Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Panther Girl of Gor Chapter Eight

Chapter Eight: Under the Blood Red Moons of Gor

At some point during the evening I think I must have left my body completely behind as I rose up high into the sky to view the known continent of Gor with its glacial peaks, its sweeping tundra, its steaming jungles and its warring cities as I hung suspended in the cradle of the universe, watching stars being born, burning brightly and then finally spluttering to extinction, snuffed out like a candle. I felt warm and safe and soft in my drug induced cocoon where nothing could hurt me and nothing could ever be a threat. I think I lived several imaginary lives of varying consequences, sometimes as a man, but mostly as a woman and recurring through these parallel lives were familiar faces and friends playing different roles. But then I began to feel a chill, the sense of growing nausea and paranoia as jagged shards of harsh uncompromising reality began to intrude into my nocturnal paradise. I found myself floating back, crying, knowing my interlude of peace and tranquility was coming to an abrupt end as I returned painfully to my stiff, sore body, chained to a stone monolith in a sacred forest glade.

And when I opened my eyes again the glade was illuminated by a ring of burning torches. The three moons of Gor were now full and bleeding in the night sky as feral creatures, half panther, half woman, stalked and crouched and danced and fought together in a burning ring of fire, their animal claws and teeth extended to the piercing rays of the moon that they now worshipped with guttural howls and cries of hysterical longing.
I shuddered, held firm in my wrist chains as one creature after another began to peel away layers of its skin and fur, casting pieces of itself to various sides of the glade. They howled and screamed and fought one another, scratching and tearing at each others hair and breasts, and then I saw the man, Brinn, chained to the largest of the stone monoliths within the glade, which reclined back at a thirty degree angle against the ground. Brinn was naked, except for a series of glyphs and runes painted on his body in luminous dyes. His face had been painted into an intricately glowing horror mask, like some sacrificial fertility God of ancient times, and around him crawled and cavorted the things that were half woman, half panther. They fought one another to touch his naked thighs and his erect penis, spitting and hissing, warning one another to stay away from what they felt was theirs alone.

And then one woman suddenly broke free and ran at Brinn, leaping astride his body, forcing herself onto his thick, erect penis, and for a few moments she hissed and licked and bit at his chest as she fucked him, until scores of jealous hands tore her away. There was more fighting in the fiery glow of the torch light, but then another woman mounted Brinn and snapped at his face with her teeth as she clawed his chest, raking red marks across his breasts, and she rocked her hips quickly now, impaled upon him, raising her arms upright to the moon as she screamed her guttural need.

I shook my head, feeling a rising sickness in my stomach, feeling cramps there and a surge of bile from the mushrooms. I spat long streams of saliva that dribbled down my chin and on down my chest, as I saw the second girl torn away, and a third girl take her place. There were so many girls now, taking it in turns to fuck Brinn, taking it in turns to fight for a place on that carnal shrine. Brinn's luminous death mask reflected the dancing fire light and it was impossible to tell the expression on his face as the women violently used him over and over again.

At some point I was violently sick and then I remember nothing more for I had passed out.                    

My legs had grown weak from standing all night, so by the time Tallia returned I was alternating between standing and supporting the weight of my body with my chained wrists. The effects of the mushrooms had worn off but I was feeling cold and miserable from the early morning dew, and there was a line of dried vomit down the front of my body. The burnt and extinguished remains of upright torches littered the circumference of the glade, proving perhaps that some of what I had seen during the night had in fact been real.

“I brought you some breakfast,” said Tallia as she licked the fingers of her right hand. Her other hand held a piece of meat wrapped in some broad leaves. “Did the Panther spirits speak to you in the night?” She seemed curious to know.

“I hate drugs,” I said simply as I stood there with my back against the cold monolith stone.

“I had hoped you might gain an insight into your life, Emma, that and your path going forward,” said Tallia as she broke a piece of the meat and fed it to me. “Panther Girls often use the mushrooms to commune with the forest and with our spirit Totem beasts. But I suppose I cannot expect such a thing of a mere slave-girl.” She fed me some more of the meat and I found myself devouring it quickly, for the mushroom trip had left me very hungry. Also, I had not actually eaten anything since the previous morning.

“How is Brinn?” I asked.

“He had an interesting night,” said Tallia with a smile. “Nessa is quite taken with him, I think.”

“She…” I looked up in alarm.

“She used him well. He is vigorous, I will give him that. Nessa actually tired before he did.”

“Brinn I suppose resisted his rape?”

“Well, I think he realised the futility of trying to suppress his erection. Nessa is after all an attractive woman. Your Master seemed to accept his situation and submitted to the sex. A pity. I prefer it when the men struggle and make futile demands for us to stop.” Tallia held some water to my lips and allowed me to drink.

“What are you going to do with him?”

“He is Nessa’s property, not mine. I suspect Nessa will keep him for a while, probably chained in our camp, and she will make use of him most nights. Nessa can be generous. She often shares a captive man with the other girls.”

“Did anyone else have Brinn last night?” I know what I saw, but I wasn't sure how real it had been.

“Oh yes. Aphris did. One or two of the others did too. We can be very wild and primal when the moons are full.” Tallia yawned. “It is empowering to chain and dominate a man. You should try it sometime.”

“I’m a slave-girl,” I said softly. “I don’t think I could.”

