John Norman

Players of Gor

(Chronicles of Counter-Earth — 20)

1 Samos

I looked up from the board, idly, as the woman, struggling, in the grasp of two guards, was thrust into the vicinity of our table.

'It is your move,' said Samos.

I regarded the board. I moved my Ubar's Tarnsman to Ubara's Tarnsman Five. It was a positioning move. The Tarnsman can move only one space on the positioning move. It attacks only on a flight move.

The woman struggled fiercely in the grasp of the two guards. She could not, of course, free herself.

Samos studied the board. He positioned his Home Stone. It was, looking at the tiny counter at the edge of the board, his tenth move. Most Kaissa boards do not have this counter. It consisted of ten small, cylindrical wooden beads strung on a wire. The Home Stone must be placed by the tenth move. He had placed it at his now- vacated Ubar's Initiate One. In this position, as at the Ubara's Initiate One, it is subject to only three lines of attack. Other legitimate placements subject it to five lines of attack. He was also fond of placing the Home Stone late, usually on the ninth or tenth move. In this way, his decision could take into consideration his opponent's early play, his opening, or response to an opening, or development.

I myself, who's Home Stone was already placed, preferred a much earlier and more central placement of the Home Stone. I did not wish to be forced to sacrifice a move for Home-Stone placement in a situation that might, for all I knew, not turn out to be to my liking, a situation in which the obligatory placement might even cost me a tempo. Similarly, although a somewhat more central location of the Home Stone exposes it to more lines of attack, it also increases its mobility, and thereby its capacities to evade attack. These considerations are controversial in the theory of Kaissa. Much depends on the psychology of the individual player.

Incidentally, there are many versions of Kaissa played on Gor. In some of these versions, the names of the pieces differ, and, in some, even more alarmingly, their nature and power. The caste of Players, to its credit, has been attempting to standardize Kaissa for years.

A major victory in this matter was secured a few years ago when the caste of Merchants, which organizes and manages the Sardar Fairs, agreed to a standardized version, proposed by, and provisionally approved by, the high council of the caste of Players, for the Sardar tournaments, one of the attractions of the Sardar Fairs. This for of Kaissa, now utilized in the tournaments is generally referred to, like the other variations, simply as Kaissa. Sometimes, however, to distinguish it from differing forms of the game, it is spoken of as Merchant Kaissa, from the role of the Merchants in making it the official form of Kaissa for the fairs, Player Kaissa, from the role of the Players in its codification, or the Kaissa of En'Kara, for it was officially promulgated for the first time at one of the fairs of En'Kara, that which occurred in 10,124 C.A., Contasta Ar, from the Founding of Ar, or in year 5 of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, in Port Kar.

The fair of En'Kara occurs in the spring. It is the first fair in the annual cycle of the Sardar Fairs, gigantic fairs which take place on the plains lying below the western slopes of the Sardar Mountains. These fairs, and others like them, play an important role in the Gorean culture and economy. They are an important clearing house for ideas and goods, among them female slaves.

The woman stifled a cry and stamped her foot.

Samos, his Home Stone positioned, looked up.

It was now two days before the Twelfth Passage Hand, in the year 10,129 C.A. Soon it would be Year Eleven in the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, in Port Kar. It seemed, somehow, only recently that the five Ubars, who had divided Port Kar between them, had been deposed. Squat, brilliant Chung and tall, long-haired Nigel, like a warlord from Torvaldsland, had fought with us against the fleets of Cos and Tyros, participating with us in the victory of the Twenty-Fifth of Se'Kara, in Year One of the Council of Captains; remained in Port Kar as high captains, admirals in our fleet. Sullius Maximus was now a despised and minor courtier at the court of Chenbar of Kasra, Ubar of Tyros, the Sea Sleen. Henrius Sevarius, freed, now a young man, had his own ship and holding in Port Kar. He owned a luscious young slave, Vina, whom he well mastered. She, now a love slave, had once been the ward of Chenbar, Ubar of Tyros, and once had been intended to be the free companion of gross Lurius of Jad, the Ubar of Cos, thence to be proclaimed Ubara of Cos, which union would have even further strengthened the ties between those two great island ubarates. She had been captured at sea and had fallen slave. Once marked and collared, of course, her political interest had vanished. A new life had then been hers, that of the mere slave. I did not know the whereabouts of the fifth Ubar, Eteocles.

We were in the great hall in the holding of Samos, in Port Kar. The room was lit by torches. Many of his men, sitting cross-legged at low tables, as we were, were about. They were eating and drinking, being served by slaves. We sat a bit apart from them. Some musicians were present. They were not now playing.

I heard a slave girl laughing, somewhere across the room.

Outside, in the canal traffic, I heard a drum, cymbals and trumpets, and a man shouting. He was proclaiming the excellencies of some theatrical troupe, such as the cleverness of its clowns and the beauty of its actresses, probably slaves. They had performed, it seems, in the high cities and before Ubars. Such itinerant troupes, theatrical troupes, carnival groupings, and such, are not uncommon on Gor. They consist usually of rogues and outcasts. With their wagons and tents, often little more than a skip and a jump ahead of creditors and magistrates, they roam from place to place, rigging their simple stages in piazzas and squares, in yards and markets, wherever an audience may be found, even at the dusty intersections of country crossroads. With a few boards and masks, and a bit of audacity, they create the mystery of performance, the magic of theater. They are bizarre, incomparable vagabonds. They are denied the dignity of the funeral pyre and other forms of honorable burial.

The group outside, doubtless on a rented barge, was not the first to pass beneath the narrow windows of the house of Samos this evening. There were now several such groups in the city. Their hand-printed handbills and hand-painted posters, the latter pasted on the sides of buildings and on the news boards, were much in evidence. All this had to do with the approach of the Twelfth Passage Hand, which preceded the Waiting Hand.

The Waiting Hand, the five-day period preceding the vernal equinox, the first day of spring, is a very solemn time for most Goreans. During this time few ventures are embarked upon, and little or no business is conducted. During this time most Goreans remain within their houses. It is in this time that the doors of many homes are sealed with pitch and have nailed to them branches of the brak bush, the leaves of which have a purgative effect. These precautions, and others like them, are intended to discourage the entry of ill luck into the houses.

In the houses there is little conversation and no song. It is a time, in general, of mourning, meditation and fasting. All this changes, of course, wit the arrival of the vernal equinox, which, in most Gorean cities, marks the New Year.

At dawn on the day of the vernal equinox a ceremonial greeting of the sun takes place, conducted usually by the Ubar or administrator of the city. This, in effect, welcomes the New Year to the city. In Port Kar this honor fell to Samos, first captain in the Council of Captains, and the council's executive officers. The completion of this greeting is signified by, and celebrated by, a ringing of the great bars suspended about the city. The people then, rejoicing, issue forth from their houses. The brak bushes are burned on the threshold and the pitch is washed away. There are processions and various events, such as contests and games. It is a time of festival. The day is one of celebration.

These festivities, of course, are in marked contrast to the solemnities and abstinences of the Waiting Hand. The Waiting Hand is a time, in general, of misery, silence and fasting. It is also, for many Goreans, particularly those of the lower castes, a time of uneasiness, a time of trepidation and apprehension. Who knows what things, visible or invisible, might be abroad during that terrible time? In many Gorean cities, accordingly, the Twelfth Passage Hand, the five days preceding the Waiting Hand, that time to which few Goreans look forward with eagerness, is carnival. The fact that it was now only two days to the Twelfth Passage Hand, explained the

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