, but he was awaiting an envoy, one from exalted personages.”

I supposed that would be some Gorean. Perhaps it would be Sullius Maximus, pretending, again, to be an agent of Priest-Kings. I had little doubt that the true agent had been disposed of, doubtless long ago, probably cast to the nine-gilled sharks of Thassa. They often follow in the wake of a ship, to retrieve garbage.

“There!” said Miss Wentworth. “At last! Now we will receive our pay, be conducted to the coast, board ship, and, soon, brought first to an appropriate base, find ourselves again on Earth.”

“Your slave is very pretty,” said Tajima, noting Cecily.

He viewed her as what she was, a lovely animal, perhaps even a prize animal.

“Thank you,” I said.

Masters are often pleased when their beasts are commended. Such commendation, you see, reflects credit on him. In such a way he is complimented on his taste in women, in slaves.

“You may finish my tea,” I told the slave, handing her the cup, with its residue, “and then you may clothe yourself.”

“Yes, Master,” she said. “Thank you, Master.”

She put her head down to drink. She held the cup with two hands, as a Gorean cup is commonly held.

“Do white women make pleasing slaves?” asked Tajima.

“Yes,” I said.

“That is well,” he said.

“I cannot see Lord Nishida like this,” said Miss Wentworth, indicating her brief tunic, little now but a rag, given our journey through the forest. “Bring me something suitable!”

“I have,” said Tajima, who held, over his left forearm, what appeared to be, arranged in several narrow folds, a sheet of rep cloth.

“Give it to me,” said Miss Wentworth, putting out her hand.

“Outside,” said Tajima, “there are three tubs, filled with hot water, in which you may soak, and enjoy yourselves. It will be very pleasant, and there are, at hand, smooth scrapers of sandalwood, scents, oils, and towels.”

“Outside?” said Miss Wentworth.

“She is not used to public bathing,” I said.

“Interesting,” said Tajima. “We shall have one of the tubs brought within the hut.”

“No,” said Miss Wentworth.

“No?” asked Tajima.

“I insist on being brought immediately to Lord Nishida,” said Miss Wentworth.

“You do not wish to bathe?” asked Tajima, surprised.

“No,” she said. “Bring us to Lord Nishida immediately.”

“We shall proceed immediately then,” said Tajima.

“No, no,” said Miss Wentworth, suddenly. “I must dress!”

“Perhaps we might have the honor of greeting Lord Nishida,” I said, “and Miss Wentworth might then follow, shortly.”

“A most suitable suggestion,” said Tajima. “The yellow-haired one may then, if she wishes, dress in privacy.”

“I certainly so wish,” she said.

He handed the rep-cloth sheet to Miss Wentworth, who seized it from him.

“I will send two men to conduct you to the audience,” said Tajima to Miss Wentworth.

“I will wait outside, and accompany her,” said Pertinax.

“As you wish,” said Tajima. “Also, as I recall, it is you who are to present Miss Wentworth to Lord Nishida.”

“I can present myself, I assure you,” said Miss Wentworth.

“It is not customary,” said Tajima.

I then accompanied Tajima from the hut, as did Pertinax, save that he waited discreetly outside, until Miss Wentworth would be ready to attend the audience.

Cecily, now tunicked, heeled me, as was proper.

As I left the hut, I paused, to glance at the three tubs. I would have been pleased to have had the bath. To be sure, I would keep my weapons at the side of the tub. If any approached too closely, I would arm myself. More than one warrior has been slain in the bath.

Outside, at the three aforementioned tubs, Pertinax and I found, waiting, two lovely young women. They might have been of Ar, or Venna, or Telnus, from almost anywhere.

“These would have bathed you,” said Tajima.

“I see,” I said.

Both women looked down, frightened.

Perhaps they were new to their collars.

Both were naked.

“You may look upon them as you wish,” said Tajima. “These are not contract women, trained, refined entertainers, or such. They are simple, coarse slaves, no different from those with which you are familiar. You may note that their necks are encircled with collars, and may be confident that the collars are closed, and locked. Too, if you care to examine their left thighs, you will note, just under the hip, a brand.”

I examined the brands. Both wore the cursive kef, the most common Gorean slave brand.

“They were both free women of Ar, even of high station,” said Tajima. “Several such have come recently into our hands.”

“Ar is troubled, of late,” I said.

“I have heard that,” said Tajima.

“I am surprised,” I said. “I thought such women might not be cultural for you.”

I had some sense of the milieu from which the “strange men” might have sprung. I did not doubt but what ancestors of theirs, from hundreds of years ago, or perhaps thousands, might have been brought to Gor by Priest-Kings on the Voyages of Acquisition, as had representatives, or, perhaps better, specimens, of a number of other backgrounds and cultures. The Garden of Gor, so to speak, both botanically and zoologically, had seemingly been stocked with care, at least at one time, apparently for interests both scientific and aesthetic.

Most Goreans, on the other hand, were, I was sure, completely unfamiliar with the “strange men.”

To be sure, much of Gor is terra incognita.

But what did it bode, or signify, I wondered, that some such men might now be here, in the northern forests, engaged in some project, which appeared to be both mysterious and secret?

And I had been debouched on the northern coast, at specific coordinates, supposedly by the order of Priest-Kings, though Kurii, too, obviously, had been apprised of those coordinates.

What might be, I wondered, the interest of Priest-Kings, or Kurii, in this area, at this time?

“We are a formal, traditional people,” said Tajima. “The old ways are important to us. But we are also an intelligent, adaptive people, and are always ready and eager to adopt useful devices, pleasant customs, and such.”

“I understand,” I said.

“Also, of course, it is not unusual for women to come into our keeping as a result of sale, of raiding, of war, and such.”

“Still, I am surprised,” I said. “I thought such identificatory and custodial details, brands and collars, and such, might not be cultural for you.”

“We have had them for centuries,” said Tajima. “It may be, I do not know, that they were not original with us, but one does, does one not, mark animals?”

“Certainly,” I said.

“Thus, we may very well have come up with them independently, but, if not, we are happy to learn from others. Those of the high cities are so elegant and efficient in these matters that it would do us great honor to recognize, if we did, the perfections which they have developed in their handling of women.”

“Of slaves,” I said.

“Of course,” he said.

It was true. Over centuries the Goreans had developed the handling of female slaves into a fine art.

That is something an Earth woman might remember, if she is brought to Gor as a slave.

“There were three tubs,” I said, “two slaves.”

“One slave to bathe you,” said Tajima, one to bathe Pertinax.”

“We could bathe ourselves,” I said.

“Assuredly,” said Tajima, “but is it not pleasant to be bathed by a naked slave?”

“Yes,” I said.

“The small pleasures of life,” said Tajima, “are not to be scorned.”

“True,” I said.

“Besides,” said Tajima, “the act is beneficial for the women, as well. It helps them to understand that they are women, and that, as women, although they are women, they may prove to be of some value, however humble.”

“What of Miss Wentworth?” I asked.

“Miss Wentworth, as she is a female, may bathe herself.”

“There were only three tubs,” I said.

“Your slave,” said Tajima, “would use your tub, after you had finished.”

“I think you speak English,” I said.

I remembered this from the reserve.

“I learned it far away,” he said.

“On Earth?” I said.

“Yes,” he said.

“Have you come recently from Earth?”

“Yes,” he said.

At that moment I heard the roar of a larl.

“Do not be dismayed,” said Tajima, “it is from the pavilion of Lord Nishida.”

“It sounds close,” I said.

“It is,” said Tajima. “There is the pavilion.”

Chapter Ten

IN WHICH IS RECOUNTED A PORTION

OF WHAT OCCURRED IN THE PAVILION OF LORD NISHIDA

“Greetings, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman,” said Lord Nishida. “Welcome to Tarncamp.”

“Greetings,” said I, and bowed, politely, which salutation was graciously acknowledged by Lord Nishida, with an inclination of the head.

Lord Nishida was garbed in white robes. He sat cross-legged, within his pavilion, on a low, flat platform of lacquered wood, some twelve feet square. Beside him, one on each side, lay two swords, one short, one long, each with a large, slightly curved hilt, wrapped in silk, and a curved blade. The longer of the two swords was not unlike that carried by Tajima, thrust in his belt, edge uppermost. Lord Nishida’s countenance was refined, even delicate, but refined and delicate in the way a light, carefully edged weapon is refined and delicate, as, for example, the shorter of the two blades beside him.

“I trust that your journey hither was pleasant, and uneventful,” said Lord Nishida.

“Yes,” I said.

It would have been considerably less pleasant for the girls, of course, as they had been bound, and hooded, and led on leashes, for much of the journey.

“I trust, as well, that your quarters, though regrettably primitive, a consequence of the rude and transitory nature of our camp, are satisfactory.”

“Thoroughly satisfactory,” I said.

“I am pleased to hear that,” said Lord Nishida.

“You have made the acquaintance, of course,” he added, “of our trusted and loyal servitor, Tajima.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I trust his service was satisfactory.”

“Eminently so,” I said.

Tajima was standing behind me, to my right.

“He is in training,” said Lord Nishida.

“I am sure he will do well,” I said.

“We will see,” said Lord Nishida. “He has much to learn.”

“We are grateful,” said Lord Nishida, “that you deigned to accept our invitation to Tarncamp.”

“It was my pleasure,” I said.

I had heard a tarn in the vicinity, but I had seen none in the camp, either taking flight or alighting.

Lord Nishida smiled, slightly.

“And had it not been my pleasure?” I asked.

His eyes briefly clouded. “That would have been most regrettable,” he said.

A fellow sitting beside him, seated as he was, cross-legged, on his right hand, remained impassive.

The fellow was not of the “strange men.”

He had short-cropped blond hair, and squarish, heavy features. He wore an informal, brown robe, which betokened no caste in particular. He was, I took it, the envoy whose arrival Lord Nishida had been awaiting. I supposed him an agent of Kurii, one who might pose as an agent of Priest-Kings. He was not, however, Sullius Maximus.

At the edges of the lacquered platform, one on each side, crouched two larls. Behind Lord Nishida, at the back of the platform, stood six of the “strange men,” each armed with a glaive, the blade of which, socketed in its stout pole, was some two-and-a-half feet in length, and curved. It was presumably an infantry weapon. It could be used for either thrusting or slashing. It would not be thrown. Whereas I would not have anticipated difficulty in getting behind one such weapon, it would be exceedingly dangerous if there were two such weapons, as an aggressor would be likely to be vulnerable to the blow of the second weapon. As the glaive is used most effectively forward or to the soldier’s left, if the wielder is right-handed, one would try to keep to the wielder’s right. Behind Lord Nishida, to his left, stood what I took to be two women of the “strange men,” each lovely, each fully clothed, neither veiled, unlike most Gorean free women, particularly of wealth or high caste, in what I supposed, on Earth, would be spoken of as kimonos. I shall, in any event, use that word for such garments, henceforth. Too, interestingly, the garment worn by Lord Nishida, as it is called by the same word in Gorean, korti, I will refer to as a kimono, as well. The woman’s kimono is rather different from that of the man. The man’s kimono is informal, elegant, and loose, and allows much freedom of movement. The woman’s kimono seems narrower and, particularly from the waist down, much more constrictive. The women would walk with short, graceful steps, which gave them an unusual, distinctive gait. The robes of the Gorean free woman, while layered and cumbersome, have much greater play at the hem. The kimono, incidentally, is not allowed to the collar-girls of the “strange men.” This is not surprising, of course, as they are animals.

