better prices on sleen fur, of course, in Laura itself. Too, from Laura, much in evidence, were great barrels of salt, stacks of lumber, and sleds of stones, on wooden runners, from the quarries to her east. We also saw cages filled with the blond village girls, taken on raids to the north, they too, in their cages brought on the barges downriver from Laura. They would not be sold in Lydius, but, the cages emptied, would be taken by sea, chained in the holds of slave ships, to southern markets. We also passed a chain of male slaves, brought downriver from Laura, shaven-headed wretches, taken somewhere in the forests by fierce panther girls. They had probably been sold near Laura, or along the river.

The two male slaves I had purchased from Sheera and her band, I had freed. I gave them clothing, and two silver tarsks apiece. They had wished to remain with me, in my service. I had permitted it.

“What price did you obtain for the panther girls you sold?” I asked Thurnock. I had not been much interested in them. It only now occurred to me to inquire what they had gained me.

“Four pieces of gold,” said Thurnock.

“Excellent,” I said. That was a high price for a raw girl in the north. They, of course, had been beauties. They had been panther women. In the hold of the Tesephone, they had learned that they were female. Tana and Ela, I expected, would make exquisite slaves.

We continued along the docks of Lydius, satisfying our curiosity as to the port. We passed some fortified warehouse, in which space is available to merchants. In such places, there would be gems, and gold, silks, and wines and perfumes, jewelries and spices, richer goods not to be left exposed on the docks. In such houses, too, sometimes among the other merchandise, there are pleasure slaves, trained girls, imported perhaps from Ar. Their sales will either be public or private. They are kept in lamplit, low-ceillinged, ornately barred cells. Such girls are commonly rare in the north. They bring high prices.

We passed another paga tavern. I licked my lips.

Lydius is one of the few cities of the north which has public baths, as in Ar and Turia, though smaller and less opulent.

It is a port of paradoxes, where one finds, strangely mingled, luxuries and gentilities of the south with the simplicities and rudenesses of the less civilized north. It is not unusual to encounter a fellow with a jacket of sleen fur, falling to his knees, sewn in the circle stitch of Scagnar, who wears upon his forehead a silken headband of Ar. He might carry a double-headed ax, but at his belt may hang a Turian dagger. He might speak in the accents of Tyros, but startle you with his knowledge of the habits of wild tarns, knowledge one would expect to only find in one of Thentis. Those of Lydius pretend to much civilization, and are fond of decorating their houses, commonly of wood, with high pointed roofs, in manners they think typical of Ar, of Ko-ro-ba, of Tharna and Turia, but to settle points of honor they commonly repair to a skerry in Thassa, little more than forty feet wide, there to meet opponents with axes, in the manner of those of Torvaldsland.

I recalled the girl who jostled me earlier. She had been a sensuous little thing. Again, through my memory, flashed the vague image of the side of her head, as she slipped past, and her hair, moving aside. I could not place what I was trying to recall, if anything.

It was now near noon.

“Let us return to some paga tavern near the ship,” I suggested.

“Good,” said Thurnock.

This very afternoon I wished to begin to purchase supplies.

We, with Rim, turned about. I was anxious to be on my way.

Two warriors passed, proud of their red.

They were probably mercenaries. Their speech reminded me of that of Ar. They did not wear, in silver, the medallion of the Ubar. They were not of the retinue of Marlenus, whom I now believed to be in Laura, or in the vicinity of Laura.

Yes, I was anxious to be on my way. I wished to reach Verna before Marlenus of Ar.

I expected that I would be successful. I had information, specific information, thanks to Tana and Ela, which Marlenus, presumably, lacked.

“I am hungry now,” remarked Rim.

We were just passing a paga tavern. Within it, dancing in the sand, chained, was a short-bodied, marvelous female slave.

I laughed. So, too, did Thurnock.

“The taverns nearer the ship,” I suggested, “are doubtless more crowded.” We laughed again, and entered the tavern.

I was in a good mood. I was sure that I would regain Talenus, and Tana and Ela had gone for a good price. We would use part of the proceeds from their sale to purchase our lunch.

We took a table, an inconspicuous one, near the rear of the paga tavern, yet one with an unimpeded view. The short-bodied girl was indeed superb. Aside from her chains, confining her wrists and ankles, she wore only her collar.

There was a flash of slave bells at my side, and a dark-haired, yellow-silked girl, a paga girl, knelt beside us, where we sat cross-legged behind the small table. “Paga, Masters?” “For three,” said I, expansively. “And bring bread and bosk, and grapes.” “Yes, Master.” I felt rather jubilant. Talena would soon again be mine. I had made a good profit on Tana and Ela.

