Chapter 6: I speak my mind to Kurgus, which it transpires is a mistake
“I have a distinct fondness for sleen,” said Kurgus as he lifted a large chunk of raw meat on the end of a spiked pole and placed it before the great beast’s jaws. The broad, triangular head tapered to a whiskered snout with beady eyes and a mouth set with two rows of fangs that quickly jerked forward and snapped at the chunk of meat. It was taken whole within its jaws and pulled away from the pole arm in a single motion. Kurgus smiled as the great beast tore and snapped at the meat, quickly swallowing it in great bloody chunks. “I have named this one Minsk. I knew him when he was but a puppy.”
“Oh God…” I cowered as far away from the sleen pen as I could. The sickening crunch of the fangs snapping the bones within the meat to get to the juicy marrow was making me feel sick. The creature was enormous, over nine feet long, with six powerful legs and a thick coat of fur, all grey in colour. As I watched, I saw its ears lie back against the side of its head as it ate, watching me with suspicion. Kurgus, it knew. But the smaller, weaker figure in the flowing blue gown was a stranger.
“You have nothing to fear while I am here, Felice. The sleen knows me as its Master.” Kurgus was amused to see my reaction to the beast, though it was hardly unexpected. I had of course never been close to a sleen before. “See how it sniffs the air. It is interested in your scent, my dear.”
“I’m sorry, Kurgus, but can we move away from here? That thing scares me.” I stood now in a large courtyard surrounded by high walls, part of the villa and farm lands that Kurgus had occupied outside the walls of the city of Corcyrus. On one side were the sleen pens – sunken pits with barred sides and a steel roof, and a sloped ramp that descended down from a portcullis like gate to the pen below. To my growing horror the portcullis gate was currently wide open where Kurgus stood, speaking kind words to his beast. I on the other hand stood as far away as possible, with my back pressed close to the outer wall. I was quite plainly trembling with fear.
“So it should. This creature is the finest hunter on Gor. It has no equal.” Kurgus hooked another chunk of meat, but this time barked a command to the sleen that seemed to have the effect of stopping it from immediately reaching out for the food. “Wait, Minsk,” he warned it as he raised the bloody hind leg of a tabuk. The sleen scratched impatiently with its front paws on the surface of the ramp as it hissed and growled. It was hungry. It wanted food. If Kurgus was scared by this, he didn’t show it. Only when the hissing subsided and the sleen lowered its head acknowledging its master, did Kurgus lower the meat and bark a second command that food could be taken. Once again the great jaws snapped open and shut as the sleen tore the meat from the pole.
“Oh God, I really am going to be sick.” I turned my eyes away but I could still hear the slobbering and cracking of the tabuk leg.
“I bred this sleen myself. It is never wise to tame wild ones. The mating of sleen is quite interesting, Felice.”
“I’m sure it is.” The tone of my voice probably suggested otherwise as I pressed my right cheek against the white washed stone of the wall and closed my eyes. The distance between the open cage mouth and where I now cringed was a barely adequate ten ah-ils. I felt sure that at any moment the beast could leap that distance in a single bound from the top of the ramp if it wished to.
“I can see you’re interested,” continued Kurgus as he gazed with affection at his favourite sleen. “A female sleen who has never mated before will always try to resist the male. But, as male sleen are larger and stronger than females, the male will ultimately win by grabbing hold of the female's throat with his fangs, and holding on tightly. He will then throw the female sleen onto her back so that they are facing belly to belly. With the grip on her throat, the female will become docile and allow the male sleen to do what he desires. He will then penetrate her and they will soon be locked together, by legs and teeth, rolling around in a mating frenzy. After that initial experience, the female will never need to be forced again. Interesting, don’t you think?”
“Please can you close the portcullis. Please!” The courtyard was also home to a series of five small punishment cages lining the far side, away from the sleen pens. Two of the cages were currently occupied by a pair of slave girls belonging to Kurgus. The height of each cage was such that a girl kneeling inside would not be able to sit up straight, but rather she would have to keep her head bowed against the ceiling bars. In addition, the length of the cage, just under 46 horts, meant that it was impossible for most girls to fully stretch out whilst lying inside. They would be forced to curl their bodies whilst sleeping. The cages were exposed to the elements, save for a single sheet of dark tarpaulin that was stretched on poles, and by the courtyard wall against which the cages stood. The floor of the cage was a sheet of hard wood laid over the surface of the bars. Each cage was bolted securely to the cement floor of the courtyard and immovable without tools.
“As you wish.” Kurgus pulled the heavy portcullis gate down over the opening with a loud crash of iron and steel. He slid bolts into place and twisted them shut. Later, at night, his men would securely lock the cage with padlocks. “I can see Minsk has an effect on you.”
“It’s a powerful nine foot long carnivore that looked at me as if I was lunch. What do you expect?”
“Hmm.” Kurgus scratched his chin in thought. “Now, you were saying? You said something about your studies as a Free Woman of Gor. Forgive me, but some of your words were drowned out by the hissing and growling of the sleen and the sharp scratching of its claws against the reinforced ramp as it demanded food. Repeat what you said just now, but without the annoying Earth slang that you have a habit of using on occasion.”
I stepped away from the wall and gazed at the portcullis cage door. The lizard like, thickly furred creature had descended back down into the pit from where the crunching and cracking of bones could be heard. “The lessons have become repetitive, petty and of no discernible practical use. I am being trained in a variety of customs and pedantic rituals that serve no purpose. And I am offended by the constant implication of the lessons that I should be constantly deferring to men. Furthermore, I grow tired of the disrespectful manner in which Tallia speaks to me. I also do not appreciate the inference of the whip clipped to her belt. On more than one occasion she has implied she may have whip rights over me! I would like her dismissed today if possible. Send her back to the Northern Forests or collar her if you like. I care not.”
“Excellent. I commend you on your forthright opinions. It is refreshing to speak to an agent who is not afraid of the consequences of thinking she knows better than I do.”
“The thing is…” I felt sure that Kurgus had clearly heard me the first time, but I elaborated anyway. “I find the lessons boring and in certain cases demeaning or even humiliating. You forget that despite this body I'm actually a man. I don't wish to be trained by a Panther Girl in the correct forms of curtseying to men.”
Kurgus said nothing for a moment. “Felice. Perhaps I haven’t made myself totally clear. You are my agent. I require you to carry out various duties for me within the Tahari. These duties will require you to pass as a Gorean Free Woman in all respects. What you consider to be trivial details may well be things which prevent your identity from being exposed.”
