Friday, 12 May 2017

Panther Girl of Gor Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven: The Wrath of the Gods

Rachel held my hand as we ran through the forest, and I was happy to hold hers. I could feel her trembling still from our near death encounter with Kurgus. It felt strange to be dressed now as a Panther Girl in the tight fitting and revealing skins of the forest cats. Were it not for my slave collar and my pierced ears and nose I think I might be mistaken for a Panther Girl, for many of them were beautiful enough to be slave-girls. I could sense however that I wasn’t particularly liked by the girls in the war band, for Panther Girls despise slaves, and they knew with a degree of certainty that I was not strong enough to live and hunt in the forests as they did. I was not given a weapon, and I noticed that now that Rachel had lost her knife to Brinn she too was unarmed. She could I suppose have told one of her girls to hand her a spear, but I suspect it would have been ceremonial at best. Rachel was not experienced in fighting with a pole arm, and I suppose it was better placed in the hands of a girl who did know how to use it.

I did wonder also if maybe Rachel felt uncomfortable carrying a weapon in Brinn’s vicinity. I knew Brinn would not approve of what he considered to be one of his slaves carrying a weapon. Would he have objected if she had reached for a spear? I couldn’t imagine that Brinn would actually confront the Panther Girls while we had more important matters such as escape and finding Fell's Bane in mind, but who knows. Gorean men can be extremely singularly minded at times. Maybe Brinn would have commanded Rachel to leave the spear alone, and if she refused maybe there would have been a confrontation, with the other Panther Girls hissing and pointing spears at him. And then what? Maybe Rachel decided it was better for everyone concerned not to risk such a thing happening, for she had a cooler head and was infinitely more pragmatic than our Master.

We didn’t dare to stop running until we had put at least two pasangs between ourselves and Kurgus’s camp. Only then did we pause to drink water, rest and discuss our next moves. The Panther Girls knew these forests well, and I think without them Brinn and myself would have blundered around in circles, getting more and more lost. But with the girls on our side we were able to move closer towards the location of Fell's Bane, and beyond that Lake Siljin. I was however growing very concerned about the prospect of unshielded plutonium, if Tallia’s description of the decay within the area of Fell's Bane was accurate.

“I’m worried that Fell's Bane is radioactive,” I said To Rachel as we knelt by a stream, drinking water from cupped hands.

“I know. My thoughts exactly,” said Rachel. “Brinn of course has no concept of radiation. I’d try explaining it to him but he’d probably think it sounded like magic.”

“I don’t think we should go too close to the weapons when we find them. I don’t even know what Brinn intends doing when we do find them. He doesn’t seem to have anything remotely resembling a plan.”

“I asked him what his plan was that night when…” Rachel suddenly blushed and looked down at the stream, “that night when he used me.”

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about that night.” I placed my hand on Rachel’s hand and squeezed it. “You should talk about it. It’s good to talk.”

“I can’t, Emma. I’ve had to be strong for forty years and guard myself from saying anything to Kurgus that might be construed as weakness.”

“The sex was good though, wasn’t it? I mean, leaving aside the fact that you didn’t really have a choice…” I watched Rachel’s face for a reaction.

“The sex was very good,” she sighed and blushed again. “That’s the problem. I said and did things that I’m ashamed of.”

“It’s okay.” I squeezed her hand again. “I understand. It was difficult for me at first too. I felt ashamed and I fought my feelings too.”

“I’m not like you, Emma.” I smiled as Rachel said that. “I don’t want to be ‘mastered’. I never asked for any of this.”

“And yet the sex was good?”

“That’s why I’m so confused. The sex was overwhelming. But I don’t want everything else that goes with it. Why can’t I just have the really exciting sex?”

“Because this is Gor, and we're women and women on Gor don’t get to pick and choose. If you want slave-girl sex, then you’ll be treated as a slave-girl. And the other stuff becomes second nature after a while. Really it does.”

“I’m not going to be a slave.”

“Rachel, I hate to break it to you, but legally you already are.” I touched her brand. “That’s going to be a problem wherever you go. You don’t have Kurgus’s protection any more. Life on Gor is extremely difficult for a girl trying to conceal a kef brand on her left thigh. Don't even get me started on the problems associated with pierced ears”

“We could live out here in the forest. Other girls manage it.”

