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The maritime ubarate of Cos and her allies are mounting an attack on Ar on two fronts, from the South with a major invasion force and in the North with an expeditionary force besieging Ar’s Station, Ar’s base of power in the vast arable basin of Gor’s mightiest river, the Vosk. Dietrich of Tarnburg, a mercenary, has seized Torcodino, with its stores of military supplies, to temporarily halt the march of Cos on Ar in order to buy Ar time to organize for her defense. Cabot has delivered letters from Dietrich to the...
The maritime ubarate of Cos and her allies are mounting an attack on Ar on two fronts, from the South with a major invasion force and in the North with an expeditionary force besieging Ar’s Station, Ar’s base of power in the vast arable basin of Gor’s mightiest river, the Vosk. Dietrich of Tarnburg, a mercenary, has seized Torcodino, with its stores of military supplies, to temporarily halt the march of Cos on Ar in order to buy Ar time to organize for her defense. Cabot has delivered letters from Dietrich to the regent of Ar, apprising him of the situation at Torcodino. Tarl escapes his imprisonment and ponders whether he should then flee Ar’s Station, making his way to freedom through its miseries and desolations, its ruins and flames, or shall he remain, to defend her weakened, betrayed, starving defenders, those who had been his very captors?
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The Road; The Slave
In a sudden flash of lightning, showing the driving rain, the wagons, the crowd on the road, I saw ahead, above me, and to my left, about a half of a pasang forward, on its stony plateau, the inn of the Crooked Tarn.
"There is less than a pasang to go," said a man near me.
"They will have no places left," said another.
"You could not afford them, if they did," said the first man.
"We will camp on the lee side," said another, "and water the beasts in the moat."
"Wagons will already be circled there," said another.
When groups are traveling together the wagons are often arranged in a circle, end to end, tongues inward, narrowing gaps between the "sections" of the improvised rampart, and chained together, the front axle of one wagon chained to the rear axle of the next, the camp, and the draft animals, and any accompanying livestock, within the circle. This forms a wagon fort or laager. The circle contains more interior space than any other geometrical figure, so the camp is thus as large as possible, given the number of wagons. Too, as every point on the circumference is normally visible from, and equidistant from, the center, this facilitates defense, for example, the prompt and pertinent deployment of reserves. This arrangement, incidentally, is not common with the southern wagon peoples, such as Tuchuks, if only because of the vast numbers of wagons. There the wagons congregate almost to form wagon cities. It is fairly typical, however, with some of the less numerous wagon peoples of the north, such as the tribes of the Alars, particularly when separated from one another on the march, though there one might note the circle is often very large and as many as four or five wagons deep.
There was another flash of lightning, and an earsplitting crash of thunder.
Ahead, and on the plateau of the inn, I saw the large wooden sign, on its chains, jerked in the wind, striking about, pelted with rain. It was in the form of a malformed tarn, its neck crooked, almost vulturelike, the right leg, with its talons, much larger than the left, and outstretched, grasping. Such signs are not untypical of Gorean hostelries, as many Goreans, particularly those of the lower castes, cannot read.
Then again it seemed the world was plunged into darkness and there was little except driving rain and the creaking of wagons.
I had put my cloak over my head. The wagon I was walking beside was to my left. It kept, too, to the left side of the road. This is common with Gorean traffic. There is a point to this, having to do with keeping the weapon hand, or the usual weapon hand, as most men are right-handed, on the side of oncoming traffic. Who knows the intentions or nature of the approaching stranger? In Gorean, as in many languages, the same word is used for stranger and enemy.
The wagon was moving north on what, in this latitude, was usually called the Vosk Road, but farther south was generally known as the Viktel Aria. My cloak hung down from my head about my shoulders, and thence fell to my waist. I had shortened the straps of the sword sheath, hitching it high, the hilt now before my left shoulder, under the cloak. I kept one hand, from beneath my cloak, on the side of the wagon. In this way I was less likely to stumble in the darkness, and the cold, driving rain. The other hand, my right, held my cloak about my neck. My pack was in the wagon. To my right, in the line of traffic moving south, I suddenly heard cursing and the startled, protesting bellowing of a tharlarion. There were shouts. There was a creaking of wood, and the slick squeak of an engaged, leather-lined brake shoe pressing against the iron rim of a wheel. "Jump!" cried someone. There was then a sound of sliding, and then, after a moment, that of a wagon tipping heavily into mud. The tharlarion, probably thrown from its feet, was squealing in its harness. I pulled my pack from the wagon I was trekking beside and, feeling about, locating the side of the next wagon moving south, felt around it, and went to the side of the road. Another tharlarion moved past me. I reached out and felt its wet scales. In another flash of lightning I saw the wagon in the ditch, tipped on its side, its canvas-covered, roped-down load bulging against the restraining cover, the tharlarion also on its side, lying tangled in its harness, its feet flailing, its long neck craning about. A man thrust past me, holding an unshuttered dark lantern beneath his cloak. Rain was pouring over the broad brim of his felt hat. Two others were behind him. They slipped down the side of the ditch. "The axle is broken," said one of the men to the driver. The driver had another fellow with him, too. I stood on the road, at its edge. I felt about with my foot. There were missing stones there. That was probably where the wheel had missed the road. These, I supposed, had loosened, given the heavy traffic and the storm. The wagon, it seemed, had slipped down the embankment, dragging the beast after it. I stayed where I was for a moment. It seemed to me odd that three men, one with a dark lantern, should be so quickly upon the scene.
