'Thank you, Dark Brother of the Night,' I said to the animal.

I saw that water had gathered in the concave side of the shield. Gratefully, I lifted it and drank from it.


I began to climb now.

The road was familiar, the long, relatively steep ascent to the crest of that series of ridges beyond which lay Ko-ro-ba, an ascent that was the bane of strap-masters of caravans, of bearers of burdens like poor Zosk, the woodsman, of all travellers afoot.

Ko-ro-ba lay in the midst of green and rolling hills, some hundreds of feet above the level of the distant Tamber Gulf and that mysterious body of water beyond it, spoken of in Gorean simply as Thassa, the Sea. Ko-ro- ba was not set as high and remote as for example was Thentis in the mountains of Thentis, famed for its tarn flocks, but it was not a city of the vast plains either, like the luxurious metropolis of Ar, or of the shore, like the cluttered, crowded, sensuous Port Kar on the Tamber Gulf. Whereas Ar was glorious, a city of imposing grandeur, acknowledged even by its blood foes; whereas Thentis had the proud violence of the rude mountains of Thentis for its setting; whereas Port Kar could boast the broad Tamber for her sister, and the gleaming, mysterious Thassa beyond, I thought my city to be truly the most beautiful, its variegated lofty cylinders rising so gently, so joyfully, among the calm, green hills.

An ancient poet, who incredibly enough to the Gorean mind had sung the glories of many of the cities of Gor, had spoken of Ko-ro-ba as the Towers of the Morning, and it is sometimes spoken of by that name. The actual word Ko-ro-ba itself, more prosaically, is simply an expression in archaic Gorean referring to a village market.

The storm had not abated but I had ceased to mind it. Drenched, cold, I climbed on, holding my shield obliquely before me to deflect the wind and make the climb easier. At last on the crest I waited and wiped the cold water from my eyes, waited for the flash of lightning that after these long years would reveal my city.

I longed for my city, and for my father, the magnificent Matthew Cabot, once Ubar, now Administrator of Ko-ro-ba, and for my friends, the proud Older Tarl, my master-at-arms, and Torm, the cheerful, grumbling little scribe who regarded even sleep and food as part of a conspiracy to separate him from the study of his beloved scrolls; and mostly, I longed for Talena, she whom I had chosen for my companion, she for whom I had fought on Ar' s Cylinder of Justice, she who had loved me, and whom I loved, dark-haired, beautiful Talena, daughter of Marlenus, once Ubar of Ar.

'I love you, Talena!' I cried.

And as the cry parted from my lips there was a great flash of lightning and the valley between the hills stood stark and white and I saw the valley was empty.

Ko-ro-ba was gone!

The city had vanished!

The darkness followed the flash of lightning and the shock of the thunder shook me with horror.

Again and again the lightning flashed, the thunder pounded in on me, and the darkness engulfed me once more. And each time I saw what I had seen before. The valley empty. Ko-ro-ba was gone.

'You have been touched by Priest-Kings,' said a voice behind me. I spun about, shield before me, spear ready.

In the next flash of lightning I saw the white robes of an Initiate, the shaven head and the sad eyes of one of the Blessed Caste, servants it is said of the Priest-Kings themselves. He stood with his arms in his robe, tall on the road, watching me.

Somehow this man seemed different to me than the other Initiates I had met on Gor. I could not place the difference, yet it seemed there was something in him, or about him, that set him apart from the other members of his caste. He might have been any other Initiate, yet he was not. There was nothing extraordinary about him, unless perhaps it was a brow somewhat more lofty than is common, eyes that might have looked on sights few men had seen.

The thought struck me that I, Tarl of Ko-ro-ba, a mortal, here in the night on this road, might be looking upon the face of a Priest-King. As we faced on another, the storm ceased, the lightning no longer shattered the night, the thunder no longer roared in my ears. The wind was calm. The clouds had dissipated. In pools of cold water lying among the stones of the road I could see the three moons of Gor.

I turned and looked upon the valley in which Ko-ro-ba had lain. 'You are Tarl of Ko-ro-ba,' said the man.

I was startled. 'Yes,' I said, 'I am Tarl of Ko-ro-ba.' I turned to face him.

'I have been waiting for you,' he said.

'Are you,' I asked, 'a Priest-King?'

'No,' he said.

I looked at this man, seeming to be a man among other men, yet more. 'Do you speak for the Priest-Kings?' I asked.

'Yes,' he said.

I believed him.

It was common, of course, for Initiates to claim to speak for the Priest-Kings; indeed, it was presumably the calling of their caste to interpret the will of the Priest-Kings to men.

But this man I believed.

He was not as other Initiates, though he wore their robes.

'Are you truly of the Caste of Initiates?' I asked.

'I am one who conveys the will of the Priest-Kings to mortals,' said the man, not choosing to answer my question.

I was silent.

'Henceforth,' said the man, 'you are Tarl of no city.'

'I am Tarl of Ko-ro-ba,' I said proudly.

'Ko-ro-ba has been destroyed,' said the man. 'It is as if it had never been. Its stones and its people have been scattered to the corners of the world, and no two stones and no two men of Ko-ro-ba may stand again side by side.'

'Why has Ko-ro-ba been destroyed?' I demanded.

'It was the will of the Priest-Kings,' said the man.

'But why was it the will of the Priest-Kings?' I shouted.

'Because it was,' said the man, 'and there is nothing higher in virtue of which the will of the Priest-Kings may be determined or questioned.' 'I do not accept their will,' I said.

'Submit,' said the man.

'I do not,' I said.

'Then be it so,' he said, 'you are henceforth condemned to wander the world alone and friendless, with no city, with no walls to call your own, with no Home Stone to cherish. You are henceforth a man without a city, you are a warning to all not to scorn the will of the Priest-Kings — beyond this you are nothing.'

'What of Talena?' I cried. 'What of my father, my friends, the people of my city?'

'Scattered to the corners of the world,' said the robed figure, 'and not a stone may stand upon a stone.'

'Did I not serve the Priest-Kings,' I asked, 'at the siege of Ar?' 'The Priest-Kings used you for their ends, as it pleased them to do so.' I lifted my spear, and felt that I could have slain the robed figure so calm and terrible before me.

'Kill me if you wish,' said the man.

I lowered the spear. My eyes were filled with tears. I was bewildered. Was it on my account that a city had perished? Was it I who had brought disaster to its people, to my father, to my friends and Talena? Had I been too foolish to understand that I was nothing before the power of the Priest- Kings? Was I now to wander the forlorn roads and fields of Gor in quilt and agony, a wretched example of the fate which the Priest-Kings could mete out to

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