“We’re not really Panther Girls, Rachel. Eventually you’re going to be challenged by a girl in your own war band. What are you going to do then? Are you going to fight her with a knife? Another girl won’t make the same mistake that her predecessor did. Leena tried to show off. A challenger won’t do that. Can you fight to defend your leadership of the tribe?”

Rachel cupped her hands to her face and shook her head.

“No, I didn’t think so. You got lucky, and you did what you did out of desperation with no other option, but if a strong Panther Girl challenges you, you’ll have to fight or submit. And submission means you’ll be sold at the Exchange Point. You won’t know who might buy you. Surely being in Brinn’s collar is better than the unknown alternative? He isn’t a bad Master. There are worse types of slavery.”

“I’m not going to be Brinn's slave just because other alternatives are possibly worse!”

“Look, there’s something you need to know, Rachel. I overheard a couple of your girls earlier today. I don’t think you can rely on them long term. They saw you looking scared when Tallia challenged you last night. I caught them referring to you as a slave-girl, dressed as a Panther Girl.”

“I’m living on borrowed time, Emma,” said Rachel sadly as she glanced round at the Panther Girls sitting together in small groups in the clearing. “It’s this collar that I wear.” She touched the cold inflexible steel that was locked around her throat. “They’re waiting for me to remove it. The expect me to remove it. And I can’t. I don’t know how to pick a lock.”

“Can’t one of them do that for you? Is there no one in your war band with the skill?”

“That’s not the point, Emma. They expect me to find a way to remove my collar by myself if I’m to be worthy of being a Panther Girl, let alone leading Panther Girls. The longer I wear a slave collar, the weaker they think I am. I think time is running out. If I can’t rid myself of the collar, they’re almost certainly going to turn on me. I had some safety while I was allied to Kurgus, but now? I’m living on borrowed time in this forest.”

“You can’t ask any of them for help?”

“The Panther Girls have a saying – the only girl who asks for her collar to be removed is a slave-girl. A Panther Girl will remove it herself. You see my dilemma?”

“I don’t know how to remove a slave collar either. I suppose if we had metal working tools…”

“Which we don’t.” Rachel sighed. “I honestly don’t know what to do, Emma.”

“Oh, Rachel…” I hugged her and felt her body tremble against mine. “We'll think of something,” I said without any real conviction.

“Anyway, I asked Brinn about his plan when he found the weapons and he said, and I swear he wasn’t joking, that he’d do what Tarl Cabot always does,” said Rachel as she eventually pulled away from my embrace.

That bloody name again. I shook my hair in irritation. Why was Brinn so obsessed with emulating Tarl bloody Cabot? “And that would be?”

“Improvise on the spot. Seriously. Brinn is going to improvise on the spot. He says it always works out well for Tarl Cabot.”

“Oh God, we’re fucked.” I sighed and rolled my eyes. “And I don’t mean that in a lovely sexy kind of way. He really doesn’t have a plan beyond finding the weapons?”

“He really doesn’t.”

“Kurgus will have a detailed plan. Probably even three of them.”

“Yes he will.”

“Brinn’s a moron.”

We suddenly both started giggling as we sat there by the stream, attracting curious glances from the Panther Girls and from Brinn who was wading down stream to spear a fish with a weapon he had taken from one of Rachel’s girls, ignoring her strident protests. The girls seemed wary of Brinn now that he was armed with a knife. He was confident again, and that always scares a girl. To my amazement Brinn managed to spear three fishes in quick succession, landing them on the ground close to where Sabina sat.

“Dinner for later,” he said. The spear had been hers. She sat cross legged like a man and sniffed.

“Can I have my spear back?” she said.

“No.” Brinn placed the spear over his shoulder and walked back to where we were. “Your girls seem wary of me, Rachel,” said Brinn with a smile.

“Don’t get cocky, Brinn. We outnumber you.”