“No, you’re probably right. You could never be dominant.” She began to free my wrists and I dropped to my knees on the grass, feeling faint from standing so long. “You will attend to the chores in our camp this morning, Emma. A few of the girls are scouting at the moment, and three others have gone in search of your friend, Rachel. They wish to pay her back for the Panther Girl whose throat she cut, and Alisha wants revenge for her broken nose. It may not heal straight. She is very angry about that. I think she is very vain about her pretty face.”

“Please don’t kill Rachel.”

“That is not up to me. She fought rather than submitted. She had her chance. Our hunters will now seek her blood. That is how things are in the forest. You submit or die.”

“Kneel in Nadu, male,” said Nessa as she stood over Brinn in the clearing of the Panther Girl camp, holding a quirt. It wasn't a permanent camp, for Panther Girls didn't usually set up permanent places to reside in for fear of being tracked and caught. Their lives are often paranoid ones, convinced they are surrounded by enemies, both male and female, and to a certain extent they are of course right. Outlaws, hunters and other Panther clans would take any opportunity to attack and capture them for profit. And so most bands pursued a nomadic migratory lifestyle, shifting between a number of preferred campsites, never staying in any one place for more than a few days at most.

“No.” Brinn sat cross-legged on the grass beside a heavy stone that he could not lift, but could very slowly drag if he chose to do so. An iron collar suitable for chaining animals had been locked shut about his neck and from it extended a long rusty iron chain that was locked with a padlock to a heavy iron ring screwed into the rock. He was effectively tethered there to prevent any form of escape, though the chain was long enough for him to move around the centre of the camp to a limited extent. 

Nessa beat him with the quirt across his back six times, not holding back at all. I knew it would hurt Brinn, but he took the blows without crying out.

“Kneel in Nadu, male!”

“No.” Brinn tensed his hands. I could see he was holding back on his normal instinct to throw Nessa to the ground, take the quirt from her hands, strip her and beat her. Such a thing would of course be suicidal, for the other Panther Girls would kill him with their spears.

“You will groom me in the mornings, and serve me as a personal slave, but first you will submit to me in Nadu! Do so! Now!”

“No.” Again Brinn was beaten by the quirt, and again he gritted his teeth and refused to cry out, though I could see pain in his eyes. Why was he so obstinate? He would break eventually. I had seen the men that Aphris and Nessa had taken to the Exchange Point to be branded and sold. I had seen the fear in their eyes when the Panther Girls had spoken to them. They had been broken out here in the forests. It was only a matter of time. Men are not nearly as strong willed as they believe themselves to be.

And then I realised Brinn could see me and of course there was no way in Heaven or Hell that he would ever enact submission in my presence. How could a man ever submit himself to someone while his slave-girl watched?

“I will beat you with the snake if you do not obey.”

This was a serious threat, for the snake is the most vicious whip on Gor and it will scar a man if it is used on him. It is a single-bladed whip, weighted, of braided leather, eight feet long and about a half an inch to an inch thick. It is capable of lifting the flesh from a man's back. Sometimes it is set with tiny particles of metal. Men hardly if ever choose to use the snake on a girl because it could kill her, and even if she survived, her beauty would be impaired, which would be a foolish thing to do, because men like their women to be flawless.

“I am Brinn of the Sardar mountains. I do not kneel in Nadu before a woman,” he said simply. 

“Fetch the snake,” said Nessa in anger to one of the other Panther Girls.

I had never seen a whipping as severe as that before. Nessa wielded the snake with the full force of her right arm and, with Brinn tied to a whipping post, she lashed his back twenty times until he hung there, unable to stand. His back was criss-crossed with deep wounds that would not heal cleanly. I had been made to watch – Panther Girls had held my head in place and warned me what might happen if I closed my eyes. They had wanted me to see my Master being humbled. I had felt sick for I do not relish the sight of anyone suffering.

“Watch. See what happens to a man who refuses to submit to a superior woman,” said Aphris as she enjoyed the sight of Brinn being beaten close to death. “Understand the superiority of Panther Girls over men.”

A bucket of cold water was tipped over Brin's head. Nessa stood before him and lifted his head by his hair.

“Will you submit and kneel in Nadu, male?” she said.

“No.” Blood speckled Brinn's lips and his voice was barely a croak.

“Another ten lashes then. I can do this until my whip arm tires, and my whip arm never tires.” Nessa picked up the snake again, and I knew she would whip Brinn until he died, for I was beginning to suspect that Brinn was passing on through the point where the pain was meaningless, and he would refuse to submit with his dying breath while he knew my eyes were upon him.

Nessa raised her whip arm but then Tallia took hold of her wrist and said simply, “no.”

“What?” Nessa turned round and glared at Tallia. “Let go of my wrist, Tallia.” 

“There is no point in killing him. So he doesn't kneel in Nadu? So what? We can still sell him. He is of no value to us dead.”

“That is for me to decide. He is my capture.” Nessa tried to shake her hand free, but Tallia held on to it. “Are you challenging me, Tallia?”

“If necessary. The man has spirit. He resists the snake. I am impressed. Also, I find him of sexual interest. I would like to enjoy him in my furs tonight. I haven't raped a man in a while. Perhaps you might give him to me as a gift, because you admire me so much.” There was a mischievous twinkle in Tallia's eyes as she said that.  

