Rebels of Gor, Chapter 1

EXCERPT from REBELS OF GOR by John Norman

Copyright © 2013 by John Norman

 

 

Chapter One - The Parapet

 

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.

Several times, at night, enemies from below, dark-clad, agile night fighters, had forced pitons into the cliff, but these had been broken free during the day, by Ashigaru, lowered from the walls above. The situation of the holding of Lord Temmu, surmounting cliffs landward, almost in the clouds as seen from below, rendered siege towers impractical. Trails leading to the valley below were narrow and easily defended. On the seaward side, a single, narrow, walled trail ascended tortuously from the wharves below to the courtyard of the holding. This trail, too, now barricaded, would be easily defended. The site of the holding, atop the cliffs, over the centuries, had apparently been variously fortified and commanded. Doubtless its lines, appointments, battlements, keeps, and structures, in number and nature, over the years, had changed, had come and gone, but the mountain, with its proud, summoning escarpment, had endured. As the remote, precipitous, unapproachable crag might commend itself to the wild tarn so too would this place commend itself to tarns amongst men. Was this not a possible place of wealth, and power? From such a place might not one command, govern, and rule? Might one not find here a suitable aerie for tyranny? From such an ensconcement might one not descend with fire and sword, and to such a place might one not withdraw, with immunity, laden with treasure? In the quiet, on the parapet, in the damp, chill air, standing there in the fog, I wondered on myself. Who knows oneself? Is one not always a stranger to oneself?

“The men are hungry,” said Lord Okimoto.

“The edge of hunger can be keener than the blade of a sword,” said Lord Nishida.

“It is then a matter of time,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Possibly,” said Lord Nishida.

I looked down.

The fog was now torn into patches and, below, I could see the ditches, the breastworks, the hurdles, the stakes, and, a half pasang behind, the tents, many tents, near the ashes of what had been one of the environing villages.

It would be difficult for a sortie to reach those tents before alarms could be sounded and resistance mustered. And the distance, too, would serve well to separate the personnel of such an excursion from the shelter of their own walls, enabling their pursuit, interception, or encirclement. The bolt of lightning strikes and vanishes. It is skilled in the lore of the raid. Penned verr may be slaughtered at the discretion of the butcher. They are less skilled.

Men see land differently, the merchant in terms of profitability, the sage in terms of quietude, the poet in terms of mood, the painter in terms of beauty, the peasant in terms of home, in terms of soil, fertility, tillability, and yield. But I feared I saw it differently. I was of the scarlet caste. The military eye does not see land as others see it. It sees it in terms of what might be done, and not done, and how easily, sees it in terms of movement, columns, the marshaling of men, the arrangement of troops, the order of battle, in terms of passage, heights, time, concealment, attack, marches, and tactics. High grass, a wood, may conceal foes. If there is a marsh to the right, would the attack not be likely from the left? Has a frightened animal darted past? What has frightened it? Keep high ground on the shield side.

I looked about myself.

As song to the poet and gold to the merchant would not this place, so lofty and beautiful, with its aspects and promises, call to the ruler, the leader, the soldier, the robber, the brigand, the warrior, the slayer, the commander, the Ubar?

I thought so.

Was this not ground from which to rule?

What do men seek?

Many traps are baited with silver.

Many seek a cell, if only its bars be of gold?

The wine of riches is a heady wine.

But one knows a stronger wine, one for which many are willing to stake life itself.

What delirium of kanda, I wondered, can compare with the rapture of that greater drug? But who, who listens carefully, can fail to hear the dark notes of terror in its bright song, to which the unwary hasten to succumb.

Its wine is the headiest.

I heard guardsmen call the watch, that all was well.

Is the throne not, I wondered, its own prison.

Is it worth the expenditure of blood and gold?

Surely many believe so, certainly if others may be brought to pay the price.

The wine of power is a heady wine.

Men will die to clutch at a scepter.

They will pay anything to rule forever, for a moment.

