John Norman

Hunters of Gor

(Chronicles of Counter-Earth-8)

1 Rim

“It is not my wish”, said Samos, looking up from the board, “that you journey to the northern forests.” I regarded the board. Carefully, I set the Ubar’s Tarnsman at Ubar’s Scribe Six. “It is dangerous,” said Samos.

“It is your move,” said I, intent upon the game.

He threatened the Ubar’s Tarnsman with a spearman, thrust to his Ubar Four. “We do not care to risk you,” said Samos. There was a slight smile about his lips.

“We?” I asked.

“Priest-Kings and I “ said Samos.

“I no longer serve Priest-Kings,” said I.

“Ah, yes,” said Samos. Then he added, “Guard your tarnsman.”

We played in the hall of Samos, a lofty room, with high, narrow windows. It was late at night. A torch burned in a rack above and behind me, to my left. The shadows flickered about the board of one hundred red and yellow squares. The pieces, weighted, seem tall on the board, casting their shadows away from the flame, across the flat arena of the game.

We sat cross-legged on the floor, on the tiles, over the large board. There was a rustle of slave bells to my right, loved on the left ankle of a girl.

Samos wore the blue and yellow robes of the Slaver. Indeed, he was first slaver of Port Kar, and first Captain in its Council of Captains, which council, since the downfall of the four Ubars is sovereign in Port Kar. I, too, was a member of the Council of Captains, Bosk, of the House of Bosk, if Port Kar. I wore a white robe, woven of the wool of the Hurt, imported from distant Ar, trimmed with golden cloth, from Tor, the colors of the Merchant. But beneath my robe I wore a tunic of red, that color of the warriors.

To one side of the room, unclothed, his wrists manacled behind his body, his ankles confined in short chains, knelt a large man, a heavy band of iron hammered about his throat. He was flanked by two guards, standing slightly behind him, helmeted, Gorean steel at their sides. The man’s head had, some weeks ago, been shaven, a two-and-one-half-inch stripe, running from the forehead to the back of his neck. Now, for the strip that had been shaved, his hair was black, and shaggy. He was powerful. He had not yet been branded. But he was slave. The collar proclaimed him such.

The girl knelt at the side of the board. She was clad in a brief bit of diaphanous scarlet silk, slave silk. Her beauty was well betrayed. Her collar, a lock collar, was yellow, enameled. She was dark eyed, dark haired.

“May I serve, Masters?” she asked, “Paga,” said Samos, absently, looking at the board.

“Yes,” I said.

With a flash of slave bells, she withdrew. As she left, I noted that she passed by the kneeling male slave, flanked by his guards. She passed him as a slave girl, her head in the air, insolently, taunting him with her body.

I saw rage flash in his eyes. I heard his chains move. The guards took no not of him. He was well secured. The girl laughed, and continued on, to fetch paga for free men.

“Guard your tarnsman,” said Samos.

Instead I swept my Ubar to Ubar’s Tarnsman One.

I looked into Samos’ eyes.

He turned his attention again to the board.

He had a large, squarish head, short-cropped white hair. His face was dark from the sun, and wind-burned, and seaburned. There were small, golden rings in his ears. He was a pirate, a slaver, a master swordsman, a captain of Port Kar. He studied the board.

He did not take the Ubar’s Tarnsman with his spearman. He looked up at me, and defended his Home Stone by bringing his Scribe to Ubar One, whence it could control his Ubar’s Tarnsman Three, controlling as well the killing diagonal. “Talena, daughter of Marlenus of Ar, I learn, had been taken as slave to the northern forests,” I said.

“Where did you obtain this information?” he asked. Samos was always suspicious. “From a female slave, who was in my house,” I said, “a rather lovely wench, whose name was Elinor.” “That El-in-or,” he asked, “Who is nor the property of Rask of Treve?” “Yes,” I said. I smiled. “I got one hundred pieces of gold for her.” I said. Samos smiled. “Doubtless, for such a price,” he said, “Rask of Treve will see that she repays him a thousand times that price in pleasure.” I smiled. “I do not doubt it.” I returned my attention to the board. “Yet,” said I, “it is my suspicion that between them there is truly love.” Samos smiled. “Love,” he asked, “for a female slave?” “Paga, Masters?” asked the dark-haired girl, kneeling beside the table. Samos, not looking at her, held forth his goblet. The girl filled the goblet. I held forth my goblet, and she, too, filled mine.