According to Sabina we were maybe no more than eight pasangs away from Fells Bane when we came across the startling sight of a derelict escape capsule that must have been jettisoned from the damaged Kur ship that had been originally transporting the atomics and other weapons to Gor from deep space. The capsule had landed in the forest canopy and had crashed through a succession of branches before it had wedged itself between a group of thick trees. It was perched thirty feet or so above the forest floor, with the front hatch open to the air. The hatch door lay covered in overgrown vegetation nearby, barely discernible in amongst the foliage. We gathered in a group and gazed up at the alien artefact. Its construction was of course very different to anything native to Gor.

“What is it?” asked Sabina. She still lacked her spear, and occasionally glanced at Brinn with narrowed eyes.

“An emergency escape pod,” I said. “Or at least I think that’s what it is. The Kur space ship would have had several of them to allow the crew to escape in the event the ship was crippled.” I brushed some of the vines and weeds away from the hatch door and saw that it had probably been ejected from the capsule via hydraulics after the crash landing.

“It might be worth checking it out,” suggested Erin as she crouched down beside me. “Who knows what we might find inside?”

Brinn shook his head in doubt. “I’m not sure the branches will take my weight, and even if they did, my weight might bring the capsule crashing down once I reached it.”

“Well I weigh a fraction of what you do, Master,” I said. “Let me try and ascend to the pod. I’ll abort my climb if the branches begin to give way.”

Brinn frowned and gazed back up at the capsule. It did seem firmly wedged between half a dozen very thick trunks. “I’m not sure, Emma. If you fall from that height…”

“I’ll be fine. I used to climb a lot as a…” I almost said boy, but corrected myself in time, “I was a bit of a tomboy as a girl…”

“Tomboy?” Brinn didn’t understand the reference.

“A girl who does a lot of the physical things that a boy might do, like climbing trees! I think I can do it.”

“Well I’m not going up there,” said Rachel with her arms crossed. “Be my guest, Emma.”

Brinn nodded reluctantly and watched as I walked around the set of trees, looking for the best route up.

My body was well suited to climbing and so I quickly ascended the first series of thick branches with relative ease. I was wary of course that my ascent might cause the branches above me to sway and perhaps dislodge the capsule that was so tightly wedged between the trees. I didn’t truly think there was too much danger of that for it was apparent that the capsule had been there for many years now, surviving all manner of storms and inclement weather. But even so there was no point in taking risks. I pulled myself further up, marvelling at how fit my body was these days. The Gorean diet for slave-girls is actually very good and builds healthy bodies. I suspected also that my Kurii endowed DNA meant I was predisposed to having better than average stamina and flexibility, and then when you factored in all the physical training I underwent in the slave pens, especially the dance lessons, it was no wonder that I was supple and agile in the trees. Before long I was easily two thirds of the way up and could see the capsule maybe only ten feet above my head. I reached up to the next sturdy looking branch and pulled myself up with both hands, pressing my bare feet against the trunk for extra leverage. Now I was close enough to jump on the balls of my feet and touch the bottom of the angled capsule if I didn’t mind possibly falling from the tree in the process. As close as I was I could make out a blackened scar that seemed to split the side of the capsule, opening a sliver of the metal to a width of maybe four inches or more and a length from top to bottom. It looked very much like the wound inflicted by an energy beam weapon, and I conjectured that the capsule had been hit during its descent by a Priest King orbital beam. If the strike had taken place in space then the occupants of the capsule would certainly have been killed before planet fall.

“Be careful, Emma,” shouted Brinn from below as one of the smaller branches cracked under my right foot. I nimbly shifted my weight onto the other one and distributed it further by holding on to a branch just above me with my left hand.

“Everything’s fine,” I shouted back down to the ground. I risked a gaze down and saw Rachel, Erin, Brinn and the Panther girls watching from twenty five feet away. As a man I had always been prone to a certain degree of vertigo when I peered over balconies, but to my surprise I found that was no longer the case. Perhaps the Kurii machines had indeed done something to my mind when they had reshaped my body, as I felt perfectly comfortable peering down from a precarious height.

