covered with canvas, carried on the back of Thurnock, had been six, rather large forest urts, about the size of tiny dogs. This evening, after the evening meal, we had opened the cage into the lower hold. They had scurried from the cage, dropping down to the sand, scampering off into the darkness.

I, with Thurnock and Rim, went back to the kitchen area. There was again fried vulo, and there was some left. I did not think it would take long for the girls to discover that they were not alone in the lower hold.

I nibbled at the fried vulo.

There was suddenly, from below decks, muffled, as thought far off, a terrified scream.

Had they heard movements in the darkness? Had they seen the gleam of tiny eyes? Burning at them from the blackness? Had one of them heard the breathing of tiny lungs near her face in the darkness? Had another felt fur brush against her calf, or tiny feet scampering unexpectedly over her bound body?

Both girls were now screaming.

I could imagine them, nude, bound, thrashing in the sand, terrified, hysterically jerking at the binding fiber which would continue to hold them. The screams were now piteous. They had been proud panther women. They were now hysterical, terrified girls.

I continued to nibble on the vulo leg.

A seaman approached. “Captain, said he, “the wenches in the lower hold crave audience.” I smiled. “Very well,” I said.

In a few moments, both girls, covered with wet sand, on their bodies, and in their eye lashes and hair, were placed, kneeling, before me. They were still perfectly secured. I sat, as before, on my stool behind the kitchen area. They knelt, as before, near the rings to which they had been chained. Only now both of them thrust their heads to the deck at my feet. They were shuddering uncontrollably, spasmodically.

“The camp and dancing circle, of Verna,” said the first girl, Tana, “lies north and east of Laura. Then, where the forest begins, look for a Tur tree, blazed ten feet above the ground, with the point of a girl’s spear. From this tree, travel generally north, seeking similarly blazed trees, a quarter of a pasang apart. There are fifty such trees. At the fiftieth there is a double blaze. Go then north by northeast. Again the trees are blazed, but now, at the foot of the truck, by the mark of a sleen knife. Go twenty such trees. Then look for a Tur tree, torn by lightning. A pasang north by northeast from that tree, again look for blazed tree, but now the blazing is, as before, high on the trunk, and made by a girl’s spear. Again go twenty such trees. You will then be in the vicinity of Verna’s dancing circle. Her camp, on the north bank of a tiny stream, well concealed, is two pasangs to the north.” Both girls lifted their head. Would I return them to the lower hold? Their eyes were terrified.

“What is your name?” I asked the first girl.

“Tana,” she whispered.

“What is your name?” I asked the second girl.

“Ela,” she said.

“You have no names,” I told them, “for you are slaves.”

They put down their heads.

“Chain them again by the necks,” I said to a seaman. It was done.

“Unbind them,” I said.

The girls’ bonds were removed.

They looked up at me, kneeling, terrified. They were chained by the neck. I looked into their eyes.

They looked up at me, piteous, the slaves.

“In the morning,” I said, “sell them in Lydius.”

They put down their heads, sobbing.

3 I Buy a Thief

A girl bumped into me, black haired, briefly skirted in brown, bare armed, barefoot, tanned, a small, sensuous wench, free.

We were jostling through crowds near the docks of Lydius.

Rim was with me, and Thurnock.

I looked after the girl, disappearing in the crowd. She had been free. She was safe from enslavement in her own city. She had perhaps grown up along the docks, and in the alleys behind the paga taverns.

I had noticed something about her, the side of her head, beneath her hair, as she had slipped swiftly past, but, at the moment, I could not place it. Some free girls, with family, I knew, kept themselves, as best they could, in certain port cities.

I glanced about myself, in the crowds, as we worked out way through them. I say a blond giant from Torvaldsland, with braided hair, in shaggy jacket; a merchant from Tyros, hurrying, perfumed and sleek; seamen from Cos, and Port Kar, mortal enemies, yet passing one another without thought in the streets of Lydius; a black woman, veiled in yellow, borne in a palanquin by eight black warriors, perhaps from as far south as Anango or Ianda; two hunters, perhaps from Ar, cowled in the heads of forest panthers; a wood cutter from one of the villages north of Lydius, his sticks bound on his back; a peasant, from south of Laurius, with a basket of suls; an intent, preoccupied scribe lean and clad in the scribe’s blue, with a scroll, perhaps come north for high fees to tutor the sons of rich men; a brown-clad, hearty fellow from Laura, some two hundred pasangs upriver; a slaver, with the medallion of Ar over his robes; two blond slave girls, clad in brief white, bells on their left ankles, walking together and laughing, speaking in the accents of Thentis; I saw even a warrior of the Tuchuks, from the distant, treeless plains of the south, thought I did not know him; it was not by the epicanthic fold that I recognized him; it was by the courage scars, high on his angular cheekbones.

