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Norman, John - Gor 10 - Tribesmen of Gor

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Norman, John - Gor 10 - Tribesmen of Gor

Tribesmen of Gor

John Norman

Chronicles of Counter-Earth Volume 10

    1 The Hall of Samos

There were bells, three rows of them, small and golden, thonged tightly about the girl‟s left ankle.

    The entire floor of the chamber, shining, richly mosaiced, broad, reflecting the torchlight, was a map.

    I watched the girl. Her knees were slightly bent. Her weight was on her heels, freeing her hips. Her rib cage was lifted, but her shoulders, relaxed, were down.

    Her abdominal muscles, too were relaxed. Loose. Her chin was lifted, haughtily. She did not deign to look at us. Dark hair flowed behind her.

    “There are many things I do not understand,” said Samos to me. I reached for a slice of larma fruit and bit through it. “Yet,” said Samos, “I think it is important that we come to the truth in this matter.”

    I regarded the vast map on the floor of the chamber. I could see, high on the map, Ax Glacier, Torvaldsland, and Hinjer and Skjern, and Helmutsport, and lower, Kassau and the great green forests, and the river Laurius, and Laura and Lydius, and lower, the islands, prominent among them Cos and Tyros; I saw the delta of Vosk, and Port Kar, and, inland, Ko-ro-ba, the Towers of the Morning, and Thentis, in the mountains of Thentis, famed for her tarn flocks; and, to the south, among many other cities, Tharna, of the vast silver mines; I saw the Voltai Range, and Glorious Ar, and the Cartius, and, far to the south, Turia, and near the shore of Thassa, the islands of Anango and Ianda, and on the coast, the free ports of Schendi and Bazi. There were, on the map, hundreds of cities, and promontories and peninsulas, and rivers and inland lakes and seas.

    The left ankle of the girl, under the bells, the brown thong, the golden metal, was tanned.

“Perhaps you are mistaken,” I told him. “Perhaps there is nothing to it.”

“Perhaps,” he smiled.

At the corners of the room, helmeted, with spears, stood men-at-arms.

    The girl wore Gorean dancing silk. It hung low upon her bared hips, and fell to her ankles. It was scarlet, diaphanous. A front corner of the silk was taken behind her and thrust loose and draped, into the rolled silk knotted about her hips; loosely, draped, into the rolled silk at her right hip. Low on her hips she wore a belt of small denomination, threaded, overlapping golden coins. A veil concealed her muchly from us, it thrust into the strap of the coined halter at her left shoulder, and into the coined belt at her right hip. On her arms she wore numerous armlets and bracelets. On the thumb and first finger of both her left and right hand were golden finger cymbals. On her throat was a collar.

I took another piece of larma fruit. “I gather,” I said, “you have information?”

“Yes,” said Samos. He clapped his hands. Immediately the girl stood beautifully, alert, before us, her arms

    high, wrists outward. The musicians, to one side, stirred, readying themselves. Their leader was a czehar player.

“What is the nature of your information?” I asked.

“It is nothing definite,” he said.

“Perhaps it is not important,” I suggested.

“Perhaps not,” he admitted.

    “Kurii, Others,” I said, “following the failure of the northern invasion of native Kurii, halted in Torvaldsland, have been quiet, have they not?”

“Beware of a silent enemy,” said Samos. He looked at the girl. He clapped his hands, sharply.

    There was a clear note of the finger cymbals, sharp, deliberate, bright, and the slave girl danced before us.

    I regarded the coins threaded, overlapping, on her belt and halter. They took the firelight beautifully. They glinted, but were of small worth. One dresses such a woman in cheap coins; she is slave. Her hand moved to the veil at her right hip. Her head was turned away, as though unwilling and reluctant, yet knowing she must obey.

“Come with me,” said Samos.

I swilled down the last swallow of a goblet of paga.

    He grinned at me. “You may have her later,” he said. “She will dance from time to time during the evening.”

    Samos stepped from behind the low tables. He nodded his head to cup companions, trusted men. Two briefly clad, lovely female slaves withdrew before him, kneeling, heads down, their serving vessels in their hands.