The cry of the guardsman was echoed, from post to post. So all was well.

But I, I knew, though of the scarlet caste, preferred the sky, the terrain below, mountains, the wind, the surging flight of the tarn, the exhilarating rush of air tearing at the jacket, and, of course, the recreation of the tarnsman, the loot one gathers, so pleasant, the collared, chained slave, at my feet, ready, soft, whimpering, hoping to be touched.

So all was well.

Yet this place could be taken, I knew. Numbers could be overwhelming, pressing incessantly at the trails. To some commanders blood is cheap when there is much of it to be expended. Within the holding itself, mutiny or revolution might occur. Gold might buy an opened gate. Reservoirs can go dry. Larders may be exhausted. Who knows in what corridors may be heard the songs of power?

Drums do not herald the approach of treachery.

It walks on light, soft feet.

I turned away from the parapet.

“Tarl Cabot, tarnsman,” said Lord Okimoto, “seems eager to return to his camp.”

“I should be with my command,” I said.

“You were not when the camp was struck,” said Lord Okimoto.

“No,” I said.

“Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, was fortunate in that respect,” said Lord Nishida.

“It is so,” said Lord Okimoto.

“He was summoned to the keep, by command of Lord Temmu,” said Lord Nishida.

“Most fortunate,” said Lord Okimoto.

“We shall supply, by tarn, what supplies we may secure,” I said. “The sky is open.”

“It seems,” said Lord Okimoto, “that supplies are scarce, and deliveries infrequent.”

“The commander,” said Lord Nishida, “will do what is possible. We may expect no more.”

“Of course,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Fields have been lost, burned, acquired by the enemy,” said Lord Nishida. “Lines are attenuated. There is occasionally the danger of arrow fire. And there are well over three thousand men in the holding.”

“We will do what we can,” I said.

“Our people,” said Lord Okimoto, “may unsheathe ritual blades.”

“Our mercenaries,” said Lord Nishida, “do not know our ways nor share them.”

“They may be gathered together with some pretext and fallen upon, and the matter is done within Ehn.”

“All is not lost,” I said.

“I fear,” said Lord Nishida, “we lie within the shadow of the iron dragon.”

“Let us trust not,” said Lord Okimoto.

“While strength remains,” I said, “we might rush forth, if only to fall beneath the blades of greater numbers.”

“That would be honorable,” said Lord Nishida.

“Might it not be a grander gesture to unsheathe the ritual knives, in their thousands?” asked Lord Okimoto. “That is a death for heroes, a noble death, scorning life, preferring honor. Would not rushing about, when all is hopeless, and known to be such, be undignified, even shameful, an act of desperation, contemptible, base, and disgraceful, like the bound tarsk squirming and squealing on the sacrificial altar? If our foes break into the holding and discover, to their dismay, only death and honor, we have cheated them of their victory; they will be awed and the victory will be ours. That would be a grand gesture, an act that would be retold about the fires for a thousand years.”

“I trust you will be the first to use the knife,” said Lord Nishida.

“Of course,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I do not think all men are heroes,” I said.

“Some are not,” said Lord Okimoto. “They may be attended to.”

“Not all agree on what is heroic,” I said.

“Those who do not may be attended to,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I fear our noble friend, Lord Okimoto,” said Lord Nishida, “is unduly pessimistic. Perhaps he has drafted a poem or painted a screen to that effect.”

“One takes comfort as one can,” said Lord Okimoto.

“All may not be lost,” said Lord Nishida. “I do not think the iron dragon has yet spread its wings.”

“The enemy is many, and, comparatively, we are few,” said Lord Okimoto. “We have lost in the field. The tarn cavalry, on which we were to rely for victory, has been discovered, surprised, and put to rout. It is little more than a third of its original strength, little more than a third of even what survived the voyage onto the homeland.”

“And even more would have been lost,” said Lord Nishida, “were it not for the precautions of our fellow, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, who maintained a complement in constant readiness.”

