The Gorean senses, or believes, that a city cannot be simply identified with its natural elements, which undergo their transformations even as do the cells of a human body.

For them a city is almost a living thing, or more than a living thing. It is an entity with a history, as stones and rivers do not have a history; it is an entity with a tradition, a heritage, customs, practices, character, intentions, hopes. When a Gorean says, for example, that he is of Ar, or Ko-ro-ba, he is doing a great deal more than informing you of his place of residence.

The Goreans generally, though there are exceptions, particularly the Caste of Initiates, do not believe in immortality. Accordingly, to be of a city is, in a sense, to have been a part of something less perishable than oneself, something divine in the sense of undying, Of course, as every Gorean knows, cities too are mortal, for cities can be destroyed as well as men. And this perhaps makes them love their cities the more, for they know that their city, like themselves, is subject to mortal termination. The love of their city tends to become invested in a stone which is known as the Home Stone, and which is normally kept in the highest cylinder in the city. In the Home Stone — sometimes little more than a crude piece of carved rock, dating back perhaps several hundred generations to when the city was only a cluster of huts by the bank of a river, sometimes a magnificent and impressively wrought, jewel- encrusted cube of marble or granite — the city finds its symbol. Yet to speak of a symbol is to fall short of the mark. It is almost as if the city itself were identified with the Home Stone, as if it were to the city what life is to man. The myths of these matters have it that while the Home Stone survives, so, too, must the city.

But not only is it the case that each city has its Home Stone. The simplest and humblest village, and even the most primitive hut in that village, perhaps only a cone of straw, will contain its own Home Stone, as will the fantastically appointed chambers of the Administrator of so great a city as Ar.

My Home Stone was the Home Stone of Ko-ro-ba, that city to which I had seven years ago pledged my sword. I was now eager to return to my city. In the bundle, wrapped inside the tunic and cloak I found the shoulder belt, sheath and short sword of the Goreans. I took the blade from its sheath. It was well balanced, vicious, double-edged and about twenty to twenty-two inches in length. I knew the handle, and I could recognise certain marks on the blade. It was the weapon I had carried at the siege of Ar. It felt strange to hold it again in my hand, to feel its weight, the familiar grasp of the hilt. This blade had fought its way up the stairs of the Central Cylinder of Ar, when I had rescued Marlenus, embattled Ubar of that city. It had crossed with that of Pa-Kur, master assassin, on the roof of Ar' s Cylinder of Justice, when I had fought for my love, Talena. And now again I held it in my hand. I wondered why, and knew only that the Priest-Kings had intended it so.

There were two items I had hoped to find in the bundle which were not there, a tarn-goad and a tarn-whistle. The tarn- goad is a rodlike instrument, about twenty inches long. It has a switch in the handle, much like an ordinary flashlight. When the goad is switched to the on-position and it strikes an object, it emits a violent shock and scatters a shower of yellow sparks. It is used for controlling tarns, the gigantic hawklike saddle-birds of Gor. Indeed, the birds are conditioned to respond tothe goad, almost from th egg.

The tarn-whistle, as one might expect, is used to summon the bird. Usually, the most highly trained tarns will respond to only one note, that sounded by the whistle of their master. There is nothing surprising in this inasmuch as each bird is trained, by the Caste of Tarn Keepers, to respond to a different note. When the tarn is presented to a warrior, or sold to one, the whistle accompanies the bird. Needless to say, the whistle is important and carefully guarded, for, should it be lost or fall into the hands of an enemy, the warrior has, for all practical purposes, lost his mount.

I now dressed myself in the scarlet garb of a warrior of Gor. I was puzzled that the garb, like the helmet and shield, bore no insignia. This was contrary to the ways of Gor, for normally only the habiliments of outlaws and exiles, men without a city, lack the identifying devices of which the Gorean is so proud.

I donned the helmet, and slung the shield and sword over my left shoulder. I picked up the massive spear lightly in my right hand. Judging by the sun, and knowing that Ko-ro-ba lay northwest of the mountains, I strode in the direction of my city.

My step was light, my heart was happy. I was home, for where my love waited for me was home. Where my father had met me after more than twenty years of separation, where my warrior comrades and I had drunk and laughed together, where I had met and learned from my little friend, Torm, the Scribe, there was home.

I found myself thinking in Gorean, as fluently as though I had not been gone for seven years. I became aware that I was singing as I walked through the grass, a warrior song.

I had returned to Gor.

Chapter Three: ZOSK

I had walked for some hours in the direction of Ko-ro-ba when I was delighted to come on one of tha narrow roads to the city. I recognised it, and even had I not, the cylindrical pasang stones that marked its length were each inscribed with the sign of the city and the appropriate pasang count to its walls. A Gorean pasang is approximately.7 of a mile. The road, like most Gorean roads, was built like a wall in the earth and was intended to last a hundred generations. The Gorean, having little idea of progress in our sense, takes great care in his building and workmanship. What he builds he expects men to use until the storms of time have worn it to dust. Yet this road, for all the loving craft of the Caste of Builders which had been lavished upon it, was only an unpretentious, subsidiary road, hardly wide enough for two carts to pass. Indeed, even the main roads to Ko-ro- ba were a far cry from the great highways that led to and from a metropolis like Ar.