    To one side, stripped, bound tightly in black leather, hand and foot, straps crossing between her breasts and circling her thighs, to which her wrists were secured, in buckled cuffs, knelt a whitish-skinned girl, blond, frightened. Her shoulders, like those of most females of Earth, were tight, tense. The tone of her body, like that of most Earth women, was rigid, defensive. Like most others she had been acculterated in a thousand subtle ways to minimize, to conceal and deny the natural, organic sweetnesses of her musculature and structure, conditioned into a dignified, formal physical neutership, the stiffness, reserve and tightness so much approved of in females in a mechanistic, industrial, technological society, in which machines govern and present the symbols and paradigms of movement, understood as repetition, measure, regularity, precision and function. Human beings move differently in a technological society than in a non-technological society; they hold their bodies differently; a man or woman‟s acculturation is visible in their demeanor. Few people understand this; most view as natural motions and body positions, which are the consequences of a subconsciously conditioned, mechanistic ballet, a choreography of puppets, imitating the models, the stridences, in which they find themselves enmeshed. Yet, somewhere beneath the conditioned behavior lies the animal, which moved naturally before there was a civilization to teach it the proprieties of mechanism. It is little wonder that the Earth human, when unobserved, even the adult, sometimes throws itself on the ground and rolls and cries out, if only to feel the joy of its own movement, the unleashing of the tensions inflicted by the rigidities of the civilized restraints. Invisible chains are those which weigh the most heavily.

    I looked down at the girl. She was terrified, miserable. “Tell her,” said Samos, “to watch a true woman, and learn to be female.” He indicated the Gorean dancer.

    The girl had not been long on Gor. Samos had purchased her for four silver tarsks on Teletus, with many others, for various amounts. This was the first time out of the pens for her in his house. She wore her brand on the left thigh. A simple band of iron had been hammered about her neck by one of the metal

    workers in the employ of Samos. She was poor stuff, not fit for a lock collar. I probably would have sold her for a kettle girl. Yet, looking more carefully upon her, examining her with candor, as she looked away, miserable, I saw that she might not be without promise. Perhaps she could be taught. The basic characteristic expected of a Gorean woman is, interestingly, femaleness; this is, I note, certainly not the basic characteristic requested of an Earth woman; indeed, femaleness in a woman of Earth, as I recalled, was societally discouraged, it complicating the politically expedient neuterlike relationships valuable in a technologically sophisticated social structure, to which sexual relationships were irrelevant, if not inimical. Western industrialized societies on Earth optimally would be manned by metal creatures, sexless, smoothly functioning, programmed to tend preserve and replicate the metal society. Man, on Earth, had finally succeeded, after long centuries, in creating a society in which he had no essential place; he had, at last, built a house in which he could not live, in which he had left not one room suitable for human habitation; he called it a home; in it he was a stranger; his habitat, by his own efforts, became inhospitable to himself; his efficiencies, his machines, his institutions, in his own hands, had at last succeeded in evicting himself from his own realities; women were shamed to be women; men terrified of listening to their blood, and being men; in their plastic cubicles, amidst the hum of their machineries, men at night squirmed and wept, hating themselves, castigating themselves for not meeting the standards of a world alien to their sensate truths; let robots weep for not being men, not men weep for not being robots; the strong, the fine, the mighty, is not wicked; only the vile and small, incapable of power, speak it so; but there was little hope for the men of Earth; they feared to listen, for they might hear ancient drums.

    The blondish girl put down her head. I gestured to the guard behind her. He thrust his hand in her hair. She cried out. Her head was rudely jerked up and back. She looked at me.

I pointed to the dancer.

    The girl looked at her horrified, offended, scandalized. She shuddered, and squirmed in the straps. Her fists were clenched at her thighs, beside which they were held in the cuff straps of her harness.

“Watch, Slave,” I told her, in English, “a true woman.” The girl‟s title and name had been Miss Priscilla

    Blake-Allen. Her nationality had been American. Then she had been branded.

