John Norman

Priest-Kings of Gor

(Chronicles of Counter-Earth-3)


I, Tarl Cabot, formerly of Earth, am one who is known to the Priest-Kings of Gor.

It came about late in the month of En'Kara in the year 10,117 from the founding of the City of Ar that I came to the Hall of Priest-Kings in the Sardar Mountains on the planet Gor, our Counter-Earth.

I had arrived four days before on tarnback at the black palisade that encircles the dreaded Sardar, those dark mountains, crowned with ice, consecrated to the Priest-Kings, forbidden to me, to mortals, to all creatures of flesh and blood.

The tarn, my gigantic, hawklike mount, had been unsaddled and freed, for it could not accompany me into the Sardar. Once it had tried to carry me over the palisade into the mountains, but never again would I have essayed that flight. It had been caught in the shield of the Priest-Kings, invisible, not to be evaded, undoubtedly a field of some sort, which had so acted on the bird, perhaps affecting the mechanism of the inner ear, that the creature had become incapable of controlling itself and had fallen disoriented and confused to the earth below. None of the animals of Gor, as far as I knew, could enter the Sardar.Only men could enter, and they did not return.

I regretted freeing the tarn, for it was a fine bird, powerful, intelligent, fierce, courageous, loyal. And, strangely, I think it cared for me.At least I cared for it. And only with harsh words could I drive it away, and when it disappeared in the distance, puzzled, perhaps hurt, I wept.

It was not far to the fair of En'Kara, one of the four great fairs held in the shadow of the Sardar during the Gorean year, and I soon walked slowly down the long central avenue between the tents, the booths and stalls, the pavilions and stockades of the fair, toward the high, brassbound timber gate, formed of black logs, beyond which lies the Sardar itself, the sanctuary of this world's gods, known to the men below the mountains, the mortals, only as Priest-Kings.

I would stop briefly at the fair, for I must purchase food for the journey into the Sardar and I must entrust a leather-bound package to some member of the Caste of Scribes, a package which contained an account of what had occurred at the City of Tharna in the past months, a short history of events which I thought should be recorded.

I wished that I had had longer to visit the fair for on another occasion at another time I should have sought eagerly to examine its wares, drink at its taverns, talk with its merchants and attend its contests, for these fairs are free ground for the many competitive, hostile Gorean cities, and provide almost the sole opportunity for the citizens of various cities to meet peaceably with one another.

It is little wonder that the cities of Gor support and welcome the fairs.Sometimes they provide a common ground on which territorial and commercial dispute may be amicably resolved without loss of honour, plenipotentiaries of warring cities having apparently met by accident among the silken pavilions.

Further, members of castes such as the Physicians and Builders use the fairs for the dissemination of information and techniques among Caste Brothers, as is prescribed in their codes in spite of the fact that their respective cities may be hostile.And as might be expected members of the Caste of Scribes gather here to enter into dispute and examine and trade manuscripts.

My small friend, Torm of Ko-ro-ba, of the Caste of Scribes, had been to the fairs four times in his life.He informed me that in this time he had refuted seven hundred and eight scribes from fifty-seven cities, but I will not vouch for the accuracy of this report, as I sometimes suspect that Torm, like most members of his caste, and mine, tends to be a bit too sanguine in recounting his numerous victories.Moreover I have never been too clear as to the grounds on which the disputes of scribes are to be adjudicated, and it is not too infrequently that both disputants leave the field each fully convinced that he has the best of the contest.In differences among member of my own caste, that of the Warriors, it is easier to tell who has carried the day, for the defeated one often lies wounded or slain at the victor's feet.In the contests of scribes, on the other hand, the blood that is spilled is invisible and the valiant foemen retire in good order, reviling their enemies and recouping their forces for the next day's campaign.I do not hold this against the contests of scribes; rather I commend it to the members of my own caste.

I missed Torm and wondered if I would ever see him again, bounding about excoriating the authors of dusty scrolls, knocking the inkwell from his desk with an imperial sweep of his blue robe, leaping on the table in birdlike fury denouncing one scribe or another for independently rediscovering an idea that had already appeared in a century-old manuscript known to Torm of course but not to the luckless scribe in question, rubbing his nose, shivering, leaping down to thrust his feet against the everpresentm overloaded charcoal brazier that invariably burned under his table, amid the litter of his scraps and parchments, regardless of whatever the outside temperature might be.

I supposed Torm might be anywhere, for those of Ko-ro-ba had been scattered by the Priest-Kings.I would not search the fair for him, nor if he were here would I make my presence known, for by the will of the Priest-Kings no two men of Ko-ro-ba might stand together, and I had no wish to jeopardise the little scribe.Gor would be the poorer were it not for his furious eccentricities; the Counter-Earth would simply not be the same without belligerent, exasperated little Torm. I smiled to myself.if I should meet him I knew he would thrust himself upon me and insist upon being taken into the Sardar, though he would known it would mean his death, and I would have to bundle him in his blue robes, hurl him into a rain barrel and make my escape.Perhaps it would be safer to drop him into a well.Torm had stumbled into more than one well in his life and no one who knew him would think it strange to find him sputtering about at the bottom of one.

