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John Norman takes you on a journey to “World’s End,” a set of once-unknown islands far west of the continental mainland. Lying across vast, turbulent Thassa, these mysterious islands were reached for the first time during the historic voyage of the ship of Tersites. Now this remote locale has been chosen by two warring, technologically advanced species—the bestial, imperialistic, predatory Kurii, and the retiring, secretive Priest-Kings, the “gods of Gor.” On this all-too-real “gaming board,” a roll of the dice ...
John Norman takes you on a journey to “World’s End,” a set of once-unknown islands far west of the continental mainland. Lying across vast, turbulent Thassa, these mysterious islands were reached for the first time during the historic voyage of the ship of Tersites. Now this remote locale has been chosen by two warring, technologically advanced species—the bestial, imperialistic, predatory Kurii, and the retiring, secretive Priest-Kings, the “gods of Gor.” On this all-too-real “gaming board,” a roll of the dice will determine the fortunes and fate of Gor—and perhaps that of Earth. Few realize the momentous nature of the conflict, seeing in it no more than a local war for territory and power. Those who grasp the dimensions of the game realize that the stakes are nothing less than the world itself.
Rediscover this brilliantly imagined world where men are masters and women live to serve their every desire.
It was early, quite early.
It was damp on the parapet, and cold.
The air was thick with fog, and it was difficult to see the encampments in the distance.
I drew my cloak more closely about me.
"Do you think they will advance again?" asked Pertinax.
"Of course," I said.
"Where is Nodachi?" he asked.
"I do not know," I said.
Following the last day of the Ninth Passage Hand, Tor-tu-Gor, Light-Upon-the-Home Stone, had rested.
"The days will now grow longer," had said Lord Nishida.
"It will become more difficult to supply the holding," I had said.
"Very much so," had said Lord Nishida, looking over the parapet.
There were four of us at the wall at this time, myself, lean Lord Nishida, Nishida of Nara, who had commanded at Tarncamp, ponderous Lord Okimoto, Okimoto of Asuka, who had commanded at Shipcamp, and sandy haired Pertinax, once of Earth, student of Nodachi, swordsman. Both Lords Nishida and Okimoto were daimyos of the shogun, Lord Temmu, master of Temmu's fortress, now for several months under siege.
"I should return to the cavalry," I said.
"What there is left of it," said Pertinax, bitterly.
"Perhaps you might find safety there," said Lord Okimoto.
I shrugged. "It is my command," I said.
"An urt sold for a silver tarsk yesterday," said Pertinax.
"He who controls the fields controls the islands," said Lord Okimoto.
"I fear," said Lord Nishida, "we lie beneath the shadow of the iron dragon."
"No," said Lord Okimoto, "no!"
"What is this?" I asked.
"A legend," smiled Lord Nishida. "Dismiss it."
The voyage from the Alexandra to the World's End had been long and perilous, beset by trials, those of Thassa, the sea, and those of men, as well. Desertions had occurred, some in the vicinity of the farther islands, particularly Daphna and Thera; later a mutiny had occurred which, though suppressed, had cost men, a mutiny in the wake of which still lay division. Men had been lost, too, in the boarding of an ambush vessel, a bait at sea, and in resisting the attacks of its associated marauders. We had also lost several men following the first landing at the World's End, offshore from the ancestral lands of Lord Temmu. There had been three signals, trails of ascending smoke, red, yellow, and green, red betokening that the shore was held, land having been retaken, yellow that the holding of Lord Temmu still stood, and green that all was safe, and, accordingly, a landing might be effected. We learned from this that secrets had been betrayed. It was with difficulty that we had managed to extricate the remnants of the landing force from the beach. Later we had managed to attain the castle of Lord Temmu which was, indeed, still in his hands. An exploratory force was later launched against the enemy from the holding, but it had been decimated. It seemed that one could make no move of which the enemy was not well apprised. No further excursions in force had been risked against the enemy, the forces of the shogun, Lord Yamada, which had soon invested the holding, even to blockading the wharves below, denying access to the sea. Following the defeat of the exploratory force Lords Nishida and Okimoto had retained some three hundred and fifty Pani warriors, and some eleven hundred mercenaries and mariners, the latter most recruited in, or in the vicinity of, the great port, Brundisium. Lord Temmu had had at his disposal some two thousand warriors, all Pani, which were billeted within what was, in effect, a walled, mountaintop town, dominated by his castle, included here within what we speak of as the "holding." Of fighting men then, discounting the tarnsmen withdrawn into the mountains, at their camp, Lords Nishida, Okimoto, and Temmu had less than thirty-five hundred men. There were, of course, or had been, in his holding, auxiliary personnel, free women, contract women, and slaves. At the time of the debacle of the exploratory force we had had some one hundred and forty tarns in the mountains, not yet committed, with their riders and support personnel. Unfortunately this was no longer the case. Picked units of Yamada's infantry, it was conjectured of some two hundred troops each, undetected, or unreported, by scouts, approaching through four narrow passes, had surprised, and stormed, the cots and ancillary structures of Lord Temmu's tarn cavalry. Had the encampment been one of an infantry, an isolated outpost, this exploitation of the element of surprise, and the precision of the ensuing encirclement, might have resulted, for most practical purposes, in a victory merging on wholesale extermination. Pani seldom give quarter. Many heads would have been gathered. On the other hand, even from Tarncamp in the northern forests, a world away, and from various incidents on the voyage itself, I had had ample reason to respect, and fear, the intelligence of the enemy. At the World's End, these suspicions had not abated but had become darkly coercive. Perhaps one's foe is at one's elbow, uniformed identically, smiling, sharing paga, bearing a concealed knife. One recalled the ambush ship, and its lurking assailants, and the treacherous signals which had lured men ashore to the south, and the fate of the exploratory force, whose march and order, whose route, whose strength and weaponry, may have been as familiar to the enemy as to its own commanders. In any event, given an