“This is actually fun.” I laughed, seeing Brinn flinch as I jumped from my branch to a slightly higher one and then raised myself level with the roof of the capsule. The branches suddenly swayed alarmingly, but I balanced myself pretty well. Getting inside the capsule though was going to be rather trickier. I lowered myself down onto the slightly curved roof and lay on my belly with my head lowered into the ruptured doorway. It was dark inside due to the canopy of the trees blocking out most of the natural light, but Rachel had given me a hand held energy bulb which, when I twisted it, shone enough light for me to see clearly inside. A number of birds startled by the light suddenly took flight. I saw some small lizards also scuttle to safety inside as I shone the energy bulb from one side of the doorway to the other. My nose wrinkled as I smelled decay coming from a broken human body that had been caught perhaps by the energy beam when it had split the canister open during its descent. Much of the body had been picked clean by birds and animals over the years, but the bones remained, as did fragments of the clothing it had been wearing. I had seen similar clothing worn by the men who had awaited me on the landing area outside Milton Keynes, where I had been driven by taxi. The man was obviously once in the service of the Kurii operating from Earth.

“I’m going in,” I shouted down to the people on the ground. “Wish me luck.” I was practically a lizard myself as I scuttled round on the roof of the capsule until I was in a position to slide my legs down in line with the open hatch. I held on to the roof of the capsule where I found some handholds, and then I swung my legs back and forth into and out of the capsule doorway until I felt bold enough to let go and swing all the way inside. There was a moment of alarm as I landed on the floor of the capsule and felt the whole thing shake, slide and settle again. I knelt, breathless, too scared to move a muscle in case a further movement was enough to dislodge the chamber, but shouts from outside reassured me that the tree branches seemed to be holding firm.

“Move carefully and slowly, Emma, but you should be fine,” said Erin. I wanted to peer out through the doorway and wave but felt it might be best to keep my weight focussed in the centre of the capsule where it was most firmly wedged in place. I skirted round the dead body and began to sweep the glow of the energy bulb in every nook and cranny. There was a lot of webbing straps hanging from the walls, presumably to secure passengers safely during the descent. But what really grabbed my attention was a holster on the remains of the body. Clearly visible in the holster was the butt of a pistol. I reached with my arm from where I knelt and slid the gun carefully from its holster. I had no idea of the model, except that it was a Browning 9mm of some sort. I knew enough about guns to know how to remove the clip and to eject a loaded round from the chamber. There was no bullet to eject however, and checking the magazine clip I saw that was because the clip was full. There seemed to be six rounds. I felt light headed as I held the gun. With something like this a slave-girl could easily be the match of a Gorean man. But I was also very conscious of the weapons laws of the Priest Kings.

Firearms did not exist on Gor, not because of any technological issues, but rather because the mysterious Priest Kings who de-facto ruled the planet from their hidden burrows in the Sardar Mountains, placed an edict against the possession or use of any such weapons. They would not permit anything more advanced than a bow on the surface of the planet on pain of death.

Kurgus had told me during my time in Corcyrus that although some modern weapons had been smuggled onto the planet, no one would dare use them while the Priest Kings still ruled. Reading between the words of his somewhat archaic explanation, it seemed that the Priest Kings monitored the Gorean continent and were capable of detecting the flash of an energy charge or the detonation of a gunpowder reaction. Such a thing is not so hard to believe now as it might have been in the early days of the Tarl Cabot chronicles. Think perhaps of what we can already do on Earth, how we can detect earth tremors on the other side of the globe to pin point accuracy; how our Internet search engines can deliver thousands of results from across the world’s computers in a couple of seconds, and how the average hand held phone can now identify a piece of music playing in a room within a couple of seconds. That the Priest Kings can do so much more with their incredible technology comes as no surprise to me anyway.

Kurgus had told me that if anyone fired a shot (they would not have time for more than one apparently) the Priest Kings’ automated defence systems in orbit around the planet would identify the location of the miscreant and strike him down with an energy beam. Used on a wider setting, this ‘flame death’ as it was sometimes referred to, could level entire cities. Only a reckless fool with no regard for his own life would deliberately pull the trigger on a modern weapon on the surface of Gor while the silent, secretive Priest Kings watched and waited for such a spark to appear.

Nevertheless I decided to take the pistol, for an idea was beginning to form in my head – a risky idea, undoubtedly, but one I was prepared to gamble on. I kept the clip separate from the gun, just in case. The last thing I wanted was to fall and perhaps make the gun fire by accident. What a way to die – being consumed by a beam of blue fire because you had dropped a loaded gun and seen it go off by accident.