I wondered if they were examples of the “contract women” of which Tajima had spoken. In any event both were on the platform with Lord Nishida, which suggested status, though in a subordinate position. It seemed clear that neither was, so to speak, a Ubara, who would have shared a throne with a Ubar, if not his power. Neither, too, seemed a “display woman,” a “trophy woman,” or such. In the high cities “display slaves” are not uncommon. For example, a rich man’s palanquin, borne by slaves, may be followed by a single or double coffle of display slaves, uniformly tunicked, back-braceleted and neck-chained. They are a display of wealth. Similarly, slaves might be displayed about the foot of a Ubar’s throne, stripped and chained. These are commonly former high women taken in war. For example, the daughters of a Ubar defeated in battle, now the slaves of the conqueror, may be so displayed, as trophies attesting to the victor’s might and skill.

“You have a lovely slave,” said Lord Nishida.

Cecily had heeled me into the pavilion. After entering with me, she had gone, as was proper, to first obeisance position, beside me, a bit back and to my left. In first obeisance position, often assumed by a slave in the presence of a free man, she kneels with her head to the ground, and the palms of her hands down on the ground on either side of her head. The usual second obeisance position has the slave go to her belly, her hands on either side of her head.

“Thank you,” I said.

“Please allow her to kneel up,” said Lord Nishida.

“Kneel up,” I told Cecily.

She then knelt up, her back straight, her head up, her hands on her thighs. As was appropriate in the circumstances, she kept her knees modestly together.

“Excellent, excellent,” said Lord Nishida. “How pretty they are.”

I glanced to the two women of the “strange men” on the lacquered platform. They were looking upon Cecily, but I saw no sign of envy, hostility, or jealously. This was quite different from the way in which a Gorean free woman would look upon a slave girl. They see the slave girl as a vulnerable, but hated rival, with whom, for the interest of men, they could not begin to compete. These women, however, seemed to view Cecily more as one might have a lovely pet, doubtless of great interest to men but not really constituting a threat to themselves, and their position. I would later learn that these were, indeed, “contract women,” who, as girls, were often sold to pleasure houses, most often by their parents. Sometimes, too, they would sell themselves to such a house, to be trained in arts of pleasure, for example, music, dancing, singing, conversation, and such. As their contracts could be bought and sold they were, in effect, slaves, but they were not thought of as such. For example, they occupied an understood, accepted, and generally respected niche in their society. They were not tunicked, not branded, not collared, and so on. They were not “collar-girls.” Indeed, they regarded themselves, without arrogance, and with much justification, as far superior to collar-girls. They were, in their view, in a different category altogether. The collar-girl was an animal who might be put to the straw in a stable, and would not even be permitted within the refined precincts of the pleasure house. The collar-girl was ignorant of the simplest things, even the proper serving of tea, the careful, delicate, symbolic arrangements of flowers, and such. She would be of little interest to a gentleman, save for her performance of lengthy, servile labors, and her squirmings, gaspings, moanings, thrashings, and beggings, perhaps back-braceleted, in his arms. Certainly the contract women knew the attractions of simple collar-girls for males, but they did not regard them as rivals. When, wearied of a world’s concerns, he wished to spend a leisurely, elegant evening, gratifying his various cultivated senses, physical, intellectual, and aesthetic, his choice would not be the collar-girl, but the women trained to comfort and delight him in traditional and cultural manners. Interestingly, though I suppose there must be exceptions to this generalization, the women of the “strange men” seem generally reconciled to the fact, and will even expect, that their males will seek gratifications beyond the walls of their own domiciles. Nothing culturally heinous seems to be associated with this matter. As many companionships are arranged between families, with considerations not of love, or even of attraction, paramount, but of wealth, prestige, status, and such, and the young people often being scarcely considered in the matter, this is, I suppose, understandable. The female companion’s complacency in this matter, or her understanding, or her tolerance, is, one gathers, quite different from what would be expected in the case of, say, a Gorean free companion, who, commonly, would find these arrangements outrageous and insufferable. For example, she would not be likely, resignedly, without question, to pay a bill arriving at her domicile from a pleasure house, pertaining to a pleasant evening spent there by her companion. In the light of these considerations, to the extent they might apply, then, it should be clear why the “contract women” would not be likely to concern themselves overly much with collar-girls. First, they regard the collar-girls as far inferior to themselves, and thus scarcely in the category of rivals, and, secondly, they share the general view, as I understand it, of the women of the “strange men,” namely that they have little or no hold over a male, and he may be expected to pick flowers, so to speak, where he pleases. If, however, a contract woman might find herself in love with a client, she, being quite human, and utterly helpless in her contractual status, might, understandably, resent his interest in, say, another contract woman, or, even, as absurd as it might seem, a collar-girl.

In any event, neither of the women, whom I took to be contract women, took much interest in Cecily, or gave her much attention. To be sure, they doubtless recognized that she was attractive, and might, accordingly, be of interest, even considerable interest, to men, but what would that, really, have to do with them? She was different. She was nothing. She was a collar-girl.

Lord Nishida turned to the fellow sitting beside him, to his right. “Two met our friend, Tarl Cabot, as planned, and brought him to the reserve, where contact took place between him and Tajima,” he said.

“Yes,” said the fellow with short-cropped blond hair.

“These two,” said Lord Nishida, “were selected suitably, as specified?” said Lord Nishida.

“One was selected with great care, following diligent inquiry, and exacting research, from amongst several, from over two hundred,” said the blond fellow, “according to your various specifications.”

“You made the selection yourself?” said Lord Nishida.

“I would trust it to no other,” said the fellow.

“The appropriate background, the appropriate characteristics, egotism, ambition, greed, a lack of scrupulosity, and such?”

“Yes,” said the blond fellow.

“And are my senses likely to be pleased?” inquired Lord Nishida.

“I think you will be pleased,” he said. “Indeed, two businessmen in our service concurred in my judgment.”

“Excellent,” said Lord Nishida.

“The other did not much matter,” said the blond fellow.

“True,” said Lord Nishida. “Tajima,” said Lord Nishida, quietly.

“Yes,” said Tajima.

“The other’s purpose was served, surely, when the reserve was reached,” said Lord Nishida. “Yet I understand he is in the camp. Why did you not kill him?”

“I was reluctant to stain my blade with inferior blood, that of a weakling,” said Tajima. “I would have left him behind, for animals, but Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, our guest, desired that he be permitted to accompany us.”

“I see,” said Lord Nishida. “You did right, then, to bring him to the camp.”

Tajima bowed his head, slightly, acknowledging this judgment of Lord Nishida.

“He may be disposed of later,” said Lord Nishida.

“I am sure,” I said, “he may prove of service.”

“There is no place in this camp,” said Lord Nishida, “for cowards or weaklings.”

“He may be neither,” I said.

“Summon him forth,” said Lord Nishida. “Put a sword in his hand, and put him against our servitor, Tajima.”

“He is less than unskilled,” I said. “He knows nothing of the sword.”

“Summon him,” said Lord Nishida.

“I protest,” I said.

“Summon him,” said Lord Nishida, not unkindly.

His attitude gave me pause.

In moments Pertinax was conducted within the pavilion. He had apparently been in the vicinity, which led me to believe that Miss Wentworth, too, must now be nearby, though perhaps not yet permitted within the pavilion.

One of the long, curved swords, with the large hilt, was placed in the hands of Pertinax, at which he looked, apprehensively. A colored cord dangled from the hilt, which terminated in a tufted blue tassel. Tajima then backed away from him, and, smoothly, drew forth his own weapon, which he gripped with two hands, and assumed what, for such a weapon, was apparently an on-guard position. The position seemed formal, and quite stylized, but there was no mistaking the readiness, or menace, of his attitude.

“You will fight,” said Lord Nishida. “One of you is to die. Prepare to fight.”

Pertinax cast me a look of bewilderment, and misery.

But he did not turn about, and run.

I was proud of him. Too, I did not think he would have made it to the exit of the pavilion.

Four fellows now stood there, two armed with glaives, two with swords.

Tajima moved toward Pertinax, and, twice, feinted toward him.

Pertinax lifted the blade, weakly, and then, putting down his head, in defeat, lowered it.

“You will now kill him,” said Lord Nishida to Tajima.

I recalled Tajima was in training.

Tajima turned away from Pertinax, and faced Lord Nishida. “Lord,” said he, “set me rather the slaughter of a tethered verr.”

Tajima had his back to Pertinax.

But, from my training, I knew his every sense was alert, on a knife’s edge of cold fire.

I trusted that Pertinax would not act.

Tajima seemed wholly at ease, even disgusted, certainly indolent. There was insult emblazoned in his very posture.

I trusted that Pertinax would not act.

In a moment it became clear to me that Pertinax would not seize his apparent opportunity.

I smiled to myself, and, suddenly, almost inaudibly, I moved my foot, quickly, in the dirt.

Instantly Tajima had whirled about, his sword ready to fend a blow.

His action was so quick that I, familiar with the reflexes of warriors, which often spell the difference between life and death, must admire it, and Pertinax, startled, gasped, his blade still haplessly lowered.

“He may be permitted to live,” said Lord Nishida, “for the time.”

One of the guards relieved Pertinax of the weapon.

“Well done!” I said to Pertinax.

“I did nothing,” he said.

“That is why you are still alive,” I said.

I turned to Lord Nishida.

“My thanks, great lord,” I said.

He inclined his head, a little.

Tajima returned his sword to his belt.

Pertinax stepped back, shaken.

“If I may,” I said to Lord Nishida, “I would now like to speak of matters of importance.”

There was much I wanted clarified.

What was going on here? Why had I been brought here? What was I to do here? What was expected of me? It seemingly had something to do with my being a tarnsman, but, beyond that, I understood very little, little or nothing.

“Yes,” said Lord Nishida, “we must speak of matters of importance, and soon, but, first, we should attend to a matter which is not important.”

I stepped back.

Lord Nishida then looked to the blond fellow with short-cropped hair, he in the nondescript brown tunic, who had had little to say, but had been muchly attentive to all that had transpired. In his seemingly slumberous stolidity he reminded me a bit of the inert larls who crouched at the edges of the platform. I trusted they had been well fed.

“I think you will be pleased,” said the blond fellow.

Lord Nishida then looked to Tajima.

“We thought it might be appropriate,” he said, “if one agent, Mr. Gregory White, introduced his superior and colleague, Miss Margaret Wentworth.”

“‘Gre-gor-e-white’ and ‘Mar-gar-et-went-worth’,” said Lord Nishida. “Barbarian names are so difficult.” Then he said, “Please proceed.”

Tajima bowed politely, and then motioned for Pertinax to follow him, and went toward the threshold of the pavilion. Shortly thereafter, a small figure, completely covered, from head to foot, wholly concealed in a large sheet of white rep-cloth, was conducted forward, a guard on each side of it, Pertinax a little before it, on its left, and Tajima in the background.