“So some might escape,” said Lord Okimoto.

“And would there had been more,” said Lord Nishida.

“It seems” I said, “the location of the camp was known, and we failed to detect the approach of the enemy.”

“I wonder how that could be,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Would you care to speak more clearly, noble lord,” I said.

“Nothing speaks more clearly than steel,” said Lord Okimoto.

“If you wish,” I said, “we may continue this conversation so.”

“It is often wise, noble friends,” said Lord Nishida, “to think carefully before one speaks, particularly if one would speak with steel.”

“It is so, of course,” said Lord Okimoto.

“If you wish,” I said, “I shall resign my command.”

“The men,” said Pertinax, angrily, “will follow no other!”

“Your friend, the noble Pertinax, is impetuous,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I suspect,” I said, “that the suspicions of Lord Okimoto, if misplaced, are well founded.”

“I fear so,” said Lord Nishida, “even from Tarncamp, even from Shipcamp, even from the Alexandra, even from the voyage itself.”

“The march of the exploratory probe was apparently well anticipated,” said Pertinax.

“The splendid officer, fearful Tyrtaios, so wise in council, so adept with the sword,” said Lord Nishida, “has departed the holding, and placed his cunning and skills at the service of great Yamada.”

“He could not have known the secret location of the cavalry camp,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Others would know,” said Pertinax.

“Such as yourself,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Of course,” said Pertinax.

“And your commander, to whom you seem so loyal,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Yes,” I said, “and others.”

“The fog lessens,” said Lord Nishida.

“Ela,” said Lord Okimoto, “the commander should have sought safety earlier, his departure unnoticed in the fog. Who knows what dangers he might face, did he remain here.”

“The commander’s place is with the cavalry,” said Lord Nishida.

“True,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Yet obscurity persists,” said Lord Okimoto, “soft ribbons of fog, and drifting cloud, embracing the castle.”

“I shall await darkness,” I said.

“But an assault might be made before dusk,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I shall await darkness,” I said.

“There will then be less danger of arrow fire,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Following Lord Temmu,” I said, “the existence of tarns is to be concealed, insofar as possible, from the enemy, at least from large numbers of its common soldiers.”

“Still,” said Lord Okimoto. “It is safest to depart from the holding at night.”

“Undoubtedly,” I said.

“There is little danger of arrow fire when one departs from the holding,” said Lord Nishida. “Consider the range.”

“Arrow fire,” said Lord Okimoto, “need not issue from without the holding.”

“True,” said Lord Nishida, thoughtfully.

“Too,” said Lord Okimoto, “there is the great bow.”

He referred to a Pani bow generally anchored in a stout frame, and strung with a thick, oiled cord. It had an unusual range but little else. It required two men to bend it and, out of the frame, it lacked accuracy. Its rate of fire was slow. It was essentially a siege weapon. Its most effective application was to deliver fire arrows. Lord Yamada had not used it, at least as yet, in that capacity, presumably because he was interested in taking the holding, not destroying it. In its frame it resembled a light ballista.

“Lord Temmu,” said Lord Nishida, “hopes to cloak the tarn with secrecy, that its appearance in battle may surprise and disconcert the enemy. Given the care with which we strive to conceal this mighty weapon, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, is well advised to await the cover of darkness.”

“If Lord Temmu wishes,” I said, “I will remain within the holding. It is not I alone who could command the tarn cavalry. Others may do so, present subcommanders, Torgus and Lysander, and others, as well, any officer who survived the raid on the mountain camp.”

“The men will follow only you,” said Pertinax.

“Then I have failed as a commander,” I said.

“What of Tajima, he of your former world?” asked Lord Nishida.

“My friend, and your spy?” I said.

“If you wish,” smiled Lord Nishida.

“To command the cavalry?” I said.

“I am curious as to such a possibility,” said Lord Nishida.

“Lord Temmu might appoint him to such a post,” I said.

“Of course,” said Lord Nishida, “but it is your assessment which is at issue.”