I overheard an argument, between a seller of vegetables and two low-caste women, in simple robes of concealment.

Elsewhere I heard a vendor of pastries crying his wares. From within a nearby paga tavern I heard the sounds of musicians.

A physician, in his green robes, hurried past.

And I could smell the sea, Thassa, and the intermingling of the Laurius, with its fresh water, feeding into gleaming Thassa. I could smell tharlarion, and fish.

We had taken the Tesephone to mooring at a public dock. I wished to spend some days in Lydius, to lay in adequate supplies for the hunt.

I knew I was some days behind Marlenus of Ar, who now, I supposed, might be in Laura, upriver.

He sought Verna, for vengeance, because his honor had been challenged. I sought Talena, who had once been my free companion, now said to be slave of the outlaw girl, Verna.

I recalled Telima, who, prior to my departure for the north, had returned to her beloved marshes. I was angry.

I must seek Talena!

Thurnock, at my command, had this morning sold the two panther girls, Tana and Ela, at the slave market. It is quite near the wharves in Lydius.

I did not think it would be easy to find Talena, but I was confident that I could do so.

A leather worker passed me.

I did not, on nearing Lydius, fly the flag of Bosk, that bearing the head of a bosk, black, across a field of vertical green bars, the famous flag of Bosk, from the Marshes.

I did not wish to be recognized. I, and Rim and Thurnock, wore the simple tunics of seamen.

I would call myself Bosk, of Tabor. Tabor is an exchange island in Thassa, south of Teletus. It is named for the drum, which, rearing out of the sea, it resembles. My business was to go to Laura, and there bargain for a hold of sleen fur, which might be taken south for much profit. Some eight to ten bales of sleen fur, highly prized, is a plausible cargo for a light galley. That the Tesephone, a ram-ship, was engaging in commerce was unusual, but not particularly so, especially considering the cargo we were putatively interested in carrying. Most commercial voyages, needless to say, are carried out in deeper-keeled, broader-beamed ships, the famed round ships of Thassa. The representative of the Merchants, to whom I reported my business, and to whom I paid wharfage, asked no questions. He did not even demand the proof of registration of the Tesephone of Tabor. The Merchants, who control Lydius, under merchant law, for it is a free port, like Helmutsport, and Schendi and Bazi, are more interested in having their port heavily trafficked than strictly policed. Indeed, at the wharves I had even seen two green ships. Green is the color common to pirates. I supposed, did they pay their wharfage and declare some sort of business, the captains of those ships were as little interrogated as i. The governance of Lydius, under the merchants, incidentally, is identical to that of the exchange islands, or free islands, in Thassa. Three with which I was familiar, from various voyages, were Tabor, Teletus and, to the north, offshore from Torvaldsland, Scagnar. Of these, to be honest, and to give the merchants their due, I will admit that Tabor and Teletus are rather strictly controlled. It is said, however, by some of the merchants there, that this manner of caution and restriction, has to some extent diminished their position in the spheres of trade. Be that as it may, Lydius, though not what you would call an open port, was indulgent, and permissive. Most ports and islands on Thassa, of course, are not managed by the Merchants, but, commonly, by magistrates appointed by the city councils. In Port Kar, my city, the utilization of the facilities of the port is regulated by a board of four magistrates, the Port Consortium, which reports directly to the Council of Captains, which, since the downfall of the warring Ubars, is sovereign in the city. I suppose the magistrate, who, with his papers, met us at the dock, did not believe my story.

He was smiling, when he wrote down my putative business. He had looked at my men. They did not appear to be merchant rowers. They looked much like what they were, men of Port Kar.

We tied up next to a medium-class ram-ship of Tyros. Its heavy beams were painted yellow.

The mate of the ship leaned over the rail. He wore a brimless yellow cap, over one ear. “I hear you are of Tabor,” he said.

“Yes,” said I.

“We,” he said, “are of Turia.”

I smiled. Turia is a city of the far south, below the equator. It lies in the lands of the Wagon Peoples. There is little water closer to it than a thousand pasangs. He might as well have used Tor, which is an oasis city in the deserts far below Ar, and to its east.

He laughed.

I lifted my hand to him, and turned about my business.

Rim, Thurnock and I continued to make our ways through the crowds at the waterfront.

We passed great piles of rough goods, which, later, would be loaded on barges, for transport upriver to Laura, tools, metals, woolens. We passed, too, through goods which had been brought downriver from Laura, and would pass through Lydius, bales of sleen fur, and bundles of panther hides and tabuk pelts. There would be

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