This group stood, then, before the platform, or dais.

Lord Nishida leaned forward.

The small figure, as noted, was covered, from head to foot, in the rep-cloth sheet.

I supposed this must be Miss Wentworth, from the slightness of the figure and the rep-cloth sheet, but I would have expected Miss Wentworth to be quite urgent and vocal, now that she had been permitted within the pavilion. Perhaps it was not she.

From the size of the figure and hints of the sheet it seemed clear that the figure within the sheet was that of a female, and, quite possibly, one who might stimulate spirited bidding.

I could see where the sheet was bunched, before her body, where she held it about her with two small fists.

I could see the small figure was barefoot.

It must be Miss Wentworth, but her silence was surprising.

I wondered that she did not speak.

Perhaps she was unaware that she was now within the pavilion, and standing before the dais of Lord Nishida.

Miss Wentworth had been muchly dismayed with her tunic, and particularly so after I had altered it more to a male’s satisfaction. She regarded the simple, graceful garment, it seems, as not only unconscionably brief, but despicably insulting. Too, I think she suspected its likely effect upon males, and this caused her considerable uneasiness.

A male, seeing her in such a garment, would doubtless suppose she was exactly what she appeared to be, a slave.

And who knew what consequences might then ensue?

It might not be amiss to insert a parenthetical remark here.

Whereas a Gorean free woman, used to extensive robing and veiling, reduced to bondage, and tunicked, not only face-stripped, now forbidden veiling, but revealingly clad, might almost die of shame to be seen so displayed, a girl of Earth is far less likely to have the same emotional response to brief or revealing clothing. She is, for example, familiar with miniskirts, sun suits, beachwear, and such. Indeed, the typical Gorean slave tunic is a great deal more modest than much of what might be routinely encountered at poolside in various resorts, hotels, spas, and so on. The acceptability of such garmentures to the Earth female is commonly taken by the Gorean, who tends to be a bit prudish in such matters, save where slaves are concerned, as evidence of the suitability of Earth females for the collar. Any Gorean female who appeared so, publicly, would be taken as “courting the collar.” Indeed, the state might take her in hand, and brand and sell her. Needless to say, as well, the nature of much of Earth lingerie confirms this view of the Earth female in Gorean eyes. Consider the brevity and softness of such garments. Are they not, then, secret slaves, slaves awaiting their masters? So Earth girls brought to Gor must largely learn the shame and degradation of the tunic, which, however, is not too difficult to grasp when, shortly, they see the contrast between their garmenture and that of the free woman, and understand how they are viewed. Then they may learn to weep in shame at their exposure. This, of course, is a temporary phase, for, soon, the slave, whether a barbarian fetched hither for the block, or a Gorean free woman reduced to bondage, discovers how special, different, and wonderful she has now become, that she is now a mere slave. They come to understand that they are now desired, as never before. They come to see free women as dangerous, but pathetically unhappy, repressed creatures. They fear free women, but, in their way, pity them for they cannot know the ecstasies, fulfillments, and joys of the slave. They come to a new understanding of their bodies, and are at peace with them, perhaps for the first time in their lives, and rejoice in them, and come to love them, and come to see them as delicious and lovely contrasts to the sternness and power, the rudeness and brutishness, of the male bodies, to which they will be forced to submit. They come to understand the magnificent complementarity of nature, and their lovely role in this complementarity. They would not now be other than they are, for they have finally come to understand the glorious preciousness of themselves, even though they may sell for no more than a handful of copper tarsks. The slave now knows that she is beautiful and desired. Accordingly, she soon walks happily, and beautifully, walks as a desirable female, and the most desirable of all females, the female slave, something for which men will pay. She now wears the tunic, or camisk, well, shamelessly, no longer dismayed that her beauty is brazenly displayed, but is now well pleased that it should be so. “Let me be seen, Masters. Look upon me! This is what you have collared!” The beautiful female body is no longer something which is to be hidden, as though it were a blemish or sore, something of which one is supposed to be ashamed, rather than something of which one is to be accepting, and pleased. So the slave now rejoices in her beauty, and, in her female vanity, relishes the fact that it must now, by the will of men, but as she wishes, too, be displayed for their pleasure. And so, slave-clad, she appears in public. The slaves of a city are amongst its most beautiful sights. Behold them in the streets and markets! How exciting and beautiful they are! And does the slave’s beauty, shamelessly flaunted before the master, not tempt him to its taking! How it torments him, and drives him wild, and the briefly clad, sinuous she-sleen are well aware of what they are doing. Well they know the power that lurks in an ankle, or the turn of a head. Do masters not sometimes bind and lash their slaves for their insolence and pride, until, at his feet, they offer him their beauty’s placation, piteously reminding him that it is his to do with as he wishes. And do they not even smile, or laugh, under the lash, until, say, the third or fourth stroke, well reassured of their effect upon him.

And I suspected then that she, Miss Wentworth, had gratefully disdonned the tunic and had welcomed the sheet as a transitory salvation, pending the providing of a suitable garmenture. Her concern to appear before Lord Nishida as soon as possible and demand her immediate return to Earth, before an additional and possibly greater delay might take place, had doubtless determined her to avail herself of any expedient at hand, and the sheet, if nothing else, was voluminous and, were the light not behind it, opaque. In any event, as nearly as I could tell, from the appearance of things, there was nothing beneath the sheet but Miss Wentworth herself.

To be sure, she would be in a collar.

I had seen to that.

On the other hand, perhaps it was not Miss Wentworth. The figure did seem very quiet. I supposed that that would be unusual for Miss Wentworth, not only because of her dispositions and personality, but because of her acute concern to make known her demands.

In any event, this mystery, if it were a mystery, was to be soon dispelled.

Lord Nishida made a tiny motion with his right hand, and Tajima put his hands, gently, to that portion of the sheet which was wrapped about the head and face of the bundled figure.

As soon as she felt his hands at the sheet a series of urgent but unintelligible noises emanated from within the cloth.

I knew then at least one explanation for the small figure’s silence.

A slave may be simply warned to silence, and she will then remain silent until permitted to speak. A free woman, on the other hand, or a woman who believes herself to be free, may require something further.

Tajima then, carefully, lifted the sheet away from the figure’s head, and it was, indeed, Miss Wentworth, who shook her head, angrily, as though to free her head even the more swiftly from the folds of the sheet.

She looked about, then, suddenly, wildly, taking in the scene about her.

She uttered a tiny noise of fear, and her legs gave out beneath her, but she was steadied by the two guards who held her in place, by the upper arms, beneath the sheet. Her fear, understandably enough, was a reaction to the sight of the two larls, one on each side of the platform. She had perhaps never seen a larl before, and even if she were familiar with these large carnivores, finding oneself in their vicinity, without viewing them through thick bars or ascertaining that they were, say, tethered on stout chains, would be enough to unnerve a heart more experienced and stouter than hers. In any event, I had certainly shared a similar apprehension upon my entrance into the pavilion. The fact that the beasts seemed somnolent and that they seemed to provoke little concern amongst the others in the pavilion had, of course, considerably, if not entirely, assuaged my apprehensions. The larl, of course, is never fully tamed. Like the tarn, it has a wild blood. Too, if one makes a sudden movement in its vicinity, for example, a paw may, as by a reflex, lash out and a hand may be half torn from a wrist, or an arm may be shredded.

Miss Wentworth, desperately, clutched the sheet about her.

Then she straightened her body.

She now understood the two larls to be harmless. She was mistaken in this conjecture, but it was a rational conjecture considering that the two beasts were quiet, crouched in place, and that their presence seemed to be accepted without question by the others present. She might have been less confident had she known more about larls. Pretty obviously the two beasts were domestic larls, probably raised from cubhood, and trained to respond to certain commands. On the other hand, as noted earlier, no larl is ever fully tamed. A thousand generations of stalking and killing lay concealed, lay in wait, in every corpuscle of those pelted, passive giants.

More tiny, inarticulate sounds emanated from Miss Wentworth.

Her eyes were a confusion between anger and chagrin.

Her mouth was widely opened, as it must be, to accommodate the ball, which was fastened in place by straps buckled behind the back of her neck.

It is a very embarrassing and humiliating gag, particularly for a proud woman. She does look absurd, or silly, with her mouth so widely opened, the ball fastened in place. The common Gorean gag, whether associated with a hood or not, consists of wadding, or packing, and binding. It muffles sound quite effectively, and is commonly used if one, say, might wish to transport a bound capture between sleeping guards, conceal a back-braceleted woman in a wagon making its way through a city’s gate, or such. The prisoner of such a device can make only tiny, miserable sounds. The usual code in such matters, if the prisoner is interrogated, is one sound for “Yes,” and two for “No.” The gag fixed on Miss Wentworth, in contrast, allows a good deal of noise, and would not do for the usual considerations of security. It does, however, share one virtue with the common gag, of course, which is that it makes articulate speech impossible. When a woman cannot speak she commonly feels frustrated and helpless. The blindfold, or hood, in its way, has a similar effect. One effect of the ball arrangement which is not shared with the common gag is that of making the woman appear ridiculous, her mouth widely opened, the ball in place. This attacks the vanity of the woman, with the consequence that she often becomes quite docile, hoping to be soon relieved of this indignity. Afterwards, a simple frown, or brief word, may be enough to silence her, perfectly. She does not wish to be again subjected to the humiliation of the ball and strap. She has then learned she may not speak, if men do not wish it. In passing, a bit gag might be mentioned. These may be fastened in place, or be as simple as a stick held between the teeth, which the woman is forbidden to drop. Both the ball gag and the bit gag are safer than the common gag, as they permit breathing through the mouth. A prisoner should never be left untended if fastened in a common gag. For example, if certain forms of distress occur, such as regurgitation, the gag should be torn free instantly. A captive is not to be lost, but brought safely to your chains.

The ball in Miss Wentworth’s lovely, but widely distended mouth was blue, and the straps which held it in place, buckled behind the back of her neck, were yellow. These are the colors of the slavers.

Miss Wentworth was then silent, absolutely, unwilling to further embarrass herself.

She threw a piteous look at Lord Nishida, one less then of anger than of supplication.

Surely he must understand her plight, and take pity on her.

She was now learning, too, I supposed, what it was to be in the power of men. She continued to clutch the sheet about her, tightly. The two guards held her, still, by the upper arms.

There was a bruise on the left side of her face, and I noted some discoloration, dirt, I supposed, on the sheet.

This soiling was in the vicinity of her knees.

A small gesture from Lord Nishida, a lifted finger, indicated that the embarrassing impediment to her speech might be removed.

She looked angrily at one of the guards, he to her right, and with, too, a look of vindictive triumph.

I supposed it must have been he who had seen to her inconvenience and discomfiture.

Tajima, carefully, unbuckled the gag and handed it to the guard on Miss Wentworth’s left, who slipped it in his pouch.

It was doubtless he who had supplied the device to his colleague.

“Lord Nishida!” she cried.

“Please,” said Tajima, “do not speak yet. You have not been presented.”