“He is young,” I said, “but a fine warrior.”

“I am sure there are many such,” said Lord Nishida.

“I do not think him ready for command,” I said. “His judgment is not yet formed.”

“I concur,” said Lord Nishida.

“Perhaps in time,” I said.

“Perhaps,” said Lord Nishida.

“He of whom you speak,” said Lord Okimoto, “is not of my command, but his skills in the dojo, displayed in Tarncamp, were well remarked.”

“And in the field, and on tarnback, in the sky,” I said.

“He is, as I recall,” said Lord Okimoto, “a student of Nodachi, swordsman.”

“As are others,” I said.

“As our friend, the honorable Pertinax,” said Lord Nishida.

“One regrets the waste of such instruction on one not of the Pani,” said Lord Okimoto.

“It is true that I am unworthy,” said Pertinax.

“Nodachi, swordsman, chooses his students with care,” said Lord Nishida. “Who know what he sees, or senses?”

“It is my understanding,” said Lord Okimoto, “that this Tajima, liaison between your command and the cavalry, was lost in the attack on the camp.”

“We have had no word of him,” I said.

“Some of the command, surviving the attack, escaped on tarnback, these reporting later to the castle, and some others, it is conjectured, may have scattered into the mountains,” said Lord Nishida.

“It is not known that any so escaped,” said Lord Okimoto.

“No,” said Lord Nishida.

“The attack was doubtless executed by picked troops, intent on encirclement and extermination,” said Lord Okimoto.

“One supposes so,” I said.

“It is highly unlikely then that any on foot escaped,” he said.

“I do not know,” I said. I feared his assessment was well founded.

“How could there have been so little warning?” asked Lord Okimoto. “How could the camp have been so effectively surprised?”

“I do not know,” I said.

“Pickets, patrols, guards, outposts, must have been recalled,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Who would have such authority?” I asked.

“You, for one,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Yes,” I said, “I could have done so.”

“There are others,” said Lord Nishida. “The loyalty of Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, is not in question.”

“Is it not?” asked Lord Okimoto.

“Let everything be in question,” I said.

“Not everything,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Everything,” I said.

“It is regrettable,” said Lord Okimoto, “that the liaison, Tajima, of whom you speak so highly, is amongst those lost.”

“Amongst those as yet unaccounted for,” I said.

“His account of the attack might be informative,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I am sure it would be,” I said.

“I would like to hear it,” said Lord Okimoto.

“As would I,” I said.

“But I fear none survived, who did not make their escape by tarn,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Perhaps,” I said. “I do not know.”

“It is thought some may have escaped,” said Lord Nishida.

“They will die in the mountains or be hunted down and killed,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I fear so,” I said.

The patrols and kill squads of Lord Yamada were said to be both efficient and zealous, as they wished to retain their heads.

“Lord Nishida,” I said.

“Yes, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman?” said Lord Nishida.

“The holding is well invested,” I said. “Lord Yamada must have the majority of his land forces, thousands, committed to the siege.”

“It is possible,” said Lord Nishida.

“Thus,” I said, “his holdings, his forts, his capital itself, must be little more than policed, held by token forces, sufficient to do little more than quell dissension or unrest.”

“Shogun Yamada has little to fear of such things, as he rules soilsmen, fishermen, craftsmen, buyers and sellers, wary subordinates, even daimyos, with the rod of terror,” said Lord Nishida.

“Holdings, forts, may burn,” I said.

“The cavalry is not to be committed without orders from Lord Temmu,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Let orders be issued,” I said.

“To what end?” inquired Lord Okimoto.

“Lord Temmu sought a major engagement whose outcome might turn on the appearance of tarns,” I said.

“It is true,” said Lord Nishida.

“But he now lacks the men for a major engagement.”

“Ela,” said Lord Nishida, “it is true.”

“Surely he understands this,” I said.

“Doubtless,” said Lord Nishida.

“Then other things must be done,” I said.

