I TALK WITH SAMOS
She was quite beautiful.
She knelt near the small, low table, behind which, cross-legged, in the hall of Samos, I sat. At this table, too, cross-legged, sat Samos. He faced me. It was early evening in Port Kar, and I had supped with Samos, first captain in the council of captains, that congress of captains sovereign in Port Kar. The hall was lit with burning torches. It contained the great map mosaic.
We had been served our supper by the collared slave, who knelt near us.
I glanced at her. She wore a one-piece tunic of rep-cloth, cut high at the thighs, to better reveal them, her steel collar, which was a lock collar, and her brand. The brand was the common Kajira mark of Gor, the first letter, about an inch and a half in height and a half inch in width, in cursive script, of the expression 'Kajira', which is the most common expression in Gorean for a female slave. It is a simple mark, and rather floral, a staff, with two, upturned, frondlike curls, joined where they touch the staff on its right. It bears a distant resemblance to the printed letter 'K' in several of the Western alphabets of Earth, and I suspect, in spite of several differences, it may owe its origin to that letter. The Gorean alphabet has twenty-eight characters, all of which, I suspect, owe their origin to one or another of the alphabets of Earth. Several show a clear-cut resemblance to Greek letters, for example. 'Sidge', on the other hand, could be cuneiform, and 'Tun' and 'Val' are probably calligraphically drifted from demotic. At least six letters suggest influence by the classical Roman alphabet, and seven do, if we count 'Kef', the first letter in 'Kajira'. 'Shu' is represented by a sign which seems clearly oriental in origin and 'Homan', I speculate, may derive from Cretan. Many Gorean letters have a variety of pronunciations, depending on their linguistic context. Certain scribes have recommended adding to the Gorean alphabet new letters, to independently represent some of these sounds which, now, require alternative pronunciations, context-dependent, of given letters. Their recommendations, it seems, are unlikely to be incorporated into formal Gorean.
In matters such as those of the alphabet conservatism seems unshakable. For example, there is not likely to be additions or deletions to the alphabets of Earth, regardless of the rationality of such an alteration in given cases. An example of the conservatism in such matters is that Goreans, and, indeed, many of those of the Earth, are taught their alphabets in an order which bears no rational relation whatsoever to the occurrence pattern of the letters. That children should be taught the alphabet in an order which reflects the frequency of the occurrence of the letters in the language, and thus would expedite their learning, appears to be too radical and offensive an idea to become acceptable. Consider, too, for example, the opposition to an arithmetically convenient system of measurement in certain quarters on Earth, apparently because of the unwillingness to surrender the techniques of tradition, so painfully acquired so long ago.
"Do Masters desire aught else of Linda?" asked the girl.
"No," said Samos.
She put her small hand on the table, as though to reach to him, to beg his touch.
"No," said Samos.
She withdrew, head down. She picked up the small tray from the stand near the table. On it was the small vessel containing a thick, sweet liqueur from distant Turia, the Ar of the south, and the two tiny glasses from which we had sipped it. On the tray, too, was the metal vessel which had contained the black wine, steaming and bitter, from far Thentis, famed for its tarn flocks, the small yellow-enameled cups from which we had drunk the black wine, its spoons and sugars, a tiny bowl of mint sticks, and the softened, dampened cloths on which we had wiped our fingers.
I had eaten well.
She stood up. She held the tray. The gleaming collar, snug and locked, was very beautiful on her throat.
I remembered her from several months ago when I had first seen her, when she had had about her throat only a simple collar of iron, curved about her throat by the blows of a metal worker's hammer.
She looked at Samos, her lip trembled.
She had been the girl who had brought to the house of Samos the message of the scytale. The scytale had been a marked hair ribbon. Wrapped about the shaft of a spear, thus aligning the marks, the message had appeared. It had been to me, from Zarendargar, or Half-Ear, a war general of the Kurii, inviting me to meet him at the "world's end." My speculation that this referred to the pole of the Gorean northern hemisphere had proved correct. I had met Half-Ear there, in a vast northern complex, an enormous supply depot intended to arm and fuel, and otherwise logistically support, the projected invasion of Gor, the Counter-Earth. I think it likely that Half-Ear perished in the destruction of the complex. The body, however, was never recovered.
The girl who had served us this night, slender and blond, blue-eyed, of Earth origin, had delivered to us the scytale. She had not, originally, even understood it to contain a message.
How different she seemed now from what she had then been. She had been brought to the house of Samos still in the inexplicable and barbarous garments of Earth, in particular, in the imitation-boy costume, the denim trousers and flannel shirt of the contemporary Earth girl, pathologically conditioned, for economic and historical reasons, to deny and subvert the richness of her unique sexuality. Culture decides what is truth, but truth, unfortunately for culture, is unaware of this. Cultures, mad and blind, can die upon the rocks of truth. Why can truth not be the foundation of culture, rather than its nemesis? Can one not build upon the stone cliffs of reality rather than dash one's head against them? But how few human beings can think, how few dare to inquire, how few can honestly question. How can one know the answer to a question which one fears to ask?
Samos, of course, immediately recognized the ribbon as a scytale. As for the girl, he had promptly, to her horror, had her clothing removed and had had her put in a brief rep-cloth slave tunic and a rude neck-ring of curved iron, that she would not escape and, anywhere, could be recognized as a slave. Shortly thereafter I had been invited to his house and had received the message. I had also questioned the girl, who had, at that time, spoken only English. I recalled how arrogant and peremptory she had been, until she had learned that she was no longer among men such as those of Earth. Samos had had her taken below and branded, and used for the sport of the guards, and then penned. I had thought that he would have sold her, but he had not. She had been kept in his own house, and taught the meaning of her collar, fully.
I saw the brand on her thigh. Although the brand was the first letter, in cursive Gorean script, of the most common Gorean expression for a slave girl, 'Kajira', its symbolism, I think, is much richer than this. For example, in the slave brand, the 'Kef', though clearly a Kef and in cursive script, is more floral, in the extended, upturned, frondlike curls, than would be the common cursive Kef. This tends to make the mark very feminine. It is at this point that the symbolism of the brand becomes more clear. The two frondlike curls indicate femininity and beauty; the staff, in its uncompromising severity, indicates that the femininity is subject to discipline; the upturned curves on the frondlike curls indicate total openness and vulnerability. It is a very simple, lovely brand, simple, as befits a slave, lovely, as befits a woman.