    She was now only nameless property in a slaver‟s house, no different from hundreds of other girls in the pens below.

The dancer was now moving slowly to the music.

“She is so sensual,” whispered the blondish girl, in horror.

    I turned to watch the dancer. She danced well. At the moment she writhed upon the “slave pole,” it fixing her in place. There is no actual pole, of course, but sometimes it is difficult to believe there is not. The girl imagines that a pole, slender, supple, swaying, transfixes her body, holding her helplessly. About this imaginary pole, it constituting a hypothetical center of gravity, she moves, undulating, swaying, sometimes yielding to it in ecstasy, sometimes fighting it, it always holding her in perfect place, its captive. The control achieved by the use of the “slave pole” is remarkable. An incredible, voluptuous tension is almost immediately generated, visible in the dancer‟s body, and kinetically felt by those who

    watch. I heard men at the table cry out with pleasure. The dancer‟s hands were at her thighs. She regarded them, angrily, and still she moved. Her shoulders lifted and fell; her hands touched her breasts and shoulders; her head was back, and then again she glared at the men, angrily. Her arms were high, very high. Her hips moved, swaying. Then, the music suddenly silent, she was absolutely still. Her left hand was at her thigh; her right high above her head; her eyes were on her hip; frozen into a hip sway; then there was again a bright, clear flash of the finger cymbals, and the music began again, and again she moved, helpless on the pole. Men threw coins at her feet.

I looked to the blondish girl. “Learn to be a female,” I told her.

“Never!” she hissed, in her harness.

    “You are no longer on Earth,” I told her. “You will be taught. The lessons may be painful or pleasant, but you will learn.”

“I do not wish to do so,” she said.

“Your will, your wishes, mean nothing,” I told her. “You will learn.”

“It is degrading,” she said.

“You will learn,” I told her.

“She is so sensual,” said the girl, angrily. “How can men think of her as anything but a woman!”

“You will learn,” I told her.

“I do not want to be a woman!” she cried out. “I want to be a man! I always wanted to be a man!”

    She squirmed in the harness, fighting its restraints. The straps, the rings, held her, of course, perfectly.

“On Gor,” I told her, “it is the men who will be men; and the here, on this world, it is the women who will

    be women.”

“I do not wish to move like that,” she wept.

    “You will learn to move as a woman,” I told her. I looked down at her. “You, too, will learn to be sensual.”

“Never,” she wept, fighting the straps.

“Look at me, Slave,” I said.

    She looked up, tears in her eyes. “I will speak to you kindly for a moment,” I said. “Listen carefully, for they may be the last kind words you will hear for a long time.”

She regarded me, the guard‟s hand in her hair.

    “You are a slave,” I said. “You are owned. You are a female. You will be forced to be a woman. If you were free, and Gorean, you might be permitted by men to remain as you are, but you are neither Gorean nor free. The Gorean man will accept no compromise on your femininity, not from a slave. She will be what he wishes, and that is a woman, fully, and his. If necessary you will be whipped or starved. You may fight your master. He will, if he wishes, permit this, to prolong the sport of your conquest, but in the end, it is you who are the slave; it is you who will lose. On Earth you had the society at your back, the result of centuries of feminization; be could not so much as speak harshly to you but you could rush away or summon magistrates; here, however, society is not at your back, but at his; it will abet him in his wishes, for you are only a slave; you will have no one to call, nowhere to run; you will be alone with him, and at his mercy. Further, he has not been conditioned with counterinstinctual value sets, programmed with guilt, taught self-hatred; he has been taught pride and has, in the very air he breathes, imbibed the mastery of females. These are different men. They are not Earthlings. They are Goreans. They, are strong, and they are hard, and they will conquer you. For a man of Earth, you might never be a woman. For a man of Gor, I assure you, my dear, sooner or later you will be.”

She looked at me with misery.

    The dancer moaned, crying out, as though in agony. Still she remained impaled upon the slave pole, its prisoner.

“The Gorean master,” I told the blondish girl, “commands sensuality in his female slaves.”