I found a small backpack and placed both the pistol and the bullet clip inside it and then I set about gathering what looked like sophisticated medical supplies, including ampoules of pain killers, sedatives, and hypodermic sprays that could cover and seal open wounds with synthetic flesh. But my greatest find, bearing in mind we were very close to the stunted vegetation surrounding Fells Bane was a sealed box full of anti-radiation medicine in single shot hypodermics. Those could well be a life saver. I took the entire box and stuffed it into the canvas backpack, making sure the gun was hidden beneath all the medical supplies. With a bit of luck Brinn wouldn't bother to delve through the contents when I simply told him I had found medical supplies. For in his line of work for the Priest Kings, I suspected he knew what a gun was.

We were very close now to Fell's Bane. I had distributed the single use syringes from my bag and asked everyone to sit down in a circle. Brinn grumbled, but believed me when I told him this was important. I explained in simple terms about plutonium and about radiation. I explained the effect radiation had on vegetation and animal tissue and how it was likely that the contamination within Fell's Bane was due to a breach in one or more of the weapons.

“You won’t be able to see radiation, and you won’t feel its effects to begin with, but it’s there none the less. We all need to inject ourselves with this medicine. I can’t be sure, but I hope it will be enough to immunise us from the short term exposure. The medicine is from a race with advanced technology, so I assume it’s up to the job.” I demonstrated on my own arm how to use the hypodermic. “There will be a sting, but that’s okay. I suggest we wait a few hours to make sure the drugs circulate through our bodies.” The canvas backpack lay at my feet. Wedged down underneath other medical supplies was the weight of the 9mm Browning automatic pistol. I dared not show it to Brinn because I knew he would order me to throw it away. Brinn would obey the edicts of the Priest Kings even if there wasn’t the fear of a Flame Death for disobeying them. I however bore no love for these secretive beings. I had to assume they were as Tarl Cabot had described them in the second hand paperbacks I had read as a teenager. Enormous insectoid aliens who communicated chiefly through scent. They were nothing like us, and to be honest I trusted them no more than I did the carnivorous Kurii.

I encouraged all the girls to inject themselves with the anti-rad medicine. One or two seemed reluctant to do so, but when I pointed out that there were three slave-girls here who weren’t scared, not a single panther girl could refuse.

Brinn slammed the hypodermic hard into his left arm, and I was afraid he might actually snap the needle, but no damage was done. I notice he was staring intently at Rachel’s beautiful body and I grew just a little jealous, so I moved closer to him and kissed his chest. I shouldn’t be jealous, I said to myself, Rachel was my friend, and she was untrained. Brinn himself had said I was superior to her in the arts of pleasing a man, but the way he was looking at her these days… and the frequency of his attention. I knew he lusted after her, and if circumstances were currently different, I think he would have seized her, stripped her, rolled her onto her back and had her in the damp grass.

Rachel seemed mostly oblivious to the way Brinn was staring at her, but once or twice she caught sight of his gaze and I think she drew a sharp breath.

Shortly before it was time to make the final journey towards the weapons cache, Rachel took me aside and walked me towards the tree line. I saw Brinn watch us both as we strayed beyond his range of hearing. Rachel sat down so that her back was to Brinn and she whispered to me, “warn me if Brinn gets up and walks towards us.”

I nodded, not knowing what this was about.

“Emma, tell me now, do you want to be a slave-girl?” Rachel held my hands and looked deep into my eyes.

“What sort of question is that? I mean, I wear a collar. I’m branded…”

“If you could be free again, with no risk to yourself, what would you say?”

“Free?” I looked confused. “I’m a slave, Rachel… I don’t have that choice.”

“Well I’m giving you that choice.” I felt something cold and hard placed into the palm of my right hand as Rachel held my hands and folded my fingers over it. It was a ring. My father’s ring of red metal.

“I took it from Nessa. I know what it is for. I know why he gave it to you in Elysium before we escaped. I give it back to you.”

“Rachel…” There were tears welling in my eyes. I didn’t know what to say.