Incidentally, there are many brands on Gor. Two that almost never occur on Gor, by the way, are those of the moons and collar, and of the chain and claw. The first of these commonly occurs in certain of the Gorean enclaves on Earth, which serve as headquarters for agents of Priest-Kings; the second tends to occur in the lairs of Kurii agents on Earth; the first brand consists of a locked collar and, ascending diagonally above it, extending to the right, three quarter moons; this brand indicates the girl is subject to Gorean discipline; the chain-and-claw brand signifies, of course, slavery and subjection within the compass of the Kur yoke. It is apparently difficult to recruit Goreans for service on Earth, either for Priest-Kings or Kurii. Accordingly, usually native Earthlings are used. Glandularly sufficient men, strong, lustful, and vital, without their slave girls, would find Earth a very dismal place, a miserable and unhappy sexual desert. Strong men simply need women. This will never be understood by weak men. A strong man needs a woman at his feet, who is truly his. Anything else is less than his fulfillment. When a man has once eaten of the meat of gods he will never again chew on the straw of fools.
"You may withdraw," said Samos to the girl.
"Master," she begged him, tears in her eyes. "Please, Master."
A few months ago she had not been able to speak Gorean. She now spoke the language subtly and fluently. Girls learn swiftly to speak the language of their masters.
Samos looked up at her. She stood there, lovely, holding the tray before her, on which reposed the vessels, the tiny cups and glasses, the bowls, the spoons, the soft, dampened cloths on which we had wiped our hands. She had served well, beautifully, effacing herself, as a serving slave.
"Master," she whispered.
"Return the things to the kitchen," he said. I saw, from her eyes, that she was more than a serving slave. It is interesting, the power that a man may hold over a woman.
"Yes, Master," she said. When she had knelt facing Samos, she had knelt in the position of the pleasure slave. When she had knelt facing me, she had knelt in the position of the serving slave. Samos, it was said, was the first to have brought her to slave orgasm. It had happened six days after she had first been brought to his house. It is said that a woman who has experienced slave orgasm can never thereafter be anything but a man's slave. She then knows what men can do to her, and what she herself is, a woman. Never thereafter can she be anything else.
"Linda begs Master's touch," she said. The name 'Linda' had been her original Earth name. Samos had, after it had been removed from her, in her reduction to slavery, put it on her again, but this time as a slave name, by his will. Sometimes a girl is given her own name as a slave name; sometimes she is given another name; it depends on the master's will. She spoke freely before me of her need for his touch. She was no longer an inhibited, negatively conditioned Earth girl. She was now open and honest, and beautifully clean, in her slavery, in her confession of her female truths.
Seeing the eyes of Samos on her she quickly went to the door, to leave, but, at the door, unable to help herself, she turned about. There were tears in her eyes.
"After you have returned the things to the kitchen--" said Samos.
"Yes, Master," she said softly, excitedly. The small, yellow-enameled cups moved slightly on the tray. She trembled. The torchlight glinted from her collar.
"--go to your kennel," said Samos, "and ask to be locked within."
"Yes, Master," she said, putting her head down. I thought she shook with a sob.
"I hear from the chain master," said Samos, "that you have learned the tile dance creditably."
The tiny cups and glasses shook on the tray. "I am pleased," she said, "if Krobus should think so."
The tile dance is commonly performed on red tiles, usually beneath the slave ring of the master's couch. The girl performs the dance on her back, her stomach and sides. Usually her neck is chained to the slave ring. The dance signifies the restlessness, the misery, of a love-starved slave girl. It is a premise of the dance that the girl moves and twists, and squirms, in her need, as if she is completely alone, as if her need is known only to herself; then, supposedly, the master surprises her, and she attempts to suppress the helplessness and torment of her needs; then, failing this, surrendering her pride in its final shred, she writhes openly, piteously, before him, begging him to deign to touch her. Needless to say, the entire dance is observed by the master, and this, in fact, of course, is known to both the dancer and her audience, the master. The tile dance, for simple psychological and behavioral reasons, having to do with the submission context and the motions of the body, can piteously arouse even a captured, cold free woman; in the case of a slave, of course, it can make her scream and sob with need.
"I hear that you have worked hard to perfect the tile dance," said Samos.
"I am only a poor slave," she said.
"The last five times you have performed this dance," said Samos, "Krobus tells me that he could not restrain himself from raping you."
She put down her head. "Yes, Master," she said, smiling.
"After you have been locked in your kennel," said Samos, "ask for a vessel of warm water, oils and a cloth, and perfume. Bathe and perfume yourself. I may summon you later to my chamber."
"Yes, Master," she said, delightedly. "Yes, Master!"
"Slave!" he said.
"Yes, Master," she said, turning quickly.
"I am less easy to please than Krobus," he said.
"Yes, Master," she said, and then turned and fled, swiftly, from the room.
"She is a pretty thing," I said.
Samos ran his tongue over his lips. "Yes," he said.
"I think you like her," I said.
"Nonsense," be said. "She is only a slave."
"Perhaps Samos has found a love slave," I said.
"An Earth girl?" laughed Samos.
"Perhaps," I said.
"Preposterous," said Samos. "She is only a slave, only a thing to serve, and to beat and abuse, if it should please me."
"But is not any slave," I asked, "even a love slave?"
"That is true," said Samos, smiling. Gorean men are not easy with their slaves, even those for whom they care deeply.
"I think Samos, first slaver of Port Kar, first captain of the council of captains, has grown fond of a blond Earth girl."
Samos looked at me, angrily. Then he shrugged. "She is the first girl I have felt in this fashion toward," he said. "It is interesting. It is a strange feeling."
"I note that you did not sell her," I said.
"Perhaps I shall," he said.
"I see," I said.
"The first time, even, that I took her in my arms," said Samos, "she was in some way piteously helpless, different even from the others."
"Is not any slave piteously helpless in the arms of her master?" I asked.
"Yes," said Samos. "But she seemed somehow different, incredibly so. vulnerably so."
"Perhaps she knew herself, in your touch, as her love master," I said.
"She felt good in my hands," he said.
"Be strong, Samos," I smiled.
"I shall," he said.
I did not doubt his word. Samos was one of the hardest of Gorean men. The blond Earth girl had found a strong, uncompromising master.