“I can present myself!” she cried, angrily, clutching the sheet even more closely about her. The two contract women observed her, with interest. They were unfamiliar, I supposed, with this tone of voice being used by a woman to a man.

But Lord Nishida smiled, and shook his head a tiny bit, negatively, and lifted his hand a little, in a benevolent, cautionary gesture.

“Then present me!” said Miss Wentworth, in fury.

“One moment,” said Tajima.

He then reached to the hair of Miss Wentworth.

“What are you doing?” she said, angrily.

“Please,” said Tajima, politely.

He then rearranged the hair of Miss Wentworth, first lifting it to the sides that its length and sheen might be noted, and then he put it carefully behind her back, spreading it nicely, evenly, behind the sheet.

Lord Nishida nodded. I gathered he was pleased.

I noted the interest, too, of the two contract women on the dais behind Lord Nishida, and to his left. I supposed they had seen few examples of such hair, given their presumed backgrounds, long, glossy, silken yellow hair, or blond hair.

Tajima stepped back, and seemed satisfied with his work.

Miss Wentworth seemed to smolder and fume with fury.

Tajima then turned to Pertinax.

“Mr. White,” he said, politely, “please do us the honor of presenting Miss Wentworth to Lord Nishida.”

“Do it, you fool,” snapped Miss Wentworth.

“Lord Nishida,” said Pertinax, “this is Miss Margaret Wentworth.”

Lord Nishida inclined his head, slightly, graciously, acknowledging her presence.

“I have been kept waiting,” said Miss Wentworth. “Why?”

“Deplorably, certain minor details of business were to be attended to,” said Lord Nishida, “before we were prepared to entertain your august presence.”

“The delay,” she said, “is rude, and inexcusable. I discover that a brutish warrior, a half-naked, meaningless slave, and my employee, White, are all here before me. I have priority over each of these. No business could conceivably be more important than mine.”

“And what is your business?” asked Lord Nishida.

“First,” said Miss Wentworth, “not only was I kept outside, kept waiting, but I was subjected to violence!”

“Yes?” said Lord Nishida.

“I demanded entrance, and was denied it, by this brute to my right,” she said, indicating one of the two guards who flanked her. “I was warned to silence, but would not be denied. I was struck! Struck!”

I now understood the bruise on her left cheek. I supposed she had been cuffed, struck with the open hand. One does not strike a woman as one might a man.

“I could not believe that one had dared to lay a hand on me,” she said. “When I expressed my indignation, and warned him that I would see to his punishment, the hideous, degrading device you saw but moments ago was forced into my mouth and fastened in place, and then I was put to my knees, to my knees, though a free woman, and must then wait outside, unable to speak, and kneeling, until brought within.”

“Most regrettable,” said Lord Nishida.

That she had been knelt would account for the soiling of the sheet, in the vicinity of her knees.

Given the personality, antecedents, and presuppositions of Miss Wentworth I could understand something of her frustration and outrage.

She had brought much of this, if not all of it, on herself, of course.

An obedient slave, of course, would almost never be struck. There would be no point to it. Similarly, if she were knelt, and, say, hooded, she would think little of it, for she is slave, and knows it will be done with her as the master pleases.

“Then,” she said, “when put to my feet and ready to be brought within, my head was covered in the sheet, completely, so I could not see my way!”

“That is common,” said Lord Nishida, “when one such as you is to be presented before a daimyo.”

“What?” said Miss Wentworth.

“A lord,” said Tajima.

“One such as I?” she said.

“Yes,” said Tajima.

This was not unlike a practice in the court of some Ubars, when a certain form of gift, or tribute, is being presented.

I would later learn that daimyo, or “great names,” were vassals to a shogun, a high lord, usually a military governor, with an army at his disposal. A shogun was nominally subject to an emperor, but the emperor’s role was largely ceremonial, and the true power, as is commonly the case, lies with those who are the masters of men and weapons.

“I denounce this brute to my right,” said Miss Wentworth. “He struck me, he denied me speech, by means of the humiliating object fastened in my mouth, and he put me to my knees before him. I, on my knees, before a male! I demand his punishment. He is to be slain, or flogged to the bone!”

“What is your business, that of which you spoke?” asked Lord Nishida.

“Is it not obvious?” inquired Miss Wentworth.

“Please speak,” said Lord Nishida.

“You have heard of the world, Earth, I presume,” said Miss Wentworth.

“Yes,” said Lord Nishida.

“I was approached by an agent on Earth, one doubtless in your employ,” she said, “and engaged, for a stipulated compensation, to pursue certain projects on this world on your behalf, in particular making contact with a Tarl Cabot and seeing to it that he was delivered to an agent of yours in a timber reserve of a city called Port Kar. To abet this project it was meet that I disguise myself, which I did, adopting the guise of a Gorean slave girl, even to allowing myself to be seen in the insulting, disgusting garmenture of such sleek, meaningless, lascivious, groveling little beasts. To complete the disguise I would require a subordinate to play the role of a master, and for that purpose I had no difficulty in recruiting a suitable male weakling, a minor employee in the very firm in which I worked, a fool, one of several, hopelessly besotted with my beauty from afar, who would take orders from me, docilely and unquestioningly.”

“Mr. White?” said Lord Nishida.

“Yes,” said Miss Wentworth. “And now I come to my demands.”

“But, please,” said Lord Nishida. “You were approached by no agent of mine.”

“I do not understand,” she said.

“Can you make tea?” he inquired. “Properly?”

“No,” she said, puzzled.

“Can you arrange flowers,” he asked. “Properly?”

“No,” she said.

“Can you play a stringed musical instrument, a lyre, a lute, a samisen?”

“No,” she said.

I saw the two contract women exchange amused glances. One giggled, slightly, she on the right, as one faced them. This displeased Tajima, but the girl did not seem disconcerted by his disapproval.

Lord Nishida did not see fit to acknowledge the contract woman’s indiscretion.

The woman’s name was Sumomo, and Tajima, I would later learn, was interested in her contract, which he could not afford.

“Perhaps you can dance,” said Lord Nishida.

“No,” she said.

Lord Nishida would surely not have in mind dances which might be indigenous to his own culture. Miss Wentworth could not be expected to have such skills. They would be quite foreign to her.

He must have in mind then, I supposed, Gorean slave dance.

To be sure, she would doubtless know nothing of that, as well.

The forms of dance of the women of the “strange men” would, I supposed, be lovely and would be backgrounded by a rich cultural tradition, but I also supposed they would be quite different from Gorean slave dance.

Whereas Gorean slave dance can be as subtle as the opening of the petals of a flower it is commonly richly, luxuriantly, unmistakably, outspokenly, unapologetically, brazenly erotic. It is hard for a woman to be more beautiful than in slave dance, where the slave, barefoot in sand, in a swirl of diaphanous silk, bangled, belled, and collared, dances before masters.

A skilled dancer brings high prices. I had once owned one, Sandra, whom I had sold long ago to a dealer in such wares, for a golden tarn disk.

Many masters require that their slaves learn at least the rudiments of such dance.

One supposes that the motivation of this is clear.

“Are you skilled,” asked Lord Nishida, “in the art of conversation?”

“No,” said Miss Wentworth, “and I do not understand the purport of these bizarre questions.”

“What then are you good for?” asked Lord Nishida.

“I do not understand,” she said. “I have fulfilled my part of the bargain, and I now demand my compensation, and to be conducted to some point, from which I may be promptly returned to Earth, to New York City. Please secure the moneys as soon as possible, or arrange for their delivery on Earth, as I intend to waste no more time here.”

“It will be seen to,” said Lord Nishida, “that your time is not wasted.”

“Good!” she said.

“But I fear it is not within my power,” he said, “to see to it that you are returned to your world.”

“I was promised!” she said. “Your agent, or some agent, arranged this whole matter! I do not understand what is going on.”

It was not difficult to tell that Miss Wentworth was now not only puzzled, but frightened. She had, as she had pointed out, fulfilled her part of a bargain, be it one of unscrupulous betrayal, and now she found herself in an alien environment, in which little or nothing of the arrangements into which she had entered seemed to be known.

She turned about. “White, White,” she exclaimed, “what is going on?”

“There is no ship,” said Pertinax.

“No, no!” she cried. “There is a ship!”

“No,” said Pertinax.

“Perhaps I can explain,” said a voice.

“You?” she said, questioningly. Then she cried out, “You!”

He who had spoken was the fellow on the platform at the right hand of Lord Nishida, he in the informal, brown robe, seemingly indicative of no caste in particular, he of the short-cropped blond hair, and heavy features, he whom I took to be an agent of Kurii.

“Joy! Joy!” cried Miss Wentworth suddenly, in wild relief, now certain it was he whom she thought. “There! He will tell you! He will tell you!” she cried to Lord Nishida. “Now things are all right! Now, all will be explained!”

“You have met before?” said Lord Nishida.

“Certainly!” she cried. “It is he, Mr. Stevens! He was my contact! It was he with whom I entered into agreement! I received an advance payment of several thousand dollars from him! Mr. Stevens, explain all to these fools!”

“You know him?” said Lord Nishida.

“Certainly!” she said. “He is Thaddeus Stevens, of Stevens and Associates.”

“I am Thrasilicus,” said the man. “As you were disguised on Gor so I was disguised on Earth. There is no firm ‘Stevens and Associates.’”

I did not think that it was really surprising that Miss Wentworth had not immediately recognized Thrasilicus. She had probably met him only once or twice before, probably months ago, in very different circumstances, and in very different garb. Here he would seem much different, in a different garmenture, in a different environment. Too, he had been rather in the background, and her attention had been much fixed on Lord Nishida, who occupied the center forefront of the platform. Too, Miss Wentworth had been distracted by her various concerns and the perhaps intimidating unfamiliarity of this milieu. Too, his appearance might have been somewhat different on Earth. For example, he would presumably have attempted to duplicate the diffident, half-apologetic body language of the man of Earth, and the subdued discourse of the typical, reduced male of Earth, culturally engineered to betray his natural power and manhood.

“Explain who I am to these fools!” said Miss Wentworth. “Get me out of here!”

“You have had little difficulty in the past,” said Thrasilicus, “in having your way with men.”

“So?” she said.

“And men strove to please you,” he said.

“Yes?” she said.

“Perhaps now,” he said, “men will have their way with you, and you will strive to please them.”

“I do not understand,” she said. “Explain things to these fools, and get me out of here!”

Thrasilicus then turned to Lord Nishida. “Miss Wentworth,” he said, “was an employee in a large business establishment of a sort with which you would be unfamiliar, and one of which I doubt that you would approve. Her office was to solicit funds from male clients to be invested in other enterprises, for which she spoke, through the auspices of the business establishment she represented.”

“In this endeavor she was successful?” asked Lord Nishida, with interest.

“Very much so,” said Thrasilicus. “Men would do much to please her, to win a smile, a glance of gratitude, to avoid a frown, a tear, a trembling lip. She is a highly intelligent, sophisticated, beautiful woman, and she used her sex brilliantly. Few men realized how blatantly they were being manipulated. Some others understood her game only too well, and played the game with her, she not understanding how the player was being played. She supposed them as much the victims of her charm and beauty as their simpler brethren. In any event, she brought large amounts of coin to her employers, and accordingly soon stood high, in arrogance, in her company, was welcomed into her establishment’s chambers of power, and so on. Colleagues of mine, for purposes which you can guess, scout attractive females. Indeed, there are many women of Earth who, unbeknownst to themselves, are even now being scouted.”