"Beware," cried the driver through the rain to the men below me, beside the wagon. "I carry a Home Stone in this wagon."
The three men looked at one another, and then backed away. They would not choose to do business with one who carried a Home Stone, even though they were three to two. It was as I had speculated. They were road pirates. Possibly the stones had been deliberately loosened.
"Gentlemen," I called down to them. "Lift your lantern."
They looked upward. I let my cloak fall to the sides so that they could see the scarlet of my tunic.
"Hold your places!" I called.
They stood where they were. I might pursue one. None of them cared to risk being that one.
I slipped down the embankment to join them.
I tossed my pack to the side on the slope.
I took the lantern from the fellow in the broad-brimmed felt hat, and handed it to the fellow of the driver. I did not draw my sword. It was not necessary.
"Unharness the tharlarion," I said to the driver. "Get it on its feet."
He went around to the front of the wagon.
I took the leader of the three men in hand. "You have a wagon nearby," I said to them. "You two fetch it."
The two fellows exchanged swift glances. "We have no wagon," said one. "That is true," said the other. "We have no wagon."
I flung the leader to his belly in the mud and put my foot on his back.
"Get the wagon!" he said.
They hurried away.
"Do you think they will return?" I asked.
He was silent.
I moved my foot to the back of his neck and pressed his face down into the muddy water. He pulled up, sputtering. "Yes!" he said. "Yes!"
He was correct. In a few Ehn the two fellows returned, leading a tharlarion drawing another wagon. As I had anticipated, it had not been far away. It would be near the trap, to save time, and off the road, that traffic not be blocked. And they would want it on this level to facilitate a transfer of lading from one vehicle to the other, doubtless anticipating that any vehicle which had succumbed to their trap might well be disabled.
"Empty your wagon out," I told the two. "And place the cargo of this wagon in what was once yours."
They did so. As I had anticipated the contents of their wagon was a miscellany of cheap loot, taken from other wagons, and from refugees moving south on the Viktel Aria from the vicinity of Ar's Station, on the Vosk.
The driver, his tharlarion freed, and on its feet, hitched it before the other beast, in tandem. It knew his voice, and would respond more readily as the lead beast.
"Give your purses to the driver," I said.
They did so.
I myself took the contents of a metal coin box removed from their wagon and emptied it into my wallet. It contained several coins, the loot, probably, of better than several days' work. To be sure, most of the coins there were small, such as would be likely to weight only a threadbare purse. The number, however, more than compensated for the generally unimpressive denominations. There must have been the equivalent there of seventeen or eighteen silver tarsks.
I located the stones which were missing from the edge of the road. They were in the ditch below their place, half sunk in the mud. Apparently they had been removed deliberately from the road, and might be replaced, thence to be removed again, at will, to again jeopardize the integrity of the road, their absence in the darkness in effect constituting a trap. The three fellows, with my encouragement, in the rain, replaced them.
I again took them to the bottom of the ditch, by the overturned wagon.
"Kneel there," I told the three of them, "between the wheels, with your backs to the bottom of the wagon."
They complied, kneeling with the bottom of the overturned wagon behind them. From this position it would be difficult for them to bolt.
"Take everything, but let us go!" begged the leader.
"I am thinking," I told him, "of tying you naked on your back, over the tongue of the wagon, and fastening your two fellows, on their backs, stripped, over the wheels. It might be amusing to spin them about."
They regarded one another, frightened.
"But you are not female slaves," I mused.
"Men would find us with the loot about, and impale us!" said the leader.
That was not improbable. Thieves are often dealt with harshly on Gor.
"Do not condemn us to death!" begged the leader.
"Strip," I ordered them.
I then tied their hands behind their backs. Ropes were found in the wagon and we tied them by the necks to the back of the wagon. Verr, too, and female slaves, and such, are often tethered to the back of wagons.
"In the south," said the driver, from the wagon box, "there are work gangs. We can probably get something for them there."
"Stay the traffic on the road, as you can, for an Ehn," I said to the fellow of the driver. "We will get the wagon on the road."
"I doubt even two tharlarion can pull this grade from the ditch, with this weight, with the footing," said the driver.
"Hurry to it," I said to the fellow of the driver. "We shall try it."
He scrambled up the embankment, the lantern in one hand, clutching at knots of wet grass with the other, slipping, sliding back, then regaining his feet, then reaching the surface. In the ditch we were ankle deep in water. The rain continued to pour down in torrents. It ran from the pitched surface of the road downward, in tiny rivers; it struck into the swirling ditch water, lashing it into foam, dashing it upwards, its impact registered in thousands of overlapping circles and leaping crowns of water. We saw the lantern, in the fellow's hand, at the surface, swinging. "Hold! Hold!" he cried in the storm. I think he then literally seized the harness of the next tharlarion. "Hold!" he cried.
