Sunday, 7 May 2017

Mistress of Gor Chapter Eight

Chapter 8: A Caravan to the Tahari. The Free Women play a game that is not to my liking

The caravan moved slowly, ponderously even, as if time itself was a relative obscurity that held no sway in the vast desert expanse of the Tahari. From one end of the line to the other it stretched perhaps ninety beasts long, but in addition to that number there were perhaps a dozen outriders on either flank carrying long spears, keeping careful pace with watchful eyes over the plodding hypnotic pace of the convoy of sand kaiilas. As animals go, the kaiila is a lofty proud silken creature with a surprisingly long neck and a steady gait. It acts as both beast of burden and warhorse to the desert tribesmen who unlike other Goreans, consider it almost shameful to travel or fight on foot. Like their riders they are fast, nimble and possess an incredible level of stamina. They are also broad and tall, typically measuring twenty-two hands at the shoulders. The men of course rode their kaiilas in proud warlike fashion, pennants fluttering in the Taharian wind as they scanned the rippling heat haze of the horizon for any sign of other travellers. Gorean men always stand or ride proud in their stirrups, something I have become very accustomed to noticing since I was first brought to Gor and transformed through alien science into the ravishing beauty that is Lady Felicia Fonseca Gebara Torres.

For myself I travelled in the manner of the Free Woman, which is to say I therefore travelled in the fashion of a valuable commodity, in a Kurdah. I sat with my knees to the left, my ankles together, my weight partly resting on my hands to the right of a small silk covered cushion that lay on a semi-circular frame lashed to the back of a pack kaiila. The platform itself was semi-circular and about a yard in width at its widest point. Above this rose a simple frame, four feet tall crafted from light tem-wood, such that I could easily crouch within it, but I couldn't stand, not that standing was an option the way the platform wobbled as the kaiila marched across the burning sand. The frame was covered like a makeshift tent with layers of white rep cloth to ward the oppressive heat of the fierce Taharian sun. The front however boasted a centre-opening curtain that I could, if I wished, part with my hands. I had from time to time done so, but the movement of the curtain parting would always attract the attention of men riding close by, and when I saw the look on their faces, and the interest shown even though I was perfectly modest in my form of dress, I quickly drew the fabric closed again.

Once, a rider took the appearance of my veiled face as an invitation to steer his Sand Kaiila in the direction of my Kurdah. He had perhaps caught sight of a glimpse of the pale skin of my wrist where a small delicate kid leather glove failed to precisely meet the loose billowing sleeve of my gown. Or perhaps a wisp of my blonde hair had been momentarily visible beneath my light hood. Perhaps he had seen the fluttering of my eyelashes, rimmed slightly in kohl, through the slit between veil and hood, and he had grown excited at the prospect of this foreign free woman who was so far from home. Whatever, it was enough to make me pull shut the rep cloth curtain and ignore his call as he rode close to the Kurdah. I sat there, swaying from side to side on the cushioned platform, breathing quietly, not making a sound as the man's scimitar edge parted the curtain slightly to allow him a glimpse of the passenger within.

“Tal Lady,” he grinned as I shrank back instinctively with a swish of loose fabrics. He was one of the mercenary caravan guards, which meant he was an experienced killer, which meant that out here in the lawless desert he was perfectly used to taking whatever he wanted whenever the opportunity might arise. Of course in broad daylight in the security of the caravan I was perfectly safe, but I had no wish to arouse his interest for another time when the light might perhaps be very much darker and I might be very much alone. I should perhaps be clear at this point that the desert raider who grinned at me was the sort of man I would have been wary of on Earth back when I myself was a man. Like many Goreans of the warrior classes, he projected a sense of danger and menace that would unnerve most men on Earth. Such Gorean men were obviously predators, and the automatic reaction of a man such as myself would be to avoid eye contact. We'd look away, not wishing to provoke a reaction in the hope that the alpha male might lose interest. In a sense we would be intimidated and brow beaten before any form of confrontation had even taken place. Such is the position the average Earth man would find himself in if he squared up by accident with a Gorean raider. Now if that is how I would have felt when I was a man, the feeling was magnified many fold now that I possessed the weak and desirable body of a beautiful Gorean girl.

“Please, Sir, you intrude upon my privacy.” My eyes automatically looked away from him. Again, it would have been the same if I had still been a man. To make eye contact with him could be perceived as a challenge and I was frightened to in any way challenge him. But I could see him clearly in my peripheral vision. He was gazing with a smile at my ankle. The soft hem of my gown exposed my left ankle and to a Gorean man such a sight from a free woman is a delicious thing indeed. Quickly I moved to smooth the fabric back down in place. “You startled me...” I said by way of explanation.     

I was dressed in multiple layers of clothing that already felt oppressive out here under the vastness of the sheltering sky. I wore a loose ankle length skirt, and a silken slip like undergarment, over which was layered a loose desert gown of nomadic design, a series of progressively diaphanous silken veils and over the whole outfit a loose, shapeless black Haik that covered me from head to foot. I wore this oppressive garment at the insistence of Seremides, my Handler on this mission, who had been in no mood to tolerate my protests in the city of Kadesh.