The other girls in the camp grew quiet, aware that a challenge was being made concerning Brinn. Nessa stared at Tallia, and to my amazement I could see that Nessa looked worried. Her confidence was fading after her initial bluster. Were the girls here wary of Tallia? I suspected she had a reputation in the forest as an experienced hunter and knife fighter.

“If I must challenge you over this, Nessa, then it will be with knives, you understand,” said Tallia as she stroked Nessa's cheek. Tallia looked perfectly calm and confident. Even I felt scared of her now, and I was not being threatened. In those frozen few seconds between stand off and fighting, I saw Nessa's eyes flick from Brinn to Tallia and then back again.  

“I do not wish to fight you with knives,” said Nessa quietly. She looked down and did not attempt to free her wrist again from Tallia's grasp.

“No?” Tallia tilted Nessa's face and stared deeply into her eyes. “Then perhaps you should put your whip away and perhaps do something more useful. There is wood to gather for the fire tonight for example.”

“I...” This was very humiliating for Nessa in the eyes of the Panther band, but she genuinely feared facing Tallia with a knife, that much was obvious. “I... will gather wood I think.”

“Excellent.” Tallia stood with her hands on her hips and watched Nessa slink away.  

We remained in the same camp for two more days and nights, during which time Tallia instructed me to tend to Brinn’s injuries. His shoulder wound had torn itself from all his exertions to date and of course he had been brutally whipped by the snake with the risk of infection setting in. Brinn didn’t move much for the first 24 hours. Tallia assumed this might be a ruse by which he might make an escape attempt, and so despite my pleas she ordered that he remained chained by the neck to the heavy stone in the centre of their glade. I was given medical supplies from our own baggage to tend to my Master, and luckily for us Brinn had not stinted on the supplies he had arranged in Lydius. There were ampoules of penicillin and all manner of antiseptic sprays and dressings. Tallia showed me how to re-stitch his shoulder wound and when a fever took hold of him I fed Brinn anti-biotic tablets. Medical science on Gor is not restricted by the Priest Kings and so there is the incongruous example of modern medicine alongside warriors who fight with swords and shields.

Tallia left Brinn alone during those two days, though she did check with me every six hours or so on his progress.

Tallia of course remembered him from the days in which she was a prisoner at Kurgus’s villa in Corcyrus, which matched the time Brinn was there pretending to be a work slave on the farm to gain intel on Kurgus’s plans.

“I saw him with you often,” said Tallia as she examined the depth of the whip marks on his back. “It did not escape my attention that you generally picked him from all the other male slaves to carry your palanquin through the streets.”

I blushed, realising now how obvious that must have been.

“Why didn’t you simply have him chained to your couch for your pleasure when you were free? You could have had him then if that was what you wished?”

“It’s… complicated…” I said. “I didn’t know what I wanted. I was in a lot of denial. And… I know you’re going to think badly of me for saying this, but I don’t really want to dominate Brinn…”

“Of course not. You’re a natural slave-girl. You wouldn’t have been happy being his Mistress. You need to be in his collar. We will sell you soon. There is no place for you here.”

“And Brinn?” I rubbed fresh salve on the wounds on his back. There would be permanent scars there from the blows of the snake.

“I will keep him awhile. I think I will get much pleasure from him. In any event, he is of no further concern to you. Brinn’s days of being a Master of women are long gone. Soon he will take food from my hand and will lie in the furs for my pleasure.”

“Nessa didn’t break him.”

“Nessa is clumsy and inexperienced at being dominant. She thinks bluster and pain is sufficient to break a man. She hasn’t the patience to break a man like Brinn. I will break him. And shortly after I do I will sell him. I know how to break a man like him. It takes time, but that is something I have plenty of here in the forest.”

We travelled maybe nine pasangs through the forest after that to set up camp further down stream, deeper in the forest. I had no idea now where we were, but I understood from Tallia we were parallel still with the territory claimed by the Daughters of the Golden Sun war band. They were traditional enemies of the Silver Moon Panther band, but rarely posed much of a threat as they were only a third of our size. Their leader was a Panther Girl called Leena.

“We often cross into their territory and take whatever we wish from there. Leena protests, but there isn’t much she can do about it when we travel in force.”

On the third night following his brutal whipping, Brinn was judged recovered enough to be available for sex again. Tallia had him tied with leather bindings to a fallen tree trunk that had been dragged close to the camp fire. Brinn lay on his injured back, feeling the rough bark scratch and agitate his wounds. Tallia didn’t particularly care. She instructed me to arouse Brinn with my mouth, which was simplicity itself. And then as the other Panther Girls clapped out a steady beat with the palms of their hands slapping on their naked thighs, Tallia mounted Brinn and set about raping him. She grew extremely passionate in the flickering light of the camp fire, and when she came she reared up on her haunches and howled at the three moons high in the night sky. Afterwards she heated the tip of her knife in the camp fire and branded Brinn with it on his chest. Apparently she marked all her conquests that way. Then she kissed him savagely and scratched deep furrows across his shoulders with her nails before moving her face mere inches from his and staring deep into his eyes.

“I am your Mistress, male,” she hissed. “You belong to a woman now who will in time make you crawl and beg.”

“No woman is my Mistress,” said Brinn. Where Nessa would have been angry, Tallia just laughed. And then after drinking paga she began to arouse Brinn with her hands and took him again to further accompaniment of the palm to thigh beat the others girls produced.