"We will never make it," said the driver.
"Try," I said. "Besides we have three stout fellows here who can turn about and put their back into it."
"If the wagon slips," said the leader of the brigands, "we could be crushed, mangled beneath the wheels!"
"See that it does not slip," I said.
There were angry shouts now from the delayed line, moving south.
"Hurry," I said to the driver.
He moved about the wagon and climbed to the wagon box. I heard, in a moment, his shouting to the lead beast, and the crack of the tharlarion whip. The whip, incidentally, seldom falls on the beast. Its proximity, and noise, are usually more than sufficient. Too, it often functions as an attention-garnering device, a signal, so to speak, preparing the beast for the sequent issuance of verbal commands, to which it is trained to respond. Too, of course, like a staff of office, a rod, a baton or scepter, it is an authority device. To be sure, the device has its authority largely in virtue of what it genuinely stands for, and what it can do. Much the same, incidentally, can be said for the whip in the master/slave relationship. There, too, normally, it seldom falls on the woman. It is not necessary that it do so. She sees it, and knows what it can do. That is usually more than sufficient. She will have felt it at some time, of course, so that her understanding in the matter will be more than theoretical. She knows, of course, that if she is in the least bit displeasing or recalcitrant, it will be used upon her. Indeed, she knows that she might be, from time to time, placed beneath it, if only that she may be reminded that she is a slave. It is my belief that women have an instinctual understanding of the whip.
The wagon lurched ahead.
It would attempt its rendezvous with the road by an ascendant diagonal. The brigands were jerked forward, by the neck, behind it. One lost his footing and was dragged for a few feet, through the ditch water, part way up the slope.
"Put your backs to it," I told the captives.
"Look out!" cried someone from the road, above, perhaps a fellow come forward, inquiring concerning the delay, dismounted from one of the other wagons.
"Look out!" cried another.
"It is tipping!" cried the leader of the brigands in terror.
I tried to set myself on the slope, but slipped back, and the wagon slid sideways toward me, the wheels tearing lines in the grass, tilting. Then I got solid footing and, my hands pressing against the side of the wagon, righted it.
"Who is down there?" called a fellow from the surface of the road.
I saw lanterns lifted, above, on the road.
"There is a gang of five men on the other side of the wagon," said a fellow. "It is all right now. They have righted it."
The first tharlarion now had its heavy, clawed feet on the stones of the road. I heard its claws on the stone. Some other men, too, came to the second tharlarion, hauling on its harness, and others, too, seized the wagon sides and the forward wheels, lending their efforts to getting the wagon on the road. This was done in part in the camaraderie of the road, but, too, men were anxious to be on their way. It was not now safe in the north, in this area, particularly for refugees from the vicinity of Ar's Station.
"I see only one fellow down there," said a man from the road. I went to retrieve my pack from where I had cast it on the embankment. It was soaked through. I was sweating, in spite of the cold and the rain. Too, I had been very afraid, for a moment. I had feared the wagon would tip. I saw it now above me, mostly on the road, though, tilting, the left wheels were still over the edge of the stones. The darkness and the traffic on the other side made it hazardous to pull fully across the road. Harnesses might be fouled. Men can be trampled by tharlarion, wagons can be torn apart.
I ascended to the surface of the road. I put my pack at the back of the wagon.
"It is one of the scarlet caste," said a fellow to another.
"Hold the lantern here," I said to the fellow of the driver, who had now, having arrested the progress of the following tharlarion, released his hold on the beast's harness.
"That is Andron, the brigand!" suddenly said a man, pointing to the leader of the brigands.
There were angry shouts.
"Put their necks under the wheels!" said a man.
"Impale them," cried another!
"Tie their feet together and drag them behind the wagons," said another.
"Kneel," I suggested to the brigands. There was a large number of people here and I was not sure I could protect them. I had not counted on them being well known. "Put your heads down," I encouraged them. "Look as harmless as possible."
"Chain them and hang them in iron collars at the inn!" said a fellow. Sometimes a man lasts two or three days in this fashion.
"Chain them on the boards," cried another. That is a similar form of punishment. In it the victim is fastened, by collars and shackles, on structures of parallel, upright boards, vertical platforms, in effect, mounted on posts. These structures are most common in harbor cities, near the wharves. The fellow who had made the suggestion was probably from the river port of Ar's Station. In the country, impalement is often used, the pole usually being set up near a crossroads.
"Let them be trampled by tharlarion," said a fellow.
"No, let them be torn apart by them," said another. In this fashion ropes are tied separately to the victim's wrists and ankles, these ropes then attached to the harnesses of two different tharlarion, which are, of course, then driven in opposite directions.
Excerpted from Renegades of Gor by John Norman. Copyright © 1986 John Norman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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