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Players of Gor
The Gorean Saga: Book 20
By John Norman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1984 John Norman
All rights reserved.
I looked up from the board, idly, as the woman, struggling, in the grasp of two guards, was thrust into the vicinity of our table.
"It is your move," said Samos.
I regarded the board. I moved my Ubar's Tarnsman to Ubara's Tarnsman Five. It was a positioning move. The Tarnsman can move only one space on the positioning move. It attacks only on a flight move.
The woman struggled fiercely in the grasp of the two guards. She could not, of course, free herself.
Samos studied the board. He positioned his Home Stone. It was, looking at the tiny counter at the edge of the board, his tenth move. Most Kaissa boards do not have this counter. It consisted of ten small, cylindrical wooden beads strung on a wire. The Home Stone must be placed by the tenth move. He had placed it at his now-vacated Ubar's Initiate One. In this position, as at the Ubara's Initiate One, it is subject to only three lines of attack. Other legitimate placements subject it to five lines of attack. He was also fond of placing the Home Stone late, usually on the ninth or tenth move. In this way, his decision could take into consideration his opponent's early play, his opening, or response to an opening, or development.
I myself, whose Home Stone was already placed, preferred a much earlier and more central placement of the Home Stone. I did not wish to be forced to sacrifice a move for Home-Stone placement in a situation that might, for all I knew, not turn out to be to my liking, a situation in which the obligatory placement might even cost me a tempo. Similarly, although a somewhat more central location of the Home Stone exposes it to more lines of attack, it also increases its mobility, and thereby its capacities to evade attack. These considerations are controversial in the theory of Kaissa. Much depends on the psychology of the individual player.
Incidentally, there are many versions of Kaissa played on Gor. In some of these versions, the names of the pieces differ, and, in some, even more alarmingly, their nature and power. The caste of Players, to its credit, has been attempting to standardize Kaissa for years.
A major victory in this matter was secured a few years ago when the caste of Merchants, which organizes and manages the Sardar Fairs, agreed to a standardized version, proposed by, and provisionally approved by, the high council of the caste of Players, for the Sardar tournaments, one of the attractions of the Sardar Fairs. This form of Kaissa, now utilized in the tournaments, is generally referred to, like the other variations, simply as Kaissa. Sometimes, however, to distinguish it from differing forms of the game, it is spoken of as Merchant Kaissa, from the role of the Merchants in making it the official form of Kaissa for the fairs, Player Kaissa, from the role of the Players in its codification, or the Kaissa of En'Kara, for it was officially promulgated for the first time at one of the fairs of En'Kara, that which occurred in 10,124 C.A., Contasta Ar, from the Founding of Ar, or in Year 5 of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, in Port Kar.
The fair of En'Kara occurs in the spring. It is the first fair in the annual cycle of the Sardar Fairs, gigantic fairs which take place on the plains lying below the western slopes of the Sardar Mountains. These fairs, and others like them, play an important role in the Gorean culture and economy. They are an important clearing house for ideas and goods, among them female slaves.
The woman stifled a cry and stamped her foot.
Samos, his Home Stone positioned, looked up.
It was now two days before the Twelfth Passage Hand, in the year 10,129 C.A. Soon it would be Year Eleven in the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, in Port Kar. It seemed, somehow, only recently that the five Ubars, who had divided Port Kar between them, had been deposed. Squat, brilliant Chung and tall, long-haired Nigel, like a warlord from Torvaldsland, had fought with us against the fleets of Cos and Tyros, participating with us in the victory of the Twenty-Fifth of Se'Kara, in Year One of the Council of Captains; they remained in Port Kar as high captains, admirals in our fleet. Sullius Maximus was now a despised and minor courtier at the court of Chenbar of Kasra, Ubar of Tyros, the Sea Sleen. Henrius Sevarius, freed, now a young man, had his own ship and holding in Port Kar. He owned a luscious young slave, Vina, whom he well mastered. She, now a love slave, had once been the ward of Chenbar, Ubar of Tyros, and once had been intended to be the free companion of gross Lurius of Jad, the Ubar of Cos, thence to be proclaimed Ubara of Cos, which union would have even further strengthened the ties between those two great island ubarates. She had been captured at sea and had fallen slave. Once marked and collared, of course, her political interest had vanished. A new life had then been hers, that of the mere slave. I did not know the whereabouts of the fifth ubar, Eteocles.
We were in the great hall in the holding of Samos, in Port Kar. The room was lit by torches. Many of his men, sitting cross-legged at low tables, as we were, were about. They were eating and drinking, being served by slaves. We sat a bit apart from them. Some musicians were present. They were not now playing.
I heard a slave girl laughing, somewhere across the room.