“But it's a black sack!” I had exclaimed in fury as we stood in the shaded courtyard of the caravanserai in which we had deigned to join the caravan. “A shapeless black sack!”

“Already you are learning a woman's vanity, Felice. You wish to appear pretty, is that it? You wish to turn heads and seem desirable to men? You wish to dress more provocatively to be noticed?”

“No!” I said it quickly and forcefully. “Of course not. You misunderstand. I have no interest in the opinions of Gorean men.”

“Then you will appreciate the quality of the loose black haik. Worn correctly it will conceal the luscious curves of your body from men who might otherwise desire to take you for their pleasure. There is little law out in the desert steppes, save that that we bring with us in the first place.”

“I don't like it! It's an ugly shapeless garment.”

“That is of no concern to me. You will wear it, or you can choose to travel stripped instead, in the fashion of a slave.”

“I will wear it, Seremides. I will wear it.”

“Of course you will, lovely Felice.”

The burning sands of the Tahari stretched out as far as the eye could see, reinforcing the impression I had that I was lost and alone on this vast, unforgiving planet. I knew no one save a handful of men and women who served alien beasts in some form or another, most of whom would fit my broad definition of 'evil'. In their hands lay my life and freedom, if I could even call this restrictive existence 'freedom'. In many ways this society was nothing short of barbarism, but if you were a woman, as I now found myself to be, it was a form of barbarism that employed many diverse and suffocating customs and rules to regulate your behaviour. What freedom I had was a gift from men who might take it away at any time. And always they were watching me. 

I moved to pull the rep cloth curtain closed again, shutting out the bandit rider from the Kurdah. I heard his guttural laugh outside as if in my doing so I had lost some sort of challenge. I didn't care. It had been a mistake to open the curtain, even for an ehn, and I wouldn't do so again until we reached an oasis for the night. Where was Seremides? Why wasn't he riding close by my Kurdah? I hated the idea that I needed protection now, but it was an inescapable fact of my new life.

We journeyed on and during the day I sipped from a bota of precious water, rationing it as I had been instructed to do. Water has to be carried in a caravan between oasis and it is of course heavy. It is therefore not to be wasted. The air inside my Kurdah felt hot and oppressive and above all I felt bored with nothing by the way of entertainment to pass the time of day. I had to simply kneel or sit there, counting the minutes into hours. What few possessions I owned were stored in sacks lashed to the hind quarters of my kaiila. They were therefore out of my reach until we made camp, when the men would erect tents and the women would light fires, prepare food and cook.

Actual travellers in this caravan comprised a minority of the beasts. Most were pack animals carrying trade goods from Tor and Kadesh. Kaiilas were loaded with all manner of goods precious to the desert folk: soap, rep-cloth, silver, mirrors, kailliauk tusks, perfumes, hides, precious woods, tools, needles, leather goods, nuts, spices, weapons, rough woods, rugs, sheets of tin and copper, Bazi tea, wool from the Hurt, beaded whips and of course a number of female slaves. It is a rare caravan on Gor that does not deal in female flesh. The chained girls numbered a dozen or so and from the few glimpses I had seen of them I could see they were all fair skinned and foreign to the Tahari. Their prices would therefore be correspondingly high in the souks and markets we would pass through. Now, like me, they were covered in black haiks to protect them from the burning sun, and they walked slowly in a coffle behind the slave Master's kaiila, an ankle chain connecting them in line. They would walk like this for several hours at a time, being periodically watered and given rest breaks. No doubt they were envious of my Kurdah, for I was spared such an ordeal. I wondered whether any of the slaves might be Earth girls. Statistically it was possible that one or two might be, for it was my understanding that voyages of acquisition from Earth to Gor had recommenced in the late sixties, so by now many thousands of beautiful women must have found themselves on this harsh, unforgiving planet. I was lucky that I had been spared such a fate.

I sat apart from the rest of the women when we finally made camp at dusk around the Oasis of Faroush. We weren't the only caravan to be using the water source that evening, for I spied a small group of silk merchants to one side and a slave trader with a large coffle of desert girls to the other. The girls seemed weary, as well they might be for having walked all day with men's whips always ready to keep them in line. Our caravan had very few slaves and so it was left to the Free Women to 'volunteer' to set up camp for the men. I watched as they spread rushes and rugs around the newly made campfires, cut and prepared vegetables for the pot and ground spices for the dried meats that would be boiled and roasted until tender. Other women set about drawing water from the well, a task that involved queueing in the hot sun until it was their turn. Each bucket had to be drawn laboriously by hand, though some women were able to lower water sacks on long ropes into the depths of the well.

“You are a woman, Felice. You should help,” said Seremides as he adjusted the drape of his head scarf now that the sun was low in the sky. He was tall, with black hair and a well oiled black beard and he wore decorative arm rings that supposedly testified to important men he had killed in the past. I think he had little taste for his current mission, which was to babysit me across the desert to the city of Patashqar. Nominally I was in charge except at the eleventh hour Kurgus had decided that my full authority on the mission would only become active once I arrived at the city. Kurgus feared that my inexperience would count against me during the long journey, and therefore for the time being Seremides and myself shared a sort of vaguely defined joint authority in order to get me through the Tahari safely. Once we passed through the gates of Patashqar, supreme authority would rest with the Free Woman, Lady Felicia Fonseca Gebara Torres. I had papers signed by Kurgus to that effect which I could present to any of his contacts within the desert.