“It's too much! Your stupid Panther Girl even tried to teach me how a Free Woman submits in the unlikely event of being captured! As if I was actually going to entertain her by rehearsing some demeaning submission posture, kneeling and crossing my wrists before her, with my head bowed. It's humiliating. I've had enough of this. Let me attend to this mission and then I can get on with my life. I just want to get this over with. I'm sorry if you don't like to hear me say this.”
“You’re sorry? Well, that’s some consolation, isn’t it?”
“I mean, I may have expended considerable expense and effort to bring you to Gor, to train you in the customs and language, and prepare you to travel to the Tahari to perform vital tasks in support of an uncompromising timetable, but if you’re sorry, well I suppose that’s all right then.”
“Be reasonable, Kurgus, despite this body, I still think like a man. I'm uncomfortable with the lessons I'm being given. What can I say? Your slave's attitude borders on patronising. She treats me like some clumsy young girl sent to a finishing school to learn how to walk and cook and sew. It’s inconvenient at best.”
“Inconvenient? Well, you certainly have thought this through, haven’t you, Felice?”
“I know you’re angry, Kurgus, but it can’t be helped. Anyway, I've decided I've had enough lessons. I don't need any more.”
“You have, have you?” Kurgus rolled the words around his tongue. “Do you think this is a game, Felice? Do you believe that the matter of success or failure is largely irrelevant?” Kurgus suddenly took my right arm by the elbow and walked me slowly across the courtyard. “You, who has been an agent in training for, oh, a matter of a few months now? In your professional experience you think you know better than I?”
“I didn’t mean any disrespect...”
“I am Gorean, Felice. That means I am not especially interested in what you meant. I am only interested in results and for you to do exactly what I tell you to do.”
“And I will get you results. I will. I just don't need to sit there as a scowling Panther Girl teaches me how to sew and embroider. I don't have the interest or the time.”
“Why then, I’ll give you some time if that's all you need. Spend the night in contemplation and who knows you may develop an interest. Surprise me with the extent of your enthusiasm for your lessons in the morning.” Kurgus brought me to a halt beside the row of punishment cages. Letting go of my elbow he opened the door of the vacant third cage. “Inside.”
“What?” I took a step back.
“Am I not clear? This is where you can sleep tonight, Felice. I am displeased. And when I am displeased, there are always consequences. The experience will sharpen your brain. It will perhaps encourage you to embrace your lessons as a Free Woman instead of whining and complaining.” He took me again by the elbow and pushed me down and through the barred opening.
“Kurgus. This is insane. You can’t make me sleep outside in a cage in your courtyard!”
“Oh, but I think I can. To quote your ugly Earth slang: ‘deal with it’. That is the expression I believe? I will speak to you in the morning. Be prepared to amaze me with what you think of your lessons by then.”
I crouched low in the cage, facing the barred gate that remained open. The top of my head brushed the ceiling bars, even with my head lowered. “Kurgus, please don’t do this.”
“Hush. Do not disturb the sleen. They like to sleep for an ahn after eating.” Kurgus closed and locked the cage gate with a heavy padlock.
I lay shivering, curled into a foetal position by necessity of the cage size, sometime before the second ahn. Having been born to a temperate climate on Earth with all the luxuries of central heating and modern housing, I felt the chill of the night air more than a hardy woman of Gor might. My leg muscles ached from being pressed against the bars of the cage, unable to stretch out, and I found myself turning repeatedly on the rough wooden floor, the muscles of my body not being accustomed to sleeping on a hard surface. To make matters worse, the nocturnal snuffling and hissing of the sleen in the nearby pens was keeping me awake. If they weren’t hissing and growling at each random scent blown their way by the wind, they were scratching and digging at the floor of the pits. Making up my mind, I reached through the bars into the adjoining cage and prodded the slave girl awake. “What’s your name, girl?” I asked quietly. In the furthest cage the other slave girl slept on. “Lana, Mistress,” came the girl’s soft reply as she rubbed sleep from her eyes.
“Give me your blanket,” I said. It wasn’t a particularly cold night as far as nights went this time of the year, but lying still in the cage made the night air feel colder than if I had been moving around. I needed the girl’s blanket.
“But Mistress, you are clothed, and I am not...” The girl roused herself and turned, resting the weight of her body on one elbow.
“Do I need to repeat a command?” I said. “You’re a slave. Things like this happen to you. Get used to it. It comes with the collar.” Lana hastily complied, unwrapping her precious blanket and passing it through between the bars of the cage for of course she recognised that I was free. As I wrapped myself tightly in its folds and I tried to make herself as comfortable as I could on the hard floor of the cage, Lana curled miserably in her own cage, no longer enjoying the benefit or warmth of a covering.
I lay awake for a long time, simply gazing up at the stars, lost in my thoughts, most of which were to do with Gor. I had lived on Gor now for, I think, just over 4 months in Earth terms, though it is difficult to be sure as the rotation of the planet differs slightly and therefore the passage of a day is not quite the same as on Earth. In that time I had begun to understand more about my adopted home and the differences between its people and my own people on Earth. I shall take the opportunity to give you the benefit now of some of my observations on the nature of the society.
Firstly, Goreans place great importance on the concept of a Homestone. 'Homestone' simply refers to the city that you swear allegiance to and call home. Unlike our modern 21st century, where patriotism is often considered to be outdated, and where many of us are 'global citizens' able to relocate at will, sometimes from country to country, let alone city to city, Goreans prize their identity as belonging to a particular homestone. They show immense pride and loyalty to the place they call home and will defend it at all costs. Protection is given to other men and women of their homestone. It is unlikely for example that a Man of Corcyrus would enslave a woman of Corcyrus, unless she really provoked the collar. Women of other cities however would be fair game.
Free Women of Gor (in the cities at least) probably enjoyed greater freedoms and rights than women did in the equivalent periods of primitive technology era Earth history (and indeed in some regions of the Earth to this day) – periods in which women were traditionally relegated to submissive, inferior roles due to the prevalence of physical strength and size being paramount in determining who is dominant in the food chain. Only with the advent of technology replacing muscle on Earth did women begin to attain comparative rights and freedoms. Gor is still technologically primitive, kept so by the edicts of Priest Kings who do not wish to see Goreans invent powerful weapons or engines.
Free Women are by and large protected by both their castes and their homestones. They are subject to the law, like anyone else, but they are not in fear of being collared if they don't please a man. The law in Corcyrus protects a Free Woman provided she doesn't do anything illegal. She may practise a profession, travel about the city as she wishes and, yes, even argue with and criticise men, though there may be social consequences outside of strict legal ones if she did so.
Out in the wildernesses of Gor of course there is no law, and a woman would be at great risk, but since women on the whole are sensible enough not to go roaming the highways alone, that isn't really a concern. The risks in Corcyrus are the same as in any modern city though. Walk through the wrong district late at night when it's dark, or take a short cut through some cut throat alley, and of course you could be attacked, but the same thing applies to London, Paris or New York at night.
