I again took them to the bottom of the ditch, by the overturned wagon.

'Kneel there,' I told the three of them, 'between the wheels, with your backs to the bottom of the wagon.'

They complied, kneeling with the bottom of the overturned wagon behind them. From this position it would be difficult for them to bolt.

'Take everything, but let us go!' begged the leader.

'I am thinking,' I told him, 'of tying you naked on your back, over the tongue of the wagon, and fastening your two fellows, on their backs, stripped, over the wheels. It might be amusing to spin them about.'

They regarded one another, frightened.

'But you are not female slaves,' I mused.

'Men would find us with the loot about, and impale us!' said the leader. That was not improbable. Thieves are often dealt with harshly on Gor.

'Do not condemn us to death!' begged the leader.

'Strip,' I ordered them.

I then tied their hands behind their backs. Ropes were found in the wagon and we tied them by the necks to the back of the wagon. Verr, too, and female slaves, and such, are often tethered to the back of wagons.

'In the south,' said the driver, from the wagon box, 'there are work gangs. We can probably get something for them there.'

'Stay the traffic on the road, as you can, for an Ehn,' I said to the fellow of the driver. 'We will get the wagon back on the road.

'I doubt two tharlarion can pull this grade from the ditch, with this weight, with the footing,' said the driver.

'Hurry to it,' I said to the fellow of the driver. 'We shall try it.' He scrambled up the embankment, the lantern in one hand, clutching at knots of wet grass with the other, slipping, sliding back, then regaining his feet, then reaching the surface. In the ditch we were ankle deep in water. The rain continued to pour down in torrents. It ran from the pitched surface of the road downward, in tiny rivers; it struck into the swirling ditch water, lashing it into foam, dashing it upwards, its impact registered in thousands of overlapping circles and leaping crowns of water. We saw the lantern, in the fellow's hand, at the surface, swinging. 'Hold! Hold!' he cried in the storm. I think he then literally seized the harness of the next tharlarion. 'Hold!' he cried. 'We will never make it,' said the driver.

'Try,' I said. 'Besides we have three stout fellows here who can turn about and put their backs into it.'

'If the wagon slips,' said the leader of the brigands, 'we could be crushed, mangled beneath the wheels!'

'See it does not slip,' I said.

There were angry shouts now from the delayed line, moving south.

'Hurry!' I said to the driver.

He moved about the wagon and climbed to the wagon box. I heard, in a moment, his shouting to the lead beast, and the crack of the tharlarion whip. The whip, incidentally, seldom falls on the beast. Its proximity, and noise, are usually more than sufficient. Too, it often functions as an attention-garnering device, a signal, so to speak, preparing the beast for the sequent issuance of verbal commands, to which it is trained to respond. Too, of course, like a staff of office, a rod, a baton, or scepter, it is an authority device. To be sure, the device has its authority largely in virtue of what it genuinely stands for, and what it can do. Much the same, incidentally, can be said for the whip in the master/slave relationship. There, too, normally, it seldom falls on the woman. it is not necessary that it do so. She sees it, and knows what it can do. That is usually more than sufficient. She will have felt it at some time, of course, so that her understanding in the matter will be more than theatrical. She knows, of course, that if she is in the least bit displeasing or recalcitrant, it will be used upon her. Indeed, she knows that she might be, from time to time, placed beneath it, if only that she may be reminded that she is a slave. It is my belief that women have an instinctual understanding of the whip.

The wagon lurched ahead. it would attempt its rendezvous with the road by an ascendant diagonal. The brigands were jerked forward, by the neck, behind it. One lost his footing and was dragged for a few feet, through the ditch water, part way up the slope. 'Put your backs to it,' I told the captives.

'Look out!' cried someone from the road, above, perhaps a fellow come forward, inquiring concerning the delay, dismounted from one of the other wagons. 'Look out!' cried another.

'It is tipping!' cried the leader of the brigands in terror.

I tried to set myself on the slope, but slipped back, and the wagon slid sideways toward me, the wheels tearing lines in the grass, tilting. Then I got solid footing and, my hands pressing against the side of the wagon, righted it. 'Who is down there?' called a fellow from the surface of the road.

I saw lanterns lifted, up on the road.

'There is a gang of five men on the other side of the wagon,' said a fellow. 'It is all right now. They have righted it.'

The first tharlarion now had its heavy, clawed feet on the stones of the road. I heard its claws on the stone. Some other men, too, came to the second tharlarion, hauling on its harness, and others, too, seized the wagon sides and the forward wheels, lending their efforts to getting the wagon on the road. This was done in part in the camaraderie of the road, but, too, men were anxious to be on their way. It was not now safe in the north, in this area, particularly for refugees from the vicinity of Ar's Station.

'I see only one fellow down there,' said a man from the road. I went to retrieve my pack from where I had cast it on the embankment. It was soaked through, I was sweating, in spite of the cold and the rain. Too, I had been very afraid, for a moment. I had feared the wagon would tip. I saw it now above me, mostly on the road, though, tilting, the left wheels were still over the edge of the stones. The darkness and the traffic on the other side made it hazardous to pull fully across the road. Harnesses might be fouled. Men can be trampled by tharlarion, wagons can be torn apart. I ascended to the surface of the road. I put my pack at the back of the wagon.

'It is one of the scarlet caste,' said a fellow to another.

'Hold the lantern here,' I said to the fellow of the driver, who had now, having arrested the progress of the following tharlarion, released his hold on the beast's harness.

'That is Andron, the brigand!' suddenly said a man, pointing to the leader of the brigands.

There were angry shouts.

'Put their necks under the wheels!' said a man.

'Impale them,' cried another.

'Tie their feet together and drag them behind the wagons,' said another. 'Kneel,' I suggested to the brigands. There was a large number of people here and I was not sure I could protect them. I had not counted on them being well known. 'Put your heads down,' I encouraged them. 'Look as harmless as possible.' 'Chain them and hang them in iron collars at the inn!' said a fellow. Sometimes a man lasts two or three days in this fashion.

'Chain them on the boards,' cried another. That is a similar form of punishment. In it the victim is fastened, by collars and shackles, on structures of parallel, upright boards, vertical platforms, in effect, mounted on posts. These structures are most common in harbor cities, near the wharves. The fellow who had made the suggestion was probably from the river port of Ar's Station. In the country, impalement is often used, the pole usually being set up near a crossroads.

'Let them be trampled by tharlarion,' sad a fellow.

'No, let them be torn apart by them,' said another. In this fashion ropes are tied separately to the victim's wrists and ankles, these ropes then attached to the harnesses of two different tharlarion, which are, of course, then driven in opposite directions.

'Yes, that is better,' agreed the first.

If one shares a Home Stone with the victim, of course, the punishment is often more humane. A common punishment where this mitigating feature obtains is to strip the victim, tie him to a post, beat him with rods and then behead him. This, like the hanging in chains, the exposure on boards, and such, is a very ancient modality of execution.

I saw a knife leave a sheath in the driving rain. 'There is no time,' said a man. 'I will cut their throats now.'

Вы читаете Renegades of Gor
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