comprehend the new and strange things that flash incessantly upon him.

There was a tapestry to the right, a well-woven depiction of some hunting scene, I took it, but fancifully done, the spear-carrying hunters mounted on birds of a sort and attacking an ugly animal that reminded me of a boar, except that it appeared to be too large, out of proportion to the hunters. Its jaws carried four tusks, curved like scimitars. It reminded me, with the vegetation and background and the classic serenity of the faces, of a Renaissance tapestry I had once seen on a vacation tour I had taken to Florence in my second year at the University.

Opposite the tapestry — for decoration, I assumed — hung a round shield with crossed spears behind it. The shield was rather like the old Greek shields on some of the red-figured vases in the London Museum. The design on the shield was unintelligible to me. I could not be sure that it was supposed to mean anything. It might have been an alphabetic monogram or perhaps a mere delight to the artist. Above the shield was suspended a helmet, again reminiscent of a Greek helmet, perhaps of the Homeric period. It had a somewhat 'Y'-shaped slot for the eyes, nose, and mouth in.the nearly solid metal. There was a savage dignity about it, with the shield and spears, all of them stable on the wall, as if ready, like the famous colonial rifle over the fireplace, for instant use; they were all polished and gleamed dully in the half light.

Aside from these things and two stone blocks, perhaps chairs, and a mat on one side, the room was bare; the walls and ceiling and floor were smooth as marble, and a classic white. I could see no door in the room. I rose from the stone table; which was indeed what it was, and went to the window. I looked out and saw the sun our sun it had to be. It seemed perhaps a fraction larger, but it was difficult to be sure. I was confident that it was our own brilliant yellow star. The sky, like that of A panel in the wall slid sideways, and a tall red-haired man, somewhere in his late forties, dressed much as I was, stepped through. I hadn't known. what to expect, what these people would be like. This man was an earthman, apparently. He smiled at me and came forward, placing his hands on my shoulders and looking into my eyes. He said, I thought rather proudly, 'You are my son, Tarl Cabot.'

'I am Tarl Cabot,' I said.

'I am your father,' he said, and shook me powerfully by the shoulders. We shook hands, on my part rather stiffly, yet this gesture of our common homeland somehow reassured me. I was surprised to find myself accepting this stranger not only as a being of my world, but as the father I couldn't remember.

'Your mother?' he asked, his eyes concerned.

'Dead, years ago,' I said.

He looked at me. 'She, of all of them, I loved most,' he said, turning away, crossing the room. He appeared to be affected keenly, shaken. I wanted to feel no sympathy with him, yet I found that I could not help it. I was angry with myself. He had deserted my mother and me, had he not? And what was i2 now that he felt some regret? And how was it that he had spoken so innocently of 'all of them,' whoever they might be? I did not want to find out.

Yet, somehow, in spite of these things, I found that I wanted to cross the room, to put my hand on his arm, to touch him. I felt somehow a kinship with him, with this stranger and his sorrow. My eyes were moist. Something stirred in me, obscure, painful memories that had been silent, quiet for many years — the memory of a woman I had barely known, of a gentle face, of arms that had protected a child who had awakened frightened in the night. And I remembered suddenly another face, behind hers.

'Father,' I said.

He straightened and turned to face me across that simple, strange room. It was impossible to tell if he had wept. He looked at me with sadness in his eyes, and his rather stern features seemed for a moment to be tender. Looking into his eyes, I realized, with an incomprehensible suddenness and a joy that still bewilders me, that someone existed who loved me.

'My son,' he said.

We met in the center of the room and embraced. I wept, and he did, too, without shame. I learned later that on this alien world a strong man may feel and express emotions, and that the hypocrisy of constraint is not honored on this planet as it is on mine.

At last we moved apart.

My father regarded me evenly. 'She will be the last,' he said. 'I had no right to let her love me.'

I was silent.

He sensed my feeling and spoke brusquely. 'Thank you for your gift, Tarl Cabot,' he said.

I looked puzzled.

'The handful of earth,' he said. 'A handful of my native ground.'

I nodded, not wanting to speak, wanting him to tell me the thousand things I had to know, to dispel the mysteries that had torn me from my native world and brought me to this strange room, this planet, to him, my father.

'You must be hungry,' he said.

'I want to know where I am and what I am doing here,' I said.

'Of course,' he said, 'but you must eat.' He smiled. 'While you satisfy your hunger, I shall speak to you.'

He clapped his hands twice, and the panel slid back again. I was startled. Through the opening came a young girl, somewhat younger than myself, with blond hair bound back. She wore a sleeveless garment of diagonal stripes, the brief skirt of which terminated some inches above her knees. She was barefoot, and as her eyes shyly met mine, I saw they were blue and deferential. My eyes suddenly noted her one piece of jewelry — a light, steel like band she wore as a collar. As quickly as she had come, she departed.