Where Gorean Free Women differ from Earth ones is in their sense of propriety and dignity. Gorean culture prescribes a double standard for women that is sometimes referred to (though not in the books themselves) as the Madonna/Whore complex. They can either be the virginal Lady of Arthurian myths, resplendent in her flowing gowns and noble chastity, or they can be abject sluts, relishing their sexuality to the full. Men, who are the dominant gender on Gor, permit very little middle ground between the two contrasts. They insist that a woman can be but one or the other in their eyes. A Free Woman is raised from an early age to believe she must always keep herself covered up in public. Typical Gorean fashion requires multiple layers of full-body gowns – usually loose and billowing as opposed to belted tightly and figure hugging – accompanied by up to five layers of face veils, and something to loosely cover the hair. Women are taught not to express any element of sexuality in their lifestyle and consequently they are typically repressed when it comes to such 'forbidden' feelings.
A Gorean woman IS permitted to have sex, but it requires a complex and faintly ridiculous courtship protocol where she somehow has to interest a man without actually flirting with a man. No wonder so many of them seem unhappy! The accepted method of courtship (an overly polite form of dating) should then lead to a period of Free Companionship – effectively a finite marriage that ends after a year or so unless it is renewed. But even then the Gorean Free Woman is expected to indulge in sex as a polite and modest affair, no doubt lying back and thinking of the city of Ar while her Free Companion Man enters her gently, being considerate enough to not disturb her too much during the intercourse. Most Men would be frankly shocked and dismayed if their Free Companion began to exhibit signs of actually enjoying sex, let alone asking for it. Such responses would suggest she might actually have slave feelings. Free Women are terrified that anyone might think that of them. Being interested in sex or being sexually responsive is one of the gravest taboos as far as Free Women are concerned. To be a Free Woman is to be frigid, or else be publicly shamed.
Although they aren't slaves, most Free Women are taught at an early age how to submit to the collar, along with a few basic slave positions. The reason for this is that if their city is ever stormed by a foreign army, they will have a chance to save their lives by submitting to the conquerors. It's effectively an action of last resort when there are no men of your homestone left to protect you.
Many Free Women are highly competitive amongst themselves and merely tolerate slaves at best. Men rarely intervene when a Free Woman has reason to punish a slave, which is bad news for the slave, because on the whole she probably has done little to deserve the punishment!
What of Gorean men then? Men, more so than women, are obsessed with Honour. This to them is what dignity, decency and propriety are to women. Gorean men would be appalled at the 21st century Earth attitude that states 'the individual is all'. Gorean society is very ordered and formal. Everyone knows his place, and there are many implied standards of decent behaviour which do not even require laws. The typical rudeness and social disrespect for one another that occurs in our society (especially on the social network sites of the Internet) would be anathema to Goreans.
Most Gorean men put their duty to their homestone and caste before their own social and economic advancement. There are criminals and outlaws of course, but such people would be despised within a city. There is little evidence in what I have seen in Corcyrus that Goreans have any respect for such people. On Earth we are used to a 'pop' culture growing up around notorious criminals with films and books being written about them. Goreans would find such an attitude puzzling. Why glamorise dishonourable outlaws and criminals? They would instead be driven from the city or impaled on spikes.
It is easy to misunderstand or forget what the concept of honour means to a Gorean. It goes beyond fighting fairly in a spar tournament. In a sense it can be summed up as 'treating other people the way you would want them to treat you'. A Gorean would not for example randomly vandalise someone else's property. It would not make sense to him to do so. The action would not enrich his wealth or standing in any way, and the other person would not have done anything to warrant it, so why do it? Don't mistake this as some sort of utopian society where no one tries to better themselves at the expense of others. Goreans are as competitive as Earth people – of course they will try to make a profit where they can, and they will covet the most beautiful slaves for themselves, but they will not indulge in nihilistic practices for no reason. If one Gorean challenges another Gorean (and this would usually only happen in the wilderness) he knows it is a very serious matter – probably of life or death – so it would not be over a trivial matter. The Gorean man must really, really want that naked slave girl on a leash if he challenges another man for her on the road to Ar. Because one of those men will inevitably die in the process.
On the whole men show respect (of sorts – this does not imply they think of women as anything close to their equals) to Free Women. They are prepared to put up with quite a lot from a woman before they show any anger. A parallel would be the way an adult tolerates the behaviour of a child because, “Well, it's only a child...” However when a woman steps too far out of line, a man will correct her abruptly, and there will be little or no come back from anyone nearby. In return men expect Free Women to observe strict standards of decency. Men would be genuinely ashamed of a Free Woman of their homestone if she, for example, routinely disgraced her city by exposing her face or indecent amounts of flesh (sadly for women on Gor, indecent amounts of flesh could refer to as little as a pretty ankle...). Sometimes when men have collared a woman it is (in their mind) for her own good, if she has acted as a slave might. A desire to have her in their chains doesn't necessarily enter into the equation – in fact they might have no intention of keeping her. They might even think they were doing her a favour – that she'd ultimately be happier in a collar where she belonged.
Men are of course very keen on slaves. They spend a lot of time with their slaves, over and above the time they actually fur them. Gorean men are interested in every aspect of their slave. They like to know what the slave thinks for example. Even a man who has drunk the wine of Free Companionship with a Free Woman will still use slaves as and when he wishes. He does not consider this as being unfaithful, as slaves obviously do not count! Men do however understand that Free Women are uncomfortable around slaves, and they therefore are usually careful to ensure that
a Free Woman isn't too scandalised. Slaves in the presence of a Free Woman for example might be instructed to wear tunics that are not quite so revealing. They might be told to kneel in Tower rather than in Nadu, and they would probably not dance. Nevertheless, a man's effort to mitigate the sexuality of their slaves only goes so far, and Free Women are generally expected to put up with what they don't like.
On Gor, women are not warriors. They may be born to the caste of warriors, because their father is a warrior, but they did not learn to fight with weapons. There is a reason for this – the same reason why women did not form armies during the equivalent historical periods on Earth. Contrary to the picture painted in modern fantasy novels, where women dodge nimbly about, sweeping aside the clumsy blows swung at them, parrying, riposting and offering highly skilled thrusts with their own blades, primitive sword and shield warfare was never like that. Battles were won by muscle and lots of it.