We only remained in that camp space for a single night. The next day we moved on again, this time re-entering the area on the left bank of the stream that belonged to the Daughters of the Golden Sun, plunging deep into their territory. Aphris had decided to make a show of force again as she tended to do every two months. It was important she felt to travel with impunity through the neighbouring forest space to remind the Daughters that her band was the most powerful. The girls under Aphris’s direction hunted Tabuk for our camp fires that night, but when they returned it was with raised voices in anger and boiling emotions that alarmed the entire camp. Three girls had gone out on the hunt. Three Panther girls that is. What returned was two Panther Girls and a girl with pierced ears dressed in pleasure silks. She cried into her hands to hide the fact she also wore a nose ring now. On her left thigh was a fresh slave brand. It was Amara, one of the three huntresses in Aphris’s band and she was in a very sorry state.

The entire Panther pack stopped whatever they were doing to gather round and find out what had happened. Aphris was furious as she made the girl kneel and recite the course of events. There had been an ambush when the girls were spread out, stalking a Tabuk. Amara had been quietly seized by girls belonging to the Daughters who had been waiting close by in the bushes. She had been dragged into a nearby hideaway in the forest without her sisters even noticing, where her ears and nose had been pierced and a heated branding iron had been applied to her left thigh. Then, with her face streaming with tears, she had been dressed in red pleasure silks, her wrists had been braceleted behind her back, and she had been returned to the area where her sisters still hunted Tabuk. She had been released with a swat on her ass by a quirt and she had run howling for help.

“We found her like this,” said Kalisha.

“They dare to move against us?” hissed Aphris in fury. “This is a declaration of war. They will suffer for this.”

Amara of course was ruined as a Panther Girl. She had been branded. Her ears were pierced. She had allowed herself to be captured. Amara begged her sisters to remove the earrings and nose ring so that the holes might heal up, but Aphris decreed they would remain in place.

“There is no room in my war band for a girl who permits herself to be branded and enslaved,” she said. Amara's hands were braceleted behind her back when she tried to remove the earrings herself, and Aphris had her beaten with a quirt for trying to do so. The other Panther Girls spat at her, abused her and told her she was weak and deserved the collar. Panther Girls do not appreciate moments of weakness in others. Amara would be sold with me when next the band returned to the Exchange Point.

But Aphris would still enact revenge for the insult done to her war band. I got the general impression that this act of defiance was very daring for the much smaller Panther band who until now had suffered under Aphris’s domination. Something it seemed had changed. And now they were ready to meet further incursions into their territory with force.

Aphris held a war council that night which superseded any use of Brinn that might have been planned. He knelt on the grass with his iron collar and neck chain secured to the rock as the Panther Girls shouted and argued amongst themselves. It was something of a free for all, presided over by a war band leader who verged on the hysterical at times. Panther Girl after Panther Girl made strident claims that the Daughters of the Golden Sun could be eliminated with ease, for they were outnumbered by more than three to one. Tallia was a calmer voice in the war council who urged caution in all things.

“The mere fact that Leena’s girls have struck back at us suggests they are at the very least more confident than ever before. We should first determine to our satisfaction why they have dared do so. Have their numbers swelled for example? Have they allied with another Panther band somewhere?”

Nessa however poured scorn on Tallia’s caution. From the safety of the war council debate (where Aphris would not tolerate any physical come backs for what was said) Nessa argued that retaliation had to be swift and sudden.

“Any hesitation on our part will send a signal throughout the Forests that the Silver Moon Panther Girls are no longer confident enough to strike back when attacked. Do we want other Panther bands that so far have been wary of us to feel that our days are numbered? Do we want them to think we may now be scared of taking direct action? Nessa of the Silver Moon says we should find Leena and her girls and make an example of them.”

And so the debate raged on as the Panther Girls grew ever  more strident as they drank paga. Blood oaths of vengeance were sworn and at one point they actually picked up their spears and raised them high into the air in some sort of ceremonial declaration of war. Aphris presided over all of this, seeming to relish the anger and the demands for vengeance. I suppose it was useful to have a focus for the violent tendencies of her girls. Totalitarian leaders often rule better when there is a clear enemy in sight to distract from internal challenges to their power. Sometimes it is the case that if there isn’t an obvious external enemy, it is useful to create one.

I served paga, on my knees, during the council. More than one girl cuffed me with her hand, for I was not popular here in the tribe. I wore a collar and my slave brand was clearly visible since the Panther Girls kept me naked, though I was permitted a blanket at night. They despised my femininity and weakness, even though many of them were incredibly feminine too, if you ignored the weapons they held. I could imagine how beautiful many of them might be in soft pleasure silks.

Tallia proposed that scouts should be sent to gather intelligence on Leena’s band, but again Nessa made that sound like weakness.

“All we need to know is where Leena’s camp is. And then let us go there in full force and put them in chains.”

I wasn’t alone in serving the Panther Girls of course. Their former sister, Amara, knelt beside me in the grass too, still in shock for what had been done to her. She was very pretty and to be honest if I hadn’t known that 24 hours earlier she had worn Panther skins, tribal bracelets and necklaces and carried a knife and a spear, I would have thought of her simply as a slave-girl. The shock of the branding had taken much of her former arrogance from her, and now she knelt submissively, scared to do the wrong thing which might earn her a cuffing. It probably speaks volumes for my empathy with people that I did actually feel sorry for her, despite the fact she had previously not shown me any kindness. It is a terrible shock in the first week or so when you find yourself in a collar. Some girls can take months to acclimatise to their new circumstances, but even the most natural slave-girl usually finds the initial period of transition a very traumatic one. The situation was made worse for her of course because in comparison with me she seemed clumsy and stupid. Her serves would probably be acceptable in a Panther camp bearing in mind she had been mere hours in the collar, except for the fact everything she did would be compared to me.