The fairs incidentally are governed by Merchant Law and supported by booth rents and taxes levied on the items exchanged.The commercial facilities of these fairs, from money changing to general banking, are the finest I know of on Gor, save those in Ar's Street of Coins, and letters of credit are accepted and loans negotiated, though often at usurious rates, with what seems reckless indifference.Yet perhaps this is not so puzzling, for the Gorean cities will, within their own walls, enforce the Merchant Law when pertinent, even against their own citizens.If they did not, of course, the fairs would be closed to the citizens of that city.

The contests I mentioned which take place at the fairs are, as would be expected, peaceable, or I should say, at least do not involve contests of arms.Indeed it is considered a crime against the Priest-Kings to bloody one's weapons at the fairs.The Priest-Kings, I might note, seem to be more tolerant of bloodshed in other localities.

Contests of arms, fought to the death, whereas they may not take place at the fairs are not unknown on Gor, and are popular in some cities.Contests of this sort, most often involving criminals and impoverished soldiers of fortune, offer prizes of amnesty or gold and are customarily sponsored by rich men to win the approval of the populace of their cities.Sometimes these men are merchants who wish thereby to secure goodwill for their products; sometimes they are practitioners of law, who hope to sway the votes of jury men; sometimes they are Ubars or High Initiates who find it in their interests to keep the crowds amused.Such contests, in which life is lost, used to be popular at Ar, for example, being sponsored in that city by the Caste of Initiates, who regard themselves as being the intermediaries between Priest-Kings and men, though I suspect that, at least on the whole, they know as little about the Priest-Kings as do other men. These contests, it might be mentioned, were banned in Ar when Kazrak of Port Kar became administrator of that city.It was not an action which was popular with the powerful Caste of Initiates.

The contests at the fairs, however, I am pleased to say, offer nothing more dangerous than wrestling, with no holds to the death permitted.Most of the contests involve such things as racing, feats of strength, and skill with bow and spear.Other contests of interest pit choruses and poets and players of various cities against one another in the several theatres of the fair.I had a friend once, Andreas of the desert city of Tor, of the Caste of Poets, who had once sung at the fair and won a cap filled with gold.And perhaps it is hardly necessary to add that the streets of the fair abound with jugglers, puppeteers, musicians and acrobats who, far from the theatres, compete in their ancient fashions for the copper tarn disks of the broiling, turbulent crowds.

Many are the objects for sale at the fair.I passed among wines and textiles and raw wool, silks, and brocades, copperware and glazed pottery, carpets and tapestries, lumber, furs, hides, salt, arms and arrows, saddles and harness, rings and bracelets and necklaces, belts and sandals, lamps and oils, medicines and meats and grains, animals such as the fierce tarns, Gor's winged mounts, and tharlarions, her domesticated lizards, and long chains of miserable slaves, both male and female.

Although no one may be enslaved at the fair, slaves may be bought and sold within its precincts, and slavers do a thriving business, exceeded perhaps only by that of Ar's Street of Brands.The reason for this is not simply that here is a fine market for such wares, since men from various cities pass freely to and fro at the fair, but that each Gorean, whether male or female, is expected to see the Sardar Mountains, in honour of the Priest-Kings, at least once in his life, prior to his twenty-fifth year.Accordingly the pirates and outlaws who beset the trade routes to ambush and attack the caravans on the way to the fair, if successful, often have more than inanimate metals and cloths to reward their vicious labours.

This pilgrimage to the Sardar, enjoyed by the Priest-Kings according to the Caste of the Initiates, undoubtedly plays its role in the distribution of beauty among the hostile cities of Gor.Whereas the males who accompany a caravan are often killed in its defence or driven off, this fate, fortunate or not, is seldom that of the caravan's women.It will be their sad lot to be stripped and fitted with the collars and chains of slave girls and forced to follow the wagons on foot to the fair, or if the caravan's tharlarions have been killed or driven off, they will carry its goods on their backs.Thus one practical effect of the edict of the Priest-Kings is that each Gorean girl must, at least once in her life, leave her walls and take the very serious risk of becoming a slave girl, perhaps the prize of a pirate or outlaw.

The expeditions sent out from the cities are of course extremely well guarded, but pirates and outlaws too can band together in large numbers and sometimes, even more dangerously, one city's warriors, in force, will prey upon another city's caravans.This, incidentally, is one of the more frequent causes of war among these cities.The fact that warriors of one city sometimes wear the insignia of cities hostile to their own when they make these attacks further compounds the suspicions and internecine strife which afflicts the Gorean cities.

This chain of reflections was occasioned in my mind by sight of some men of Port Kar, a savage, coastal city on the Tamber Gulf, who were displaying a sullen chain of twenty freshly branded girls, many of them beautiful.They were from the island city of Cos and had undoubtedly been captured at sea, their vessel burned and sunk.Their considerable charms were fully revealed to the eye of appraising buyers who passed down the line.The girls were chained throat to throat, their wrists locked behind the small of their backs with slave bracelets, and the knelt in the customary position of Pleasure Slaves.When a possible buyer would stop in front of one, one of the bearded scoundrels from Port Kar would poke her with a slave whip and she would lift her head and numbly repeat the ritual phrase of the inspected slave girl, Buy Me, Master.They had thought to come to the Sardar as free women, discharging their obligation to the Priest-Kings. They would leave as slave girls.I turned away.

My business was with the Priest-Kings of Gor.

Indeed, I had come to the Sardar to encounter the fabled Priest-Kings, whose incomparable power so inextricably influences the destinies of the cities and men of the Counter-Earth.

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