Throughout history battles resembled rugby scrums. Two lines of very big hairy men would form up, locking their shields together, with spears or swords sticking out, facing forward. After a certain amount of shouting abuse to drum up courage, these two lines would then collide into one another in a thunderous crash, and it would be a case of pushing and shoving until one line broke apart. The line that had the heavier, stronger men, would generally break the weaker line. Once your line was broken, your enemy would begin to hack you to pieces. No army unit ever survived once its line broke. Combat was like a tug of war in reverse – muscle and body weight was the key to winning. See the film '300' for an example of the pushing and shoving.
It should be obvious then that having women in your shield wall would be like putting a weak link in a chain. Plus, even before you got to the battle, the soldiers would be expected to fast march twenty miles with full packs, shield and weapons to get there. If you weren't physically very strong you'd collapse before you reached the battlefield. A Gorean woman is nowhere near as strong as a Gorean man. The Gorean woman may be stronger than her Earth counterpart, as the Gorean woman lives in a pre-technological age, and therefore life is harder and more physical, but she can't even begin to approach the level of Gorean male strength.
Another common misconception on Earth is that if women can't match men with swords and shields, they can fight them with a bow. Panther girl clans in particular claim amazing prowess with the bow, despite having been Free Women or slaves two months earlier. Somehow in the intervening time we are told in the writings of the (probably mythical) Tarl Cabot that they have mastered a powerful hunting bow and are able to shoot down men from long range. The truth is that to use a bow well (which I define as hitting a fast moving target while your hands are shaking with adrenaline, because he's going to kill you if your first shot misses) takes a lifetime of practice. During the Hundred Years War, England was able to field the most powerful army in existence at that time. It effectively had access to a 'weapon of mass destruction' that no other nation could field in battle – the longbow. And the reason why England was the only Western nation able to use the longbow was because it was the only nation that trained peasants in its use from childhood. If you weren't trained from an early age, then you couldn't use it effectively enough to make a difference in battle. England lost its dominance in war at the same time its peasants stopped learning to use the bow.
In all likelihood the bows that Panther Girls use are probably light short bows that require less muscle. In a forest setting of course range is not so important as there will usually be trees in the way, so a short bow will suffice. The accuracy of such weapons will depend very much on how long the Panther Girl has practised or, rather, survived to practise. Many Panther Girls fall to male hunters early on in their lives, and so I suspect the truly skilled archers in the forests are few and far between. Tallia may well have counted herself as one of them.
It should be stressed too that not all men on Gor are trained to fight. In fact, common sense dictates that most of them aren't. The caste of warriors and the caste of guardsmen would be able to fight, but it's very unlikely that a baker or a candle maker would be able to defend himself very well. Again, some of the mythical Tarl's writings sometimes gives the impression that Gor is a warrior society where every man is Conan the Barbarian. Wagon camps and the like probably did provide basic martial training to most of its men, but in the civilised cities (which resemble a cross between classical era Athens and Rome and various late Mediaeval/early Renaissance cities) most people are not versed in the art of war. As soon as you build stone walls around a population, the need to defend against raids reduces dramatically, so you need a smaller proportion of warriors. This enables people to pursue other professions instead, thereby enriching your society. Since the books tend to concentrate on the adventures of warriors such as Tarl, many people assume all Gorean men are like that. The ratio of fighting men to non-fighting men on Gor probably doesn't differ much from the Roman Empire in 30AD.
The cities in Northern Gor are a marvel in themselves, offering a strange mix of classical architecture and technology, alongside strangely alien constructions. Corcyrus is a city that bears similarities to the cities of ancient Rome through to the European Renaissance. What are you likely to find? A city is an organic creation. Usually established on a valuable piece of ground that is close to fresh water and transport routes (this usually means a river or main road or on the coast) and which boasts natural geographical features that help to defend it from attack. The city begins life as a settlement, eventually builds walls around itself and then spills out beyond the walls as an expansion of the population uses up all available land within its confines. Inside the walls you would find various quarters (a general term – it doesn’t actually mean there are only four of them) – some rich, some poor, and some in between. Like will be attracted to like, so tradesmen will tend to group together forming artisan quarters, merchant quarters and similar areas. There will be a serious divide between the better parts of the city (where you are likely to see some attempt to keep the streets reasonably clean and where guardsmen will patrol on a regular basis) to the poorer quarters where the streets will resemble open sewers and you essentially make your own law.
An ancient city will stink in all but the finest areas. With a mass of humanity packed in together in a confined area, and poor sanitation (think of the condition of toilets at modern music festivals on the second day and you’ll have some idea what this is like…), cities can be breeding grounds for disease. Some streets may have a series of raised stepping-stones lining the way so that people can walk along them without wading through streams of urine. At night time a city will be pitch black. Richer areas may have street lighting, but the poorer areas won’t. With narrow roads (before the advent of the motor car, and with a population that mostly walks, there is no need for wide lanes except for a few main thoroughfares) and tall buildings, a city is far darker at night than in open countryside. If you don’t carry a lantern or torch of some kind, you really won’t see where you’re going. At best you’ll be feeling your way around by touch. And even if you do carry a light, you would still have to be careful. Thieves, and worse will be hiding in the pitch black of alleyways. Carrying a lit lantern means you’ll stand out like a very tempting target. They can see you, but you won’t necessarily see them. Not such a good idea now that you think about it.
Getting around a city will be difficult unless you know it well. Most streets probably won’t have names displayed. The locals will know the next street is Shackle Street, but there may not be any signs identifying it as that. If you’re new to the city and you stray from the main thoroughfares you stand a good chance of getting lost. Looking like you’re lost will of course mark you out as a potential victim.
We can extrapolate from this that escorts and guardsmen for hire would be in abundance. If you were wealthy enough you could hire armed guides to get you around the city, especially once the sun had set. A Free Woman in particular wouldn’t walk the streets after dark on her own. One or perhaps two armed men with torches would be a wise investment. Even better would be a palanquin to carry her. It’s not easy to avoid piles of excrement on a street when you can’t see them.
As a new arrival to the city you won’t necessarily be greeted with a warm welcome. The last thing a city wants is more penniless vagabonds who will turn to crime. You had better have money and some means of supporting yourself. Admittance to a city isn’t a right, but rather a privilege. And even if you have a trade to your name, the local caste members may not necessarily welcome you with open arms. The perceived threat of ‘foreigners coming here and stealing our jobs’ was as real in the ancient age as it is now. A metal worker from Cos seeking to set up shop in Corcyrus would be viewed with resentment by the existing metal workers, especially if the newcomer set about undercutting existing prices.
