'I do not wish to take anything from you,' I said.

He regarded me, and I thought the trace of a smile cracked through the stubbled leather of his broad face.

'I have no daugher,' he said. 'I have no silver, and no goods.' 'Then I wish you prosperity,' I laughed, 'and will be on my way.' I passed him and continued down the road.

I had moved but a few steps when his voice arrested me. It was hard to understand the words, for those of the lonely Caste of Woodsmen do not often speak.

'I have peas and turnips, garlic and onions in my hut,' said the man, his bundle like a giant' s hump on his back.

'The Priest-Kings themselves,' I said, 'could not ask for more.' 'Then, Warrior,' said the man, issuing Gor' s blunt invitation to a low caste dinner, 'share my kettle.'

'I am honoured,' I said, and I was.

Whereas I was of high caste and he of low, yet in his own hut he would be, by the laws of Gor, a prince and sovereign, for then he would be in the place of his own Home Stone. Indeed, a cringing whelp of a man, who would never think of lifting his eyes from the ground in the presence of a member of one of the high castes, a crushed and spiritless churl, an untrustworthy villain or coward, an avaricious and obsequious peddlar often becomes, in the place of his own Home Stone, a veritable lion among his fellows, proud and splendid, generous and bestowing, a king be it only in his own den. Indeed, frequent enough were the stories where even a warrior was overcome by an angry peasant into whose hut he had intruded himself, for in the vicinity of their Home Stones men fight with all the courage, savagery and resourcefulness of the mountain larl. More than one are the peasant fields of Gor which have been freshened with the blood of foolish warriors. The broad-chested carrier of wood was grinning from ear to ear. He would have a guest tonight. He would speak little himself, being unskilled in speech, and being too proud to form sentences which he knew would most likely be stumbling and ungrammatical, but would sit by the fire until dawn refusing to let me sleep, wanting me to talk to him, to tell him stories, to recount adventures, to give him news of faraway places. What I said, I knew, would be less important than the fact that something was said, that he had not been alone again.

'I am Zosk,' he said.

I wondered if it were a use-name, or his real name. Members of low castes often call themselves by a use-name, reserving the real name for intimates and friends, to protect it against capture by a sorceror or worker of spells who might use it to do them harm. Somehow I sensed that Zosk was his real name.

'Zosk of what city?' I asked.

The low-slung, broad frame seemed to stiffen. The muscles in his legs seemed suddenly to bulge like cable. The rapport I had felt with him seemed suddenly gone, like a sparrow flown or a leaf torn suddenly from a branch. 'Zosk…' he said.

'Of what city?' I asked.

'Of no city,' he said.

'Surely,' I said, 'you are of Ko-ro-ba.'

The squat, misformed giant of a man seemed almost to recoil as if struck, and to tremble. I sensed that this simple, unaffected primate of a man was suddenly afraid. Zosk, I felt, would have faced a larl armed only with his ax, but yet, here, he seemed frightened. The great fists holding the cords of the bundle of wood turned white; the sticks rattled in the bundle. 'I am Tarl Cabot,' I said. 'Tarl of Ko-ro-ba.'

Zosk uttered an inarticulate cry, and began to stumble backwards. His hands fumbled on the cords and the great bundle of wood loosened and clattered to the stone flooring of the road. Turning to run his foot slipped on one of the sticks and he fell. He fell almost on top of the ax which lay on the road. Impulsively, as though it were a life- giving plank in the maelstrom of his fear, he seized the ax.

With the ax in his hands, suddenly he seemed to remember his caste, and he crouched in the road, there in the dusk, a few feet from me, like a gorilla clutching the broad-headed ax, breathing deeply, sucking in the air, mastering his fear.

His eyes glared at me through the grizzled, matted locks of his hair. I could not understand his fear, but I was proud to see him master it, for fear is the great common enemy of all living things, and his victory I felt somehow was also mine. I remembered once when I had feared thus in the mountains of New Hampshire, and how shamefully I had yielded to my fear and had run, a slave to the only degrading passion of man.

Zosk straightened as much as his giant bow of a backbone would allow him. He was no longer afraid.

He spoke slowly. His voice was thick, but it was fully under his control. 'Say you are not Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba,' he said.

'But I am,' I said.

'I ask your favour,' said Zosk, his voice thick with emotion. He was pleading. 'Say you are not Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba.'

'I am Tarl Cabot of Ko-ro-ba,' I repeated firmly.

Zosk lifted his ax.

It seemed light in his massive grip. I felt it could have felled a small tree with a single blow. Step by step, he approached me, the ax held over his shoulder with both hands.

At last he stopped before me. I thought there were tears in his eyes. I made no move to defend myself. Somehow I knew Zosk would not strike. He struggled with himself, his simple wide face twisted in agony, his eyes tortured.

'May the Priest-Kings forgive me!' he cried.