I was quite looking forward to establishing a network of spies and informers within the city, all of whom would obey me without question. It was a thrilling thought that I might soon become a very powerful woman indeed, backed to the hilt by Kurgus's gold and authority. My kaiila carried, amongst other things, a sack containing tubes of coins, so that the coins would not clink and make noise. I travelled with a small fortune in gold and silver, more than enough to establish myself in Patashqar for a long time. I would, I think, buy a large town house within the city, a secluded residence with high walls and lush gardens. I would buy slaves, and hire warriors to do my bidding. I would be a powerful woman indeed. I might even buy beautiful slave-girls and, in the privacy of my marbled rooms, where no one could say no to me, I would take one or more of them to bed, to prove to myself that I did still very much desire women, and that the incident with Brinn in the stables at Kurgus's villa was an aberration, easily explained by the confusion I felt when I feared for my life. I would teach my body to enjoy the touch of beautiful women again, for that is of course what I wanted. I day dreamed that Tallia for example was now a collared slave-girl, dressed in peach silk, with a collar, her silky hair brushed straight, and that she was scared of my power as she was sent to my couch where she would pleasure me with her mouth and tongue. It was a pleasing thought, and it made me feel warm and happy inside, but still the expected sexual thrill  I used to associate with my fantasies didn't materialise.

Why didn't the thought of Tallia having sex with me turn me on like it once would have done? I felt frustrated, and suddenly my mind drifted to the recollection of being tied to a slave ring by my crossed wrists in the stables, a chain leash dangling between my breasts, as Brinn did things to me with his hands. Now I felt hot. Now I squirmed inside my Kurdah. Now my breath came fast, my heart rate increased. Now I chewed on my lower lip and clutched at the fibre of the rug on which I knelt.

No. I would think nothing of such things again. I would accustom myself to the soft flesh of slave-girls once I established myself in Patashqar. Gor had confused me these last few months. I would take time to recall what it is I really wanted in life.                

“I have no wish to spend the evening as a kitchen maid,” I explained. I knelt on a rug already speckled with fine sand from the constant wind that blows without respite across the desert. Were it not for the veils across my face I would be tasting sand as quickly as I could spit it out. Tinkling bells tied to the harnesses and bridles of the kaiila chimed softly with each gust. Back on Earth when I was a man I was fortunate enough to be able to enjoy the luxury of paying for a cleaner to attend my flat three times a week. Household chores were therefore something I rarely had to concern myself with, beyond washing a few dishes in the evening. I paid a nominal hourly rate to an agency, somewhere just above minimum wage level, and they would send young girls to clean my flat. By and large they were usually foreign, East European or in some cases Asian. They barely spoke and seemed rather cowed and deferential on the occasions I came home early and saw them at work. I rarely saw the same girl more than twice, but sometimes when I did I found the girl very beautiful and at night I would fantasise about her dressed in the traditional French Maid uniform of erotic literature, subservient to me with curtsies whenever I entered the room. Usually these fantasies would change after a while and I would see myself instead as one of those maids, brought down by contrived circumstances to a lower position in life, having to serve alongside the girl, now at her command whereas once before she obeyed my every word. I would lie in bed, Bringing myself slowly to orgasm by the delicious fantasy, and then invariably feel incredibly ashamed afterwards.

“Your attitude has been noted by many of the men and all of the women,” said Seremides. “They think it is not becoming.”

“Let them think that. I don't care. I have paid silver to travel with this caravan. There is no requirement for me to beat rugs, draw pails of water and serve the men hot food.” I waived the prospect away with a sweep of my hand.


The day of my departure was also the day of Tallia’s departure from Kurgus’s villa. The Panther Girl had performed her role as promised, tutoring me (rather harshly I might add) on the ways of Gor and the knowledge I needed to pass myself off as a native woman. Kurgus it seems was a man of his word, so long as there was no strategical gain to be had from lying. He had promised to free Tallia, and so he did.

A great Tarn was tethered in the courtyard, under the control of an experienced Tarnsman who kept it from trying to eat anyone. It was a fierce beast, already saddled and it carried ample supplies for a journey north. Tallia stood nearby, still dressed in her mannish tunic that draped past her knees. She carried a spear and a good quality bow, a quiver of fletched arrows, a skinning knife and two packs full of useful items for a life in the forest. She had declined the gift of boots.

“I have no need of them when I return home,” she had said. Kurgus nodded and had the bespoke hand made boots returned to the stores.

“The Tarnsman is called Roric. He works for me and can be trusted. He will take you to the edge of the great forests, and from there you can make your way into the deep woodlands to live your life once more with whichever Panther pack will accept you.”

Her old Panther pack of course no longer existed, for the girls had been taken at the same time as Tallia was taken. Unlike Tallia the other girls no doubt now wore collars and dancing silks.