“Withdraw,” said Samos.

She withdrew.

I shrugged.

“Love or not,” said Samos, studying the board, “he will keep her in a collar — for he is of Treve.” “Doubtless,” I admitted. And, indeed, I had little doubt that what Samos had said was true. Rask of Treve, though in love with her, and she with him, would keep her rightless, in the absolute bondage of a Gorean slave girl — for he was of Treve.

“It is said that those of Treve are worthy enemies,” said Samos.

I said nothing.

“Those of Ko-ro-ba,” he said, “have often found them so.”

“I am Bosk, of Port Kar,” I said.

“Of course,” said Samos.

I moved my Ubar’s Rider f the High Tharlarion to command the file on which the Home Stone of Samos lay richly protected.

“It is long since you have been the Free Companion of Talena, daughter of Marlenus,” said Samos. “The Companionship, not renewed annually, is at an end. And you were once enslaved.” I looked at the board, angrily. It was true that the Companionship, not renewed, had been dissolved in the eyes of Gorean law. It was further true that, had it not been so, the Companionship would have been terminated abruptly when one or the other of the pledged companions fell slave. I recalled, angrily, with a burning shame, the delta of the Vosk, when I, though of the warriors, once, on my knees, begged the ignominy of slavery to the freedom of honorable death. Yes, I, Bosk of Port Kar, had once been slave.

“It is your move,” I said.

“You have no obligation,” said Samos, “to seek the girl Talena.”

I knew that. “I am unworthy of her,” I said.

I had never forgotten her, the beautiful, olive-skinned, green-eyed Talena, so stunningly figured, such fantastic lips, the proud blood of Marlenus of Ar, Ubar of Ar, Ubar of Ubars, in her veins. She had been my first love. It had been years since we had touched.

“Priest-Kings tore me from her,” I told Samos, hard-eyed.

Samos did not look up from the board. “In the game of worlds, he said, “we are not important.” “She was taken to the northern forests, I have learned,” I said, “by the outlaw girl, Verna, to serve as bait for her capture of Marlenus of Ar, who is presumed to be concerned for her rescue.” I looked up. “Marlenus on a hunting expedition, with other animals, captured Verna, and her girls. He caged them and exhibited them as trophies. They have escaped, and they wish their vengeance.” “You would do well to stay in Port Kar,” said Samos.

“Talena is held slave in the northern forests,” I told him.

“Do you still love her?” asked Samos, looking at me, directly.

I was startled.

For years Talena, the magnificent Talena, had been in my heart’s deepest dreams, my first love, my never forgotten love. She had burned in my memory, unforgettably. I recalled her from the fields near the Swamp Forest south of Ar, in the caravan of Mintar, at the great camp of Pa-Kur'’ horde, as she had been upon Ar'’ lofty cylinder of justice, as she had been in lamp-lit Ko-ro-ba, when, with interlocking arms, we had drunk the wines of Free Companionship. How could I not love Talena, the deep, and first love, the first beautiful love of my life?” “Do you love her?” asked Samos.

“Of course!” I shouted, angrily.

“It has been many years,” said Samos.

“It matters not,” I muttered.

“You are both, perhaps, other than you were.”

“Do you care to dispute these matters with the sword?” I asked.

“I might,” said Samos, “if you could establish the pertinence of the procedure to the issues involved.” I looked down, furious.

“It is possible,” said Samos, “that it is an image you love, and not a woman, that it is not a person, but a memory.” “Those who have never loved,” I told him bitterly, “must not speak of what they cannot know,” Samos did not seem angry. “Perhaps,” he said.

“It is your move,” I told him.”

I glanced across the room. A few yards away, on the tiles, in her brief silk, the two-handled, bronze paga vessel beside her, knelt the slave girl, waiting to be summoned. She was dark-haired, and beautiful. She glanced at the chained male slave, and threw back her head, and smoother her long, dark hair over her back. In his manacles, kneeling, between his guards, he regarded her. She observed him, and smiled contemptuously, and then loftily looked away, bored. Behind his back, in the

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