"But let us not speak of slaves," I said, "girls who serve for our diversion or recreation, but of serious matters, of the concerns of men."
"Agreed," said he.
There was a time for slaves, and a time for matters of importance.
"Yet there is little to report," said he, "in the affairs of worlds."
"The Kurii are quiet," I said.
"Yes," said he.
"Beware of a silent enemy," I smiled.
"Of course," said Samos.
"It is unusual that you should invite me to your house," I said, "to inform me that you have nothing to report."
"Do you think you are the only one upon Gor who labors occasionally in the cause of Priest-Kings?" asked Samos.
"I suppose not," I said. "Why?" I asked. I did not understand the question.
"How little we know of our world," sighed Samos.
"I do not understand," I said.
"Tell me what you know of the Cartius," he said.
"It is an important subequatorial waterway," I said. "It flows west by northwest, entering the rain forests and emptying into Lake Ushindi, which lake is drained by the Kamba and the Nyoka rivers. The Kamba flows directly into Thassa. The Nyoka flows into Schendi harbor, which is the harbor of the port of Schendi, and moves thence to Thassa." Schendi was an equatorial free port, well known on Gor. It is also the home port of the League of Black Slavers.
"It was, at one time, conjectured," said Samos, "that the Cartius proper was a tributary of the Vosk."
"I had been taught that," I said.
"We now know that the Thassa Cartius and the subequatorial Cartius are not the same river."
"It had been thought, and shown on many maps," I said, "that the subequatorial Cartius not only flowed into Lake Ushindi, but emerged northward, traversing the sloping western flatlands to join the Vosk at Turmus." Turmus was the last major river port on the Vosk before the almost impassable marshes of the delta.
"Calculations performed by the black geographer, Ramani, of the island of Anango, suggested that given the elevations involved the two rivers could not be the same. His pupil, Shaba, was the first civilized man to circumnavigate Lake Ushindi. He discovered that the Cartius, as was known, enters Lake Ushindi, but that only two rivers flow out of Ushindi, the Kamba and Nyoka. The actual source of the tributary to the Vosk, now called the Thassa Cartius, as you know, was found five years later by the explorer, Ramus of Tabor, who, with a small expedition, over a period of nine months, fought and bartered his way through the river tribes, beyond the six cataracts, to the Ven highlands. The Thassa Cartius, with its own tributaries, drains the highlands and the descending plains."
"That has been known to me for over a year," I said. "Why do you speak of it now?"
"We are ignorant of so many things," mused Samos.
I shrugged. Much of Gor was terra incognita. Few knew well the lands on the east of the Voltai and Thentis ranges, for example, or what lay west of the farther islands, near Cos and Tyros. It was more irritating, of course, to realize that even considerable areas of territory above Schendi, south of the Vosk, and west of Ar, were unknown. "There was good reason to speculate that the Cartius entered the Vosk, by way of Lake Ushindi," I said.
"I know," said Samos, "tradition, and the directions and flow of the rivers. Who would have understood, of the cities, that they were not the same?"
"Even the bargemen of the Cartius proper, the subequatorial Cartius, and those of the Thassa Cartius, far to the north, thought the rivers to be but one waterway."
"Yes," said Samos. "And until the calculations of Ramani, and the expeditions of Shaba and Ramus, who had reason to believe otherwise?"
"The rain forests closed the Cartius proper for most civilized persons from the south," I said, "and what trading took place tended to be confined to the ubarates of the southern shore of Lake Ushindi. It was convenient then, for trading purposes, to make use of either the Kamba or the Nyoka to reach Thassa."
"That precluded the need to find a northwest passage from Ushindi," said Samos.
"Particularly since it was known of the hostility of the river tribes on what is now called the Thassa Cartius."
"Yes," said Samos.
"But surely, before the expedition of Shaba," I said, "others must have searched for the exit of the Cartius from Ushindi."
"It seems likely they were slain by the tribes of the northern shores of Ushindi," said Samos.
"How is it that the expedition of Shaba was successful?" I asked.
"Have you heard of Bila Huruma?" asked Samos.
"A little," I said.
"He is a black Ubar," said Samos, "bloody and brilliant, a man of vision and power, who has united the six ubarates of the southern shores of Ushindi, united them by the knife and the stabbing spear, and has extended his hegemony to the northern shores, where he exacts tribute, kailiauk tusks and women, from the confederacy of the hundred villages. Shaba's nine boats had fixed at their masts the tufted shields of the officialdom of Bila Huruma."
"That guaranteed their safety," I said.
"They were attacked, several times," said Samos, "but they survived. I think it true, however, had it not been for the authority of Bila Huruma, Ubar of Ushindi, they could not have completed their work."
"The hegemony of Bila Huruma over the northern shores, then, is substantial but incomplete," I said.
"Surely the hegemony is resented," said Samos, "as would seem borne out by the fact that some attacks did take place on the expedition of Shaba."
"He must be a brave man," I said.
"He brought six of his boats through, and most of his men," said Samos.
"I find it impressive," I said, "that a man such as Bila Huruma would be interested in supporting a geographical expedition."
"He was interested in finding the northwest passage from Ushindi," said Samos. "It could mean the opening up of a considerable number of new markets, the enhancement of trade, the discovery of a valuable commercial avenue for the merchandise of the north and the products of the south."
"It might avoid, too, the dangers of shipment upon Thassa," I said, "and provide, as well, a road to conquest and the acquisition of new territory."
"Yes," said Samos. "You think like a warrior," he said.
"But Shaba's work," I said, "as I understand it, demonstrated that no such passage exists."
"Yes," said Samos, "that is a consequence of his expedition. But surely, even if you are not familiar with the role of Bila Huruma in these things, you have heard of the further discoveries of Shaba."
"To the west of Lake Ushindi," I said, "there are floodlands, marshes and bogs, through which a considerable amount of water drains into the lake. With considerable hardship, limiting himself to forty men, and temporarily abandoning all but two boats, which were half dragged and thrust through the marshes eastward, after two months, Shaba reached the western shore of what we now know as Lake Ngao."
"Yes," said Samos.
"It is fully as large as Lake Ushindi, if not larger," I said, "the second of the great equatorial lakes."
"Yes," said Samos.