“You kept your word, male,” she said at length as she tested the bow with a few very well aimed shots at a target. She was actually a very good archer, albeit with a light bow that did not require too much strength to draw.

“I have been known to,” said Kurgus. “It serves a purpose in that other people will then trust you to do the same when their time comes.” Kurgus gazed at me in particular. “It is foolish to lie unless something serious is at stake, but when it is, my word is flexible. However I do not truly need the money I would get for selling you, and so my word is good.”

“I was not sure you would keep your word to begin with,” said Tallia as she stood before Kurgus. The Panther Girl was maybe five feet nine inches tall, which was a reasonably good height for a Gorean woman. “I thought maybe I might have to kill you when you broke your word and tried to enslave me.”

Kurgus had to smile at that. I could tell that in the five months since Tallia had begun teaching me, Kurgus had developed a liking for the Panther Girl. Did he respect her strength of mind? Perhaps.

“I have a final gift for you,” said Kurgus as he handed her a small carved wooden box. Tallia opened it and drew forth a necklace comprised of a string of sharp animal teeth. “The teeth of a Larl that we killed a long time ago. It was a noble beast and we honoured the kill after it was made. The teeth are yours to wear if you so wish when you once again wear animal skins about your loins.”

Tallia nodded and drew the necklace about her throat, tying it loosely in place. I think she was secretly pleased with the gift. The teeth of the Larl would, when she was once again dressed in animal skins, dangle close to her breasts.

“There is of course a place for you here, should you wish to stay. I have need of resourceful women who can further my plans.”

“My home is in the forests. I do not belong here.”

Kurgus nodded and for a moment they simply gazed at one another. If it had been anyone but Kurgus and Tallia – two people who had in turn terrified and abused me – I would say it was a tender emotional moment that deserved the rising strings of an orchestra by way of a soundtrack, but frankly their doe eyed mooning at one another was irritating me immensely.

'Just fuck off, why don’t you', is what I thought as Tallia checked each of the items in her packs in turn.

Then at last she was finished. What was she expecting? Some declaration of desire on the part of Kurgus? Some effort to convince her to stay? That wasn’t going to happen. Gorean men are incredibly stubborn and incapable of admitting their feelings for a woman outside of simply wanting to fuck them. I suppose they would think anything other than that would be construed as a weakness.

The Tarnsman lifted Tallia up onto the saddle where she would sit behind him. Straps were used to secure her in place so that she might not fall while the great bird was in the air. She nodded once at me, acknowledging our parting and I politely nodded back because I suppose it was the thing to do.

As the Tarnsman prepared for flight, Tallia called out one last thing to Kurgus.

“When you grow tired of your scheming and your duplicity, male, perhaps you will come to the Northern Forests to hunt. I shall show you sport, such that you have never seen before.”

“If I come to the Northern Forests it will be to hunt women. I will bring binding fibre and chains as is my way, for it is the best sport to be had.”

“Be careful where you hunt, male, for I hunt too, and you would not be the first hunter to fall prey to me. Perhaps one night I shall have you stripped and your ankles and wrists staked to the ground, to take you for my pleasure after my sisters and I dance savagely under the light of the full moons. I think I would like that.”

“Or perhaps you will find yourself in a coffle of girls stripped once again of your panther skins, taken in triumph by me and my men back to Corcyrus. I think I would like that.”

“Until we meet again, male.”

“Until we meet again, girl.”

And with that the great Tarn took to the skies. Kurgus didn’t stop watching until the Tarn and its two riders became a tiny speck in the sky and then disappeared from sight. Only then did he turn round and say to me, “that woman is not a slave.”

“Get a fucking room you two, why don't you.” I sighed under my breath.

And that of course was the last I expected to see of Tallia. How wrong I was. Circumstances beyond my control would in time take me far north to the great forests in which Tallia now roamed as leader of her own panther pack. And when next we met she would be dressed in the animal skins of the hunting Larl, leaning on a spear, a look of cruel amusement in her eyes, while I in turn would be wearing an engraved collar, torn pleasure silks, pierced ears, with a Kef brand burnt into my left thigh.

Later that day I too left Kurgus’s compound, though in my case it was on board a wagon pulled by two draught Tharlarion. One of the noticeable things on Gor is the lack of horses (and indeed dogs). In central Gor the principle riding beast is the Tharlarion – a lizard like creature that comes in various shapes and sizes – some too legged and some, like the draught version that pulled my wagon, four legged. The wagon had been customised with a comfortable chair and a draped pagoda to protect me from the harsh rays of the sun. Seremides rode beside my wagon, on the right, mounted on a riding Tharlarion. With him, riding behind as an escort, were four hand picked men, each one equipped with a spear, cavalry sword and a round shield. The quality of the escort marked me out as a woman of some wealth, which I suppose I was. It was enough armed men to dissuade any thoughts of bandit attacks along the main roads of Central Gor, but not so many armed men that I would stand out especially.

The roads of Central Gor are relatively safe in times of peace, provided you travel with a handful of armed men. Outlaws do prowl the roads, especially come dusk, but they are generally not so bold as to risk the odds against professional guardsmen sworn to lay down their lives for the honour of the woman they guard.