“What are you saying!” cried Miss Wentworth.

“Please,” said Lord Nishida, gently cautioning Miss Wentworth to silence.

“These colleagues,” continued Thrasilicus, “when they are convinced of the potential value of a given woman, enter her on an acquisition list.”

“I do not understand!” said Miss Wentworth.

“I myself,” said Thrasilicus, “was the first to note Miss Wentworth, at a business luncheon, in which she was rather obviously cultivating potential clients. For a woman of Earth she was unusually attractive, and I thought something might be done with her. I was there, of course, as Stevens, of Stevens and Associates. She introduced herself, engaged in conversation, even light-hearted banter, and subtly attempted to suggest, from the very first, that she found me physically attractive. I pretended to take this seriously, and she grew bolder, even touching my hand, and then drawing back, as though in embarrassment, or confusion, as though in fear she had gone too far. I think she knew her work well. Naturally I encouraged her to believe that Stevens and Associates might have considerable investment capital in hand, and that we were looking to put it to use, pending the location of a suitable firm to handle this matter. By the end of the luncheon, after which we lingered for drinks, I had learned a great deal of Miss Wentworth, how she operated, clients she had obtained for her firm, and so on. Interestingly, two of these clients were associates of mine. In any event, quite soon, almost immediately, and long before our conversation was concluded and I had placed the business card of Miss Wentworth in my wallet, she had been found, unbeknownst to herself, an apt candidate for a Gorean slave block. Indeed, I myself, that very afternoon, convinced of the matter, with no hesitation, entered her, by my own hand, on an acquisition list. The matter was then settled. All that remained was to determine a suitable time for her harvesting. I thought some fellow would have an amusing time teaching her her collar.”

“Collar?” said Miss Wentworth.

“But we concern ourselves, of course,” said Thrasilicus, “not only with acquisition lists, but want lists, as well, and a new customer, whom we were muchly concerned to please, for various reasons, had specified a particular form of merchandise. We examined the acquisition lists, and a large number of potential candidates for that list, more than two hundred, as I believe. And, all in all, after considering these women, those listed, and those under consideration for listing, it seemed to me, personally, and to others, as well, that Miss Wentworth was a splendid choice. To be sure, I admit the possibility that some aspects of her personality, and a certain personal annoyance with her, from when she had tried to manipulate me, might have had some influence on my choice. I hope so. Although the final choice was mine, I thought it judicious to subject it to the consideration of two of my associates, prominent in business in New York City, aware of my concerns and interests in certain matters, and muchly aware through personal experience, as they were clients of hers, of Miss Wentworth’s personality, techniques, practices, and activities. These were two, of course, of presumably several, who understood quite well what she was trying to do, and, for their amusement, or in their contempt, had let her think that they had been taken in, so to speak, that they were, as many others, the unwitting dupes of her charm and beauty. They were also aware, of course, that my primaries often make use of such women. In any event, they concurred with my judgment, and so the matter was settled, over drinks, and the clinking of glasses, in a dimly lit bar in Manhattan, that is, a drinking place in an area on the planet Earth. Miss Wentworth would strike two targets with one arrow, so to speak, a transitory purpose of interest to my primaries in the north and the satisfaction of an order from a new and valued client, currently in the same area.”

“Excellent,” said Lord Nishida.

“All that remained then,” said Thrasilicus, “was to waft the fantasy of wealth before the greedy, unscrupulous, shapely Miss Wentworth. She rushed to it as a vulo to sa-tarna.”

“Good,” said Lord Nishida.

I gathered that Miss Wentworth was exactly what Lord Nishida had had in mind.

“I do not understand any of this,” said Miss Wentworth.

“You are worthless,” said Thrasilicus.

“I do not understand any of this!” she cried. “You hired me! We had an agreement! You paid me! You gave me a retainer, a token retainer, as you said, of one hundred thousand dollars!”

“That money was never deposited,” he said.

“I saw papers, certifications,” she said.

“Of course,” he said.

“I do not understand!” she said.

“I do not think it is so hard to understand,” said Thrasilicus.

“Who were these business men you spoke of!” demanded Miss Wentworth.

“Two known to me,” said Thrasilicus.

“That you fabricated,” she said. “There were none such! All fawned upon me. There were none I did not dazzle, and charm! All sought my favor, my smile. I was popular!”

“I do not doubt your popularity,” said Thrasilicus. “There were probably none who did not consider, from time to time, how you might appear, naked, and bound at their feet.”

“No!” she said. “They were gentlemen!”

“A gentleman,” said Thrasilicus, “not unoften contains a man.”

“A woman,” she said, “is entitled to use her charms, to tease, to appear to offer, when there is no offer, and such.”

“Perhaps a certain sort of woman,” said Thrasilicus.

“I was successful,” she said. “I won many investments, much largesse, considerable capital, for my firm!”

“True,” said Thrasilicus. “And your practice always wore the veil of mutual interest, of the earnest exploitation of timely opportunities, of the utmost business efficiency, of the highest standards of commercial professionalism, but, underneath, was concealed an agenda of unilateral advantage, for your firm and yourself, an end you shamelessly pursued by attempting to appeal to, and twist, the needs of men, with a thousand smiles, the suggestion of promises, the scattering of various seductive hints.”

“I was successful,” she said. “I fooled them all!”

“Several of your clients, as I understand it,” said Thrasilicus, “lost a great deal of money.”

“That is not my concern,” she said. “They were dupes, gullible fools, all of them!”

“It is interesting,” said Thrasilicus. “You seem to believe that none of these men understood your techniques and stratagems, that none of them understood what you were doing, and how you were doing it.”

“None did!” she said.

“Some did, surely,” said Thrasilicus, “and doubtless several others, as well. Not all men are naive, not all are silly fools.”

“None did,” she insisted.

“Some understood you only too well,” said Thrasilicus. “While pretending to succumb to your rather labored wiles, they found your meretricious trickeries transparent, and secretly regarded you with amusement, even contempt.”

“No!” she said. “And, if I might ask, who were these two alleged businessmen to whom you referred earlier?”

“You may ask,” he said. “But that is all.”

“Who were they!” she demanded.

“Curiosity,” he said, “is not becoming in one such as you.”

“One such as I?” she said, puzzled.

“If you persist in this matter,” said Tajima, “it may be necessary to once again restrict your speech.”

Miss Wentworth regarded him, angrily, but said nothing.

She was unwilling, it seemed, as many women, to undergo again the shameful indignity of the ball and strap, which had given her a proof that on this world a woman might not always be permitted to speak how and when she wished.

I think she had then begun to suspect deeper meanings of her sex than she had been aware of on Earth.

“I have heard much of your sort,” said Lord Nishida to Miss Wentworth. “I have long looked forward to meeting one of you.”

“Of my sort?” she said. “One of me?”

“Yes,” he said.

Then Lord Nishida addressed Tajima. “Please draw down the sheet to her shoulders.”

Miss Wentworth struggled, but was held in place by the two guards. Tajima held the sheet in place.

“You wear a slave collar,” said Lord Nishida, concernedly.

“It was part of my disguise!” she cried. “I am a free woman!”

“It is very attractive,” said Lord Nishida. “Remove it.”

“I cannot!” she cried, angrily.

“You cannot?” asked Lord Nishida.

“No,” she cried. “I had the key, I could have removed it, but that brute, that monster, Tarl Cabot, he whom we brought here, for you, as agreed, took the key from me, and cast it into the sea!”

“I see,” said Lord Nishida.

Slave collars, of course, are not made to be removed by the slave.

“Get the hateful thing off my neck!” she cried.

Cecily looked up at her, startled. Cecily loved her collar. Had she been capable of owning property, it would have been her proudest possession. Actually, of course, it, like herself, belonged to the master. She had a security, and an identity, in the collar. In its way it defined her, and governed her behavior, how she should act, how and when she might speak, what she might do, and not do, and so on. She wanted to be owned, and loved being owned. She loved belonging to a man, as his helpless, vulnerable, utter property. How free she was then, kneeling at his feet, and how right, and perfect! Too, it betokened that she was a woman of value, that she had worth, that she could be bought and sold. Too, not every woman was collared. The collar attested to her desirability as a female. It said, in its way, “Here is a female who has been found of interest to men.” And, from the woman’s point of view, it said, in a sense, “See me. Look upon me. I have been found worth collaring.” It was, in its way, thus, a badge of excellence, a certification of quality.

Lord Nishida looked to one of his subordinates, near the entrance to the pavilion. “Bring suitable tools,” he said.

“Good!” said Miss Wentworth.

The fellow was gone, in a moment.

Miss Wentworth cast me a look of triumph.

She then regarded Thrasilicus. “There has been a misunderstanding here, Mr. Stevens,” she said. “That is obvious. Now, in the light of the sympathetic understanding and thoughtful consideration of our mutual friend, the noble Lord Nishida, to whom I take it you are subordinate, we may shortly renegotiate our concerns. There remain matters such as my compensation, which should now, incidentally, be considerably increased, given my inconvenience and embarrassment, my return to Earth, and such.”

“Actually, Miss Wentworth,” said Thrasilicus, “Lord Nishida and I are, in a way, allies, and neither of us is subordinate to the other.”

“I take it, however,” she said, “that Lord Nishida’s wishes would weigh heavily with you.”

“Certainly,” he said.

She then turned to Lord Nishida. “I will need a wardrobe,” she said. “It need not be clothing of Earth, expensive, well-tailored, tasteful, elegant, fashionable, chic, and such, such as I was accustomed to on Earth, for I well understand that such might be difficult to obtain here, but, you understand, it should be concealing, ample, and decorous, perhaps robes of concealment, such as might be favored by free women of Gor. Veiling, too, given certain aspects of the relevant culture, would not be inappropriate.”

Lord Nishida smiled.

At this point the fellow who had left the pavilion a bit ago returned and, with him, was a burly fellow, not of the “strange men,” carrying tools, who was, if not of the caste of metal workers, one at least, it seemed, who was familiar with certain aspects of their craft.

In a few moments Miss Wentworth’s slender, aristocratic, fair throat was freed of the light, attractive collar.

She straightened her body, and shook her head, and her hair swirled about her shoulders. She did it well, and it was fetching. It was doubtless intended to have its effect on Lord Nishida. I could understand how certain men might rush to please such a woman. “Thank you,” she said to Lord Nishida.

“Now,” said Lord Nishida to Tajima, “let us see her.”

Miss Wentworth regarded Lord Nishida, startled, disbelievingly.

Tajima lifted a finger, and each guard, of those flanking Miss Wentworth, and who had held her, generally, respectively, by the upper arms, now each took a wrist, and, a moment later, an upper arm.

“What are you doing!” cried Miss Wentworth. “No, no!”

She fought to cling to the sheet, to hold it together, before her, but her strength was nothing to that of the two men, and her fingers were pried from the sheet, and her arms were separated, and drawn to the sides. She had her head down, and was bent over, and was struggling wildly, frantically, as she could.