Shopping in an ancient city will be a time consuming affair. You won’t find a Gorean version of Wal-Mart where you can buy everything from hacksaws to potatoes in one go. Instead there will be a multitude of small stalls and shops selling specialised things. One stall will sell olives. Another will sell candles. Another will sell fish. Shopping will entail visiting many different merchants and haggling with them. Goods are unlikely to have price tags. If you want something, the merchant will set a price on the spot, and that price is likely to vary depending on whether he knows you, whether you look wealthy or poor and whether he has much in the way of competition. You in turn have the opportunity to try and persuade him to accept a slightly lower price.
A lot of what is on sale (with the exception obviously of food) will be second hand. The disposable nature of our society wouldn’t exist on Gor. Lacking industrialised mass production of goods on a large scale, many items will be hand crafted. Even common items like bowls and goblets will have a value on the second hand market since they are time consuming to make. A Gorean would be astonished at the amount of things we discard on a regular basis. We have that luxury because obtaining replacements is both cheap and easy. A pre-technological society wouldn’t enjoy the same abundance of goods.
Sometime before the fourth ahn, I was able to drop off to sleep, but not before I suffered the humiliation of having to pee where I lay in the cage. The pressure had been building in me all night and I desperately tried to control my bladder, but in the end it was no use. The cage was too small to be able to do anything more than pee where I lay, fully dressed, and so eventually I did. I felt wet and ashamed. I knew my gowns would be soiled and I knew Kurgus would notice in the morning. It seemed to be another sign of weakness on my part as neither of the two slave-girls seemed to have suffered the way I did. When I drifted off to sleep it was I suppose a mercy.
Unfortunately sometime before the fifth ahn I was rudely awakened by the sound of a stick being rattled along the line of cage bars. I blinked, feeling like death warmed up as the figure of a man came into focus. Next door, Lana and the other girl, who I discovered was called Sally, had immediately risen and were already kneeling in the position of pleasure slaves before the Gorean man. For myself, I remained where I lay, feeling cold, stiff and miserable within the cruel confinement of my punishment cage, but I regarded him with curiosity. Had Kurgus sent him? He looked like an overseer on the estate. But no, apparently not. The man was just doing his normal rounds of the estate. As I watched, the man began to ladle a sort of greasy porridge into a set of wooden bowls. I noticed now narrow slits set into the bottom of each cage gate through which the man began to push bowls of this filthy smelling food, beginning with the slave furthest in line. As the man approached me, I spoke out, “you don’t need to give me anything.”
My presence in the third punishment cage obviously surprised the man. I was after all still fully clothed and veiled, though the veils had come slightly loose during the night. He watched in amusement as I quickly secured them in place. I had been a woman on Gor long enough to know the risks of letting my veils slip in front of a man. “Everyone in the cages eats,” said the man as I fumbled with a securing pin. He pushed a bowl of the gruel through the slot towards me.
“That doesn’t apply to me,” I said. “Kurgus will release me in an ahn or two. It isn’t his intention that I’m fed in here. You can take that slop away.” Obviously the man hadn't been told that I had been placed in the cage by Kurgus last night. If he had been told, he would now be making an effort to be courteous and to assure me that Kurgus would be on his way very soon to unlock the cage. I glanced at the girls in the neighbouring cages. They were already lifting fingerfuls of the gooey paste into their mouths as if they hadn't eaten in days. I observed the metal collars locked around their necks, and the brands burned into their thighs. Gor was such a barbaric and savage planet, I thought to myself - a world that still clung to outmoded concepts such as slavery.
“Everyone in the cages eats,” said the man again. He apparently had no idea who I was, and he didn’t really care. I was simply a woman locked in a punishment cage. And it was his duty to feed the women who were locked in punishment cages. The fact that I was in a punishment cage was all he needed to know.
“Listen, I understand how this looks, but if you would just go and check with Kurgus, I’m sure…” I paused as I saw the man reach for the whip hanging from a hook on his belt. He unclipped it and let the whip uncoil towards the ground. “Everyone in the cages eats,” he said again. “Must you be whipped first?”
“Okay. You’ve made your point!” I slid back a couple of horts to the extent that I was able to within the cage. “I’m eating. Look, I’m eating.” I quickly dipped my right hand into the mush and, lifting my veil slightly with the left, placed several fingers full of the gruel into my mouth. As the man watched I swallowed and dipped my hand back into the bowl. It was a deeply unpleasant taste but better than the consequences of not eating. Kurgus would be furious when he learnt of this outrage. The man would be lucky to escape with his neck intact. He would certainly lose his job and be cast out. I consoled myself by imagining the look on his face when he discovered exactly what kind of serious mistake he had just made.
“Why aren't you stripped?” asked the man with a puzzled expression. He examined the cage door and routinely checked the security of the padlock to ensure it hadn't been tampered with during the night. It was heavy iron and unbreakable without tools. Nevertheless he examined the surface for any signs of scratches or markings or abrasions that might suggest an escape attempt had been made. Goreans are thorough like that when it comes to the chaining or confinement of women.
“Look, you obviously haven't been told. Kurgus was...” I suddenly flinched back as the man slapped the cage bars with the handle of his whip. “Eat.” The man said as he pointed with the whip at the bowl. I quickly addressed my attention to the slave gruel again. Satisfied now, the man turned his back and slid bowls of water from a rain cistern into each cage, after which he headed towards the sleen pens on the other side of the courtyard.
After finishing most of the contents of the food bowl, I pushed the smeared remains away to the corner of the cage. In just an ahn or two Kurgus would be awake and he would release me. I felt sore and tired and desperately looked forward to stretching my aching, cramped legs. “Mistress.” The girl, Lana, spoke softly from the other cage. I turned to regard her. “We are expected to clean the bowls completely.” She pointed now at the wooden bowl in the corner of the cage. Quantities of the greasy paste remained smeared around its inner surface. “The Master will not be pleased when he returns.”
I gazed at the powerful back and shoulders of the overseer as he emptied cuts of meat from a heavy bucket into the sleen pens through a grille in the ceiling. He was a man who had laboured hard since his youth, building muscle layers on top of muscle layers. I then gazed down at the bowl. Kurgus would be awake soon. He had promised to release me in the morning. I kicked the bowl angrily with my left foot. Damn Kurgus's hired thugs. Why the hell didn't they know who I was?
“The Master has a whip, Mistress,” whispered Lana. “We are expected to clean the bowls completely with our tongues.” I could of course still see the whip, coiled now in loops, hanging from the man’s belt and I knew whips were routinely used on Gorean slaves but of course I myself was not a slave. This had got seriously out of hand. Kurgus would be livid when he finally awoke. I watched as the man emptied the last of the cuts of meat into the pits and wiped his hands clean on his rough brown tunic. There was the distinct sound of ripping and the tearing of flesh and the crunching of bones from inside the sleen pits. I shivered at the thought of the sleen for I knew they were bred for hunting on Gor. Pity the poor man or woman who turned out to be their prey. Kurgus would be awake soon. But what if he did not rise for a few ahn yet? Very soon the heavy set, broad shouldered man would return to inspect the girl pens, quite possibly before Kurgus arrived. And yet, the threat of the whip was surely just that – a threat. The Lady Felicia Fonseca Gebara Torres was obviously not a slave. The man would not truly raise a finger against her without first checking why she was in a cage. He simply wouldn't dare. As I watched, the man turned slowly round and began to walk back towards the row of girl cages in which I sat.