There was always the risk of a Tarnsman of course who might see the small retinue and chance his luck in swooping down from the sky, but the roof construction over my wagon meant that it would be difficult to snatch me by surprise. Rather the Tarnsman would have to attack the wagon, and in doing so he would have to void the mounted lance tips of my Tharlarion mounted escort. Much easier pickings abound on the highways, and so Seremides reassured me that I should be safe enough.

Sufficient Inns populate the highways at regular intervals such that it is easy enough to spend the night behind strong walls and defensible courtyards, which we did.

I will say this about the men who were assigned to guard me, I do honestly believe they would have laid down their lives to do so without hesitation, and this is not because they had any high regard for me as a person (in fact they didn’t know me at all) but rather because it was their duty to Kurgus. He was their Warlord, their liege-Lord. They had sworn oaths to him and their code of honour meant they would die rather than betray those oaths. He had entrusted them with the life of a woman who was important to him for some reason, and so they would see me safely to the gates of Kadesh from which I would join a caravan into the burning sands of the Tahari, accompanied only by Seremides. From Kadesh the threat of danger would be far more acute, for our armed escort would not follow us into the desert. We would instead have to rely on the mercenary guards belonging to the caravan owners.

I had asked Kurgus to allow me to take Louise along as by now I was used to her helping me dress in the mornings. I was also concerned that as the only woman in the group, the men might expect me to prepare and cook their meals in the evenings, tend camp, wash dishes and pots, wash clothes and so forth. Tallia had taught me some of the basics of tending to pre-technological chores (I was used to washing machines and gas cookers for Heaven's sake!) but without the assistance of modern appliances I could see it was a full time job. My early attempts to cook for a hypothetical eight people using a camp fire was laughable and she told me bluntly I was the worst Free Woman she had ever met. It didn't help that I couldn't even light the fire without her help, and once it was lit it almost went out twice despite my best efforts to keep it fed with wood.

Unfortunately Kurgus had said no.

“Louise is a favourite of mine. She stays at the villa.”

“Give me another slave then. I need someone to tend to the chores.”

Kurgus acquiesced and purchased me a girl from the market place. She was a native Gorean called Essenya. She had brown hair with a few freckles on the nose and she claimed to have been of the caste of Vintners. That's wine, by the way.

I vowed to treat her decently, provided she tended to my basic needs, which probably makes me sound like a horrible person, but the fact was I wouldn't have been able to tend camp the way she did. I dressed her modestly, much to the annoyance of the men, whom I lectured before setting out, reminding them that Essenya was my personal slave-girl.

“That means she will not be used by any of you without express permission from myself, which by the way won't be given, so don't bother asking for it.”

Kurgus sniffed as I said that and cautioned me to remember that these men were dedicated to keeping me alive in the wilds of Gor, and that I had to understand they would have certain basic needs during the journey, which I would be foolish to deny them, if only for purposes of morale and esprit de corp. In the end, under protest, I agreed to allow Essenya to share the furs with one of them each night.

“But she's not to be passed around like a plaything during an evening,” I insisted. “I will not tolerate orgies. And whoever has Essenya in his furs will do so on the other side of the camp site where I don't have to put up with sounds of squealing.”

The men grinned at that.

“We can always gag her,” said Aston.

“That's not what I meant.”      

The convoy took us to Kadesh, situated on the edge of the Tahari, somewhat east of Kasra. It was a crowded city full of caravans either arriving or departing and it seemed to me to be in a state of complete chaos. Imagine an airport terminal where flights had been delayed for 2 days and no one knows anything and everyone is tired and angry, and then imagine it's in a third world country, and you have a rough idea  of the transit quarter of Kadesh. Everyone was shouting or running or arguing. You couldn't tell where one caravan began and where another ended. And it stank. It really stank.

“Oh My God, this is unbearable,” I said as I opened a small vial of perfume, no bigger than a fat cherry, and I dabbed some of the scent on my upturned wrist which I quickly placed beneath my nose. “What is that horrible smell?!”

“The urine pits, Lady.” Aston pointed at a vast area of sunken tubs, each one about eight feet square in which leather hides were being softened and tanned by the process of slaves treading them down into urine.

“Why are they next to the caravan quarter?” You couldn't get away from the stink as the desert wind below it directly towards us.

Aston shrugged as if he didn't really care why, and he probably didn't.

“I'm going to be sick...” only the perfume was holding my stomach back. The stench was fetid beyond endurance.

“Be thankful Lady that you are not a work slave treading the leather hides from dawn to dusk.”

I realised then that not all slaveries for women on Gor were the soft option of lying chained to a couch dressed in pleasure silk, awaiting a man's touch.

Seremides negotiated passage for the two of us with the next caravan heading out of Kadesh. He was a skilful negotiator, and furthermore he understood the rough dialects of the merchants of Kadesh which to my ears was difficult to follow. Money was exchanged, after which Seremides purchased a Kurdah on which I might ride, and a kaiila for himself.  Against my protests, Seremides sold Essenya for two silver tarsks, saying we would have no further need for the girl in the caravan.