“True,” said Lord Nishida.

“For what is he waiting?”

“Perhaps he meditates,” said Lord Nishida. “Perhaps he hesitates, attempting to interpret the wisdoms of bones and shells.”

“There is little time to devote to such matters,” I said.

“The commander is impatient,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I would have an audience with the shogun,” I said.

“Given the matter of the camp of tarns,” said Lord Okimoto, “the unconscionable losses to the cavalry there, I do not think that would be wise.”

“I see,” I said.

“Lord Temmu was not pleased,” said Lord Nishida.

“Speak then for me, or for the holding, or for the war, or for yourselves,” I said.

“Lord Temmu sees no one now,” said Lord Nishida.

“Why is that?” I asked.

“One does not question the shogun,” said Lord Nishida.

“He is well?” I asked.

“It is thought so,” said Lord Nishida.

“He is sequestered?” I said.

“The gates of the castle are closed,” said Lord Nishida.

“We must act,” I said.

“Do not be impatient,” said Lord Okimoto. “The falling leaf descends, completing its journey at its own pace.”

“Something must be done,” I said.

“Water flows as it wishes, taking what course it wills,” said Lord Okimoto.

“It is so,” said Lord Nishida.

“Rations diminish,” I said. “Time grows short.”

“Do not question the way of the wind,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Winds change,” I said.

“One must obey the wind,” said Lord Okimoto. “It cannot be commanded. It must be obeyed.”

“One obeys the wind, in such a way as to make use of it,” I said.

“Perhaps the commander proposes the first of a series of lesser engagements, compounding ever greater dismay and terror,” said Lord Okimoto.

“The emotive impact of the tarn on battle must, of necessity, be brief,” I said. “Its appearance, by itself, is unlikely to rout an enemy more than once or twice. It is not a weapon like an armored tharlarion whose charge might shatter walls. It will soon be understood the tarn is a large, and dangerous, but wholly mortal creature. The enemy will soon learn that glaives can cut its body and arrows penetrate its breast, that it can bleed and die.”

“Perhaps the commander wishes us to put starving men, unsupported, into the field,” said Lord Okimoto.

“If we attack behind the lines of Lord Yamada,” I said, “if we threaten treasured assets, palaces and warehouses, and cut the lines of his supply, the siege, if not lifted, might be imperiled. It is common to place the security of what one owns above the prospects of adding to what one owns. Let him hurry back to defend his homeland. Too, even for a shogun of the power of Lord Yamada, it is demanding and expensive to maintain large numbers of men in the field, to supply and support them, and impractical, if not hazardous, to attempt to do so without sufficient resources.”

“It is true the weapon of hunger has two edges,” said Lord Nishida.

“The commander thinks of raids,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Yes,” I said.

“It would be premature to reveal the tarn,” said Lord Okimoto. “The element of surprise would be precluded.”

“Little might be clearly seen, or understood,” I said. “Who knows how fire could fall from the sky? Let there be a rush of air, an uncanny cry, and a roof is burning. How are such things to be understood? Might not mysteries be suspected, might not fears flourish, might not superstitions be engaged?”

“I find it difficult to believe that you would suggest so fanciful and unrealistic an action,” said Lord Okimoto, “one destitute of the prospects of success and so careless of Lord Temmu’s strategic design, to cloak the tarn until its application is opportune.”

“Eventually the situation here will become hopeless,” I said.

“It already grows hopeless,” said Lord Okimoto, “as the cavalry seems unable to supply the holding.”

“Fields are few and distant, and many are held by archers and Ashigaru of Lord Yamada,” said Lord Nishida. “Tarl Cabot, tarnsman, does what he can.”

“He may have made contact with the enemy,” said Lord Okimoto.

“And so might have others,” said Lord Nishida, “from as long ago as Brundisium and the forests.”

“It is at least within our power to die honorably,” said Lord Okimoto.

“You think of ritual knives?” said Lord Nishida.