'You may have her this evening if you wish,' said my father, who had scarcely seemed to notice the girl.

I wasn't sure what he meant, but I said no.

At my father's insistence, I began to eat, reluctantly, never taking my eyes from him, hardly tasting the food, which was simple but excellent. The meat reminded me of venison; it was not the meat of an animal raised on domestic grains. It had been roasted over an open flame. The bread was still hot from the oven. The fruit — grapes and peaches of some sort — was fresh and as cold as mountain snow. After the meal I tasted the drink, which might not inappropriately be described as an almost incandescent wine, bright, dry, and powerful. I learned later it was called Ka-la-na. While I ate, and afterward, my father spoke.

'Gor,' he said, 'is the name of this world. In all the languages of this planet, the word means Home Stone.' He paused, noting my lack of comprehension. 'Home Stone,' he repeated. 'Simply that.

'In peasant villages on this world,' he continued, 'each but was originally built around a flat stone which was placed in the center of the circular dwelling. It was carved with the family sign and was called the Home Stone. It was, so to speak, a symbol of sovereignty, or territory, and each peasant, in his own hut, was a sovereign.'

'Later,' said my father, 'Home Stones were used for villages, and later still for cities. The Home Stone of a village was always placed in the market; in a city, on the top of the highest tower. The Home Stone came naturally, in time, to acquire a mystique, and something of the same hot, sweet emotions as our native peoples of Earth feel toward their flags became invested in it.'

My father had risen to his feet and had begun to pace the room, and his eyes seemed strangely alive. In time I would come to understand more of what he felt. Indeed, there is a saying on Gor, a saying whose origin is lost in the past of this strange planet, that one who speaks of Home Stones should stand, for matters of honor are here involved, and honor is respected in the barbaric codes of Gor.

'These stones,' said my father, 'are various, of different colors, shapes, and sizes, and many of them are intricately carved. Some of the largest cities have small, rather insignificant Home Stones, but of incredible antiquity, dating back to the time when the city was a village or only a mounted pride of warriors with no settled abode.'

My father paused at the narrow window in the circular room and looked out onto the hills beyond and fell silent.

At last he spoke again.

'Where a man sets his Home Stone, he claims, by law, that land for himself. Good land is protected only by the swords of the strongest owners in the vicinity.'

'Swords?' I asked.

'Yes,' said my father, as if there were nothing incredible in this admission. He smiled. 'You have much to learn of Gor,' he said. 'Yet there is a hierarchy of Home Stones, one might say, and two soldiers who would cut one another down with their steel blades for an acre of fertile ground will fight side by side to the death for the Home Stone of their village or of the city within whose ambit their village lies.

'I shall show you someday,' he said, 'my own small Home Stone, which I keep in my chambers. It encloses a handful of soil from the Earth, a handful of soil that I first brought with me when I came to this world — a long time ago.' He looked at me evenly. 'I shall keep the handful of earth you brought,' he said, his voice very quiet, 'and someday it may be yours.' His eyes seemed moist. He added, 'If you should live to earn a Home Stone.'

I rose to my feet and looked at him.

He had turned away, as if lost in thought. 'It is the occasional dream of a conqueror or statesman,' he said, 'to have but a single Supreme Home Stone for the planet.' Then, after a long moment, not looking at me, he said, 'It is rumored there is such a stone, but it lies in the Sacred Place and is the source of the Priest-Kings' power.'

'Who are the Priest-Kings?' I asked.

My father faced me, and he seemed troubled, as if he might have said more than he intended. Neither of us spoke for perhaps a minute.

'Yes,' said my father at last, 'I must speak to you of Priest-Kings.' He smiled. 'But let me begin in my own way, that you may better understand the nature of that whereof I speak.' We both sat down again, the stone table between us, and my father calmly and methodically explained many things to me.

As he spoke, my father often referred to the planet Gor as the Counter-Earth, taking the name from the writings of the Pythagoreans who had first speculated on the existence of such a body. Oddly enough, one of the expressions in the tongue of Gor for our sun was LarTorvis, which means The Central Fire, another Pythagorean expression, except that it had not been, as I understand it, originally used by the Pythagoreans to refer to the sun but to another body. The more common expression for the sun was Tor-tu-Gor, which means Light Upon the Home Stone. There was a sect among the people that worshiped the sun, I later learned, but it was insignificant both in numbers and power when compared with the worship of the Priest-Kings who, whatever they were, were accorded the honors of divinity. Theirs, it seems, was the honor of being enshrined as the most ancient gods of Gor, and in time of danger a prayer to the Priest-Kings might escape the lips of even the bravest men.

'The Priest-Kings,' said my father, 'are immortal, or so most here believe.'

'Do you believe it?' I asked.

'I don't know,' said my father. 'I think perhaps I do.'

'What sort of men are they?' I asked.

Вы читаете Tarnsman of Gor
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