    She stared at the dancer, her eyes wide with misery. The hips of the dancer now moved; seemingly in isolation from the rest of her body, though her wrists and hands, ever so slightly, moved to the music.

    “You cannot even move like that now,” I told the blondish girl. “Yet muscles can be trained. You will be taught to move like a woman, not a puppet of wood.” I grinned down at her. “You will be taught to be

    sensual.”

    Samos, with a snap of his fingers, freed the dancer from the slave pole. She moved turning, toward us. Before us loosening her veil at the right hip, she danced. Then she took it from her left shoulder, where it had been tucked beneath the strap of her halter. With the veil loose, covering her, holding it in her hands, she danced before us. Then she regarded us, dark-eyed, over the veil; it turned about her body; then, to the misery of the blondish girl, she wafted the silk about her, immeshing her in its gossamer softness. I saw the parted lip, the eyes wide with horror, of the kneeling, harnessed girl through the light, yellow veil; then the dancer had drawn it away from her, and, turning, was again in the center of the floor.

“You will learn your womanhood,” I told the blondish girl. “And I will tell you where you will learn it”

She looked up at me.

“At the feet of a master.” I told her.

I turned away from her and, following Samos, left the chamber. “She will have to learn Gorean, and

    quickly,” said Samos, referring to the blondish girl.

“Let slaves, with switches, teach her,” I said.

    “I will,” said Samos. There was no swifter way for an Earth girl to learn Gorean, providing that candies and pastries, and little favors, like a blanket in the pen, were mixed in. Learning was closely associated, even immediately, with reward and, punishment. Sometimes, months later, even when not under the switch, a girl would, upon a mistake in grammar or vocabulary, wince, as though expecting a fresh sting of the switch. Goreans do not coddle their slave girls. This is one of the first lessons a girl learns.

“You learned little from her?” asked Samos.

I had interrogated the girl when she had first came to the house of Samos.

    “Her story,” I said, “is similar to those of many others. Abduction, transportation to Gor, slavery. She knows nothing. She scarcely understands, now, the meaning of her collar.

Samos laughed unpleasantly, the laugh of a slaver.

    “Yet one thing you had from her seems of interest,” said Samos, preceding me down a deep corridor. In the corridor we passed female slave. She dropped to her knees and put her head down, her hair upon the tiles, as we passed.

“It seems a random thing, meaningless” I said.

“In itself, meaningless,” he said. “But, with other things, it induces in me a certain apprehension.”

“The remark she overheard, in English, concerning the return of the slave ships?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Samos. When I had probed the girl in the pens, mercilessly, forcing her to recall all details,

    even apparently meaningless scraps of detail, or information, she had recalled one thing, which had seemed puzzling, disturbing. I had not much understood it, but Samos had evinced concern. He knew more than I of the affairs of Others, the Kurii, and Priest-Kings. The girl had heard the remark drowsily, half stupified, shortly after her arrival on Gor. She, stripped, half drugged, the identification anklet of the Kurii locked on her left ankle, had lain on her stomach, with other girls, in the fresh grass of Gor. They had been removed from the slave capsules in which they had been transported. She had risen, to her elbows, her head down. She had then been conscious, vaguely, of being turned about and lifted, and carried, to a different place in the line, one determined by her height. Usually the tallest girls lead the slave chain, the height decreasing gradually toward the end of the chain, where the shortest girl is placed. This was a “common chain,” sometimes called a “march chain” or “trekking chain”; it was not a “display chain: in the “display chain,” or “selling chain,” the arrangement of the girls may be determined by a variety of considerations, aesthetic and psychological; for example, blondes may be alternated with brunets, voluptuous girls with slim, vital girls, aristocratic girls with sweet, peasant wenches, and so on; sometimes a girl is placed between two who are less beautiful, to enhance her beauty; sometimes the most beautiful is saved for the last on the chain; sometimes the chain is used as a ranking device, the most beautiful being-placed at its head, the other girls then competing with one another constantly to move to a new wrist-ring, snap-lock or collar, one higher on the chain. She had been thrown to her stomach in the grass, and her left wrist drawn to her side and down. She had heard the rustle of a looped chain, and the periodic click of the wrist-rings. She felt a length of chain dropped across the back of her thighs. Then, about her left wrist, too, closed the wrist-ring, and she, too, was a girl in a coffle. A man had stood by, making entries in a book. When her identification anklet had been removed, after she was in the wrist-ring, the man removing it had said something to the man with the book, and an entry had been made. When the girls were coffled, the man with the book had signed a paper, giving it to the captain of the slave ship. She knew it must be a receipt for merchandise received. The cargo manifests, apparently, had been correct. She had pulled weakly at the wrist-ring ,but it of course, held her. It had been then that the man with the book had asked the captain if he would return soon. The man with the book spoke in an accent, Gorean. The captain, she gathered, did not speak Gorean. The captain had said, as she remembered it, that he did not know when they would return, that he had received orders that there were to be no more voyages until further orders were received. She was conscious of the departure of the ship, and the grass beneath her body, and the chain lying across her legs, and the steel of the wrist-ring. She felt the chain move as the girl to her right stirred. Her left wrist was moved slightly behind her. They lay in the shade of trees, concealed from the air. They were not permitted to rise. When one girl had cried out, she had been beaten with a switch. Miss Priscilla Blake-Allen had not dared to cry out. After dark, they were herded to a wagon.