I conjectured that it must have been a marvelous moment when Shaba and his men, toiling with ropes and poles, wading and shoveling, brought their two craft to the clear vista of vast, deep Lake Ngao. They had returned then, exhausted, to the balance of their party and boats, which had been waiting for them at the eastern shore of Ushindi.
"Shaba then continued the circumnavigation of Lake Ushindi," said Samos. "He charted accurately, for the first time, the entry of the Cartius proper, the subequatorial Cartius, into Ushindi. He then continued west until he reached the six ubarates and the heartland of Bila Huruma."
"He was doubtless welcomed as a hero," I said.
"Yes," said Samos. "And well he should have been."
"The next year," I said, "he mounted a new expedition, with eleven boats and a thousand men, an expedition financed, I now suppose, by Bila Huruma, to explore Lake Ngao, to circumnavigate it as he had Ushindi."
"Precisely," said Samos.
"And it was there that he discovered that Lake Ngao was fed, incredibly enough, by only one major river, as its eastern extremity, a river vast enough to challenge even the Vosk in its breadth and might, a river which he called the Ua."
"Yes," said Samos.
"It is impassable," I said, "because of various falls and cataracts."
"The extent of these obstacles, and the availability of portages, the possibility of roads, the possibility of side canals, are not known," said Samos.
"Shaba himself, with his men and boats, pursued the river for only a hundred pasangs," I said, "when they were turned back by some falls and cataracts."
"The falls and cataracts of Bila Huruma, as he named them," said Samos.
"The size of his boats made portage difficult or impossible," I said.
"They had not been built to be sectioned," said Samos. "And the steepness of the portage, the jungle, the hostility, as it turned out, of interior tribes, made retreat advisable."
"The expedition of Shaba returned then," I said, "to Lake Ngao, completed its circumnavigation and returned later, via the swamps, to Lake Ushindi and the six ubarates."
"Yes," said Samos.
"A most remarkable man," I said.
"Surely one of the foremost geographers and explorers of Gor," said Samos. "And a highly trusted man."
"Trusted?" I asked.
"Shaba is an agent of Priest-Kings," said Samos.
"I did not know that," I said.
"Surely you suspected others, too, served, at least upon occasion, in the cause of Priest-Kings."
"I had supposed that," I said. But I had never pressed Samos on the matter. It seemed to me better that I knew few of the agents of Priest-Kings. Our work was, in general, unknown to one another. This was an elementary security precaution. If one of us were captured and tortured, he could not, if broken, reveal what he did not know. Most agents, I did know, were primarily engaged in the work of surveillance and intelligence. The house of Samos was a headquarters to which most of these agents, directly or indirectly, reported. From it the activities of many agents were directed and coordinated. It was a clearing house, too, for information, which, processed, was forwarded to the Sardar.
"Why do you tell me this?" I asked.
"Come with me," said Samos, getting up.
He led the way from the room. I followed him. We passed guards outside the door to the great hall. Samos did not speak to me. For several minutes I followed him. He strode through various halls, and then began to descend ramps and staircases. At various points, and before various portals, signs and countersigns were exchanged. The thick walls became damp. We continued to descend, through various levels, sometimes treading catwalks over cages. The fair occupants of these cages looked up at us, frightened. In one long corridor we passed two girls, naked, on their hands and knees, with brushes and water, scrubbing the stones of the corridor floor. A guard, with a whip, stood over them. They fell to their bellies as we passed, and then, when we had passed, rose to their hands and knees, to resume their work. The pens were generally quiet now, for it was time for sleeping. We passed barred alcoves, and tiers of kennels, and rooms for processing, training, and disciplining slaves. The chamber of irons was empty, but coals glowed softly in the brazier, from which two handles protruded. An iron is always ready in a slaver's house. One does not know when a new girl may be brought in. In another room I saw, on the walls, arranged by size, collars, chains, wrist and ankle rings. An inventory of such things is kept in a slaver's house. Each collar, each link of chain, is accounted for. We passed, too, rooms in which tunics, slave silks, cosmetics and jewelries were kept. Normally in the pens girls are kept naked, but such things are used in their training. There were also facilities for cooking and the storage of food; and medical facilities as well. As we passed one cell a girl reached forth. "Masters," she whimpered. Then we were beyond her. We also passed pens of male slaves. These, usually criminals and debtors, or prisoners taken in wars, then enslaved, are commonly sold cheaply and used for heavy labor.
We continued to descend through various levels. The smell and the dampness, never pleasant in the lower levels of the pens, now became obtrusive. Here and there lamps and torches burned. These mitigated to some extent the dampness. We passed a guards' room, in which there were several slaver's men, off duty. I glanced within, for I heard from within the clash of slave bells and the bright sound of zills, or finger cymbals. In a bit of yellow slave silk, backed into a corner, belled and barefoot, a collared girl danced, swaying slowly before the five men who loomed about her, scarcely a yard away. Then her back touched the stone wall, startling her, and they seized her, and threw her to a blanket for their pleasure. I saw her gasping, and, half fighting, half kissing at them, squirming in their arms. Then her arms and legs were held, widely separated, each of her limbs, her small wrists and belled ankles, held in the two hands of a captor. The leader was first to have her. She put her head back, helpless, crying out with pleasure, subdued.
We were soon on the lowest level of the pens, in an area of maximum security. There were trickles of water at the walls here and, in places, water between the stones of the floor. An urt slipped between two rocks in the wall.
Samos stopped before a heavy iron door; a narrow steel panel slipped back. Samos uttered the sign for the evening, and was answered by the countersign. The door opened. There were two guards behind it.
We stopped before the eighth cell on the left. Samos signaled to the two guards. They came forward. There were some ropes and hooks, and heavy pieces of meat, to one side.
"Do not speak within," said Samos to me. He handed me a hood, with holes cut in it for the eyes.
"Is this house, or its men, known to the prisoner?" I asked.
"No," said Samos.
I donned the hood, and Samos, too, donned such a hood. The two guards donned such hoods as well. They then slid back the observation panel in the solid iron door and, after looking through, unlocked the door, and swung it open. It opened inward. I waited with Samos. The two guards then, reaching upward, with some chains, attached above the door, lowered a heavy, wooden walkway to the surface of the water. The room, within, to the level of the door, contained water. It was murky and dark. I was aware of a rustling in the water. The walkway then, floating, but steadied by its four chains, rested on the water. On its sides the walkway had metal ridges, some six inches in height, above the water. I heard tiny scratchings at the metal, small movements against the metal, as though by numerous tiny bodies, each perhaps no more than a few ounces in weight.