By now I think I was a very experienced slave-girl and would probably fetch a good price on an action block if my skills were correctly exhibited. I took some pride in that.

Aphris appointed Nessa as her war band leader on all tactical matters, which hardly surprised me, considering their closeness, but I think I would have appointed Tallia personally. The next day the Panther Girls set about fletching arrows, sharpening their knives and spear points with wet stones and practising against one another in close combat. Brinn watched it all with a mocking smile on his lips, until I reminded him that it was precisely these girls in their fetching panther skin bikinis and ‘toy knives’ who had captured him.

“It is a valid point, Emma,” he said without taking offence.

Aphris despatched twelve girls in four groups of three to search the forest for signs of Leena’s much smaller band. This wasn’t as difficult as it sounded for their movements followed a routine pattern of favoured camping locations and it was simply a case of searching in the vicinity of each one until a fresh trail was found. The girls were told not to engage with the enemy, but to return immediately with the information. Aphris expected to have to pursue Leena’s war band since she felt sure it would not wish to meet hers in battle, so when news came back that the advance scouts had made brief contact with Leena’s war band on the march heading directly towards Aphris’s own camp, there was considerable surprise amongst all the Silver Moon Panthers.

“We hadn’t expected to run into the entire war band on the march,” said Lintilla as she passed on the news that she and Marla had managed to flee back through the forest, but Oona had been taken by a number of girls with spears. “She surrendered when she was surrounded,” she said in disgust.

“I hope they branded her,” said Marla. “She shamed us all.”

“How many are there?” asked Aphris, sensing as I did that there was something not quite right about this sudden retaliation in the face of her war bands’ provocation.

“Twelve girls, no more,” said Lintilla as she sat cross-legged and drank a cup of paga that was given to her by Amara.

“And they are coming here to fight?” It seemed insane. They were outnumbered by more than three to one.

“It seems so, unless they intend fleeing from us at the very last moment.”

“No other Panther bands are moving from other parts of the forest to link up with them?” Aphris did I think fear some sort of alliance of small war bands against her own.

“No. We would have heard by now.”

Aphris nodded. It was an unlikely prospect, and one that wouldn’t have remained very secret.

“Then Leena has perhaps been chewing some dangerous mushrooms and it is affecting her judgement. Possibly the black ones. They are very bad.”

All the girls nodded.

“Well, let her come. We shall meet their spears with our own.”

“Perhaps we should fall back,” suggested Tallia as she sat nearby, sharpening her spear point. “Something about this unsettles me.”

“We will not retreat before a war band of twelve girls!” said Nessa, happy enough to pour scorn on the terrifying knife fighter, Tallia. “Run back across the stream, Tallia, if Leena now scares you.”

“I’m not scared. But I’m not stupid either. Something is wrong here.”

Aphris of course had the final say and she declared that the Silver Moon Panthers would stand and await Leena’s band. “We will fight and we will fight here in our camp. We will not retreat so much as an inch. Let them come.”

Leena’s band apparently made no attempt to move stealthily. They marched openly without any attempt at concealment, and therefore their approach was tracked by a couple of Aphris’s girls who paced far outside on their flanks. When the scouts came racing back to inform Aphris that the enemy was perhaps fifteen minutes away, Aphris still couldn’t quite believe the attack was so brazen.

“Are you sure of their numbers?”

“Yes, Aphris. No more than twelve girls.”

Aphris lined her girls into a loose spear wall facing the forest's edge from which Leena's much smaller band would emerge. They began making a noise to let Leena know there would be a fight if she dared come any closer. Panther Girls made drumming sounds, blew horns made from hollowed tusks and shouted war cries. It was all meant to intimidate an enemy, and harked back to the old male tactic of beating swords against shields in a shield wall.

“Their formation is weak,” said Brinn as he studied the double line of angry looking Panther Girls, “they obviously fight as individuals instead of drilling as a coherent unit, but I suppose that doesn't matter as Leena's girls will be just the same.” Amara and I knelt beside Brinn. We were both in sirik chains to ensure we couldn't run away. Brinn was still fastened by a neck chain to the heavy rock. 

“Leena must have recruited more girls,” I suggested to Brinn. “I suspect Aphris is going to be surprised by the size of her force.”

“I disagree. I think she is coming here with a very small force.”

“But that is suicide! She must have lots of girls on her side otherwise she doesn't stand a chance.”

“I think that is precisely the point. She is coming here quite obviously to lose. It is clear from the reports of Aphris's scouts that she won't stand a chance. And so Aphris is going to do what Panther Girls rarely do, she is going to stand and fight instead of mounting a skirmish guerrilla war through the forest. Leena is obviously very clever.” Brinn nodded in admiration.

“I don't understand,” I said.

“Watch and all will become clear.” Brinn sat cross-legged on the grass with the heavy chain descending down from his neck collar. “I think Aphris is in for a surprise very soon.”

And so were we. In hind sight Brinn had guessed the purpose of Leena's suicidal advance on Aphris's superior band of Panther Girls, but what he hadn't guessed was that Leena wasn't leading her Panther Girls any more.