Surprisingly, though the pasang stones told me I was close to Ko-ro-ba, stubborn tufts of grass were growing between the stones, and occasional vines were inching out, tendril by tendril, across the great stone blocks. It was late afternoon and, judging by the pasang stones, I was still some hours from the city. Though it was still bright, many of the colourfully plumed birds had already sought their nests. Here and there swarms of night insects began to stir, lifting themselves under the leaves of bushes by the road. The shadows of the pasang stones had grown long, and, judging by the angle of these shadows (for the stones are set in such a way as to serve also as sundials) it was past the fourteenth Gorean Ahn, or hour. The Gorean day is divided into twenty Ahn, which are numbered consecutively. The tenth Ahn is noon, the twentieth, midnight. Each Ahn consists of forty Ehn, or minutes, and each Ehn of eighty Ihn, or seconds.

I wondered if it would be practical to continue my journey. The sun would soon be down, and the Gorean night is not without its dangers, particularly to a man on foot.

It is at night that the sleen hunts, that six-legged, long- bodied mammalian carnivore, almost as much a snake as an animal. I had never seen one, but had seen the tracks of one seven years before.

Also, at night, crossing the bright disks of Gor' s three moons might occasionally be seen the silent, predatory shadow of the ul, a giant pterodactyl ranging far from its native swamps in the delta of the Vosk. Perhaps I most dreaded those nights filled with the shrieks of the vart pack, a blind, batlike swarm of flying rodents, each the size of a small dog. They could strip a carcass in a matter of minutes, each carrying back some fluttering ribbon of flesh to the recesses of whatever dark cave the swarm had chosen for its home. Moreover, some vart packs were rabid. One obvious danger lay in the road itself, and the fact that I had no light. After dark, various serpents seek out the road for its warmth, its stones retaining the sun' s heat longer than the surrounding countryside. One such serpent was the huge, many-banded Gorean python, the hith. One to be feared even more perhaps was the tiny ost, a venemous, brilliantly orange reptile little more than a foot in length, whose bite spelled an excruciating death within seconds.

Accordingly, in spite of my eagerness to return to Ko-ro-ba, I decided that I would withdraw from the road, wrap myself in my cloak and spend the night in the shelter of some rocks, or perhaps crawl into the tangle of some thorn bushes, where one might sleep in relative security. Now that I was considering discontinuing my journey, I suddenly became acutely aware that I was both hungry and thirsty. No rations or water flask had been in the leather package found with the weapons. I had scarcely stepped from the stones of the road when, coming down the road, each step carefully measured and solid, I saw a wide, hunched figure, bending under a gigantic bundle of sticks, strapped to his back by two cords which he held twisted in his fists in front of his body. His stature and burden proclaimed him as a member of the Caste of Carriers of Wood, or Woodsmen, that Gorean caste which, with the Caste of Charcoal Makers, provides most of the common fuel for the Gorean cities.

The weight the man was carrying was prodigious, and would have staggered men of most castes, even that of the Warriors. the bundle reared itself at least a man' s height above his bent back, and extended perhaps some four feet in width. I knew the support of that weight depended partly on the skillful use of the cords and back, but sheer strength was only too obviously necessary, and this man, and his caste brothers, over the generations, had been shaped to their task. Lesser men had turned outlaw or died. In rare cases, one might have been permitted by the Council of High Castes to raise caste. None of course would accept a lower caste, and there were lower castes, the Caste of Peasants, for example, the most basic caste of all Gor.

The man approached more closely. His eyes were almost covered with a white, shaggy, inverted bowl of hair, matted with twigs and leaves. The whiskers had been scraped from his face, probably by the blade of the broad, double-headed wood ax bound on top of the bundle. He wore the short, tattered sleeveless robe of is trade, with its leather back and shoulders. His feet were bare, and black to the ankles.

I stepped into the road before him.

'Tal,' I said, lifting my right arm, palm inward, in a common Gorean greeting.

The shaggy creature, broad, powerful, monstrous in the proud deformation of his craft, stood before me, his feet planted firmly on the road. His head lifted. Its wide, narrow eyes, pale like water, regarded me through the brush of hair that almost concealed them.

In spite of his slow reaction to my presence, his deliberate and patient movements, I gathered that he was surprised. He had apparently not expected to meet anyone on this road. That puzzled me.

'Tal,' he said, his voice thick, almost less than human.

I sensed that he was considering how quickly he could get to the ax bound across the bundle.

'I mean you no harm,' I said.

'What do you want?' asked the carrier of wood, who must now have noticed that my shield and accouterments bore no insignia, and would have concluded that I was an outlaw.

'I am not an outlaw,' I said.

He obviously did not believe me.

'I am hungry,' I said. 'I have had nothing to eat in many hours.' 'I, too, am hungry,' he said, 'and have had nothing to eat in many hours.' 'Is your hut near?' I asked. I knew it would be from the time of day at which I had encountered him. The sun regulates the schedule of most Gorean crafts and the woodsman would now be returning with his day' s cutting. 'No,' he said.

'I mean you and you Home Stone no harm,' I said. 'I have no money and cannot pay you, but I am hungry.'

'A warrior takes what he wishes,' said the man.

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