Samos stood near the door and lifted a torch. The two guards went out on the walkway. It was some twenty feet in length. The flooded cell was circular, and perhaps" some forty-five feet in diameter. In the center of the cell was a wooden, metal-sheathed pole, some four inches in diameter. This pole rose, straight, some four feet out of the water. About this pole, encircling it, and supported by it, was a narrow, circular, wooden, metal-sheathed platform. It was some ten inches on all sides, from the circumference of the pole to the edge of the platform. The platform itself was lifted about seven or eight inches out of the water.
One of the guards, carrying a long, wooden pole, thrust it down, into the water. The water, judging by the pole, must have been about eight feet deep. The other guard, then, thrusting a heavy piece of meat on one of the hooks, to which a rope was attached, held the meat away from the platform and half submerged in the water. Almost instantly there was a frenzy in the water near the meat, a thrashing and turbulence in the murky liquid. I felt water splashed on my legs, even standing back as I was. Then the guard lifted the roped hook from the water. The meat was gone. Tiny tharlarion, similar to those in the swamp forest south of Ar, dropped, snapping, from the bared hook. Such tiny, swift tharlarion, in their thousands, can take the meat from a kailiauk in an Ehn.
The girl on the platform, naked, kneeling, a metal collar hammered about her neck, the metal pole between her legs, grasping it with both arms, threw back her head and screamed piteously.
The two guards then withdrew. Samos, hooded, walked out on the floating walkway, steadied by its chains. I, similarly hooded, followed him. He lifted the torch.
The walkway's front edge was about a yard from the tiny, wooden, metal-sheathed, circular platform, mounted on the wooden, metal-sheathed pole, that tiny platform on which the girl knelt, that narrow, tiny platform which held her but inches from the tharlarion-filled water.
She looked up at us, piteously, blinking against the light of the torch.
She clutched the pole helplessly. She could not have been bound to it more closely if she had been fastened in close chains.
The small eyes of numerous tharlarion, perhaps some two or three hundred of them, ranging from four to ten inches in length, watching her, nostrils and eyes at the water level, reflected the light of the torch.
She clutched the pole even more closely.
She looked up at us, tears in her eyes. "Please, please, please, please, please," she said.
She had spoken in English.
She, like Samos' Earth girl, Linda, had blue eyes and blond hair. She was slightly more slender than Linda. She had good ankles. They would take an ankle ring nicely. I noted that she had not yet been branded.
"Please," she whimpered.
Samos indicated that we should leave. I turned about, and preceded him from the walkway. The guards, behind us, raised the walkway, secured it in place, and swung shut the door. They slid shut the observation panel. They locked the door.
Samos, outside, returned his torch to its ring. We removed the hoods. I followed Samos from the lower level, and then from the pens, back to his hall.
"I do not understand what the meaning of all this is, Samos," I told him.
"There are deep matters here," said Samos, "matters in which I am troubled as well as you."
"Why did you show me the girl in the cell?" I asked.
"What do you make of her?" asked Samos.
"I would say about five copper tarsks, in a fourth-class market, perhaps even an item in a group sale. She is beautiful, but not particularly beautiful, as female slaves go. She is obviously ignorant and untrained. She does have good ankles."
"She speaks the Earth language English, does she not?" asked Samos.
"Apparently," I said. "Do you wish me to question her?"
"No," said Samos.
"Does she speak Gorean?" I asked.
"No more than a few words," said Samos.
There are ways of determining, of course, if one speaks a given language. One utters phrases significant in the language. There are, when cognition takes place, physiological responses which are difficult or impossible to conceal, such things as an increase in the pulse rate, and the dilation of the pupils.
"The matter then seems reasonably clear," I said.
"Give me your thoughts," said Samos.
"She is a simple wench brought to Gor by Kur slavers, collar meat."
"You would think so?" he asked.
"It seems likely," I said. "Women trained as Kur agents are usually well versed in Gorean."
"But she is not as beautiful as the average imported slave from Earth, is she?" asked Samos.
"That matter is rather subjective, I would say," I smiled. "I think she is quite lovely. Whether she is up to the normal standards of their merchandise is another question."
"Perhaps she was with a girl who was abducted for enslavement," said Samos, "and was simply, as it was convenient, put in a double tie with her and brought along."
"Perhaps," I shrugged. "I would not know. It would be my speculation, however, that she had deep potential for slavery."
"Does not any woman?" asked Samos.
"Yes," I said, "but some are slaves among slaves." I smiled at Samos. "I have great respect for the taste and discrimination of Kur slavers," I said. "I think they can recognize the slave in a woman at a glance. I have never known them to make a mistake."
"Even their Kur agents who are female," said Samos, "seem to have been selected for their potential for ultimate slavery in mind, such as the slaves Pepita, Elicia, and Arlene."
"They were doubtless intended to be ultimately awarded as gifts and prizes to Kur agents who were human males," I said.
"They are ours now," said Samos, "or theirs to whom we would give or sell them."
"Yes," I said.
"What of the slave, Vella?" he asked.
"She was never, in my mind," I said, "strictly an agent of Kurii."
"She betrayed Priest-Kings," he said, "and served Kurii agents in the Tahari."
"That is true," I admitted.
"Give her to me," said Samos. "I want to bind her hand and foot and hurl her naked to the urts in the canals."
"She is mine," I said. "If she is to be bound hand and foot and hurled naked to the urts in the canals, it is I who will do so."
"As you wish," said Samos.
"It is my speculation," I said, "that the girl below in the pens, in the tharlarion cell, in spite of the fact that she is, though beautiful, less stunning than many slaves, is simple collar meat, that she was brought to Gor for straightforward disposition to a slaver, perhaps in a contract lot."
"Your speculation, given her failures in Gorean, is intelligent," said Samos, "but it is, as it happens, incorrect."
"Speak to me," I said.
"You would suppose, would you not," asked Samos, "that such a girl would have been discovered on some chain, after having passed through the hands of one or more masters, and simply bought off the chain, or purchased at auction."
"Of course," I said. "Yet she is not yet branded," I mused. Kur slavers do not, usually, brand their girls. Usually it is their first Gorean master who puts the brand on them.