I quickly reached for the wooden bowl and, before the man could return, began to wipe my fingers around the inside of the bowl, licking the gruel paste from them as Lana watched. “Very good, Mistress,” said Lana softly as she clutched the adjoining bars with her small hands. A trace of a smile haunted her rouged lips. “Be sure to clean it completely, Mistress.”
“Shut up!” I hissed as I finished the last of the gruel. In my haste I had stained my veils with the paste, for the man with the whip had almost returned to the row of five cages before I had breathlessly finished. He stopped beside my cage first. “Show me the bowl, girl,” he said, gazing down at the woman in the robes and veils. I lifted the wooden bowl in cupped hands and turned it so that the inside was open to inspection. A moment passed before the man nodded and moved on to the next cage to inspect Lana's bowl too.
Then, with a set of keys that hung from his belt, the vile man began to unlock our cage doors. He motioned for us to crawl out, and we gladly did so. Oh, but the cramp in my legs and back was horrible as the three of us groaned and stretched our stiff calf muscles.
The overseer gave us five ehn before he barked orders at us. “Wash yourselves at the trough.” he pointed to a stone water trough large enough to lie in that was filled with cold rain water. As he spoke, he sniffed in my direction and realised what had happened during the night. “Strip. Give me your clothes. Wash yourself completely.”
“I will not.” There was no way I was going to strip naked in a courtyard overlooked by many of the outbuildings and bathe myself in a water trough. “Please escort me to my chambers and I will...”
He shook loose his whip with a sudden movement that was too quick for me to follow. “Girls in the punishment cages eat. Then girls in the punishment cages wash.”
“He will whip you, Mistress,” whispered Lana. “He does not care who you are or why you were in the cage, only that you were in the cage. He is a harsh Master. He will hurt you.”
I chewed my lower lip and nodded. “I am not used to disrobing myself,” I explained. “Ordinarily I have a personal slave to help me. The clasps, and fastenings are sometimes difficult to reach.”
“You and you.” The overseer pointed his whip at Lana and Sally. “Undress her.Then see she washes herself.”
Lana and Sally gazed at one another in amazement. Of course the girls were only too happy to oblige for they wrongly sensed an impending change in my status. It is worth mentioning that slave-girls greatly fear Free Women and try their best to avoid them for fear of being displeasing in some trivial, usually contrived way which might lead to vicious punishments. Free Women are often cruel to slave-girls, and this is due to various issues that I have touched upon previously. The fact is, many Free Women are secretly jealous of certain aspects of a slave’s life, purely because they themselves are subject to so many cultural restrictions regarding dress, behaviour, sex and relating to men in general. Slave-girls should I suppose hate Free Women in return, but often they simply pity them. They see (or know from past experience) how unhappy and frustrated the Free Women of Gor can be. A slave-girl will always be polite and deferential to a Free Woman of course, but it is generally a façade born out of fear, for a Free Woman’s mood swings can be unpredictable when it comes to girls in collars, and it is usually the poor girl in a collar who the Free Woman takes out her frustrations on.
There is an exception to the rule that slave-girls fear Free Women of course and it is on the rare occasion that a Free Woman is about to be reduced to slavery. Then the true emotions show when the slave-girls sense the tables are about to be turned and they realise with growing delight that they no longer need to fear the haughty veiled Lady who in the past could have had them whipped for no reason at all. Now they no longer need to guard themselves carefully to avoid arousing her jealousy each time a man looks upon them. Now the slave-girl recognises that the Free Woman is about to become a slave herself and the moment for payback draws near.
Slave-girls can be very cruel when the tables are finally turned on a Free Woman they may know, and even some they don’t know, when she is stripped, forced to her knees and collared by a man. Now she stands in for all the pent up frustrations and anger that slave-girls have put up with and it is suddenly her turn to be very frightened. Her first few weeks as a slave will often be harsh if the other girls in her pen used to know her and had to serve her when she was Free. It must be dreadful indeed to be penned with girls who were once at your beck and call – girls who you may have been petty and vindictive to – girls who of course are far more experienced and in favour with your new Master than you yourself are. Girls who can, if they wish, make you look very bad indeed. Girls who will quickly establish your place in the cage’s pecking order with you at the very bottom.
Lana’s hands were on the clasps and hooks of my outer brocade robes. She smiled at me sweetly, still deferentially, as she began to loosen the garments. It was the pleasing smile she always offered to mask perhaps her true emotions at having to serve a woman prone to unexpected mood swings and emotional demands. But I could sense from the look in Lana’s eyes and the eyes of Sally that the girls secretly hoped that my caging and current treatment was but a precursor to me being enslaved. They didn’t understand that Kurgus would free me very soon. He had said so, and if there was one thing I could be certain of, it was that Kurgus would see no point in lying about such a thing. I would be freed in due course, after I had learnt my lesson. I just needed to hold out until he returned. It was unlikely that any of this had been ordered by Kurgus; rather I was the victim of unseen consequences of being caged on a whim. Kurgus of course would hardly be upset by my treatment so far – he might indeed find it amusing that I had been made to eat gruel – but I do not believe he had ordered it. The girls however didn’t know that. Their fear of me was not so great now. It was possible, they thought, that by tonight I might perhaps be branded and snivelling in their kennel pens. In time there would be other Free Women in the house, guests again of Kurgus, and then I too would have to serve and learn to fear their wrath as these girls had once feared me.
Of course Lana and Sally did not know how valuable I was to Kurgus in other ways. Kurgus needed me to be free to work for him in Patashqar. That was a fact. It would take far too long to train a replacement agent, and besides, my offence yesterday had not been severe enough to warrant a collar. Too, I think, Kurgus had grown to like me in his own way, as far as he liked anyone but himself.
“You have pretty legs, Mistress,” said Sally as she drew away my outer and inner gowns. It was a rather a bold thing for a slave-girl to say to her Mistress, but it was further evidence that her fear of me was a fragile thing now. She assumed signs of my downfall that she would perhaps regret the next morning. I stood there, still veiled, in just my under slip, a brief silken thing that fell to an inch or two above my knees. It was a soft peach colour and sleeveless. Lana meanwhile began to unpin my veils and brush my hair loose with her fingers. They could see what was plainly obvious – I had a beautiful body and a beautiful face to match.