abundance of evidence which suggested spies amongst us, and ample indications of treachery, and despite the supposedly secret location of the tarn encampment hidden in the mountains, and the supposed security of posted guards, I had ordered that tarns, in shifts of forty each, be kept equipped and saddled, ready for instant flight. Accordingly, despite the undetected, and precipitous attack of Yamada's strike force, several tarns and their riders, vastly outnumbered and unable to offer an effective resistance, comprehending the hopelessness of their situation, had taken flight, making good their escape. I was not present at the time of the attack, having been summoned to the castle of Lord Temmu, that I might report on the readiness of the cavalry. Needless to say, my absence at the time of the attack, despite my having been ordered to the castle, excited speculation, and suspicion. I learned later of the nature of the attack, the silent, signaling smoke arrows coordinating the four prongs of the attack, from four passes, the following blasts of conch horns, and the rolling of drums, the streaming into the valley of armed men, the small, narrow, rectangular banners of Lord Yamada affixed to their backs, the killings, the slayings of caged birds, the burning of buildings, the taking of heads. Several of the cotted birds were freed by our own men, that they might not be killed, and these, unencumbered, might return to the wild. Any who might return to the feeding pans at dusk would presumably be killed at their feeding. Several of the readied tarns, some bearing more than one man, had eventually taken to the air successfully. Several had earlier been slain by glaives, or struck with arrows, even as they prepared to take flight. Some of the birds from the cots were hastily saddled and successfully flown. Although this had occurred weeks ago, as is common in military matters, several birds and riders, and others, were unaccounted for. We presumed the birds dead, or reverted, and the men dead, or, scattered, possibly lost, or hiding, in the mountains, attempting to evade enemy patrols and kill squads. I supposed some might have deserted. "No," had said Pertinax, who had accompanied me to the castle. "Why not?" I had asked him. "You do not know?" he had said. "No," I had said. "Because you are their captain," he had said. "I do not understand," I had said. "They do," he had said. Of the one hundred and forty tarns which we had managed to bring across Thassa to the World's End, we now had fifty one, including the two which Pertinax and I had brought to the castle weeks ago, in reporting to Lord Temmu. We retained seventy tarnsmen and twenty auxiliary personnel. The survivors, naturally, at least those aflight, had made their way to the castle. In the following days I reorganized the much reduced command. I was proud of the cavalry and it had well proven its reliability and formidableness in combat, for it had met and defeated a far larger force in the skies over the northern forests, a force intent on the destruction of Tarncamp, and, later, one supposes, Shipcamp. As a tarn force it was superbly trained and uniquely equipped for aerial combat, far more so than the usual tarn forces of known Gor, which usually consisted, in effect, of mounted infantry, spear bearing, and armed with a saddle-clearing crossbow. We used the supple temwood lance and a bow modeled on the Tuchuk saddle bow, the lance lighter and longer than the spear, exceeding its reach, and the string bow capable, of course, of firing several missiles to one of the traditional crossbow. The great peasant bow was impractical to use on tarnback. At closer quarters one might use quivas, saddle knives, or Anango darts. The large arrow quivers, saddle quivers, one on each side, could carry fifty to a hundred arrows. Tarns were unknown at the World's End and it had been anticipated that their appearance in war would, at least initially, provide the forces of Lord Temmu with a fearsome, unanticipated weapon, the very sight of which might dismay and terrify at least common soldiers, the Ashigaru contingents, commonly raised from impressed peasants. As well, of course, an aerial arm had much to offer from a number of points of view, such as raids, reconnaissance, communication, and, in limited numbers, the rapid and clandestine movement of small groups of armed men. Needless to say, Lord Temmu and his advisors were muchly disconcerted and, apparently, baffled, by the devastating raid on the tarn encampment. He had lost, in an afternoon, something like two-thirds of his aerial command. How had it been that several men, perhaps altogether some eight hundred or so, had managed, by various routes, undetected, to converge simultaneously on a supposedly secret camp? And it seemed that these men must have been especially trained, or warned, about what they would find once the battle was joined or the raid effected. Surely they had not fallen into consternation, nor had they scattered and fled at the first sight of so unfamiliar, obviously dangerous, and mighty a form of life as the tarn. Many, at their first sight of a tarn, particularly at close quarters, are unable to move, so paralyzed with fear they are. Yet these assailants had, at least on the whole, diligently addressed themselves to the destructive, murderous work for which they had obviously been well prepared. It is interesting to wonder whether or not such men might approach tarns as readily in the future. Surely some were seized, some disemboweled by raking talons, some having their heads, or an arm or leg, torn from their bodies. Had they been led to believe that the tarn was no more, I wondered, than a large, harmless feathered creature, something in the nature of a large jard or gull? It was enormous and carnivorous. Its talons were like hooks; its beak like snapping, severing sabers. Its scream could be heard in the mountains for pasangs. The beating of its wings could lash the leaves from trees. Its strike, the sun behind it, could break the back of a running kaiila. No, I thought, they would have been warned. Had they not expected something that terrible they would doubtless have recoiled at the very sight of such a creature. Had they been lied to, they might have been distraught and shocked, confronting reality, and, simple soldiers, might have rebelled, and fled. But it seemed they had not been lied to. They would have realized then that their lives were at stake. Some may have feared that they would not leave the valley alive. With desperate courage they had attacked. Then, I realized, he who had prepared them must himself have known the tarn, and known it well. Who, here, then, at the World's End, I wondered, might have imparted so dire an instruction. Perhaps Tyrtaios, I thought, the deserter.