"That is a perceptive observation," said Samos.
"How did you come by her?" I asked.
"Quite by accident," said Samos. "Have you heard of the captain, Bejar?"
"Of course," I said. "He is a member of the council. He was with us on the 25th of Se'Kara." This was the date of a naval battle which took place in the first year of the sovereignty of the Council of Captains in Port Kar. It had been, also, the year 10,120 C.A., Contasta Ar, from the founding of Ar. It was, currently, Year 7 in the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, that year, in the chronology of Ar, which was 10,126 C.A. On the 25th of Se'Kara, in the first year of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, in the naval battle which had taken place on that date, the joint fleets of Cos and Tyros had been turned back from Port Kar. Bejar, and Samos, and I, and many others, as well, had been there. It was in that same year, incidentally, that Port Kar had first had a Home Stone.
"Bejar," said Samos, "in an action at sea, overtook a ship of Cos."
I listened. Cos and Tyros, uneasy allies, one island ubarate under large-eyed Chendar, the Sea Sleen, and the other under gross Lurius, of Jad, were nominally at war with Port Kar. There had been, however, no major engagements in several years. Cos, for some years, had been preoccupied with struggles on the Vosk. These had to do with competitive spheres of influence on the Vosk itself and in its basin and adjacent tributary-containing valleys. The products and markets of these areas are quite important commercially. Whereas most towns on the river are, in effect, free states, few are strong enough to ignore powers such as Cos and its major rival in these territories, the city of Ar. Cos and Ar compete with one another to gain treaties with these river towns, control the traffic, and dominate the commerce of the river to their respective advantages. Ar has no navy, being an inland power, but it has developed a fleet of river ships and these, often, skirmish with the river ships of Cos, usually built in Cos, transported to the continent and carried overland to the river. The delta of the Vosk, for most practical purposes, a vast marsh, an area of thousands of square pasangs, where the Vosk washes down to the sea, is closed to shipping. It is trackless and treacherous, and the habitat of marsh tharlarion and the predatory Ul, a winged lizard with wing-spans of several feet. It is also inhabited by the rencers, who live upon rence islands, woven of the rence reed, masters of the long bow, usually obtained in trade with peasants to the east of the delta. They are banded together under the nominal governance of the marsh Ubar, Ho-Hak. They are suspicious of strangers, as are Goreans generally. In Gorean the same expression is used for 'stranger' and 'enemy'. The situation on the Vosk is further complicated by the presence of Vosk pirates and the rivalries of the river towns themselves.
"The engagement was sharp," said Samos, "but the ship, its crew, passengers and cargo, fell to Bejar as prize."
"I see now," I said, "the girl was slave cargo on the ship which fell to Bejar."
"It was not a slave ship, I gather," I said, "else it is likely her head and body hair would have been shaved, to reduce the degree of infestation by ship lice in the hold." I looked at him. "She could have been, of course, in a deck cage," I said. These are small cages, fastened on deck. At night and in rough weather they are usually covered with a tarpaulin. This tends to prevent rust.
"It was not a slave ship," said Samos.
I shrugged. "Her thigh was as yet bare of the brand," I said, "which is interesting." I looked at Samos. "Whose collar did she wear?" I asked.
"She wore no collar," said Samos.
"I do not understand," I said. I was genuinely puzzled.
"She was clothed as a free woman and was among the passengers," said Samos. "She was not stripped until she stood on the deck of the ship of Bejar and was put in chains with the other captured women."
"She was a passenger," I said.
"Yes," said Samos, "a passenger."
"Her passage papers were in order?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Interesting," I said.
"I thought so," said Samos.
"Why would an Earth girl, almost totally ignorant of Gorean, unbranded, free, be traveling on a ship of Cos?"
"I think, clearly, it has something to do with the Others, the Kurii," said Samos.
"That seems likely," I said.
"Bejar," said Samos, "one well known to me, discerning that she was both unbranded and barbarian, and ignorant of Gorean, and knowing my interest in such matters, called her to my attention. I had her, hooded, brought here from his pens."
"It is an interesting mystery," I said. "Are you certain you do not wish me to question her in her own language?"
"No," said Samos. "Or certainly not at present."
"As you wish," I said.
"Sit down," said Samos. He gestured to a place behind the small table on which we had had supper.
I sat down, cross-legged, behind the table, and he sat down, cross-legged, across from me.
"Do you recognize this?" asked Samos. He reached into his robes and drew forth a small leather packet, which he unfolded. From this he took a large ring, but too large for the finger of a human, and placed it on the table.
"Of course," I said, "it is the ring which I obtained in the Tahari, that ring which projects the light diversion field, which renders its wearer invisible in the normal visible range of the spectrum."
"Is it?" asked Samos.
I looked at the ring. I picked it up. It was heavy, golden, with a silver plate. On the outside of the ring, opposite the bezel, was a recessed, circular switch. When a Kur wore the ring on a digit of his left paw, and turned the bezel inward, the switch would be exposed. He could then depress it with a digit of his right paw. The left hemisphere of the Kur brain, like the left hemisphere of the human brain, tends to be dominant. Most Kurii, like most men, as a consequence of this dominance of the left hemisphere, tend to be "right-pawed," or right-handed, so to speak. One press on the switch on the Tahari ring had activated the field, a second press had resulted in its deactivation. Within the invisibility shield the spectrum is shifted, permitting one to see outward, though in a reddish light.
"I would suppose so," I said.
I looked at the ring. I had given the Tahari ring to Samos, long ago, shortly after returning from the Tahari, that he might send it to the Sardar for analysis. I thought such a device might be of use to agents of Priest-Kings. I was puzzled that it was not used more often by Kurii. I had heard nothing more of the ring.
"Are you absolutely sure," asked Samos, "that this is the ring which you gave me to send to the Sardar?"
"It certainly seems much like it," I said.
"Is it the same ring?" he asked.
"No," I said. I looked at it more closely. "No," I said, "it is not the same ring. The Tahari ring had a minute scratch at the corner of the silver plate."
"I did not think it was," said Samos.
"If this is an invisibility ring, we are fortunate to have it fall into our grasp," I said.
"Do you think such a ring would be entrusted to a human agent?" asked Samos.
"It is not likely," I said.