He threw down the ax, which rang on the stones of the road to Ko-ro-ba. Zosk sank down and sat cross-legged in the road, his gigantic frame shaken with sobs, his massive head buried in his hands, his thick, guttural voice moaning with distress.

At such a time a man may not be spoken to, for according to the Gorean way of thinking pity humiliates both he who pities and he who is pitied. According to the Gorean way, one may love but one may not pity. So I moved on.

I had forgotten my hunger. I no longer considered the dangers of the road. I would make it to Ko-ro-ba by dawn.

Chapter Four: THE SLEEN

In the darkness I stumbled on towards the walls of Ko-ro-ba, striking the stones of the road with the butt of mt spear, to keep on the road and to drive possible serpents from my path. It was a nightmarish journey, and a foolish one, trying to rush on through the night to find my city, bruising, falling, scraping myself in the darkness, yet driven on by such a torment of doubt and apprehension that I could allow myself no rest until I stood again on the lofty bridges of Ko-ro-ba.

Was I not Tarl of Ko-ro-ba? Was there not such a city? Each pasang stone proclaimed there was — at the end of this road. Yet why was the road untended? Why had it not been traveled. Why had Zosk of the Caste of Carriers of Wood acted as he had? Why did my shield, my helmet, my accouterments not bear the proud sign of Ko-ro-ba?

Once I shouted in pain. Two fangs had struck into my calf. An ost, I thought! But the fangs held fast, and I heard the popping, sucking sound of the bladderlike seed pods of a leech plant, as they expanded and contracted like small ugly lungs. I reached down and jerked the plant from the soil at the side of the road. It writhed in my hand like a snake, its pods gasping. I jerked the two fanglike thorns from my leg. The leech plant strikes like a cobra, and fastens two hollow thorns into its victim. The chemical responses of the bladderlike pods produce a mechanical pumping action, and the blood is sucked into the plant to nourish it. As I tore the thing from my leg, glad that the sting had not been that of the venomous ost, the three hurtling moons of Gor broke from the dark cover of the clouds. I held the quivering plant up. Then I twisted it apart. Already my blood, black in the silvery night, mixed with the juices of the plant, stained the stem even to the roots. In a matter of perhaps two or three seconds, it had drawn perhaps a gill of liquid. With a shudder I hurled the loathsome plant away from the road. Normally such plants are cleared away from the sides of the roads and from inhabited areas. They are primarily dangerous to children and small animals, but a grown man who might lose his footing among them would not be likely to survive.

I prepared to set forth on my journey again, grateful that now the three moons of Gor might guide my path on this perilous road. I asked myself, in a sane moment, if I should not seek shelter, and I knew that I should, but I could not — because questions burned within me that I could not dare to answer. Only the evidence of my eyes and ears could allay my fears, my bewilderment. I sought a truth I did not know, but knew I must discover — and it lay at the end of this road.

I caught a strange, unpleasant scent, much like a common weasel or ferret, only stronger. In that instant every sense was alert.

I froze, an almost animal response.

I was silent, seeking the shelter of stillness and immobility. My head turned imperceptibly as I scanned the rocks and bushes about the road. I thought I heard a slight sniffling, a grunt, a small doglike whine. Then nothing.

It too had frozen, probably sensing my presence. Most likely it was a sleen; hopefully a young one. I guessed it had not been hunting me or I would not have been likely to have smelled it. Perhaps I stood thus for six or seven minutes. Then I saw it, on its six short legs, undulate across the road, like a furred lizard, its pointed, whiskered snout swaying from side to side testing the wind.

I breathed a sigh of relief.

It was indeed a young sleen, not more than eight feet long, and it lacked the patience of an older animal. Its attack, it it should detect my presence, would be noisy, a whistling rush, a clumsy squealing charge. It glided away into the darkness, perhaps not fully convinced that it was not alone, a young animal ready to neglect and overlook those slight traces that can spell the difference between death and survival in Gor' s brutal and predatory world.

I continued my journey.

Black, scudding clouds again obscured the three moons of Gor, and the wind began to rise. I could see the shadows of tall Ka-la-na trees bending against the darkness of the night, their leaves lifting and rustling on the long branches. I smelled rain in the air. In the far distance there was a sudden flash of lightning, and the sound or remote thunder reached me some seconds later.

As I hurried on, I became more apprehensive. By now it seemed to me that I should be able to see the lights of the cylinder city of Ko-ro-ba. The wind gathered force, seeming to tear at the trees.

In a flash of light I spied a pasang stone and eagerly rushed to it. In the mounting wind and darkness I traced the numbering on the stone. It was true. I should now be able to see the lights of Ko-ro-ba. Yet I could see nothing. The city must be in darkness.

Why were the lanterns not hung on the lofty bridges? Why were the lamps of a hundred colours and flames not lit in the compartments of the city, telling in the lamp codes of Gor of talk, or drinking, of love? Why were the huge beacons on the wall not burning, not summoning Ko-ro-ba' s far-roving tarnsmen back to the shelter of

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