The slip was drawn from my body, and Lana in particular delighted in the shock that was evident in my face as she pulled it over my head. I could feel the cool morning air on my bare skin for the first time since I had come to Gor.
“If Mistress will come this way,” said Lana happily. She preceded me towards the cold water trough, while Sally walked gracefully behind me. I had the feeling I was being herded like a new slave-girl, and I didn't like it.
I refused to look up at any of the windows in the outbuildings that surrounded the courtyard as Lana instructed me to sit in the cold water. Men would be up by now, and some of them may have been in the habit of watching the morning ritual of errant slave-girls washing in the nude. If men were watching me now from the high windows, I would rather not know. I sat shivering in the cold water that went up to my waist as Lana and Sally scrubbed me with a hard cake of plain soap and a brush. This was not how Louise washed me in the mornings in warm scented water with a tray of peeled grapes to hand. My head was gently but firmly held under the water as Lana scrubbed my hair with the hard cake of soap. I was allowed to rinse myself, and when I finally rose, shivering in the cold shadows of the morning, I was rubbed roughly dry with rep cloth before being given the same brief white slave tunic as Lana and Sally were given. Obviously my robes were stained and unwearable, and the slave tunics were the only female garments to hand, but even so, it was a further indignity I had to endure.
Surely Kurgus would be here soon.
I could of course have refused to wear the degrading garment, but the alternative would have been to be naked. Given the choice I pulled the tight, clingy rep-cloth over my body and tried to smooth it down as far as it would go, which wasn't far.
“Mistress looks no different from us,” said Lana with a smile.
“I have no brand,” I reminded the girl.
“Yes, but the tunic conceals the brand, Mistress. Anyone looking at you now might assume you were branded.”
And so, having scrubbed the urine stains from between my inner thighs, and having been given a scandalously brief slave tunic to wear, I knelt with Lana and Sally beside the brick wall, close to the stables. A horizontal bar was bolted to the wall and we were in turn secured with leash chains to it. In the case of Lana and Sally the chains were simply locked to their collar rings, but as I didn’t have a collar, a simple display collar was fitted around my neck and locked shut. Such collars are generally not personalised except to perhaps bear the identifying mark of a coffle chain and are used primarily for securing large numbers of freshly captured women, for example when the walls of a city are breached during a siege and the inevitable looting and pillaging takes place.
Nothing I could say would prevent the man from locking me in place. It was embarrassing beyond measure to be chained before the two girls like this. They knew me of course as the Mistress of the House, and so my temporary fall from grace was excruciatingly humiliating. I wore an identical white slave tunic to theirs – cut high on my legs, barely covering where I would have been branded had I been a slave-girl. With the collar on my throat, albeit a plain coffle one, and the brief slave garment concealing the fact I wasn’t branded, it might be easy to mistake me for one of Kurgus’s girls. I certainly didn’t look free. I placed my hands on the length of chain that hung from the display bar and felt the cold of the steel. It would hold me here perfectly until Kurgus appeared to collect his pitiful agent.
I watched as the Pen Handler collected his buckets and left the courtyard. We were alone now, alone until who knows when. I felt incredibly angry with Kurgus, and even more angry with the ignorant man who had just assumed he could make me eat gruel, make me strip and wash and make me kneel on punishment display with Lana and Sally.
The girls were uncharacteristically silent, not sure what to make of the House Mistress being punished in this way. They bore no love for me of course, for slave- girls learn quickly to fear Free Women, and so you might think they would tease me for my predicament. However there was no way of knowing just how permanent my fall form grace might be, and no slave-girl would care to risk the possibility that later today I would be unchained, wearing my fine clothes once again. Any remembered slights would then quickly be punished.
“You will never, ever speak of this to anyone, Lana, Sally,” I said coldly, without looking at the girls.
“Of course not, Mistress,” said Sally in a whisper.
“It is terrible what men have done to you, Mistress,” said Lana quietly.
Neither girl felt that way of course. I suspected with good reason that both Lana and Sally might be only too pleased if I remained this way permanently. Indeed, they probably relished my current humiliating predicament and would giggle about it together in days to come. I could not however add to my humiliation by allowing them to know that I knew that to be the case.
“I will be freed soon,” I said with certainty.
“Of course you will, Mistress. This is all a terrible misunderstanding on the part of Crassius.”
“That is his name?” I asked. “He has the manners of a pig.”
“It is Mistress.”
“I shall remember it well. No doubt Kurgus will dismiss him from the Household.”
“I do not think that is very likely Mistress,” said Sally before a warning glance from Lana shut her up. “But Mistress is probably right. His time here will no doubt be over soon.”
“Kurgus did not mean for things to go this far,” I said as I tugged on my neck chain. It felt very secure.
“We feel for you, Mistress,” said Lana. “This should not have happened to you. It is a horrible thing that has been done to you.”
There was a choking sound from Sally which almost but not quite sounded like a slave-girl trying to choke back a series of uncontrollable giggles.
I flushed red. Inside they were each laughing at me, enjoying what had happened. But my dignity meant I could not acknowledge it.
“Thank you, Lana.” I had to force myself back from the edge of tears. I couldn’t let the girls see me cry. I had to remain resilient for appearances sake, or else their joy would be even greater.
“It will be over soon,” I said again.
The sound of footsteps on the flagstones made me look up, as did the other girls. It was a male slave, dressed in a woollen work tunic. He had entered the courtyard through the main archway and he stood maybe fifteen feet away gazing at us. We were arrayed in a line in a sequence of height. Both Lana and Sally were an inch or two taller than me and so I was at the left hand side of the line. Sally was at the right, with pretty Lana in the middle.
I stared at the slave and suddenly my composure and self control evaporated. I lowered my head quickly, now terrified. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I heard the footsteps again as the slave approached closer. My heartbeat pounded in my chest, and I knew the girls could sense something was suddenly wrong with me.
No. Please don’t let him come closer, I thought to myself. Please do not let him see me like this.
“Lift your head, girl,” said a male voice that I recognised only too well. “You’re in display position, so display yourself.”
I sobbed. Now the humiliating situation had turned into a nightmare. I couldn’t look up. Tears rolled down my cheeks freely. I tried to appear small, fearful of the slave recognising me.
“Mistress,” whispered Lana quickly. “You are in a display collar. It would be wise to do as he says.”
“Must I repeat a command?” said the slave. I felt his hand grip my hair and force my head up. My eyes met his.