“Who are you, and why do you lead the Daughters of the Golden Sun?” asked Aphris with a snarl as she stalked ahead of her long line of Panther Girls and faced off against the girl who stood in front of a pitifully small line of twelve girls that had just emerged from the edge of the forest tree line.

“I’m Rachel, and I lead these Panthers because I challenged Leena, their leader, to a fight with knives.” It was indeed Rachel. She now wore the Panther skins that presumably had once belonged to Leena, and she carried a war spear and had a long knife in a leather sheath hanging from her left hip. She still wore Brinn's slave collar and I noticed she hadn't removed her earrings or nose ring. Removing the latter would have been difficult without the correct tool to extract the ring, but the earrings could easily have been removed by hand. She looked magnificent as always and I yelped with joy as I saw my friend alive, healthy and in command of a war band of Panther Girls! Even Brinn looked impressed.

“Admit it, Master you're impressed,” I said. When last we had seen Rachel she had been running into the forest as the sun was setting, armed only with a knife. We had assumed she wouldn't have remained at large for more than a few hours at best.

“If it was possible for me to be impressed by the actions of a woman, then I suppose I might be impressed by Rachel,” said Brinn with a smile.

I nudged him with my elbow and said again, “admit you're impressed.”

“I suppose I am as close to thinking that as I ever will be.”

The war band behind Rachel looked confident, even though their position was obviously hopeless.

“They hold their spears well,” said Brinn. “I suspect Rachel must have drilled them. She has obviously studied warriors during her time on Gor.” Unlike Aphris's force, Rachel's girls were all positioned shoulder to shoulder and, as she snapped a couple of commands, her girls raised their spears in a fluid motion. Of course a line of men would still cut through them with ease, but they looked like they might fight together rather than as individuals. Even so they were outnumbered by more than three to one, and already I could see Aphris's spear line was expanding in length to envelop them.

“Do you see what Rachel has planned, Emma?” asked Brinn.

“No. Are you sure she doesn't have any other Panther girls?”

“I very much doubt that. Aphris would have heard if other Panther bands had declared for Rachel.”

Aphris planted her war spear into the soft ground and regarded the interloper. “You’re a slave-girl.” Aphris could see the steel collar locked around Rachel’s throat. It seemed incongruous now that she wore the skins of forest panthers, and necklaces of animal teeth.

“Leena said much the same thing before we drew a circle in the grass and faced one another with blades,” answered Rachel.

“And where is Leena?”

“Dead.” Rachel stood with her hands on her hips. “She was overconfident. She thought she would make a display of me, to show off to the other girls how she might play with a frightened slave-girl instead of going in for the quick kill she was capable of. I may have encouraged her in that respect by pretending to be very scared. It was her first and last mistake. The laws of the Forest are quite clear. I challenged. I won. And now I lead her pack.”

“We outnumber you three to one.” Aphris regarded her own girls who snarled at the sight of the correspondingly short line of spears that Rachel had been able to muster. “Are you insane coming here like this? Submit now to collars and chains and we’ll let you live.”

“I came here to fight, bitch,” said Rachel as she stood proudly in the early autumn sunshine.

“Very well.” Aphris raised her hand and her own girls raised their spears in both hands. Rachel clicked her fingers and her much smaller band of girls did the same. Already Aphris’s war band was beginning to outflank Rachel’s thin line.

“This must be one of the shortest lived leaderships I’ve ever seen,” said Aphris. “Do you wish to fight me one on one?”

“No,” admitted Rachel. “I do not.”

“Clever girl. I would not make the same overconfident mistake that Leena did. I am a legend in this forest with a knife.”

“So I have heard. I think later on tonight I will dress you in pleasure silks and make you dance for the men.”

“Men?” Aphris looked confused now. “What men?”

“Why, those men…” said Rachel as she pointed with her spear at a line of men with shields and spears who now emerged quietly from the tree line behind Aphris’s battle line. They had been able to move quietly through the opposite side of the forest while Aphris had focussed all her attention on the obvious advance of Rachel's force. There were twenty in all, and they presented a shield wall directly behind Aphris’s girls who had been so pre-occupied by the upcoming fight with a rival Panther band that they had not been aware of the stealthy approach. Now Aphris’s girls began to turn round in panic, and a few of them gazed out at their flanks where several men with capture nets emerged from the trees, smiling at them.

Aphris’s girls were now turning randomly to try and confront each side equally, and in doing so they were losing any semblance of a coherent formation. Even the most disciplined soldiers begin to panic when they find themselves outflanked and menaced in the rear, and for light skirmishers like Panther Girls, the fear of such a thing was even more acute. I heard Aphris calling out, trying to rally her women, but already they were milling about in fear. A few of the tougher girls moved close to where Aphris stood, but then I saw three girls make a break for the tree line where men with nets lurked. They hoped perhaps to break through before that particular flank might be strengthened. I heard Aphris cry out for them to stand their ground, but instead they tried to dart between the men. But these men with nets were woodsmen and hunters, and they cast their nets with incredible skill. Each of the three beauties were swiftly brought down in a tangle of limbs, seized and bound helplessly.