"It is my belief that this ring does not cast the invisibility shield," said Samos.
"I see," I said.
"Take care not to press the switch," said Samos.
"I will," I said. I put the ring down.
"Let me speak to you of the five rings," said Samos. "This is information which I have received but recently from the Sardar, but it is based on an intelligence thousands of years old, obtained then from a delirious Kur commander, and confirmed by documents obtained in various wreckages, the most recent of which dates from some four hundred years ago. Long ago, perhaps as long as forty thousand years ago, the Kurii possessed a technology far beyond what they now maintain. The technology which now makes them so dangerous, and so advanced, is but the remnants of a technology mostly destroyed in their internecine struggles, those which culminated in the destruction of their world. The invisibility rings were the product of a great Kur scientist, one we may refer to in human phonemes, for our convenience, as Prasdak of the Cliff of Karrash. He was a secretive craftsman and, before he died, he destroyed his plans and papers. He left behind him, however, five rings. In the sacking of his city, which took place some two years after his death, the rings were found."
"What became of the rings?" I asked.
"Two were destroyed in the course of Kur history," said Samos. "One was temporarily lost upon the planet Earth some three to four thousand years ago, it being taken from a slain Kur commander by a man named Gyges, a herdsman, who used its power to usurp the throne of a country called Lydia, a country which then existed on Earth."
I nodded. Lydia, I recalled, had fallen to the Persians in the Sixth Century B.C., to utilize one of the Earth chronologies. That would, of course, have been long after the time of Gyges.
"One is reminded of the name of the river port at the mouth of the Laurius," said Samos.
"Yes," I said. The name of that port was Lydius.
"Perhaps there is some connection," speculated Samos.
"Perhaps," I said. "Perhaps not." It was often difficult to know whether isolated phonetic similarities indicated a historical relationship or not. In this case I thought it unlikely, given the latitude and style of life of Lydius. On the other hand, men of Lydia might possibly have been involved in its founding. The Voyages of Acquisition, of Priest-Kings, I knew, had been of great antiquity. These voyages now, as I understood it, following the Nest War, had been discontinued.
"Kurii came later for the ring," said Samos. "Gyges was slain. The ring itself, somehow, was shortly thereafter destroyed in an explosion."
"Interesting," I said.
"That left two rings," said Samos.
"One of them was doubtless the Tahari ring," I said.
"Doubtless," said Samos.
I looked at the ring on the table. "Do you think this is the fifth ring?" I asked.
"No," said Samos. "I think the fifth ring would be too precious to be taken from the steel world on which it resides. I do not think it would be risked on Gor."
"Perhaps they have now learned how to duplicate the rings," I ventured.
"That seems to me unlikely for two reasons," said Samos. "First, if the ring could be duplicated, surely in the course of Kur history, particularly before the substantial loss of their technology and their retreat to the steel worlds, it would have been. Secondly, given the secretive nature of the rings' inventor, Prasdak of the Cliff of Karrash, I suspect there is an additional reason which mitigates against the dismantlement of the ring and its consequent reproduction."
"The secret, doubtless, could be unraveled by those of the Sardar," I said. "What progress have they made with the ring from the Tahari?"
"The Tahari ring never reached the Sardar," said Samos. "I learned this only a month ago."
I did not speak. I sat behind the table, stunned.
"To whom," I then asked, "did you entrust the delivery of the ring to the Sardar."
"To one of our most trusted agents," said Samos.
"Who?" I asked.
"Shaba, the geographer of Anango, the explorer of Lake Ushindi, the discoverer of Lake Ngao and the Ua River," said Samos.
"Doubtless he met with foul play," I said.
"I do not think so," said Samos.
"I do not understand," I said.
"This ring," said Samos, indicating the ring on the table, "was found among the belongings of the girl in the tharlarion cell below. It was with her when her ship was captured by Bejar."
"It surely, then, is not the fifth ring," I said.
"But what is its purport?" asked Samos.
I shrugged. "I do not know," I said.
"Look," said Samos. He reached to one side of the table, to a flat, black box, of the sort in which papers are sometimes kept. In the box, too, there is an inkwell, at its top, and a place for quilled pens. He opened the box, below the portion containing the inkwell and concave surfaces for pens.
He withdrew from the box several folded papers, letters. He had broken the seal on them.
"These papers, too, were found among the belongings of our fair captive below," said Samos.
"What is their nature?" I asked.
"There are passage papers here," he said, "and a declaration of Cosian citizenship, which is doubtless forged. Too, most importantly, there are letters of introduction here, and the notes for a fortune, to be drawn on various banks in Schendi's Street of Coins."
"To whom are the letters of introduction," I asked, "and to whom are made out the notes?"
"One is to a man named Msaliti," said Samos, "and the other is to Shaba."
"And the notes for the fortunes?" I asked.
"They are made out to Shaba," said Samos.
"It seems then," I said, "that Shaba intends to surrender the ring to agents of Kurii, receive fees for this, and then carry to the Sardar this ring we have before us."
"Yes," said Samos.
"But Priest-Kings could surely determine, as soon as the switch was depressed, that the ring was false," I said. "Ah, yes," I said.
"I fear so," said Samos. "I suspect the depression of the switch, presumably to be accomplished in the Sardar, will initiate an explosion."
"It is probable then," I said, "that the ring is a bomb."
Samos nodded. He, through my discussions with him, and his work with the Sardar, was familiar with certain technological possibilities. He had himself, however, like most Goreans, never witnessed, first-hand, an explosion.
"I think it would be like lightning," he said, picking his words slowly.
"Priest-Kings might be killed," I said.
"Distrust and dissension might be spread then between men and Priest-Kings," said Samos.
"And in the meantime, the Kurii would have regained the ring and Shaba would be a rich man."
"It seems so," said Samos.
"The ship, of course, was bound for Schendi?" I asked.
"Of course," he said.
"Do you think the girl below knows much of this?"
"No," said Samos. "I think she was carefully chosen, to do little more than convey the notes and the ring. Probably there are more expert Kur agents in Schendi to receive the ring once it is delivered."
"Perhaps even Kurii themselves," I said.
"The climate would be cruel upon Kurii," he said, "but it is not impossible."
"Shaba is doubtless in hiding," I said. "I do not think it likely I could locate him by simply voyaging to Schendi."
"Probably he can be reached through Msaliti," said Samos.