“Please, please,” protested Tajima. “This is to be done gracefully.”

“Stop! Stop!” cried Miss Wentworth, squirming in the grasp of the guards.

It was certainly not done gracefully. When a female gift, or prize, is to be revealed to a master, a merchant, a captain, a Ubar, or such, the gift, or prize, as shy as she might be, is commonly revealed formally, gracefully, even ceremoniously.

Then the guards held apart her arms, each with a grasp with one hand on her wrist, and a grasp with the other on her arm, above the elbow. They held her in such a way that her arms were slightly behind her, and this pressed her forward, accentuating her figure, toward Lord Nishida.

Her eyes were startled.

A look of utter dismay bespoke itself on her troubled features.

The Earth woman was well displayed, and Lord Nishida scrutinized her closely, and, seemingly, though he gave little overt expression of this, approvingly.

It was my surmise that his senses were pleased, well pleased.

“What are you doing!” she cried, aghast.

“I am appraising my new slave,” said Lord Nishida.

“I am not a slave!” she cried. “I am a free woman!”

“Not at all,” said Thrasilicus. “You have been unwittingly a slave for months, even for some weeks when you were still engaging in your petty, deceitful games on behalf of your firm, plying your wiles and charms, seemingly so innocently, to wheedle and coax wealth from clients, pathetically dazzled males as you saw it, men whom, given your own words, recently spoken, you obviously held in contempt. You were a slave from the time your name was first entered on the acquisition lists.”

“No,” she cried, “no!”

“I entered it myself,” said Thrasilicus, “and, as noted, on the very afternoon of the aforementioned business luncheon, following which, you may recall, you attempted to entice me to join your list of clients, that line of naive fellows begging for your attention, those eager to please you, to render homage to your charm and beauty, ready to exchange capital, often not their own, for one of your smiles. My interest in you, and I trust you find this flattering, was immediate. Indeed, as soon as you approached my table, so innocently, so charmingly, like a sleek, predatory little animal, I considered that you would look less well sitting at my table in your carefully chosen chic business ensemble than you would kneeling beside it, on the carpet, head down, naked, in a collar. And after a few moments of conversation I decided I would enter you on an acquisition list, for subsequent harvesting at our convenience. I did so, and, as noted, in the moment your name appeared on that list you were no longer a free woman, but a slave.”

“No!” she cried.

“Lament not,” he said. “Given your nature, character, dispositions, actions, and such, it is appropriate that you be enslaved. Bondage is right for one such as you. One such as you should be a slave. One such as you deserves bondage. For one such as you, bondage is not only a suitable fate, but one superbly fitting and apt.”

“Lord Nishida!” she cried. “Let this cruel jest proceed no further. I am naked, and men may look upon me!”

“Of course,” said Lord Nishida, “you are a slave.”

“You freed me of a collar!” she insisted.

“Only that it may be replaced with another,” he said. “Mine.”

“I am willing to pretend to be a slave!” she cried. “Let me reassume my disguise. I am exposed! I will willingly wear again even that shameful tunic, though it be but a humiliating badge of degradation!”

“You are a slave, stupid slut,” said Thrasilicus.

“No, no!” she cried. She struggled vainly in the grip of the two guards.

Tajima had retrieved the sheet and had now refolded it, and held it over his arm.

“See how fair-skinned is my new slave,” said Lord Nishida, over his shoulder, to the two contract women.

Both giggled.

The contract woman on the left, as one looked toward the dais, said, “Does she not smell, Lord Nishida?”

“She will have to be scrubbed,” said Lord Nishida.

“Please, please,” begged she who had once been Miss Wentworth, “give me the tunic!”

“Do you beg it?” asked Lord Nishida.

“Yes, yes!” she said.

“That shameful tunic, which is but a humiliating badge of degradation?” he asked.

“Yes,” she cried, “yes, please!”

“One must strive to become worthy of a tunic,” said Lord Nishida. Then he said to the two fellows who had the blond, distraught slave in custody. “See that she is cleaned, thoroughly, and then see to her branding and collaring. Let the brand be the Kef.”

That was the most common slave brand on Gor. Most female slaves bore it. It is commonly sited on the left thigh, just under the hip, perhaps because most masters are right-handed. Similarly the disrobing loop of certain tunics is at the left shoulder, presumably for the same reason.

“White! Gregory! Gregory!” cried she who had once been Margaret Wentworth.

“I am now ‘Gregory’?” he said.

“Yes, Gregory, Gregory! Please, Gregory, explain to them that a terrible mistake is taking place.”

“I was never Gregory before,” he said.

“Help me, Gregory!” she wept.

“Why?” he asked.

“I will let you hold me in your arms!” she said. “I will let you kiss me! I know you always wanted to do that! Help me! Help me!”

“You think to bargain with a free man, slave?” inquired Lord Nishida. “Get on your knees, and lick and kiss his feet, begging forgiveness.”

The guards released the slave, and she knelt, terrified, before Pertinax, and put down her head and began to lick and kiss his feet. “I am sorry,” she said. “Forgive me, Gregory.”

“I am Pertinax,” he said.

“Yes, yes,” she said. “You are Pertinax. Please, Pertinax, forgive me.”

“A slave,” I said, “does not use the name of the master to the master. All free men are to be addressed as ‘Master’, all free women as ‘Mistress’.”

The slave looked up at me, in misery, her eyes bright with tears, and put her head down, again, to the feet of Pertinax. “Forgive me, Master,” she said.

“More,” said Pertinax, sternly.

And the former Miss Wentworth again, softly, frightened, addressed her fair lips and small, soft tongue tenderly, for several moments, to the feet of a free man.

I thought I saw a small movement of sudden comprehension, of profound understanding, pass through the slave’s body.

Undoubtedly this was the first time she had ever knelt thusly before a man, let alone addressed herself in such a manner to his placation.

Outside the guard had apparently put her to her knees before him, as a matter of convenience or discipline, but this, obviously, was quite different.

She looked well at his feet, as a slave, but, then, do not women look well at the feet of men, as slaves?

“Please, forgive me, Master,” she whispered.

“I do,” said Pertinax, kindly.

She looked up. “Help me,” she begged.

“I fear I can do nothing,” said Pertinax.

“Please tell them I am not a slave,” she begged.

“I gather,” said Pertinax, “that you are a slave, or will soon be one.”

Kneeling, she put her head in her hands, and wept.

“Take her away,” said Lord Nishida.

One of the guards reached down, and jerked her to her feet by the upper left arm.

She turned wildly to me. “Save me!” she cried. “Do something! Fight for me! Rescue me!”

It interested me that the former Miss Wentworth, in this milieu, if in no other, suddenly understood the dependence of women upon men. Men might, if they wished, do with women as they wished. This simple, obvious fact had not been so clear on her former world, though it was a fact there, as well as here. That world was one in which women stood commonly within the shelters of civilized proprieties, within the fences of society, encircled by innumerable customs and laws, with their diverse enforcements and sanctions. In such a situation women take much for granted, not even understanding that it is being taken for granted.

“I fear, Lord Nishida,” said Tajima to Lord Nishida, “the woman is unutterably stupid.”

“No,” said Thrasilicus, “she is not stupid. She is merely ignorant. At present, it is true, I fear, that she knows little of the collar, and nothing of the furs.”

“She must learn, quickly,” said Lord Nishida.

“The whip will teach her, and quickly,” said Tajima, with, oddly, a glance at Sumomo, the contract woman who was on the right, as one would look to the dais. She was, indeed, a lovely young thing.

She sneered at Tajima. I gathered he had low status, for the women of the “strange men” are taught much respect to males. Even an older sister must bow first to a younger brother.

“Tarl Cabot, tarnsman,” said Lord Nishida, “what do you think of my new slave?”

I shrugged. There seemed little to say.

“I see,” said Lord Nishida. “Would you like her?”

The slave looked at Lord Nishida with disbelief. In that moment I think she first understood herself as property, which might be handed about, exchanged, bought and sold, and so on.

Cecily looked up, too, distressed. She knew herself as property, as well. She loved being property, and knowing herself property, but I did not think she was eager to be bestowed or vended. She loved being a possession, but, rather clearly, if I am not mistaken, she wished to remain the possession of a particular master, wished to remain my possession. Her distress, I think, had to do with the apprehension, this now again made clear to her, that she might without a second thought be given or sold to another. The slave, totally, is property, at the mercy of the master. Too, she may have feared that I might accept Lord Nishida’s offer, and then she would no longer be my only slave. Most slaves desire, fervently, to be a man’s only slave. That she might become, in such a situation, “first girl,” over the formerly insolent “Constantina” would be small consolation for sharing the attentions of a master with a rival. Some masters, of course, as it can be afforded, have more than one slave, that each may try to outdo the other, to please him the more. My own feeling is that it is best to have one slave, so that she will strive to be so loving, so pleasing, so hot, so needful, that the master will feel no desire for another. A master may have many slaves, of course, a merchant, say, may have dozens, a Ubar hundreds, and so on, but the slave, in her needful femininity, commonly wants to be the single property of a master, whom she need not share with another.

“My thanks, great lord,” I said, “but I am content with she who kneels to my left.”

Lord Nishida nodded.

His offer, in honor, had to be genuine, but I am confident he did not expect it to be accepted.

“Your name is Pertinax?” said Lord Nishida to Pertinax.

“Yes,” said Pertinax.

“Would you like this slave?” he asked.

“No,” said Pertinax.

The slave regarded him, with incredulity. “You always wanted me!” she exclaimed.

“I did not know you then,” he said. “Here I have learned, for the first time, your true nature and character, who you are, and what you have done.”

“Accept me! Take me! Own me!” she begged.

“No,” said Pertinax.

“Please!” she said. “Own me!”

“You would be owned,” he said, “but you would not think yourself owned. But sometime, I am sure, you will understand, in your heart and belly, that you are owned, truly owned.”

“Save me from this fate!” she wept.

“Your lips and tongue felt well on my feet,” he said.

“Keep me,” she said. “Own me!”

“No,” he said.

“I do not understand,” she wept.

“You are worthless,” he said. “You are petty, radically petty, to the core.”

She stood there, in the grip of the guard, naked, forlorn, shaken, stunned.

Again, I thought the offer of Lord Nishida was genuine, but, again, I was confident he did not expect it to be accepted. He was, I gathered, a shrewd judge of men. I did not find this surprising, from my estimation of his position, and apparent acuity. Indeed, I suspected that these formal overtures on his part were largely intended to express his contempt for the slave. Some men, of course, find it pleasant to embond a woman they hold in contempt, and then treat her accordingly. And, when the slave fires have been ignited in her belly, and she is the helpless prisoner of her needs, it amuses them to have her at their feet, prostrate, piteous, begging for their least touch.

“I trust, Lord Nishida,” said Thrasilicus, “the slave pleases your senses.”

“She pleases my senses,” said Lord Nishida, “but I am not sure she pleases my heart.”

“In bondage,” I said, “a woman is often muchly transformed.”