Now Aphris shouted again to her girls to form a defensive circle facing outwards in every direction. Rachel took this opportunity to order her own girls to surge forward, taking advantage of the confusion. The shield wall of men simply stood their ground and watched as Rachel’s girls stabbed a number of Aphris’s Panthers with their spears before pulling back again. Now four girls lay on the grass, screaming with stab wounds to thighs, shoulders and, in one case, a stomach. The cries of pain sowed even more fear through the ranks of Aphris’s war band. Her girls had managed to rally in response to this sudden attack by forming a line, but by the time they did so Rachel had retreated her own line and was once again in perfect formation facing them. But Aphris’s girls could not simply turn their backs on the shield wall of men, nor take their eyes off the hunters with nets. There was a scream as one of the girls at the end of Aphris’s line strayed a little too far and was enveloped in a thrown net. Several girls ran with their spears to protect their sister, but when they saw the hunters moving forward with swords, and they saw that they had not been supported by the other girls in Aphris’s band, they hurried quickly back to the relative safety of the main line. Now there was a similar scream from the other end of the line where the furthest girl there was caught in a net. The remaining girls quickly huddled closer together in the middle, none of them wishing to be at the end of a line while the male hunters prowled looking for opportunities on their flanks. Seeing the girls shove and push one another to reach the centre, Rachel signalled for another charge. Their spear tips lunged in unison, stabbing another two of Aphris’s girls, and as the beleaguered Panthers tried to respond, the huntsmen moved in and attacked the flanks once again. There were screams from the middle and both sides as several more Panther Girls tried to run for the tree line. Two were brought down and quickly bound by girls from Rachel’s band who lurked close to the edges of her line. Another two girls were quickly netted by the hunters.

Gradually the number of beleaguered Panther Girls grew smaller and smaller as huntsmen on their flanks netted or seized more and more of them, while Rachel’s line of spear wielding girls raided the confused and broken line that was milling about in panic. The line of heavy male infantry now moved in as well to secure the rear, though they were content to hold position and let the huntsmen and Rachel’s band do most of the work. As each new Panther Girl was seized, screaming, wriggling and crying out for help, the others grew even more hysterical, with several more futile attempts to break free at the sides. As I watched, another Panther Girl from Aphris’s band broke ranks and ran waving her spear at the huntsmen. Three men eagerly caught her and quickly threw her to her belly, disarming her knife and spear, stripping her of the panther skins and neatly braceleting her wrists, all in a matter of ten seconds. They were very experienced at this it seemed.

I smiled as the arrogant and overconfident Nessa now ran and was brought down with a thrown net that wrapped over her shoulders. She found herself tangled and helpless and stumbled into the path of a grinning huntsman who threw her to her belly and fastened slave steel onto her wrists.

Nessa's attempted escape and subsequent capture seemed to be the spark that broke what was left of Aphris's formation. Now there was no semblance of unity any more as girls dispersed in all directions, screaming and trying to break free. Some girls ran at Rachel's line, while others tried to run past the huntsmen on the flanks, but none tried their luck with the heavy shield wall of men to their rear. I saw Tallia bravely charge Rachel's line, only to be pushed back by co-ordinated spear thrusts. The space in which she had to manoeuvre was shrinking at an alarming rate as the shield wall of men now pressed the panic-stricken girls forward.

Tallia identified Rachel in the line of spears and made directly for her, perhaps thinking that if she was able to stab their leader, the rest of the girls might lose heart, but these Panther Girls weren't fighting independently of one another, and as soon as Tallia tried to engage Rachel in one to one combat, the other girls stabbed at her head with spears, making her instinctively jump back. Now however there was very little space left for her to jump back to. She collided with two other Panthers who had pressed themselves into the centre of the hysterical band for safety.

“Fight me!” screamed Tallia at Rachel, but Rachel just smiled and shook her head. A wall of spear points pressed forward, and now the huntsmen were in amongst the screaming Panther Girls, smacking spear shafts aside with their blades and throwing girls to the ground to be chained. Tallia span round to face this new threat, but the huntsmen were all around her and even as she stabbed with her spear at two of them on her right, another couple of huntsmen grabbed hold of her from her left hand side. She struggled, spitting and hissing as the men wrestled the spear from her hands, threw her on to her stomach and quickly secured her wrists behind her back.  

Aphris was quick to follow, as I saw her tripped by a huntsman and quickly secured just two feet away from Tallia.

And then suddenly it was over, as the last two Panther Girls of the Silver Moon war band were forced to the ground and clasped in slave bracelets by the men. Of the entire war band, eleven girls had been wounded, two seriously, and the other thirty two were now secured in slave shackles, many of them weeping as they lay on the grass, barely understanding the enormity of what had just happened. Tallia glared up at Rachel as she approached. Tallia wasn't weeping.

“It's over,” said Rachel as she drove her spear into the ground.

“How is it that you have made an alliance with men!” hissed Tallia. “You're a fool to trust them! They don't need you any more, now that you've led them to us. They'll turn on you now!”

Tallia was certainly right in thinking that under any normal circumstances, but in this case of course she didn't know who led the men. Moments later the leader of the shield wall stepped forward and removed his crested war helm. Kurgus gazed down at Tallia, as Rachel stood close by.

“Greetings, girl.” He smiled. “I told you that I might hunt in the Northern Forests one day.”

“Kurgus...” she gazed up at the man who had for a time been her captor in Corcyrus.  

“This is the Lady Jacinta,” said Kurgus of Rachel. “An agent of mine who is most dear to me. I will always have a need for her, and so her girls will remain safe so long as she leads them. She knows that, and she knows she can trust me. I do keep my word unless there is a very good reason not to.”