Outside, in the canal traffic, I heard a drum, cymbals and trumpets, and a man shouting. He was proclaiming the excellencies of some theatrical troupe, such as the cleverness of its clowns and the beauty of its actresses, probably slaves. They had performed, it seems, in the high cities and before ubars. Such itinerant troupes, theatrical troupes, carnival groupings, and such, are not uncommon on Gor. They consist usually of rogues and outcasts. With their wagons and tents, often little more than a skip and a jump ahead of creditors and magistrates, they roam from place to place, rigging their simple stages in piazzas and squares, in yards and markets, wherever an audience may be found, even at the dusty intersections of country crossroads. With a few boards and masks, and a bit of audacity, they create the mystery of performance, the magic of theater. They are bizarre, incomparable vagabonds. They are denied the dignity of the funeral pyre and other forms of honorable burial.
The group outside, doubtless on a rented barge, was not the first to pass beneath the narrow windows of the house of Samos this evening. There were now several such groups in the city. Their hand-printed handbills and hand-painted posters, the latter pasted on the sides of buildings and on the news boards, were much in evidence. All this had to do with the approach of the Twelfth Passage Hand, which precedes the Waiting Hand.
The Waiting Hand, the five-day period preceding the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, is a very solemn time for most Goreans. During this time few ventures are embarked upon, and little or no business is conducted. During this time most Goreans remain within their houses. It is in this time that the doors of many homes are sealed with pitch and have nailed to them branches of the brak bush, the leaves of which have a purgative effect. These precautions, and others like them, are intended to discourage the entry of ill luck into the houses.
In the houses there is little conversation and no song. It is a time, in general, of mourning, meditation and fasting. All this changes, of course, with the arrival of the vernal equinox, which, in most Gorean cities, marks the New Year.
At dawn on the day of the vernal equinox a ceremonial greeting of the sun takes place, conducted usually by the ubar or administrator of the city. This, in effect, welcomes the New Year to the city. In Port Kar this honor fell to Samos, first captain in the Council of Captains, and the council's executive officers. The completion of this greeting is signified by, and celebrated by, a ringing of the great bars suspended about the city. The people then, rejoicing, issue forth from their houses. The brak bushes are burned on the threshold and the pitch is washed away. There are processions and various events, such as contests and games. It is a time of festival. The day is one of celebration.
These festivities, of course, are in marked contrast to the solemnities and abstinences of the Waiting Hand. The Waiting Hand is a time, in general, of misery, silence and fasting. It is also, for many Goreans, particularly those of the lower castes, a time of uneasiness, a time of trepidation and apprehension. Who knows what things, visible or invisible, might be abroad during that terrible time? In many Gorean cities, accordingly, the Twelfth Passage Hand, the five days preceding the Waiting Hand, that time to which few Goreans look forward with eagerness, is carnival. The fact that it was now only two days to the Twelfth Passage Hand, explained the presence of the unusual number of theatrical and carnival troupes now in the city.
Such troupes, incidentally, must petition for the right to perform within a city. Usually a sample performance, or a part of a performance, is required, staged before the high council, or a committee delegated by such a council. Sometimes the actresses are expected to perform privately, being "tested," so to speak, for selected officials. If the troupe is approved it may, for a fee, be licensed.
No troupe is permitted to perform within a city unless it has a license. These licenses usually run for the five days of a Gorean week. Sometimes they are for a specific night or a specific performance. Licenses are commonly renewable, within a given season, for a nominal fee. In connection with the fees for such matters, it is not uncommon that bribes are also involved. This is particularly the case when small committees are involved in the approvals or given individuals, such as a city's Entertainment Master or Master of Revels. There is little secret, incidentally, about the briberies involved. There are even fairly well understood bribery scales, indexed to the type of troupe, its supposed treasury, the number of days requested for the license, and so on. These things are so open, and so well acknowledged, that perhaps one should think of them more as gratuities or service fees than as bribes. More than one Master of Revels regards them as an honest perquisite of his office.
The woman struggled in the grip of the guards. She stamped her foot again. "Tell these boorish ruffians to unhand me!" she demanded.
I, too, now, looked up.
Her eyes flashed at Samos, over her veil. Then they looked angrily at me, too. "Now!" she demanded.
Samos nodded to the guards, scarcely moving his head.
"That is better!" she said, jerking angrily away from the guards, as though she might have freed herself, had she chosen to do so. She angrily smoothed down her long, silken, capelike sleeves. I caught a glimpse of her sweetly rounded forearm and small wrist. She wore white gloves.