Brinn smiled as he gazed down at me. “Tal, Lady Felicia.” He did not call me Mistress, but then I suppose it was difficult to remember I was the Mistress the way I appeared to him now.
“Tal, Brinn.” My quivering voice betrayed my miserable condition, much to the seeming delight of Lana and Sally, both of whom remained perfectly still, eagerly awaiting new developments in my shame.
“It seems I was wrong when I speculated, many days ago in the market place, how enticing you might look kneeling, in a slave tunic, collared, chained to a display bar, awaiting the retun of your Master.”
“Brinn?” I felt so small, so vulnerable, kneeling before this powerful man.
“You are in fact even more beautiful than I dared give you credit for. I had no idea that you could truly be this desirable in a simple chain and collar arrangement. You are magnificent.”
“This is not what it looks like, Brinn,” I moaned.
“Oh? And how do you think it looks?”
“I am free. I am not a slave. I am not branded.”
“Yet.” He smiled.” Say, ‘I am not branded, yet', Lady Felicia.”
“I will not play your games, Brinn. You are a slave here. I will soon be free again. You have no authority over me in the meantime.”
“Is that so?” Brinn seemed to be enjoying this far more than he had any reason to be. “Lana, is your Mistress perhaps unaware of where she is right now?”
“I think so, Master,” said Lana, as she lowered her eyes respectfully. This confused me. Why was Lana calling Brinn ‘Master’? He was just a work slave. He had no authority over her. I knew for a fact that female slaves had little respect for male slaves. I didn’t understand this.
“Do you know where you are right now, Lady Felicia?” asked Brinn pleasantly.
“Chained to a display bar in a private courtyard where the punishment cages are kept.” I stared at him in anger. “I think that is obvious enough. I see no point in asking me.”
“Correct. But do you know why you are being displayed?”
“It is a punishment of sorts. Girls are caged in punishment cages during the night and then displayed here in the morning before being sent back to the kennels. Again, you are asking me the obvious.”
I was not afraid of him. Not really. He was a work slave. I was free. It was however embarrassing to be seen by him like this. Humiliating beyond words, but now that the damage was done, my humiliation turned to anger. How dare he. How dare he! I was a free Woman. He was a slave. Soon, in a few ahn Kurgus would return to release me. As I looked up at Brinn I resolved firmly to have him whipped tonight. I had never ordered a slave whipped before, but tonight I would do so. Too, the whip would be wielded by a Gorean man. I would see Brinn's back torn bloody under the weight of the lash. Then let him look at me with his mocking expression. I would have him whipped until he was incapable of rising from the floor, and then I would stand before him, turning a foot so that he could kiss and lick my sequinned slipper, reminding him of his true place.
“To what purpose?” he asked.
“I don’t understand, Brinn.” His inane questioning made my temper rise even more. Oh, hurry back Kurgus, unlock this collar from my throat, give me clothes to wear and then I will have my revenge.
“Do you know why I happen to be here this morning?” asked Brinn.
“No, I do not. But since you ask, you should in fact be at work in the fields by now, or perhaps cleaning my palanquin. Why are you not working?”
“My overseer has given me the morning off. One slave receives the benefit each month in recognition of exceptional hard work. It has been a tradition here for many years. Today was my turn.”
“Oh.” I shook my head. “Well, congratulations, Brinn.” My voice sounded icy. “I shall perhaps review that custom in future.” I gripped my display chain with both hands. I was acutely aware how brief the slave tunic was. I hardly dared move for it to reveal even more of my thighs.
“It seems she truly does not understand,” said Brinn to Sally with another laugh.
“No, Master,” said Sally, looking fearful. She knelt now with her thighs apart as if presenting to a Free man. So too now did Lana. I was even more confused. “I truly think the Mistress does not know.” Sally's lower lip curled into a slightly intriguing smile as she momentarily made eye contact with Brinn. They both laughed as if at some private joke. “I do not think it is a case of her being stupid, Master. I merely think she has never been told.”
“What is going on with you two?” I snapped at Sally in particular. “You despise male slaves. I know that for a fact. You think them weak for being in collars. What is wrong with you?”
Neither girl would look at me.
I began to feel uneasy.
“Your legs are very beautiful, Lady Felicia,” said Brinn. “As are your lips.” He seemed far too confident. He wasn't a stupid man. He must know what I could do to him later today.
“Call me Mistress,” I snapped.
“I think not. Not this morning.”
“You will regret this later today,” I hissed.
“Maybe. We shall see. Tell her, Lana.”
“Tell me? Tell me what?” I stared at the girl to my left, who sat to the right of me from Brinn’s perspective.
“As well as having a morning free, the slave has the right to use any one of the girls chained to the display bar,” said Lana, happy now for she was beginning to suspect neither her nor Sally might be chosen that day. “It is traditional in the pens. The chosen girl must serve him as she might serve a Free man in all respects.”
“But, yes, Lady Felicia,” said Brinn, as he stood over me. “Perhaps the overseer felt sorry for me. After all, I have not been permitted a woman for two months now.” With a flourish he produced the key that he had been given by his overseer. It was, I guessed, a key that could unlock the linking chain to any one of our collars. “I may choose any girl who Crassius has chained to the display bar in the morning. Any girl.”
“No!” I drew back until I was pressed against the hard brick wall. I clutched again futilely at the neck chain. “I'm not a slave! I'm not supposed to have been put out here!”
“And yet here you are,” said Brinn. “Here you are.”
“But she does not have the prettiest legs.”
“But she does not have the prettiest lips.”
“You can’t choose me! This is a mistake! Kurgus would not allow this! Kurgus will be here in an ahn or two to release me. You can’t choose me!” I was screaming in pure panic now, for all the good it was doing. “Brinn! Think rationally! I know you're angry because you've been denied a woman for a while now...”
“For two months,” he noted with a determined gaze on my body.
“I'm sorry. It was petty of me. I'll rescind the order. Just don’t do this! You can have any girl you like. I'll have her sent to your pen tonight. You can have two of them...”
“The Lady Felicia is incredibly generous. But I think I can save her the trouble,” said Brinn.
“No! Stop – think! Kurgus will kill you for this when he finds out!” It was true. I had no doubt at all that this was going far beyond anything Kurgus might have countenanced. “He really will kill you for this! I mean it. You WILL die if you have me. Just think about this rationally for a moment! An ahn or so in some stable with me is not worth dying for.”
I felt the key enter the clasp lock on the display bar, as Brinn released the chain from its fixing with a far too confident grin. “I choose you,” he said to me, the end of the chain now in his hand, looped several times like a leash. “I choose an exquisitely legged girl worth risking my life to have. Even for an ahn or so.” He tugged at my neck chain. “Now come. We shall use the empty stables over there.”
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