Chapter 20


IT IS TIME NOW FOR a lonely man to conclude his narrative, without bitterness but without resignation. I have never surrendered the hope that someday, somehow, I might return to Gor, our Counter-Earth. These final sentences are written in a small apartment in Manhattan, some six floors above the street. The sounds of playing children carry through the open window. I have refused to return to England, and I will remain in this country from which I departed, years ago, for that distant world which holds what I most love. I can see the blazing sun this July afternoon, and know that behind it, counter poised with my native planet, lies another world. And I wonder if on that world a girl, now a woman, thinks of me, and perhaps, too, of the secrets I have told her lie behind her sun, Tor-tu-Gor, Light Upon the Home Stone.

My destiny had been accomplished. I had served the Priest-Kings. The shape of a world had been altered, the rivers of a planet's history turned to new channels. Then, no longer needed, I was discarded. Perhaps the Priest-Kings, whoever or whatever they might be, reasoned that such a man was dangerous, that such a man might in time raise his own banner of dominion; perhaps they realized that I, of all on Gor, did not revere them, would not turn and bow my head in the direction of the Sardar Mountains; perhaps they envied me the flame of my love for Talena; perhaps, in the cold recesses of the Sardar Mountains, their intelligences could not accept that this vulnerable, perishable creature was more blessed than they, in their wisdom and their power.

Due, I believe, partly to my arguments and the prestige of what I had done, unprecedented lenience was shown to the surrendered armies of Pa-Kur. The Home Stones of the Twelve Tributary Cities were returned, and those men who had served Pa-Kur from those cities were allowed to return to their cities rejoicing. The large contingent of mercenaries who had flocked to his banner were kept as work slaves for a period of one year, to fill in the vast ditches and siege tunnels, to repair the extensive damage to the walls of Ar, and to rebuild those of its buildings that had been injured or burned in the fighting. After their year of servitude, they were returned, weaponless, to the cities of their birth. The officers of Pa-Kur, instead of being impaled, were treated in the same manner as common soldiers, to their relief, if scandal. Those members of the Caste of Assassins, the most hated caste on Gor, who had served Pa-Kur, were taken in chains down the Vosk to become galley slaves on the cargo ships that ply Gor's oceans. Oddly enough, the body of Pa-Kur himself was never recovered from the foot of the Cylinder of Justice. I assume it was destroyed by the angry citizens of Ar.

Marlenus, in spite of his heroic role in the victory, submitted himself to the judgment of Ar's Council of High Castes. The sentence of death passed upon him by the usurping government of the Initiates was rescinded, but because his imperialistic ambition was feared, he was exiled from his beloved city. Such a man as Marlenus can never be second in a city, and the men of Ar were determined that he should never again be first. Accordingly, the Ubar, tears in his eyes, was publicly refused bread and salt, and, under penalty of death, was ordered to leave Ar by sundown, never again to come within ten pasangs of the city.

With some fifty followers, who loved him even more than their native walls, he fled on tarnback to the Voltai Range, from whose peaks he could always look upon the distant towers of Ar. There, I suppose to this day, in that inhospitable vastness, he reigns; in the scarlet mountains of the Voltai, Marlenus still rules, a larl among men, an outlaw king, to his followers always the Ubar of Ubars.

The free cities of Gor appointed Kazrak, my sword brother, to be temporary administrator of Ar, for it was he who, with the help of my father and Sana of Thentis, had rallied the cities to raise the siege. His appointment was confirmed by Ar's Council of High Castes, and his popularity in the city is such that it seems probable that in the future the office will be his by free election. In Ar democracy is a long-forgotten way of life that will require careful remembering.

When I returned to Ko-ro-ba with Talena, a great feast was held and we celebrated our Free Companionship. A holiday was declared, and the city was ablaze with light and song. Shimmering strings of bells pealed in the wind, and festive lanterns of a thousand colors swung from the innumerable flower-strewn bridges. There was shouting and laughter, and the glorious colors of the castes of Gor mingled equally in the cylinders. Gone for the night was even the distinction of master and slave, and many a wretch in bondage would see the dawn as a free man.