"This is an outrage!" she said. She wore tiny, golden slippers. Her robes of concealment, silken and flowing, shimmered in the torchlight. She adjusted the draping of the garment, an almost inadvertent, unconscious movement, a natural vanity.
"What is the meaning of this?" she demanded. "I demand my immediate freedom!"
One of the slave girls, one kneeling a few feet away, before us and to our right, at a table, one of those who was naked, save for her collar, laughed. Then she turned white with fear. She had laughed at a free woman. Samos turned to a guard and pointed at the offending slave. "Fifteen lashes," he said. The girl shook her head in misery. She whimpered with terror. These would be lashes, she knew, with a Gorean slave whip. It is an efficient instrument for disciplining women.
The blows were delivered with suitable force, with authority, but in an evenly spaced, measured fashion. There was nothing personal, or emotional, in the beating. It was almost like a natural force or a clockwork of nature. There was enough time between the strokes to allow her to feel each one individually and fully, and enhance, maximizing, the irradiations of its predecessors, enough time for her, in the fullness of her pain, imagination and terror, to prepare herself for, and anticipate, fearfully and acutely, the next blow. It was not much of a beating, of course. She had erred. She was being punished. Then she was lying on her belly, on the tiles, the beating over. She did not even dare to move her body, for the pain. Samos had been rather merciful with her, I thought. If he had been truly displeased with her, he might have had her fed to sleen.
We now returned our attention to the woman in the silken, shimmering robes of concealment, standing before our table. Her eyes were apprehensive, over her veil. I could see that the beating of the female slave had had its effect on her. She was breathing deeply. Her breasts, rising and falling, moved nicely under the silk.
"May I present," inquired Samos, "Lady Rowena, of Lydius?"
I inclined my head. "Lady," said I, acknowledging the introduction.
To a free woman considerable deference is due, particularly to one such as the Lady Rowena, one obviously, at least hitherto, of high station.
She inclined her head to me, and then lifted it, acknowledging my greeting.
Lydius is a bustling, populous trade center located at the estuary of the Laurius River. Many cities maintain warehouses and small communities in Lydius. Many goods, in particular wood, wood products, and hide, make their way westward on the Laurius, eventually landing at Lydius, later to be embarked to the south on the ships of various cities, lines and associations. The population of Lydius, as one might expect, is a mixed one, consisting of individuals of various races and backgrounds.
The woman drew herself up to her full height. She looked at Samos, angrily. "What is the meaning of my presence here?" she demanded.
"Lady Rowena is of the Merchants," said Samos to me. "The ship on which she had passage, en route from Lydius to Cos, was detained by two of my rovers. Her captain kindly consented to a transfer of cargo."
"What is the meaning of my presence here?" repeated the woman, angrily.
"Surely you are aware of the time of year?" inquired Samos.
"I do not understand," she said. "Where are my maidens?"
"In the pens," said Samos.
"The pens?" she gasped.
"Yes," said Samos. "But do not fear for them. They are perfectly safe in their chains."
Slavers remain active all year on Gor, but the peak seasons for slaving are the spring and early summer. This has to do with such matters as the weather, and the major markets associated with certain feasts and holidays, for example, the Love Feast in Ar, which occurs in the late summer, occupying the full five days of the Fifth Passage Hand. Also, during these seasons, of course, occur the great markets associated with the fairs of En'Kara and En'Var. These are the two major seasonal markets on Gor, exceeding all others in the volume of women processed.
"Chains?" she whispered. She shrank back, her hand at her breast.
"Yes," said Samos.
"I was hooded," she said. "I do not even know where I am."
"You are in Port Kar," he said.
She staggered. I feared she might faint.
"Who are you?" she whispered.
"Samos," said he, "first slaver of Port Kar."
She shuddered with misery. A tiny moan escaped her. I saw she had heard of Samos, of Port Kar. "What hope have I?" she asked.
"None," said Samos. "Remove your veil."
"Make my maidens slaves," she said. "Put them under the iron! Encircle their necks with collars! Let them beg not to be frequently beaten! Let them strive desperately, zealously, to be pleasing to the beasts who own them. Let them be slaves. They are good for little else. But I am different!"
"Do you think you are better than they?" asked Samos.
"Yes," she said.
"You are no different from them," he said. "You, too, are only a female."
"No!" she cried.
"Remove your veil," he said.
"I am too beautiful to be a slave," she said.
"Your veil," said Samos, gently. She was, after all, a free woman.
Some of the slave girls, some naked, some scantily clad, looked at one another. Had they so dallied in their compliance, hesitating perhaps even an instant in their immediate and absolute obedience, serious punishments would doubtless have been theirs. They were, of course, only slaves.
Excerpted from Players of Gor by John Norman. Copyright © 1984 John Norman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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