“Why,” asked Samos, “should the slave ships cease their runs?”

“An invasion?” I asked.

    “Unlikely,” said Samos, “If an invasion were to be launched soon, surely the slave runs would continue. Their cessation would surely alert the defense and surveillance facilities of Priest-Kings. One would not, surely, produce a state of apprehension and heightened awareness in the enemy prior to an attack.”

    “It does not seem so,” I admitted, “unless the Kurii, perhaps, feel that just such a move might put the Priest-Kings off guard, that it would be too obvious to be taken as a prelude to full war.” “But this possibility, doubtless,” smiled Samos “too, is one which will not fail to be considered by the rulers of the Sardar.”

I shrugged. It had been long since I had been in the Sardar.

    “It may mean an invasion is being readied,” said Samos. “But I think the Kurii, who are rational creatures, will not risk full war until reasonably assured as to its outcome. I suspect their reconnaissance is as yet incomplete. The organization of native Kurii, which would have constituted a splendid intelligence probe, and was doubtless intended primarily as such, yielded them little information.”

    I smiled. The invasion of native Kurii from the north, survivors and descendants of ship Kurii, for generations, had been stopped in Torvaldsland.

    “I think,” said Samos “it is something other than an invasion.” He looked at me grimly. “It is, I suspect, something which would render an invasion unnecessary.”

“I do not understand,” I said.

“I have much fear,” said Samos. I regarded him. I had seldom seen him so. I looked at the heavy squarish

    face, burned by the wind and salt of Thassa, the clear eyes, the white, short-cropped hair, the small golden rings in his ears. His face seemed drained of color. I knew he could stand against a hundred swords, unflinching.

“What is it” I asked, “which would render an invasion unnecessary?”

“I have much fear,” said Samos.

“You said you had other information,” I said.

    “Two things,” said Samos. “Follow me.” I continued to follow him through various corridors, and down stairways in his home. Soon the walls became damp, and I gathered we were beneath the levels of the canals. We passed barred doors, heavily guarded. Passwords, appropriate to different levels and portions of the house, were given and acknowledged. These are changed daily. For a portion of our way, we passed through certain sections of the pens. Some of the ornately barred, crimson-draped cells, with brass bowls, and rugs, and cushions and lamps, were quite comfortable; some of the cells held more than one occupant; some Of the girls were permitted cosmetics and slave silk; generally, however, girls in the pen are raw, totally, save for their collars and brands, as are male slaves; the costumer, the perfumer, the hairdresser then does with them what he is instructed; most retention facilities in the pens, however, are not so comfortable; most are simply heavy cages; some are small cement kennels, tiered, with iron gates that slide upward; once we walked over iron gratings, beneath which were cages; we passed through two processing rooms; off one corridor was a medical facility, with mats and chains; we passed exercise rooms, training rooms; we passed the branding chamber; I saw heated irons within; we passed, too, the dreaded room of slave discipline; there were, in this room, suspended rings, whips, a large, heavy stone table.

