“They are superb,” protested Arn.

Rim shrugged.

The girls knelt proudly, angrily, while the brief panther skins were swiftly, rudely, cut from them.

They were incredibly beautiful.

“Common stock,” said Rim.

The girls gasped.

Arn was not pleased.

Rim gestured to Cara. “Stand, Slave,” said he, and remove your garment.” Angrily, Cara did so.

“Remove the fillet,” said Rim.

She pulled the woolen fillet from her hair, letting it fall free.

“Hands behind your head, head back, and turn,” said Rim.

In fury, Cara did so, on the beach, inspected.

“That,” said Rim, “is a girl.”

Arn regarded her, obviously impressed.

She was indeed beautiful, perhaps more beautiful than the panther girls. They were all incredibly beautiful women.

“Clothe yourself,” said Rim to Cara.

Swiftly, gratefully, she did so, pulling on the brief, sleeveless woolen tunic, and replacing the woolen fillet, binding back her hair. Then she knelt again, to one side and behind her master. Her head was down. She stifled a sob. No one paid her attention. She was slave.

“Since we are friends, and have known one another for many years, Rim,” began Arn, affably, “I am willing to let these two beauties go for ten pieces of gold apiece, nineteen if you take the pair, as they are.” Rim stood up. “There is no trading to be done here,” he said.

I, too, stood up. It was important to me, however, to obtain at least one of these girls. It was a portion of my plan to attempt to obtain information on the whereabouts of Verna’s band. I suspected that at least one of these girls might know matters of interest to me, and the object of my quest. It was for such a reason that we had stopped at the exchange point.

“Nine pieces of gold apiece,” said Arn.

“You insult me,” said Rim. “These are untrained girls, not yet even branded, raw from the forest.” “They are beauties,” said Arn.

“Common stock,” said Rim.

“What do you conjecture they are worth?” asked Arn.

“We shall pay you,” said Rim, “four copper tarsks per wench.”

“Sleen!” cried Arn. “Sleen!”

The girls cried out with fury.

“Five for each,” said Rim.

“These women could be sold in Ar,” cried Arn, “for ten gold pieces each!” “Perhaps,” said Rim, “but we are not in Ar.” “I refuse to sell for less than eight gold pieces each,” said Arn.

“Perhaps you could take them to Lydius, and sell them there,” suggested Rim. I smiled.

“Or perhaps to Laura?”

Rim was shrewd. There would be much danger in taking such women to these places. Arn, outlaw, well knew this. We might easily sell such women in Laura, or, more likely, in Lydius, bit it would not be an easy matter for an outlaw to do so. Rim, followed by Cara, and myself, began to walk back down the beach, toward the Tesephone.

Arn, angrily, followed him.

“Five each!” exploded Arn. “It is my lowest price!”

“I trust,” said Rim, “that many ships will pass the exchange point, and that you will find your buyer.” This time of year, Rim had told me, not too many ships pass the exchange point. The early spring is the favored time, in order to have the girls partially trained and to market prior to the spring and summer festivals in many cities. It was already the middle of summer.

“I will trade them for this female,” said Arn, gesturing to Cara.

Rim regarded Cara. She carried the wind, and cups. She stood there, the sand to her ankles, in the brief, white, woolen, sleeveless tunic, her hair bound back with the white woolen fillet.

Her wishes were unimportant.

Her eyes were filled with fear; her lower lip trembled.

Would he choose to exchange her? “Go to the ship,” said Rim.

Cara turned, stumbling in the sand, weeping, and wading to the Tesephone. Thurnock took the wine and cups from her, and lifted her on board.

She was trembling.

Rim and I entered the water, and began to wade toward the Tesephone. “Two pieces of gold each!” cried Arn.

Rim turned in the water. “Five copper tarn disks each,” he said.

“I have much gold!” cried Arn. “You insult me!”

“Your purse was stolen in Lydius,” Rim reminded him, “by a little notch-eared wench named Tina.” Arn’s men laughed uproariously on the beach. He turned to glare at them. They struggled to contain their mirth. Then Arn turned to face Rim, and laughed. “What then do you truly offer?” he demanded.