This was true. Bondage, in which the woman learns her womanhood, effects in a woman not only a sexual but a moral and personal redemption. In the collar, and in submission, she learns service, fulfillment, wholeness, and love. In the collar, and in her complete and categorical submission to the master, sexually, emotionally, and personally, she becomes herself, and happy.

“If Lord Nishida is not pleased,” said Thrasilicus, “we may search out another.”

“And this one,” said Tajima, who had had, from the beginning, as I understood it, reservations pertaining to the former Miss Wentworth, “as she would be unworthy meat for larls or sleen, may be bound and cast into the garbage pit for the delectation of swarming urts.”

There seemed a general assent to this, amongst those present.

They took her to be poor slave stuff.

I myself, however, did not think she would look poorly on a block, if well exhibited.

“We shall see,” said Lord Nishida. Then he addressed the two guards who had had the former Miss Wentworth in custody. “After her branding and collaring,” he said, “shave her head, and send her to the stables, and see that she learns she is a slave.”

“Yes, great lord,” they said, and exited the pavilion, the former Miss Wentworth, whimpering, but afraid to speak, held by the upper left arm, in the grip of one of them.

“Regrettable,” said Lord Nishida.

“Another may be procured,” said Thrasilicus, concerned. “You may return her to me. I would not mind having her under my whip.”

“Your choice,” said Lord Nishida, “was excellent.”

Thrasilicus seemed surprised.

“If she learns her collar well,” said Lord Nishida, “another may find her pleasing.”

“I had thought you wanted her for yourself,” said Thrasilicus.

“No,” said Lord Nishida. “Her yellow hair, blue eyes, and fair skin will be rare at home. She may figure amongst a variety of gifts, for another.”

“For whom?” asked Thrasilicus.

“For the shogun, of course,” said Lord Nishida.

Lord Nishida then looked at me. “Now,” he said, “we may address ourselves to matters of importance.”

Chapter Eleven

CECILY AND I LOOK IN ON THE FORMER MISS WENTWORTH

A few days after her interview with Lord Nishida in his pavilion, curious, I decided to look in on the former Miss Wentworth, and so, after an inquiry or two, I made my way, heeled by Cecily, to one of the large stables in which draft tharlarion were housed, those which aided in the logging, and drew the wagons down the narrow path between the trees, to some destination, to the southeast. The stable was a long, large building, with a towering roof, to contain the longer-necked tharlarion. It would house several beasts, but I supposed, at this time of day, most, if not all, of the tharlarion would be about the camp, or active on the road to the southeast, hauling logs, or returning. By nightfall, as these things go, before the beasts returned, the stable should be cleaned, fresh straw strewn about, deeply, and the feed and water troughs filled. I chose the late afternoon for my visit, supposing the time one opportune to encounter the former Miss Wentworth alone. Late in the afternoon many of the “strange men” enjoy a pleasant soak in a warm tub. I trusted that the stable grooms might be enjoying this homely indulgence. Several collar-girls, such as those who had been former free women of Ar, were humbly, attentively, silently, here and there, bathing the men. I did not think that the former Miss Wentworth would be engaged in this activity, as it is regarded as a great privilege for a collar-girl to be permitted to bathe a master. Indeed, it is one of the lovely services in which a contract woman, naked beside her client in the pool, was expected to excel.

I found the former Miss Wentworth toward the back of the stable, on the right, as one would face the large double gate which gave access to the structure. She was facing the back of the stable. I watched her for a time. She was on her knees, moving about, leaning forward, a small, pathetic figure. She would reach down and, again and again, with her small, lovely hands, quite bare, her bare arms stained to the elbows, scrape together tharlarion dung. When a suitable heap had been formed, she would lift it, again with her bare hands, and place it on a low flat cart, which she drew beside her.

She was naked, not yet permitted a tunic, and was filthy, and doubtless stank.

She had not yet been permitted even a slave strip.

The common slave strip is a single, narrow, dangling piece of cloth anchored in binding fiber, double-looped about the waist of the slave. It is usually tied snugly, to accentuate the figure of the slave. It is fastened with a slip knot that it may easily, with a tug, be undone. The binding fiber, of course, is long enough to bind the slave, hand and foot, or, if one desires, to serve as a leash, the slave strip then usually folded and placed between the slave’s teeth, which she dare not drop. Sometimes the binding fiber, in its double loop, is looser, that it may ride low on the hips. The point of this is to exhibit the navel of the slave, which, in Gorean, is known as “the slave belly.” The Gorean free woman, as I understand it, who often mates while gowned, commonly refuses to reveal her “slave belly” to her companion, because of the shame of it. What if he should become excited, tear off her gown, and put her to use with the same audacity, aggression, exhilaration, and exultation with which he might use a vulnerable, meaningless animal, say, a chain-slut or paga girl?

I watched the former Miss Wentworth for a time, she unaware of my presence.

They were teaching her what it was to be a slave.

Yet I feared she had not even, as yet, begun to learn.

I considered her.

How far she was now from the seats of commercial power, far from the treasure houses of wealth, far from paneled board rooms, long corridors, marshaled desks, and bright offices.

This was a world other than that to which she had been accustomed, and which she had thought to leave behind only for a life of wealth and leisure.

I continued to regard her.

I saw there was a collar on her neck. The lock was in the back, as is common. It was doubtless that of Lord Nishida.

I had no doubt she had no access to its key.

Now, doubtless as never before, she knew what it was to be in a slave collar.

“Saru,” I called.

She threw herself to her belly in the straw, facing away from me, and covered her head with her hands. “Please, please do not whip me!” she begged.

The slave had been given the name ‘Saru’.

The saru is found variously on Gor, but usually in tropical areas. For example, it is common in the jungles of the Ua. Also, I had learned from Tajima, it is found, here and there, in the home, so to speak, of the “strange men.” The saru is a small, usually arboreal animal. It is usually regarded with amusement, or contempt. It figures in children’s stories as a cute, curious, mischievous little beast, but also one that is stupid, vain, and ignorant. Although the saru, as far as I can tell, is not a monkey zoologically, it surely occupies a similar ecological niche, and resembles the monkey in its diet, habits, groupings, and such. It is tailless. I think it would not be amiss to think of the saru as a Gorean monkey. In any event Tajima, when he put the slave before him on her knees, in the stable, to be named, told her, in English, that there be no mistaking the matter, and she clearly understand what was being done to her, what ‘Saru’ meant, its connotations, and such. She was, in effect, he told her, going to be named “Monkey.” “Yes Master,” she whispered. The slave, of course, is named by masters. She has nothing to say as to what she will be named, no more than a sleen or kaiila. Names may be changed, from time to time. Some names, like ‘Saru’, are belittling names, or contempt names. Other names may be fit for low slaves, others for prized slaves, and so on. Names may be used to punish or commend, to humiliate or delight, and so on. Earth-girl names, which may be put on any slave, regardless of her world of origin, are commonly used for low slaves. ‘Cecily’, the name of my slave, had once been one of her free-woman names. Now, of course, it was not the same name, for I had given it to her as a slave name. The slave understands, of course, that she has no name, not in a legal sense, and that the name she is given is a name bestowed on her by a master, and removable by a master. Even the name which appears on formal slave papers is a slave name.

“You are no longer Miss Margaret Wentworth,” Tajima explained to her. “As soon as you were entered on an acquisition list, months ago, you were only a nameless slave.”

“Yes, Master,” she said, kneeling before him.

“I have explained to you the meaning of ‘Saru’,” he said. “You have understood?”

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“I am now going to name you,” he said.

“Yes, Master,” she whispered.

“You are Saru,” he said. “Rejoice that you are no longer a nameless slave.”

“Yes, Master,” she said, frightened.

“You may thank me,” he said.

“Thank you, Master,” she said.

“What is your name?” he asked.

“‘Saru’, Master,” she said.

“Who are you?”

“I am Saru,” she said, “Master.”

He then turned about, and left her, and she collapsed to the straw of the stable, wracked with sobs.

She shuddered in the straw, naked. “Please do not whip me!” she begged.

“It is I, Tarl Cabot,” I said. “Do not be afraid. I have not come to whip you.”

She rose to all fours, and turned about, and regarded me, in the gloom of the stable, almost half-uncomprehendingly.

Cecily stood, behind me, to my left.

“Do not be afraid,” I said. Then I snapped my fingers, and pointed to the floor, before me, and she crawled to that place, on all fours, and looked at me.

Her head had been shaved.

I thus inferred that the gifting of her, amongst other gifts, to a shogun by Lord Nishida, which I understood to be his intent, would not be imminent, but perhaps months away.

Surely she was in no condition to be presented, now, to anyone, even a herder of tarsks, a lowly shearer of the bounding hurt.

But her bondage journey had begun. By the time she had learned her collar, and her skin would again sparkle, and her hair would be again a glory, and her eyes would no longer reflect terror but rather the eagerness of a surrendered slave, hoping to be found pleasing by her master, she would be worthy, I was sure, of having the vestiture of a silken presentation sheet removed before a shogun, or even a Ubar.

“Master?” she asked, her head lifted to me.

“Slave?” I said.

“Has Master Pertinax inquired after me?” she asked.

“No,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

She put down her head, “Nothing, Master,” she said.

“Perhaps,” I said, “it is his whip you would like to feel?”

Among slaves, a common way for one slave to inquire of another her owner is to ask, “Who whips you?”

To be sure, the slave may never have been whipped. She is, of course, subject to the whip of the master, for she is a slave. Sometimes a slave may be bound and whipped, to remind her that she is a slave. After this, she is under no illusions as to her condition. She now knows well what she is; she is slave, only slave.

The slave was silent, but trembled.

“As a slave, of course,” I said, “you are unworthy of any free man.”

“Yes, Master,” she said. Then she looked to Cecily. “She is standing,” she said.

“Of course,” I said. “You are a slave. If you were a free person, she would be on her knees.”

She looked at Cecily. “I am sorry,” she said, “that I was cruel to you.”

“It is nothing,” said Cecily.

Saru looked up from all fours, her knees and hands in the straw. “May I kneel, Master,” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

She had not asked for permission to stand. She knew herself in the presence of a free man.

I wondered if Thrasilicus was looking into a different slave for Lord Nishida. Perhaps a better slave would be sought.

“Back straight, head up,” I told her.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“Knees,” I said.

“Before her?” asked Saru, in misery. Cecily was standing.

“Before me,” I said.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“Wider,” I said.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“I see you are collared,” I said.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“And you have been branded?” I asked.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

I crouched beside her. “It is an excellent mark,” I said. It was, as I had expected, the common Kef.

“I am told so,” she said. “I am now well marked. There will be no confusing me now with a free woman.”

“Nor should there be,” I said.

“No, Master,” she said.

“You look well, kneeling, with your knees spread,” I said.

“Thank you, Master,” she whispered.

“A slave is pleased, if she is found pleasing,” I said.

“I am pleased if I am found pleasing,” she said.

“Understand it,” I said.

“Yes, Master,” she said.

A tear coursed down her cheek.

She would soon, I was sure, as a slave, aside from fear, take great pleasure in being found pleasing, and be genuinely grateful for having been found so, and, if not, there was always the leather.