    As we passed the cages, male slaves glared at us sullenly; slave girls usually shrank back. One girl thrust her hands through the bars. “I am really to be sold to a man!” she wept. “Sell me! Sell me!” A guard struck his leather switch against the bars before her face, and she fled back within the enclosure.

“She is not yet hot enough for the block” I said.

“No,” said Samos.

    Had she knelt at the bars, knees thrust through, her body, her face, tear-stained, pressed against them, arms extended, letting her arms be switched for the mere chance of possibly touching the guard‟s body, then, perhaps, she would have been hot enough. Girls are often sent trembling, burning with passion, to the block. Many times I have seen them, on their feet, shudder and tremble at the auctioneer‟s slightest

    touch. Sometimes, unseen by the buyers, they are aroused at the foot of the block, but not satisfied. They

    are then sent naked to the block to be sold, in this state of cruel frustration. Their attempts to interest the buyers in their flesh are sometimes fantastic. Some of them almost scream in misery, aching for the physical and psychological completion of what has been done to their bodies. I have seen girls whom the auctioneer had to beat from him with his whip, merely in order to display them adequately. These girls, of course, are slaves who have been previously owned. Women who have not been previously owned, like free women, for the most part, even if naked and collared, do not yet understand their sexuality. That can only be taught to them by a man, they helpless in his power. An unowned girl, a free woman, thus, can never experience her full sexuality. A corollary to this, of course, is that a man who has never had an owned woman in his arms does not understand the full power of his manhood. Sexual heat, it might be mentioned, is looked upon in free women with mixed feelings; it is commanded, however, in a slave girl. Passion, it is thought, deprives the free woman to some extent of her freedom and important self-control; it is frowned upon because it makes her behave, to some extent, like a degraded female slave; free women, thus, to protect their honor and dignity, their freedom and personhood, their individuality, must fight passion; the slave girl, of course, is not entitled to this privilege; it is denied to her, both by her society and her master; while the free woman must remain cool and in control of herself, even in the arms of her companion, to avoid being truly “had,” the slave girl is permitted do such luxury; her control is in the hands of her master, and she must, upon the mere word of her master, surrender herself, writhing, to the humiliating heats of a degraded slave girl‟s ecstasy. Only when a woman is owned can she be fully

    enjoyed.

A silken urt, with wet fur, brushed against my leg.

    “Here,” said Samos, at the end of the corridor, one of the lowest in the pens. He uttered the password through the beamed, metal sheathed door. It swung open. Beyond it was another corridor, but one much shorter. It was damp. Samos took a torch from the guard, and went to one of the doors. He looked through the tiny slit in the door, holding the torch up. Then he slid back the bolt and, bending over, entered the room. There was a foul stench of excrement from within.

“What do you think?” asked Samos.

He held the torch up.

    The chained shape did not move. Samos took a stick from beside the door, with which the jailer thrust the pan of water or food toward the shape.

The shape was apparently either asleep, or dead. I did not bear breathing.

    An urt scurried suddenly, unexpectedly, toward a crack in the wall. It disappeared within.

    Samos touched the shape with the stick. Suddenly it turned and bit the stick through, eyes blazing. It hurled itself, some eight hundred pounds of weight, to the length of the six chains that fastened it, each chain to a separate ring, to the wall. The chains jerked at the rings, again and again. It bit at us. Claws emerged and retracted, and emerged again, from the tentaclelike six-digited appendages of the thing. I looked into the flat, leathery snout, the black-pupiled, yellowish-corneaed eyes, the ears flat back against its head, the wide, fang-rimmed orifice of a mouth, large enough to bite the head from a man. I heard the rings groan in the stone. But they held. I removed my hand from the sword hilt.

    The beast sat back against the wall, watching us. It now blinked, against the light of the torch.

“This is the first one, living, that I have seen,” said Samos.