“But she is my slave! You can't sell her!” I shouted.

“She is a liability. She might speak with other slaves and by chance say something she picked up during our journey to Kadesh that she thought trivial, but to an enemy might reveal our true nature.”

“And what am I to do? I've been relying on girls like her since I ended up in Kurgus's villa.”

“We will buy you as many slaves as you require when we reach Patashqar. In the meantime you can make arrangements with the other Free Women in the caravan to borrow one of their girls when you require dressing or arranging your hair. It is common practice in the caravans. Travellers share during the journey.”

“What will happen to Essenya? I'm not having her treading leather hides in a urine pit!”

“She has been sold, Lady. What happens to her from now on is not our concern.”

I was furious with rage as I saw Essenya's wrists being braceleted before her body, and then she was led off deeper into the city by a representative of one of the slaver houses. She glanced back once in my direction and it was strange, but it almost seemed as if she pitied me.  


The coral and amber towers of Kadesh were many pasangs behind us now, and as the hours pass by I find myself leaving all trace of civilisation behind as the slow moving pack beasts take us deeper and deeper into a region of shifting desert that stretches to the far horizon with barely a landmark in sight save for the perpetual blazing orb that is the sun. From time to time I gaze up at it, shielding my sensitive eyes with the shade of my right hand as I imagine my world, Earth, hidden away on the far side of that star. Even now the life I knew continues as normal in my absence. But how far away it all seems now, not just in space but also in time.

My thoughts turned again, as they did occasionally to speculate on the fate of the girl who had been lying on the grass next to me in that field near Milton Keynes, all those many months ago. Her name at the time had been Miss Elizabeth Anna Bentley of Park Lane in London, and I remember looking at her as I lay semi-drugged, thinking she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen in my life. She had looked so defenceless, so vulnerable as she had been stripped from her light blue cocktail dress, high heels, panties, brassiere, and tights in preparation of being placed inside one of the transit capsules. Her hair had been a beautiful shade of reddish brown that is rare on Gor, which would mark her as very precious in the slave markets. Where was she now, I wondered? In Ar? Port Kar? In the steaming jungles of Schendi? I had no way of knowing. The only thing I could assume was she had been  branded, trained, and eventually sold. She would be a slave now somewhere on Gor, growing accustomed to her new life. I thought back to the last time I had seen her pleading face, staring at me from the inside of her capsule, as I too stared back from the inside of mine.

She was beautiful. Perhaps even more beautiful than me. I wished I had been able to talk to her, but what would I have said? I don't know.        

During the afternoon when the sun is at its strongest I can sometimes make out flickering shapes on the far horizon that appear to be mounted riders, but such sights are generally no more than a heat haze mirage. The swaying of the kaiila makes for an unpleasant ride and still, several days out from Kadesh I find myself holding on to the brass rings for support. To make matters worse I have cramps in my stomach and the first signs of a discharge of blood, meaning I am experiencing another period as a woman. It is not a pleasant sensation at all, and one that has left me irritable and short tempered. More so than ever before, I curse the cylindrical machines of the Kurii that have replicated in every small detail the internal plumbing and chemistry of the female body.

But I suppose I should be grateful that I am not plodding by the side of the caravan on foot as the poorer members of our entourage are forced to do. Sullen looking desert men stride purposefully with head scarves tightly wound about their faces to protect them from wind blown sand particles while their women folk, swathed head to foot in the concealing gowns of the bedouins, follow close by, heavily loaded with bags and sacks full of their possessions. The men seem to expect their women to act as beasts of burden and I marvel at the inner strength of the desert born woman to be able to walk so far in such heat, carrying such loads. My own weak body would not be able to cope with either the hot sun or the weight of the packs.           

A common misconception concerning the desert is that it resembles the sweeping sand dunes of classic Arabian Nights and Sinbad films. In actual fact most desert is a rolling landscape consisting of large barren, hard rocky plateaus. Hamadas are produced by the wind removing the fine products of weathering: an aeolian process known as deflation. The finer-grained products are removed in suspension, whilst the sand is removed through saltation and surface creep, leaving behind a landscape of gravel, boulders and bare rock. Hamadas exist in contrast to ergs, which are large areas of shifting sand dunes.

More than ever I am becoming aware of how vulnerable I am on this savage, primitive world. Physically weak as I am, I have no means by which to defend myself, and the harsh unpalatable truth is that I depend totally  on the protection of a handful of men in this lawless land. Even ignoring the possibility of danger from bandit raiders, I lack any of the basic survival skills necessary to survive in an environment like this. Were I alone now I would soon become lost in the desert to eventually die of exposure, thirst or starvation. It is a humbling experience to realise that the skills you possess in a modern technological world of computers and electronics are useless on Gor, and that the useful skills common to Dark Age societies has been lost to my generation on Earth. We rely too much on the comforts and conveniences of modern life that we take for granted. I do not know how to hunt my food, gut and clean it and cook it on an open fire. I do not recognise the simple plants and herbs that can be used to stave off ailments. I do not know how to dress wounds, sew clothes, navigate a barren wasteland like this without maps. I am typically useless in all those things. I am weak. I am helpless, and my only value is my beauty. I had no idea it would be like this.