“Of course,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Better they repose in the lacquered case,” said Lord Nishida.

“One may, of course, postpone the inevitable,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Perhaps,” said Lord Nishida, “we should permit the commander to retire to his quarters, to rest, for he returns at nightfall to his camp.”

“In your camp,” said Lord Okimoto, “it is said the men are well fed.”

“We have enough,” I said.

“Excellent,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Perhaps you would care to join us?” I said.

“My place is here,” said Lord Okimoto.

“So be it,” I said.

“Is your camp pleasant?” he asked.

“It is simple, and sufficient for our purposes,” I said.

“You have slaves to serve and content your men?”

“There are no slaves at the camp,” I said.

“They were carried away, earlier, by the raiders,” said Lord Okimoto.

“Apparently,” I said.

“Regrettable,” said Lord Okimoto.

No bodies of slaves had been found, following the raid. This, of course, was not unusual. Slaves, having value, as other domestic animals, had little to fear in such altercations. Their fate, as that of other domestic animals, would not be slaughter, but merely a change of masters, a change of owners. It might be quite otherwise with free women. To be sure, they might strip themselves and throw themselves to the feet of conquerors, desperately, piteously licking and kissing the bootlike sandals, begging the collar. If they were found of interest, they might be spared, spared for the collar for which they had begged. Some free women, usually of high caste, if found too plain for a slave, might, to their humiliation, be kept for ransom. Some free women, too, might proclaim themselves slave, following which proclamation they would be slaves. A free woman can freely pronounce herself a slave but, following such a pronouncement, which she, then a slave, is incapable of rescinding, she is a slave, helplessly and fully.

“There were few slaves in the original camp,” I said. “Most were housed, as perhaps you know, for safekeeping, in the holding.”

“I see,” said Lord Okimoto.

My Cecily, for example, had been kept within the walls of the holding, in a slave shed. So, too, had been the Jane of Pertinax. Cecily, the former Virginia Cecily Jean Pym, an aristocratic English brunette, had been mine since her acquisition on a pleasure cylinder associated with a steel world, formerly that of a Kur called “Agamemnon,” for the phonetic convenience of humans, claimedly the “Eleventh Face of the Nameless One,” now the steel world of Arcesilaus, as we speak of him, claimedly the Twelfth Face of the Nameless One. Pertinax’s Jane, whom I had purchased for him in Tarncamp, that he might learn the uncompromising mastery of women, and the rewards and pleasures attendant thereupon, was Gorean, the former Lady Portia Lia Serisia of Sun Towers, of Ar. She had been given an Earth-girl name that she might better realize, and quickly, that she was now nothing, only a man’s slave. Pertinax’s Earth-name was Gregory White, to which name he was still entitled, if he wished, as he was a free man. He had come to Gor as the timid, docile, pathetically enamored subordinate of an aggressive, ambitious, petty, vain, clever, young blonde woman named Margaret Wentworth. She, arrogant, greedy, and unscrupulous, fond of the perquisites often associated with business and finance, had been a valuable and successful asset to a large investment firm, in the service of which she was expected to use her considerable charms to solicit, acquire, influence, and manipulate male clients. She, dazzled by the prospect of considerable wealth, easily and securely acquired, had agreed to act in the interests of certain unspecified forces. Miss Wentworth, and her subordinate, Gregory White, both English speakers, were brought to Gor and trained in the language and customs of Gor. They were to serve as a link, or liaison, between myself and mysterious parties, deep within the northern forests. They were to make contact with me following my disembarkation on a designated beach north of the Alexandra, and see that I reached a rendezvous deep within the bordering northern forest, where I would be met, for some purpose unknown to them. As it turned out I was to be enlisted in the service of Pani warriors, to equip and train a tarn cavalry, for eventual deployment at the World’s End. I knew little of what lay behind these matters. It seemed likely, however, given the mysterious appearance of Pani in the northern forests, and the work on a great ship, so far from civilization, a ship which might be capable of crossing Thassa, that this business would have to do, somehow, with Kurii, or Priest-Kings, or both. In any event, Miss Wentworth, expecting riches, discovered in Tarncamp that she had been perhaps less successful in her attempts to delude, manipulate, and exploit men on Earth than she had supposed. It seems her games, pretenses, deceits, and machinations had been more transparent than she realized. Perhaps she had annoyed, irritated, or merely amused certain powerful men, Gorean slavers or those associated with them. Perhaps some thought she might look less well in a brief, black cocktail dress with pearls, with a drink in hand, than in a rep-cloth slave tunic and collar, bearing drink to a master. What might she look like, being vended naked on a Gorean slave block? However it had come about, she had been, unbeknownst to herself, even whilst on Earth, selected for Gorean slavery. In a sense she was then a slave, though she was herself unaware of her new status and condition. It had been decided for her, by masters. Indeed, it seemed that she, blond-haired and blue-eyed, features rare in the Pani islands, might have been used to fill a special order. In any event, she, originally owned by Lord Nishida, had been given as a gift to the shogun, Lord Temmu. Female slaves, while commonly less expensive than kaiila, and many times less expensive than tarns, are surely amongst the most lovely of gifts. She was now “Saru,” named for a small, scampering, largely arboreal bipedalian creature found in the jungles of the Ua basin. I had seen little of her, or of other slaves, of late. I supposed they were kept largely indoors, where they would be in little danger, should a storming take place, or an occasional stone or looping arrow fall into the courtyard space between the walls, and the buildings and the castle itself. When we had arrived at the holding, at the wharves below, we had had some two hundred slaves aboard. Before the defeat of the exploratory force, and the investment of the holding, this number had been reduced, by selling and distribution, to some one hundred and fifty slaves. Several had been given to independent, uncommitted daimyos, in the hope of generating good will, if not a good will of alliance then one of neutrality.