    Once before, in the ruins of a hall in Torvaldsland, surmounting a stake, he had seen the head of such a beast.

“It is a Kur, surely,” he said.

“Yes,” I said, “it is an adult Kur.”

“It is a large one, is it not?” asked Samos.

“Yes,” I said, “but I have seen many larger.”

“As nearly as we can determine,” said Samos, “it is only a beast, and not rational.”

I smiled.

It was chained in six places, at the wrists and ankles, and about the waist, and again about the throat. Any

    of the chains might have held a bosk or a larl. It snarled, opening its fanged mouth.

“Where did you take it?” I asked.

    “I bought it from hunters,” said Samos. “It was taken southeast of Ar, proceeding in a southeasternly direction.”

“That seems unlikely,” I said. Few Goreans would venture in that direction.

“It is true,” said Samos. “I know the chief of the hunting pride. His declaration was dear. Six men died in

    its capture.” The beast sat, somnolent, regarding us.

“But why would it, a Kur, venture to such a place?” I asked.

“Perhaps it is insane?” suggested Samos.

“What purpose would such a journey serve for a Kur?” I asked.

    Samos shrugged. “We have been unable to communicate with it” he said to me. “Perhaps not all Kurii are rational,” He said. “Perhaps this one, as perhaps some of the others, is simply a dangerous beast, nothing more.”

I looked into the beast‟s eyes. Its lips, slightly, drew back. I smiled.

“We have beaten it” said Samos. “We have whipped it, and prodded it. We have denied it food.”

“Torture?” I asked.

“It did not respond to torture,” said Samos, “I think it is irrational.”

“What was your purpose?” I asked it. “What was your mission?”

The beast said nothing.

I rose to my feet. “Let us return to the hall,” I said.

“Very well,” said Samos. We left the chamber.

    The belled left ankle of the dancer moved in a small circle on the mosaiced floor, to the ringing of the bells, and the counterpoint of the finger cymbals.

    Men lifted their cups to Samos as we reentered the hall. We acknowledged their greetings.

    Two warriors, guards, held, between them, a dark-skinned slave girl. She had long, black hair. Her arms were bound tightly to her sides, her wrists crossed and bound behind her. They thrust her forward. “A message girl,” said one of them.

    Samos looked at me, quickly. Then to one of those at the table, one who wore the garments of the physicians, he said, “Obtain the message.”

“Kneel,” said Samos. The girl, between the guards, knelt.

Samos loomed over her. “Whose are you?” he asked.

“Yours, Master,” she said. It is common for the girl to be given to the recipient of the message.

“Whose were you?” asked Samos.

    “I was purchased anonymously from the public pens of Tor,” she said. Certain cities, like Tor, dealt in slaves, commonly buying unsold girls from caravans, and selling them at a profit to other caravan masters. The city‟s warriors, too, paid a bounty on women captured from enemy cities, customarily a silver tarsk for a comely female in good health. “You do not know who purchased you, or why?” asked Samos. “No, Master,” she said.

She would not know the message she bore.

“What is pour name?” asked Samos.

“Veema,” she said, “if it pleases Master.”

“What was your number in the pens of Tor?” asked Samos.

“87432,” she said, “Master.

    The member of the caste of physicians, a laver held for him in the hands of another man, put his hands on the girl‟s head. She closed her eyes.

“Then,” said I to Samos, “You do not know from whom this message comes.”

“No,” said he.

    The physician lifted the girl‟s long dark hair, touching the shaving knife to the back of her neck. Her head was inclined forward.

    Samos turned away from the girl. He indicated to me a man who sat at a far end of one of the low tables. He did not drink wine or paga. The man, rare in Port Kar, won the kaffiyeh and agal. The kaffiyeh is a squarish scarf, folded over into a triangle, and placed over the head, two points at the side of the shoulders, one in back to protect the back of the neck. It is bound to the head by several loops of cord, the agal. The cording indicates tribe and district.

We went to the man. “This is Ibn Saran, salt merchant of the river port of Kasra,” said Samos.

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