We camp midday for respite from the savage heat and then at night, but only after making good progress for a few hours in the coolness of the evening before the light grows too dim to continue. The segregation of the sexes becomes obvious again as the men set about erecting a screened area for the women to sleep in together. We in turn are expected to prepare camp for the men, involving preparation of food, lighting fires, and setting rugs down over the rough ground. There are simply not enough slaves travelling with the caravan to handle all the work, and so Free Women, irrespective of wealth or status, are expected to help with the mundane chores once it becomes necessary.

During our journey we would rest at a series of Caravanserais placed at strategical water well points along the trade routes the criss-crossed the Tahari. Essentially walled roadside inns, these stopping stations support the flow of commerce and people across the desert. While varying in size (the larger ones were stationed close to cities) they tended to follow the same  architectural plan; essentially an adobe building with a square or rectangular walled exterior and a single gateway with a width and height sufficient to allow access to caravans of sand kaiilas. Once inside, the travellers would be greeted by a large courtyard open to the sky, where the inside walls of the enclosure were arranged with various stalls, bays, niches or chambers in which goods and pack beasts could be stabled for a price. Often the travellers slept close by, bedded down with rugs and makeshift awnings. The richer merchants could pay for small roofed rooms in the main building. The centre of the courtyard would house the communal well where water could be drawn. Custom dictated that the supply of water itself was free within reason. A further feature of a caravanserai would be a number of hitching posts along the eastern wall to which slaves could be tethered or more commonly chained. Male slaves would commonly be segregated from female slaves for obvious reasons.

Come evening fires would be lit and food cooked and sold by the caravanserai owners. Meals would usually be taken outdoors under the stars, but again the richer merchants could choose to eat alone in their private rooms. Few elected to do so as the night time meals were usually a good source of gossip, providing information on the activities of desert raiders, the status of wells and the availability of trade goods throughout the various Taharian markets.

Custom dictated that the Free Women of the caravan, that is of course those not in Free Companionship contracts who would eat with their men, would sit and eat together during the evening meal. Traditionally small groups would form with one or more of the women taking it in turn to prepare simple food for the night. Often this food would take the form of three courses; firstly a small handful of dates, followed by a soup broth of some kind, and then finally the main meal of a portion of meat, poultry or fish (often dried and preserved), a portion of rice, lentils, bread or bagel like foodstuff and a portion of cooked vegetables. The vegetables and meat are usually cooked together in a sauce to make maraq, which is served on rice. Most households add sa-tarna bread, whether other grains were available or not. Drinks are not necessarily served with the food, although water is of course supplied in stone pitcher jugs and poured into small clay cups painted in light blue colours. I should perhaps mention that food is eaten with the right hand only in the Tahari. This is symbolic for the right hand is the hand used to fight with, but it is also associated with the fact that the left hand is traditionally used for matters concerning the toilet and therefore it is considered unclean to consume food with it. Eating with both hands in the Tahari would be a social mistake of epic proportions.

As the women eat they talk about themselves, their lives, their hopes, and their dreams, and this conversation soon moves to the wiser, older women offering counsel and advice to the younger ones. Stories are shared, almost always involving some obvious moral at the end and, provided men are well out of earshot, clever double entendre sexual innuendos, for Gorean women can be surprisingly frank about sexual matters in the privacy of their own sex. Such conversations are of course never totally relaxed, for the Taharian woman is well used to preserving what the desert tribes refer to as her 'Ird'. Ird is a complex concept which is perhaps most comparable to the western concept of virginity, but to the tribeswomen of the Tahari it goes well beyond that. A woman is born with her Ird intact, but sexual transgression could take her Ird away. Ird is different from virginity as it is emotional and conceptual. Once lost, Ird cannot be regained. To be honest I have never fully understood the subtleties of Ird in all the time I lived in the desert and I probably never will. The meaning is, as the saying goes, lost in the translation.

That night as we ate, the women were playing a simple game that is often played in the desert amongst strangers after the first course of dates are eaten. It is called 'I am not a slave' and the rules are simple. The women retain the handful of date stones and these count as 'lives' that can be lost. Each woman in turn then speaks the phrase “I am not a slave because..” and then personalises it with the reason why she isn't a slave. The most obvious examples being:

“Because I am not branded.”

“Because my ears are not pierced.”

“Because I do not know how to dance.”

And so on. To begin with this is easy enough but as no reason can be repeated once it has been used, the game gets progressively harder. Furthermore, giving a ridiculous answer such as “I am not a slave because I do not like the colour blue,” permits the answer to be challenged by any one of the other players, as does any example of repetition. The other women vote on whether it is an acceptable answer. If it is not then the offending woman forfeits one of her date stones which is given to the successful challenger and she, the offender, then has to immediately provide a new answer on the spot. If however it turns out that the answer was considered acceptable according to the vote, then the woman who mounted the challenge loses two date stones (simply discarded) and it is now immediately her turn out of sequence. Responses are timed as the woman to the left drinks water from one of the small clay cups. When the cup is empty and turned upside down, the time to answer is up. Failing to answer takes a life, but the turn does not have to be taken again. Usually when a woman fails to answer (the penalty is after all milder than giving an answer which is likely to be challenged successfully) it is traditional for the other women to chide her briefly with cries of “slave, slave, slave!” though it is not truly meant seriously.