"See this map," had said Lord Temmu. "You will relocate your camp at this place. There is game, and water. It is a hidden place, a secret place, where the remainder of the cavalry will be safe until needed."
"For most of the enemy," said Lord Nishida, "we may still hope that the very sight of a tarn may have an awesome effect, that it may terrify the ignorant, that it may excite superstitious apprehensions, that it may loosen discipline, disrupt formations, even produce rout."
"That is why," said Lord Temmu, "it is important to keep tarns hidden."
"The effect of exhibiting tarns in battle, dismaying troops, and such," I said, "would presumably be temporary."
"They will be used sparingly, at least at first," said Lord Okimoto. "One wishes them to remain, for a time, mysterious, uncanny, and frightening."
"One cannot well keep them here, in the holding, in any event," said Lord Nishida. "There is not enough food here to sustain such creatures."
"You wish me to relocate the cavalry here?" I had said, indicating the place on the map called to my attention by Lord Temmu.
"Yes," he said.
It was a convergence of two streams. One need only follow one or the other stream.
"We have lost much," I said. "We have little more than was brought from the camp, most on the readied tarns. We will need tents, supplies."
"Of course," said Lord Temmu. "Such things may be carried overland."
"What we need will be carried on tarnback, or in improvised tarn baskets," I said.
"Excellent," said Lord Temmu. "Then porters will not be aware of the camp's location."
"Or others," said Lord Okimoto, "who might follow the porters."
"When can you leave?" asked Lord Temmu.
"Tonight," I said, "under the cover of darkness."
"As the holding is invested, and it seems hazardous to risk more troops below," said Lord Nishida, "it is anticipated that food will grow short."
"We shall supply the holding, as we can," I said, "by air."
"Ichiro, your bannerman," said Lord Temmu, "is familiar with my fields. Confiscate rice, and slay any who might resist, or be unwilling."
"It is for the shogun, Lord Temmu," said Lord Okimoto.
"I fear," said Lord Nishida, "many of our fields have fallen into the hands of the forces of Lord Yamada."
"He who controls the fields, the rice, controls the islands," said Lord Okimoto.
"Here?" I said, placing my finger on the map, where the two streams converged.
"Yes," said Lord Temmu.
"We will depart at the Twentieth Ahn," I said.
"Excellent," he had said.
I would, of course, not place the camp at the position indicated. Several had been present, other than myself, and Lords Temmu, Nishida, and Okimoto, officers, high warriors, and scribes, even a reader of bones and shells. "Where all are to be trusted," had said Nodachi, the swordsman, "trust none."
Only myself, and those of the tarn command, insofar as it could be managed, would know the place of the camp, which I must soon determine. Moreover, the watches would now be kept only by members of the tarn command. I had eventually located a sheltered valley between cliffs, a place difficult to approach save by air, some one hundred and twenty pasangs north from the holding of Lord Temmu. Communication between the camp and the holding would be by tarnsmen, two or more tarns to be housed in the castle area. Those in the castle area, of those supposedly informed, would assume the camp was at the convergence of the two designated streams, at least until there was a reason to believe otherwise, perhaps in virtue of a fruitless raid, loosed upon unoccupied tents, pitched on an empty field. As one cannot trust spies, perhaps it might behoove spies not to trust others, as well.
"It is quiet," said Lord Nishida, peering over the parapet.
"We can see little," said Lord Okimoto.
Surely there had been no signal arrows from the lower posts, no torches, no cries of warning.
"The fog will soon lift," said Lord Nishida.
Excerpted from Rebels of Gor by John Norman. Copyright © 2013 John Norman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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Posted December 11, 2013
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