Rim grinned. “A silver tarsk each,” said he.

“The females are yours,” laughed Arn. One of his men unbound the girl’s necks from the branch, and, a hand in the hair of each, brought them a foot or two into the water.

I took two silver tarsks from the pouch I wore at the belt of the tunic and threw them to Arn.

Rim, from the outlaw who held them, took the girls by the hair, and waded with them, their hands bound behind their back, toward the ship.

I seized Thurnock’s lowered hand, and scrambled on board.

Rim now had the two girls at the side of the ship. “You will never break us!” hissed one of them to him.

Rim held their heads under water, for better than an Ehn. When he pulled their heads from the water, they were wild-eyed, sputtering and gasping, their lungs shrieking for air.

There was little fight in them as they were lifted on board.

“Chain them to the deck,” I told Thurnock.

“This one,” said the panther girl, jabbing the suspended figure with a knife, “is interesting — he afforded us much pleasure, before we wearied of him.” It was the afternoon following our transaction with Arn, the outlaw. We had come north, along the western shore of Thassa, the forests on our right. We were a mere ten pasangs from the exchange point where we had, the preceding day, obtained two panther girls.

Male and female outlaws do not much bother one another at the exchange points. They keep their own markets. I cannot recall a case of females being enslaved at an exchange point, as they bargained with their wares, nor of males being enslaved at their exchange points, when displaying and merchandising their captures. If the exchange points became unsafe for either male or female outlaws, because of the others, the system of exchange points would be largely valueless. The permanency of the point, and is security, seems essential to the trade.

“He should bring a high price from a soft, rich woman,” the girl advised us. “Yes,” granted Rim,” “he seems sturdy, and handsome.” Another panther girl, behind the man, struck him suddenly, unexpectedly, with a whip.

He cried out in pain.

His head, a strip from the forehead to the back of his neck, had been freshly shaved.

The girls had set two poles in the sand, and lashed a high crossbar to them. The man’s wrists, widely apart, were, by leather binding fiber, fastened to this bar. He was nude. He hung about a foot from the ground. His legs had been widely spread and tied to the side poles.

Behind this frame, and to one side, there was another frame. In it, too, hung a miserable wretch, put up for sale by panther girls.

His head, too, was shaved, in the shame badge.

“This was the exchange point,” said Rim to me, “where I myself was sold.” The panther girl, Sheera, who was leader of this band, sat down in the warm sand.

“Let us bargain,” she said.

She sat cross-legged, like a man. Her girls formed a semi-circle behind her. Sheera was a strong, black-haired wench, with a necklace of claws and golden chains wrapped about her neck. There were twisted, golden armlets on her bronzed arms. About her left ankle, threaded, was an anklet of shells. At her belt she wore a knife sheath. The knife was in her hand, and, as she spoke, she played with it, and drew in the sand.

“Serve wine,” said Rim, to Cara.

Rim and I, as we had with Arn, and his men, sat down with Sheera, and her girls. Cara, the slave girl, just as she had done with Arn and the men, served wine. The girls, no more than the men, noticed her. For she was slave.

It interested me that the panther girls showed her no more respect, nor attention, than they did. But they did not acknowledge their sisterhood with such animals as she.

I was not interested in the purchase of men, but I was interested in whatever information I might be able to gather from panther girls. And these girls were free. Who knew what they might know? “Wine, Slave,” said Sheera.

“Yes, Mistress,” whispered Cara, and filled her cup.

Sheera regarded her with contempt. Head down, Cara crept back.

Panther girls are arrogant. They live by themselves in the northern forests, by hunting, and slaving and outlawry. They have little respect for anyone, or anything, saving themselves and, undeniably, the beasts they hunt, the tawny forest panthers, the swift, sinuous sleen.

I can understand why it is that such woman hate men, but it is less clear to me why they hold such enmity to women. Indeed, they accord more respect to men,

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