The game continues until one woman runs out of lives and she is then mercilessly teased as being the slave in the camp. For the rest of the evening she pays the forfeit of having to address all the other women in the group as Mistress and serve the remaining courses of food and drink. What men think of this game, if they are even aware of it, is hard to tell. Certainly it is never mentioned in the scrolls of Tarl Cabot. As far as I know the game is only ever played in the deserts of the Tahari.

It will perhaps come as no surprise that I had never played the game before and therefore I was the only woman kneeling in the circle who didn't have a ready stockpile of acceptable answers to draw upon. Within a few rounds of the game all the obvious answers were exhausted and as I struggled to think of acceptable responses that hadn't already been used, I watched my supply of date stones being seized one at a time. Very soon I was the first out of the game and to the cheers of victory amongst the Tahari women, swiftly proclaimed a slave.

"Felice is a slave!” cried Sarai.

"I always knew she was,” said Sareena.

"She has a slave's ankles, it is true,” said Olivia.

"You must serve us now, little Felice. Serve us well or we will tie your ankles and wrists together tonight before we go to sleep,” said Ameera.

That last comment was no joke. Sometimes, especially when Tahari women drink some ka-la-na, the game can grow a little out of hand and the loser finds herself the subject of more than just good natured taunting, especially if the losing woman is unpopular for some reason, in which case she may indeed be tied and bound by the other women before they retire for the night. Knots tied by Taharian women are often as intricate and inescapable as knots tied by men, and more than one unpopular woman has spent the night with her ankles and wrists lashed tightly together, lying on her side on a rug with a thin blanket placed over her body, such that if she squirmed too much she might lose it and be visible as a bound woman when the men wake in the morning.

"I will tie Felice up if she serves poorly,” snapped Olivia. For some reason she had been bitter towards me all evening and I had no idea why. Now that I had lost the stupid game she had a plausible excuse to take her dislike of me up a few notches without being chided by the others. “And then I shall switch her for being displeasing!”

"That goes too far, Olivia,” said Sarai. “The switch is not appropriate. It is just a game.”

"Not so,” said Olivia. “For Felice has the lips of a slave. They are full, pouting and await the kiss of a man. Were she not veiled it would be obvious to men what she truly is.” I was veiled of course which meant that my lower face was obscured from view, but it was possible that Olivia, seated opposite me, had glimpsed my lips when I raised my veil slightly in order to eat and drink. The technology of the Kurii had indeed given me lips to die for – the sort of pouting full lips that cosmetics companies would employ for expensive lipstick commercials. A fully formed pout not unlike that of the lingerie model, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. I had noticed the resemblance the first time I had seen my reflection in a mirror. They were extremely feminine lips, contoured and ripe and a magnet for a man's attention, which is why I was glad to be able to hide them during my travels on Gor.

"Don't be ridiculous, Olivia,” I said quickly, but perhaps something in my voice caught the attention of the other women within our circle. I perhaps sounded a little nervous as if I had been caught out unexpectedly.

"I'm telling you she does have slave lips. I saw them. Men would pay a high price for a slave with lips like hers.” Olivia said spitefully.

"Let me serve the next course,” I suggested as a few of the other women glanced now in my direction. “The soup broth is surely ready by now?”

"Lower your veil,” suggested Sarai. “Show us your lips.”

"I have no wish to. This is childish,” I said as I attempted to close the subject.

"There are no men nearby, and it is dark away from the fire. Only we will see,” said Sarai, perhaps more seriously now. “Let us see what Olivia claims to have noticed.”

"Slave lips. She has slave lips,” said Olivia again “No doubt she has a slave belly to match.”

"I've had enough of this,” I said, now annoyed “I played your stupid game, but now enough is enough.”

Suddenly a hand shot out from my left side and Lady Carina, who had so far been silent, pulled away the veil from my face, tearing the delicate fabric from the fastening pins. The veil hung now from one set of pins alone and my lips were revealed to the group of women. Face stripping of course is a serious crime if a man did it to a woman, but amongst women only, the rules are somewhat different. Women have been known to pick on one another in such a way. But never of course in the presence of men. Where we were of course no men were nearby, and even if they were, it was too dark for them to see more than six yards in the distance.

"There, See! Slave lips!” cried Olivia in vindication as my beautiful features were revealed to the other women for the first time. With a frightened yelp I seized the torn strip of veil and quickly held it in place across my face, but the damage had been done. The Kurii had done their work well, and they had given me the facial features that were overtly sexual to any man who looked upon me. Such was the point of course for the machines had been calibrated to produce perfect slave bodies and faces.

"Felice…” Sarai stared at me and shook her head in disappointment. “I think you should serve us food now. And do so well, or as Olivia said, the switch shall be used.”

The next day we set off again, moving ever deeper into the vast sweeping desert.

And then the following night they came for us.

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