To my delight, even Torm, of the Caste of Scribes, appeared at the tables. I was honored that the little scribe had separated himself from his beloved scrolls long f enough to share my happiness, only that of a warrior. He was wearing a new robe and sandals, perhaps for the first time in years. He clasped my hands, and, to my wonder, the little scribe was crying. And then, in his joy, he turned to Talena and in gracious salute lifted the symbolic cup of Ka-la-na wine to her beauty.

Talena and I swore to honor that day as long as either of us lived. I have tried to keep that promise, and I know that she has done so as well. That night, that glorious night, was a night of flowers, torches, and Ka-la-na wine, and late, after sweet hours of love, we fell asleep in each other's arms.

I awoke, perhaps weeks later, stiff and chilly in the mountains of New Hampshire, near the flat rock on which the silver spacecraft had landed. I was wearing the now so crude-seeming camp clothes I had originally worn.

Men can die, but not of a broken heart, for if that were possible, I would now be dead. I doubted my sanity; I was terrorized that what had occurred had been only a bizarre dream. I sat alone in the mountains, my head in my hands. Slowly, with agony, I began to believe that it had indeed been nothing but the cruelest of dreams — and that I was now once again coming to my senses. I could not believe this in my heart of hearts, but my mind, forcefully and coolly, required this conclusion.

I struggled to my feet, my heart torn with grief. But. then, on the ground near my boot, I saw it — a small object, a tiny, round object. I fell on my knees and snatched it up, my eyes bursting with tears, my heart knowing the full sweep of the saddest joy that can overwhelm a man. In my. hand I held the ring of red metal, the ring that bore the crest of Cabot, the gift of my father. I cut my hand with the ring, to make myself bleed, and I laughed with joy as I felt the pain and saw the blood. The ring was real, and I was awake, and there was a Counter Earth, and the girl, Talena.

When I emerged from the mountains, I found I had been gone seven months. It was simple enough to feign amnesia, and what other account of those seven months would my world accept? I spent a few days in a public hospital, under observation, and was then allowed to leave. I decided to take up quarters, at least temporarily, in New York. My position at the college had, of course, been filled, and I had no desire to return; there would be too many explanations. I sent my friend at the college a belated check for his camping equipment, which had been destroyed with the blue envelope in the mountains. Very kindly, he arranged for my books and other belongings to be sent to my new address. When I arranged for the transfer of my bank business, I was surprised, but not too surprised, to discover that my savings account, in my absence, had been mysteriously augmented, and quite handsomely. I have not been forced to work since my return from the Counter-Earth. To be sure, I have worked, but only at what I wished and for as long as I wanted. I have given much more time to traveling, to reading, and to keeping myself fit. I have even joined a fencing club, to keep my eye alert and my wrist strong, though the puny foils we use are sorry weapons compared to the swords of Gor. Strangely, though it has now been six years since I left the Counter Earth, I can discover no signs of aging or physical alteration in my appearance. I have puzzled over this, trying to connect it with the mysterious letter, dated in the seventeenth century, ostensibly by my father, which I received in the blue envelope. Perhaps the serums of the Caste of Physicians, so skilled on Gor, have something to do with this, but I cannot tell.

Two or three times a year I have returned to the mountains of New Hampshire, to look again on that great flat rock, to spend a night there, in case I might see once again that silver disk in the sky, in case once again I might be summoned by the Priest-Kings to that other world. But if I am so summoned, they will do so with the understanding that I am resolved to be no pawn in their vast games. Who or what are the Priest-Kings that they should so determine the lives of others, that they should rule a planet, terrorize the cities of a world, commit men to the Flame Death, tear lovers from each other's arms? No matter how fearful their power, they must be challenged. If I should once again walk the green fields of Gor, I know that I should attempt to solve the riddle of the Priest-Kings, that I should enter the Sardar Mountains and confront them, whoever or whatever they might be.

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