“She's a slave!” hissed Tallia as she struggled in her slave bracelets.

“True.” Kurgus gazed at Rachel's collar. Her brand was just about visible under the panther skins. “But she has accomplished a great deal for me over the years and especially now. It is not inconceivable that I will grant her her freedom. Tempting though it is to keep her in a collar now that I see her like this.” He grinned at Rachel with unbridled lust.

Rachel did look extremely desirable in her combination of brief panther skins, slave collar and pierced ears and nose. I could imagine how tempting it might be for Kurgus to not free her.

Now Rachel spotted me and Brinn.

“Rachel, you're amazing!” I said as she approached. 

“Be quiet, slave-girl.” Her eyes looked cold and hostile. There was no sign of the friendship we had shared for so long.

“Rachel, it's me, Emma!”

“I know who you are, you petty little slut. Thank God I don't have to pretend to be your friend any more. You're pathetic.”

I felt like someone had just slapped me across the face as I heard her say that.

“I see you still wear my collar,” said Brinn to Rachel as he knelt on his knees, his arms held now by two of Rachel’s Panther Girls. “It suits you.”

“Predictable as ever, Brinn. Where is the key?” Rachel stood there and touched the lock on her collar.

“I have no idea. Aphris took our baggage and the items she had no use for she threw away. The key to your collar is probably lost somewhere in the forest.” Brinn grinned. Without the key he knew the collar would have to be cut away and that would take proper metal working tools and some precision cutting so as not to cut Rachel's throat in the process. “In any event I would not have given you the key, nor would I have unlocked your collar. You make an exquisite slave, Rachel, and I look forward to many long nights of sex with you in the furs once I've freed myself.”

“I should have you beaten for saying that.” Rachel held the spear in her left hand and leaned on it as she stood there.

Brinn shrugged. “You can certainly beat me, I suppose, but it will do no good. I do not have the key and in any case I do not free slave-girls.”

“I am not a slave-girl!” snapped Rachel angrily.

“Yes you are. Observe your brand. It matches Emma's. I will never free you or sell you. I want you too much, to do that. You and Emma will remain in my collars for the rest of your lives. And I would advise you strongly not to attempt to remove your collar yourself, nor should you accept any offer from any metal worker to remove it for you either. If I find you have done so against my express wishes, I will whip you with the five bladed whip. You felt a handful of strokes once before. For removing your collar against my wishes I will give you twenty strokes. Do you understand me, slave-girl?”

Rachel slapped Brinn hard across the face. “You do not speak to me like that.”

“I will speak any way I wish to my slave-girl. Perhaps you should recall a similar situation in my house in Patashqar when you assumed I was not in any position to implement my threats? And how did that turn out? Think very carefully before you defy me, Rachel. You are my slave now. You know deep down I will be free again, and I will remember every incident in which you defied me. You know full well that when I have you chained to a slave ring, prepared for a beating, you will beg and sob and plead for mercy, and tell me you didn't mean any of the things you said, so take your time now to think rationally and ensure you don’t face that situation in the future.”

Rachel said nothing. Could it be that she was actually afraid that Brinn might be right about eventually escaping?

“Also, I have noted that you have not called me Master during this conversation. You will receive two strokes of the whip for that when I am once again free.”

Rachel slapped Brinn hard again, but Brinn didn’t seem to mind. “I will remove the collar as and when I wish, as soon as suitable tools come to hand.”

“And as for you,” Rachel now confronted me and seized my hair, lifting my head up. “You have no idea how gruelling it was to pretend to be your friend all this time. You vain, petty, slutty little bitch!” She slapped me hard across my face. “And you dared… you actually dared to lord it over me with a quirt as a First Girl! You dared to force me to position myself and learn to dance! Oh, Emma, I endured all that knowing that eventually I would be in a position to make you pay. You think you suffered in that narrow hole in Patashqar? Believe me, when I’m through with you you’ll wish you were back there. Shall I tell you what I’m going to do to you? Hmm? Shall I? I’ve had plenty of time while suffering your petulant indignities to think about it. Let me tell you how you’re going to suffer and scream very soon…” Rachel leaned forward and whispered quietly and slowly, six special words in my ear for me alone to hear. I responded with a sudden look of horror on my face that was obvious enough to everyone who watched my reaction. Then Rachel straightened up and slapped me again. “Slut!”

“You asked me a question back in Elysium, Brinn,” said Kurgus as he joined Rachel. He handed his war helm to one of his men. “I don't mind telling you now that I obtained the Priest King Recognition code, the one that you quite rightly guessed I gave to Jacinta, from the interrogation and torture of the Priest King agent, Marik of Brundisium. I had one of my men work on his teeth with drills and pliers. He told me everything I wanted to know. And yes, my reaction to your question was pre-arranged and staged for your benefit so that you might give Jacinta the benefit of the doubt. I’m not a bad actor myself at times, though Jacinta is the true Mistress of Deception, aren’t you my dear?”

“You have no idea, you glorious man.” Rachel leaned towards Kurgus and kissed him full on the lips. “Love you,” she said when she eventually broke away and draped her right arm around his shoulders, beaming a radiant smile up at him.

“Of course you do.” Kurgus smiled and kissed her back.

When they were through, Rachel turned and regarded me with an amused expression.

“Oh Emma… the look on your face right about now… it’s priceless.”

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