How desperate, I thought, are slaves, once they understand their condition, to be found pleasing. Surely the switch, the lash, are unpleasant. Saru was new to her bondage, but, thanks to the grooms, she was already well aware of the consequences of failing, in any particular, to be pleasing to free men.

But most desirably the slave should eventually desire to be found pleasing, should strive to be so, for the joy of being found pleasing by her master, and not from dread of the boot or leather.

“To whom do you belong?” I asked.

“To Lord Nishida,” she said.

I had supposed that that would be the case. On the other hand, if a different slave were being sought, with her coloring, and such, it was quite possible that she might have been given to another.

I examined the collar. “I cannot read the collar,” I said. I supposed it was in Gorean, but it was not in a common Gorean script. I had encountered something similar, long ago, in the Tahari, where Gorean was written in a quite different script, a flowing, beautiful script common in the Tahari.

“It was shown to me,” she said, “but I, too, could not read it.”

“Can you read Gorean?” I asked.

“It was not thought necessary that I learn it,” she said.

“Many Earth-girl slaves are kept illiterate in Gorean,” I said. “Why should a slave be taught to read?”

“I was not a slave!” she said.

“In the view of some, it seems, you were,” I said. “But, in any event, illiteracy would seem a suitable aspect of your disguise.”

“And I understand,” she said, bitterly, “they had a collar in mind for me, even from the beginning.”

“Certainly,” I said.

“Yes, certainly,” she wept.

“I assume your collar was read to you,” I said.

“Yes,” she said.

“What does it say?” I asked.

“‘I am the property of Nishida of Nara’,” she said.

This was doubtless Lord Nishida.

“What is Nara?” I asked.

“I do not know,” she said.

On the common Gorean collar it might be a city, a district, even a cylinder. On her collar, for all I knew, it might be a place, a port, a caste, a family, a clan, or something else. I did not know what. I would later learn it was a citadel, a lofty fortress castle.

“Were you given slave wine?” I asked. I recalled she had had “the wine of the noble free woman.”

She closed her eyes and, involuntarily, shuddered with misery. Then she looked at me, shaken. “My hands were tied behind my back,” she said, “and then I was knelt and my head yanked back by the hair, and held in place, and the spout forced between my teeth, and my nostrils pinched shut, and it was poured into me, and I must imbibe the beverage or suffocate. It was most bitter, most foul. And then, unable to disgorge the brew, even later, for the tying of my hands, I must endure to have my head shaved.”

“The shaving of the head was doubtless to help you understand better your bondage,” I said, “but, too, it is perhaps not entirely regrettable considering the applications to which you have been put. Your hair was very beautiful, as well you knew, in your vanity, and it would have been a sorry thing for it to have been fouled in the ordure of tharlarion.”

“I protested my work, and as they would have me attend to it,” she said, “and my face was forced down, into the dung of tharlarion. I protested no more.”

Whereas, as suggested earlier, the effects of slave wine and “the wine of the noble free woman” are identical, the common ingredient being sip root, there is a considerable difference in the two drinks. Slave wine makes no attempt to conceal the bitterness of ground, raw sip root, whereas “the wine of the noble free woman” is flavored, spiced, and sweetened in such a way that it offers no offense to the delicate and more refined sensibility of the free woman. A slave, of course, as any domestic animal, is to be bred only if and when, and how, the master wishes. A releaser, interestingly, deliciously palatable, is administered to the slave prior to her mating. In the mating, which is supervised by masters, she will be crossed with a male slave. Both slaves will be hooded, and are forbidden to speak, that neither will later, should they meet, know the other.

“As I recall,” I said, “on the beach, several days ago, you informed me that you were, at that time, a virgin.”

“Yes,” she said, looking down.

“Why?” I asked.

“I hated men,” she said. “I despised them. I could not bear the thought of one of them doing that to me. How vulgar it would be, and how helpless I would be! I would be in their arms no better than a slave.”

“Are you still a virgin?” I asked.

Saru cast a swift, distressed glance at Cecily, who was standing behind me, a bit to my left.

“Must I speak?” she asked,

“Yes,” I said.

“No,” she said, looking down to the straw, “I am no longer a virgin.”

“Lord Nishida opened you,” I said.

She looked up.

“‘Opened’?” she said.

“Yes, to have you more ready, for the pleasure of men,” I said.

“No,” she said. “It was not he who opened me.”

“I am surprised,” I said.

“After the pavilion,” she said, “he had no more interest in harvesting the virginity of one such as I than of harvesting that of a she-tarsk. I was hooded, and given to grooms.”

“Are you different now?” I asked.

“They use me as they wish,” she said.

“Are you different now?” I asked.

“But not so much as before,” she whispered. “Now, often, they make me wait.”

“Doubtless at Lord Nishida’s command,” I suggested.

“Perhaps,” she said. “I do not know.”

“I see you are different now,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “I am different now.”

“They have put squirmings in your belly,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, lowering her eyes. “They have put squirmings in my belly.”

“I see,” I said.

She looked up, agonized. “Can you not understand me?” she cried. “I can no longer help myself!”

“Nor should you,” I said. “You are becoming vital. You are coming to a state of health scarcely suspected by a free woman. You are being redeemed as a female.”

“I find myself, again and again, in heat, like a she-tarsk!” she cried.

“As a slave,” I suggested.

“Yes,” she said, “as a slave!”

“Excellent,” I said. “To be sure, there are often miseries in such things.”

“For the first time in my life,” she said, “I now want the touch of men! Nay! I must have the touch of men! I now need, desperately, helplessly, piteously need, the touch of men!”

“Of course,” I said, “you are a woman.”

“I was a woman before!” she said.

“Yes,” I said, “but not a slave.”

“No,” she said, “not a slave.”

“You have work to do,” I said. “Tharlarion will soon be returning to the stable.”

“Yes,” she said.

“Where are you housed?” I asked.

“In the corner, over there,” she said, pointing toward the back of the stable, to the right, as we faced the back of the stable. “At night I am chained there, by the neck, to a ring on the floor. I have two pans there, one for water, one for gruel. I must feed as a she-tarsk, head down, my mouth to the food and water, forbidden the use of my hands.”

“That is not all that unusual,” I said, “with a girl who is first being taught that she is at the total mercy of men, one who is beginning to learn her collar.”

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“There is a bucket, surely, for your wastes,” I said.

“I must use the dung cart,” she said.

“I see,” I said.

“Why has Master Pertinax not come to see me?” she asked.

“I do not know,” I said. “Would you like to see him?”

“As I am now?” she said.

“How else?” I said.

“I am collared!” she wept.

“You were collared before,” I reminded her.

“But now I am truly collared,” she said. “I am a slave.”

“You think of Pertinax?” I said.

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Doubtless you are distressed, should he see you as you are now, but, I think, still, you would like to see him.”

“Yes,” she whispered.

“Perhaps you think he would sympathize with you, would be horrified at the fate which is now yours?” I said.

“I do not know,” she said.

“I suspect,” I said, “he would think it a fate you have earned, and one which you richly deserve.”

“I do not know,” she said.

“Perhaps you recall,” I said, “kneeling before him, and ministering with your lips and tongue to his feet?”

“Yes, Master,” she whispered.

In the performance of even so simple an act, a woman, to her uneasiness and astonishment, so before a male, can sense herself in her proper place in nature, and can sense herself becoming irremediably aroused.

“May I speak, Master?” asked Cecily.

“Yes,” I said.

“I could speak to Master Pertinax,” said Cecily, to the slave. “I could ask him to visit you.”

“I am no longer a free woman,” she said. “He could no longer respect me.”

“True,” I said, “nor should he, but he might find you of interest.”

“Of interest!” she exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said, “as a slave.”

“I dream of myself at his feet,” she said. “I dream of myself naked in his arms!”

“In a collar?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “in a collar!”

“I could ask him to see you, when the grooms are out,” said Cecily.

“Tell him to bring a switch,” I said.

I was reasonably sure that Saru, whatever might be the momentums and the future of the journey on which she was embarked, would try to turn Pertinax to her will, perhaps even to the foolishness of attempting an escape.

She had not yet learned that there is no escape for the Gorean slave girl.

To be sure, I suspected that she now thought of Pertinax rather differently than she had in the earlier phases of their relationship, being now much aware, in the manner a slave will find herself aware, and must be aware, that he was a man.

I would be curious to know, if he saw fit to call on her, if she would immediately, in his presence, go to first obeisance position.

If she did not, I trusted he would use the switch on her, liberally.

“I do not know if you would now recognize Pertinax,” I said.

“Master?” she asked.

“He is different now,” I said. “He helps with the logging. He uses the ax, mightily. He is becoming bronzed. His muscles harden. Were he now to take you in his arms you would know yourself helpless, and held.”

“And would I know myself slave?” she asked.

“You would be slave, and would know yourself slave,” I said.

She regarded me, frightened.

“Would you like for me to invite Master Pertinax to visit you?” asked Cecily.

“Yes,” said the slave. “Please! Please!”

“You would like to see him, I gather,” I said.

“Yes!” she said.

“Do you beg?” I asked.

“‘Beg’?” she said.

“Yes,” I said.

“Yes,” she said, “I beg it.”

“As a slave?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Who begs?” I asked.

“Saru begs,” she said.

“Humbly?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“As the slave she is?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“With lowered head?”

“Yes,” she said, putting her head down. “Please tell Master Pertinax that Saru, the slave, as the slave she is, with lowered head, begs Master Pertinax to see her, humbly begs it.”

“Cecily,” I said, “you may inform Pertinax of the petition of a stable girl.”

“Yes, Master,” said Cecily, happily.

I heard, outside, the bellowing of a tharlarion.

“We shall withdraw,” I said.

“May I kiss your feet, Master?” said Saru.

“No,” I said. “You are filthy.”

“Yes, Master,” she whispered.

I then left the stable, followed by Cecily.

“Do you think, Master,” asked Cecily, “that Master Pertinax will attend on the slave?”

“I suspect so,” I said, “and I trust he brings his switch.”

“Yes, Master,” said Cecily, delighted. “Whence now we?”

“There is a warm pool in the forest, nearby, within the wands,” I said. “Several use it, the “strange men,” and others. It was shown to me by Tajima, for he often visits its vicinity, though for what reason other than the water I know not. You may bathe me there, and freshen yourself, as well, and then we might, in a shallow place, splash a little.”

“Yes, Master!” she laughed.

“We will later,” I said, “return to the hut and you will then cook for me.”

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“And after your work,” I said, “we will devote the evening to blanket sport.”

“I trust I will be found pleasing on the blanket,” she said.

“If you are not,” I said, “you will be lashed.”

“Yes, Master,” she said.

“I am thinking of buying a slave for Pertinax,” I said. “There was a brunette on the chain of a fellow named Torgus, whom I met on the beach. She seemed ready for a master.”

She was a former high woman of Ar, who, with several others, all embonded, and their hair shortened, had been taken from Ar, when the rising had occurred in the city. Had they been caught in the city they would have doubtless been impaled, or worse, as profiteers, traitresses, collaborators, and such.

“I think, Master,” she said, “Master Pertinax might prefer another slave.”

“Another slave,” I said, “might be otherwise o