“Not far from Lake Siljin there is a steep hill called Skaffel Peak. It is remote, it is elevated. A girl who placed that ring on her finger and summoned a silver ship would be taken into space and returned to Earth. When the time comes, I will give you the opportunity to run to Skaffel Peak. If that is what you want.”

“Rachel… oh God…” I gripped the ring tightly.

“Conceal the ring under your panther skins. Keep it safe. Do not tell Brinn you have it. Promise me, Emma. Promise me.”

“Rachel… I love you so very much.”

“If you want to go home, I will make sure you get the chance, even if I die doing so. I’ve spent forty years on Gor. I’ll save you from that if you want me to.”

I hugged Rachel fiercely and sobbed on her shoulder. “I don’t deserve you,” I said. “I really don’t deserve you.”

“Damn right you don't. I haven't forgotten your dance lessons with the quirt, by the way.”

“I was just trying to keep you safe! If Brinn didn't find you pleasing he would have sold you at the Exchange Point and you'd probably be in a communal slave pen by now, and honestly Rachel, you don't ever want to be in one of those.”

“Excuses, excuses...” she said as she tweaked my nose with her fingers.

Some time during the mid afternoon as we hiked onwards through the forest, we blundered straight into Seremides’s skirmish line. Two of Rachel’s Panther Girls had been ranging forward of our main group and when trouble arose we were alerted by some shouts, the thrum of bows being fired and the scampering of feet as our two girls came hurrying back.

“Panther Girls from the Blood Moon war band are skirmishing up ahead,” said Marilla as she skidded to a halt. “They sounded the alarm when they saw us. I think men are close by.” We could hear the wolf like calls echoing through the forest to the front and the left side. Roughly half of Rachel’s girls carried bows with enough skill to use them adequately. They hastily dropped to one knee and set about stringing them as Rachel conferred with Brinn.

“You’re the warrior, Brinn. I’m just playing at this. What do you suggest we do?”

“Fall back. We don’t know their numbers. Though I would have thought that whoever they are, they should now be fighting Kurgus a long way behind us.”

Rachel nodded. Suddenly there was a commotion from up ahead as a handful of Panther Girls streamed through the trees with bows in their hands. Sighting us they let loose with a number of poorly aimed shots that served simply to make us duck. Rachel’s girls fired back with equally poor results. A second and third volley was exchanged from both sides, making Brinn swear with irritation.

“What’s the point of carrying bows if you can’t hit anything with them?” He snatched the bow from Sabina’s hand without warning and pushed her aside. “And it’s practically a toy,” he snarled as he pulled three arrows from her quiver. Notching the first to his bow string he calmly sighted on a girl maybe twenty yards away. She fired an arrow at Brinn that missed him by at least two yards. Brinn then retaliated by placing his own arrow in her shoulder. The girl screamed and ran back, literally blubbering with shock at the wound she had just taken. Brinn quickly placed the second arrow to his bow and sighted on another girl who was fumbling with arrows in her quiver. Standing still as she was she made for a clear target and Brinn calmly placed an arrow between her breasts. The girl was thrown backwards to lie on her back screaming in shock. Now Brinn placed his last arrow and sighted on another Panther girl who, seeing this, ran scampering back into the safety of the trees. Brinn moved the aim of his bow along the line of the other girls and smiled as he saw each one run in terror as he aimed in their direction.

“Nice shooting,” said Rachel.

“Which is more than I can say for your girls,” snarled Brinn. Suddenly the first armed men appeared from behind the thin skirmish line that had fallen back into the thick tree line. They carried swords and shields and they wore the red tunics of the warriors. Brinn raised his bow and shot the first one in the face before they realised they had made contact with the enemy.

Rachel’s girls also fired into the line of shield carrying men and two of the girls managed to inflict wounds before the men closed into a shield wall. Now as they clashed their short swords against their shields, they advanced, shouting guttural threats at the Panther girls who wisely gave ground, stopping only to fire the occasional arrow which lodged in a shield. To the flank of the shield wall, the rival band of Panther girls re-appeared, firing their own volleys of arrows, one of which struck a girl in Rachel’s band in the left leg more by luck than anything else. She screamed and limped backwards, staring at the shaft that had gone straight through her calf muscle.