“I trust your journey will be a safe one,” said Lord Okimoto.

“I trust so,” I said.

“I do not expect to see you again,” he said.

“In war there are many unknowns,” I said.

“In deceit, betrayal, intrigue, and treachery, as well,” said Lord Okimoto.

“It is so,” I said, bowing.

Lord Okimoto returned this gesture of respect.

“The commander clearly understands, I trust,” said Lord Okimoto, “the cavalry is not to be committed, or engaged, without direct orders from Lord Temmu.”

“Of what use is a lance left forever in its rack,” I said, “or a sword which fears to leave its sheath?”

“The lance is to remain in its rack until grasped,” said Lord Okimoto, “and the sword is to be drawn only by the proper hand.”

“Of course,” I said.

But who is to grasp the lance, I wondered, and whose would be a proper hand. Obedience is a common path to victory; but it may lead as well to defeat.

“In flight, even in darkness,” said Lord Okimoto, “be careful of the course you set.”

“There may be someone in the holding,” said Lord Nishida, “who would mark such things.”

“I understand,” I said.

Did they really think, I wondered, that I, or others, tarnsmen, would set a flight line directly to a camp allegedly secret, a line which, well marked, might be followed by seekers, or hunters, on foot? I had ordered my men, in leaving the castle, to choose randomly amongst pieces of silk, each inscribed with subdivisions of four of the eight major divisions of the Gorean compass, and follow that line until it was safe to approach the camp. One of these lines, of course, was the actual line to the camp. It would not do, of course, to systematically avoid the correct line, for what practice might more explicitly call attention to that line? I had every reason to suspect that the intelligence of the enemy was considerable, and acute. As indicated earlier, I had not located the camp at the designated position on Lord Temmu’s map, as ordered, but at a different location, known only to myself and the members of my command. Also, as noted, those set to guard the camp, watch passes in its vicinity, and such, were now drawn exclusively from the command itself.

“I wish you well,” said Lord Nishida.

“I wish you well,” I said.

We exchanged bows, I bowing first, and then I left the parapet.

 

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