The music of the musicians was quite good. I reached to my pouch, to take from it a golden tarn and throw it to them.

“What is wrong?” asked Thurnock.

I lifted the strings of the cut pouch. I looked at Rim and Thurnock. We looked at one another, and together we laughed.

“It was the girl,” I said, “the black-haired girl, she who jostled me in the crowd.” Rim nodded.

I was quite amazed. It had been done so swiftly, so deftly. She had been quite good.

I had not, until now, realized I had been robbed.

“I trust,” I said to Thurnock, “that your purse is intact.”

Thurnock looked down, swiftly. He grinned. “It is,” he said.

“I too, have some money,” volunteered Rim, “though I am not as rich as two such wealthy ones as you.” ‘I have the four gold pieces from the selling of the panther wenches,” said Thurnock.

“Good,” I said, “Let us feast.”

We did so.

In the midst of the meal I looked up. “That’s is it!” I said and laughed. I now recalled clearly what had been only a vague flash of memory, the recollection of something seen so swiftly it had, before, scarcely been noticed. I laughed.

“What is the matter?” asked Thurnock, his mouth filled with bosk.

“I now recall what it was about the girl who robbed me,” I said. “I saw it, but did not really see it. It troubled me. Only now do I recall it clearly.” “What?” asked Thurnock.

Rim looked at me.

“Behind her hair, as she brushed past,” I said.

“What?” said Thurnock.

“Her ear,” I said. “Her ear was notched.”

Rim and Thurnock laughed. “A thief,” said Thurnock, swallowing a mouthful of bosk and reaching for the paga goblet.

“A very skillful one,” I said. “A very skillful one.”

She had indeed been skillful. I am an admirer of skills, of efficiencies of various sorts. I admire the skill of the leather worker with his needle, that of the potter’s strong hands, that of the vintner with his wines, that of warriors with their weapons.

I looked to one side. There, lost to the bustle in the tavern, oblivious to the music, sat two men across a board of one hundred red and yellow squares, playing Kaissa, the game. One was a Player, a master who makes his living, though commonly poorly, from the game, playing for a cup of paga perhaps and the right to sleep in the taverns for the night. The other, sitting cross-legged with him, was the broad-shouldered, blond giant from Torvaldsland whom I had seen earlier. He wore a shaggy jacket. His hair was braided. His feet and legs were bound in skins and cords. The large, curved, double-bladed, long-handled ax lay beside him. On his large brown leather belt, confining the long shaggy jacket he wore, which would have fallen to his knees, were carved the luck signs of the north. Kaissa is popular in Torvaldsland as well as elsewhere on Gor. In halls, it is often played far into the night, by fires, by the northern giants. Sometimes disputes, which otherwise might be settled only by ax or sword, are willingly surrendered to a game of Kaissa, if only for the joy of engaging in the game. The big fellow was of Torvaldsland. The master might have been from as far away as Ar, or Tor, or Turia. But they had between them the game, its fascination and its beauty, reconciling whatever differences, in dialect, custom or way of light might divide them.

The game was beautiful.

The girl who served us was also beautiful. We had finished with our meal. And we were now finishing second cups of paga.

She again knelt beside us. “Do masters wish more?” she asked.

“What is your name?” asked Rim, his hand in her hair. He turned her head slightly to the side.

She looked at him, for the side of her eyes. “Tendite,” she said, “if it pleases Master.” It was a Turian name. I had once known a girl by that name.

“Do masters wish more?” she asked.

Rim grinned.

There was, outside, the shouting of men in the street. We looked to one another. Thurnock threw down a silver tarsk on the table.

I, too, was curious. So, too, was Rim. He regarded Tendite.

She moved to dart away. Quickly, he took her by the hair and pulled her quickly, bent over, to a low, sloping side of the room. “Key” he called to the proprietor, pointing toward the side of the room. The proprietor hurried over, in his apron, and handed Rim a key. It was number six. Rim, taking the key in his mouth, put the girl down rudely on her knees, her back to the low wall, took her hands back and over her head and snapped them into slave bracelets, dangling on a chain, passing through a heavy ring set in the wall. He then took the key, which could open the bracelets, and dropped it in his pouch. She looked up at him, in fury. It is a way of reserving, for a time, a girl for yourself. “I shall return shortly,” he said.

She knelt there, in the darkness of the side of the room, in her yellow silk, her hands locked above and behind her head.

“Do not run away,” Rim cautioned her.

He then turned to join us and, together, we left the tavern, to see what the commotion might be outside. Many others, too, had left the tavern.

The girl had left the dancing sand. Even the musicians poured out of the tavern. We walked along the front of the street, until we came to a side street, leading

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