"It could be a very delicate matter," I said.
Samos nodded. "Shaba is a very intelligent man," he said. "Msaliti probably does not know where he is. If Shaba, whom we may suppose contacts Msaliti, rather than the opposite, suspects anything is amiss, he will presumably not come forth."
"The girl is then the key to locating Shaba," I said. "That is why you did not wish me to question her. That is why she must not even know she has been in your power."
"Precisely," said Samos. "She must remain totally ignorant of the true nature of her current captivity."
"It is known, or would soon be known, that her ship was taken by Bejar," I said. "It is doubtless moored prize at his wharfage even now. She cannot be simply released and sent upon her way. None would believe this. All would suspect she was a decoy of some sort, a lure to draw forth Shaba."
"We must attempt to regain the ring," said Samos, "or, at worst, prevent it from falling into the hands of the Kurii."
"Shaba will want the notes for the fortunes," I said. "Kurii will want the false ring. I think he, or they, or both, will be very interested in striking up an acquaintance with our lovely prisoner below."
"My thoughts, too," said Samos.
"It is known, or will soon be known, she was taken by Bejar," I said. "When his other women prisoners are put upon the block, let her be put there with them, only another woman to be sold."
"They will be sold as slaves," said Samos.
"Of course," I said, "let her, too, be sold as a slave."
"I will have the iron ring removed from her throat," said Samos, "and have her, tied in a slave sack, sent to Bejar."
"I will attend her sale, in disguise," I said. "I will see who buys her."
"It could be anyone," said Samos. "Perhaps she will be bought by an urt hunter or an oar maker. What then?"
"Then she is owned by an oar maker or an urt hunter," I said. "And we shall consider a new plan."
Urt hunters swim slave girls, ropes on their necks, beside their boats in the dark, cool water of the canals, as bait for urts, which, as they rise to attack the girl, are speared. Urt hunters help to keep the urt population in the canals manageable.
"Agreed," said Samos.
He handed me the ring on the table and the letters of introduction, and notes.
"You may need these," he said, "in case you encounter Shaba. Perhaps you could pose as a Kur agent, for he does not know you, and obtain the true ring for the Kurii notes. The Sardar could then be warned to intercept Shaba with the false ring and deal as they will with him."
"Excellent," I said. "These things will increase our store of possible strategies." I placed the ring and the papers in my robes.
"I am optimistic," said Samos.
"I, too," I said.
"But beware of Shaba," he said. "He is a brilliant man. He will not be easily fooled."
Samos and I stood up.
"It is curious," I said, "that the rings were never duplicated."
"Doubtless there is a reason," said Samos.
I nodded. That was doubtless true.
We went toward the door of his hall, but stopped before we reached the heavy door.
Samos wished to speak.
"Captain," said he.
"Yes, Captain," said I.
"Do not go into the interior, beyond Schendi," said Samos. "That is the country of Bila Huruma."
"I understand him to be a great ubar," I said.
"He is also a very dangerous man," said Samos, "and these are difficult times."
"He is a man of vision," I said.
"And pitiless greed," said Samos.
"But a man of vision," I reminded him. "Is he not intending to join the Ushindi and Ngao with a canal, cut through the marshes, which, then, might be drained?"
"Work on such a project is already proceeding," said Samos.
"That is vision," I said, "and ambition."
"Of course," said Samos. "Such a canal would be an inestimable commercial and military achievement. The Ua, holding the secret of the interior, flows into the Ngao, which, by a canal, would be joined with Ushindi. Into Ushindi flows the Cartius proper, the subequatorial Cartius. Out of Ushindi flow the Kamba and the Nyoka, and those flow to Thassa."
"It would be an incredible achievement," I marveled.
"Beware of Bila Huruma," said Samos.
"I expect to have no dealings with him," I said.
"The pole and platform below, on which is held prisoner our lovely guest," said Samos, "was suggested to me by a peacekeeping device of Bila Huruma. In Lake Ushindi, in certain areas frequented by tharlarion, there are high poles. Criminals, political prisoners, and such are rowed to these poles and left there, clinging to them. There are no platforms on the poles."
"I understand," I said.
"But I think you have nothing to fear," said Samos, "if you remain within the borders of Schendi itself."
I nodded. Schendi was a free port, administered by black merchants, members of the caste of merchants. It was also the home port of the League of Black Slavers but their predations were commonly restricted to the high seas and coastal towns well north and south of Schendi. Like most large-scale slaving operations they had the good sense to spare their own environs.
"Good luck, Captain," said Samos.
We clasped hands.
As we exited from his hall, Samos spoke to one of the guards outside the huge double doors. "Linda," he said.
"Yes, Captain," said the guard, and left, moving down the hall. The Earth slave, Linda, was not kept in the pens. She was kept in the kennels off the kitchens. In spite of this she wore only the common house collar. Too, she was allotted a full share of domestic duties. Samos did not pamper his slaves, even those he knelt often at his slave ring.
I thought of the girl below, imprisoned on the tiny platform in the tharlarion cell. She would have the ring on her neck removed and then be placed in a slave sack and taken to the house of Bejar. I supposed that Bejar, or the slaver to whom he sold her, and the others, would mark her slave.
How piteously and helplessly she had clung to the pole. She had already begun to learn that Gor was not Earth.
"I wish you well, Captain," I said to Samos.
"I wish you well, Captain," said he to me. Again we clasped hands and then I strode from him, down the hallway toward the double gates leading from his house. At the first of the two gates, the one which consists of bars, while awaiting its opening, I glanced back.
Samos was no longer in sight, having gone to his chambers. A guard was in the hallway, with his spear.
The gate of bars was unlocked and I slipped through. It closed and locked, and I waited for the outer gate, that of iron-sheathed wood, to be opened.
I glanced back again and I saw the slave, Linda, naked, on a leash, being led to her master. She saw me, and looked down, shyly.
I exited then through the second gate of the house of Samos.
I had heard that she did the tile dance exquisitely. I almost envied Samos. I decided I would have the dance taught to my own slaves. I would be curious to learn which of them could perform it well, and which brilliantly.
"Greetings, Captain," said Thurnock, from the boat.
"Greetings, Thurnock," I said. I stepped down into the boat and took the tiller. The boat was thrust off into the dark water, and, in moments, we were rowing quietly toward my house.