I counted the shields quickly and made it over forty men in two ranks. We were heavily out numbered and could only run, but as soon as we did, our ability to fire back at the pursuing skirmish band of enemy girls was effectively diminished. We ran through the trees, trying to keep our cohesion as a group as the enemy ran and fired on the move. Their accuracy on the run was appalling, but the sound of arrow shafts whistling overhead was enough to make us flinch and duck from sheer instinct alone. Brinn grabbed some more arrows from another Panther girl and spun round to fire another shaft at the running warriors. Their shield wall cohesion was broken while they ran, but even so Brinn’s arrow simply struck one of the shields.

The forest floor sloped downwards as we ran, picking up speed as more and more men seemed to be pouring down behind us. This wasn’t simply a group of warriors on patrol – it was a full blown military force which suggested that only one of the two rebel Kurii armies had actually attacked Kurgus this morning. The other one it seemed had gone looking for us instead, and I could only conjecture that was because they believed we were headed towards the weapons cache. I ran through a shallow stream, wading through water that rose to my knees at its deepest point. We had left behind the girl who had been shot in the calf. With an arrow embedded in her leg she could only hobble, and dreadful as it was to leave one of our own behind, we couldn’t do anything to save her. Poorly aimed arrows splashed into the stream as we hauled ourselves up onto the opposite bank of earth. My hands and feet and knees were muddy as I pulled myself up the steep embankment, brushing against some stinging nettles that I didn’t recognise by sight. Brinn pulled me up when my foot slipped in the wet mud and suddenly I was up on an elevated position looking down at the meandering stream behind us as the enemy warriors began to assemble back in their shield wall with Panther girls hissing and shouting on each flank. Brinn placed two more arrows into the men's shields, before he lowered his bow and cursed it. “The range and pull on this thing is far too weak.”

“Well, we can’t pull the large hunting bow of a man,” said Rachel as she helped the last of her girls up onto the embankment.

And then we saw him: Seremides. He was in the centre of his shield line and he raised his helmet from his head as we watched.

“Emma, how lovely to see you again,” he called out across the water. “I think you lied to me, you bitch.”

“Yes! I lied to you!” I shouted back. “You were too busy boasting about how brilliant and misunderstood you were, to realise that the girl you betrayed had been clever enough to give you the wrong co-ordinates because she didn’t trust you! I hope you’ve had a lovely time wandering aimlessly through the forest these last few months.”

“You’ll pay for that, Emma. You’ll suffer for making me look a fool before my masters. I’ll hang you by your wrists from a tree and cut strips of your skin from your body with a knife. I’ll peel you piece by piece and when you’re all raw and bloody I’ll…”

“You snivelling little shit!” snarled Brinn as he raised himself high on top of the embankment and drew his sword. “You dare to threaten to torture my slave-girl! Face me one on one, Seremides. Emma has told me all about you. Face me now!”

Seremides grinned and motioned to the Panther Girls at either end of his line. They all notched arrows to their bows and proceeded to fire on Brinn as he was forced to duck and slide back down the other side of the embankment behind cover. We all quickly joined him as a dozen or so arrows struck the earth embankment.

“Coward!” snarled Brinn. “Kurgus would have faced me!”

“Then Kurgus takes needless risks, Brinn,” replied Seremides. “And yes, I know who you are. I’ll hang you from the same tree as Emma and we’ll see how long you can hold out before you begin screaming like she certainly will. One small strip of skin at a time, Brinn. Piece by little piece.”

Brinn suddenly rose up from behind the earth embankment with an arrow notched to the string of his short bow. He let it loose at Seremides with a quick draw and immediately ducked down again as retaliatory arrows responded from the Panther girls. Had he held his own hunting bow, I think Brinn would have shot Seremides straight through the face, but instead his arrow hit the left shoulder of the man standing next to him.

It was enough however for Seremides to quickly place his helmet back on his head and pick up his shield.

“Shouldn’t you be fighting Kurgus!” I shouted from behind cover.

“I've declined that opportunity. It’s in my interests to let Miss Bentley fight Kurgus on her own. Hopefully they’ll decimate each other’s forces. In the meantime I’ll seize the weapons cache once you give me the correct co-ordinates. I don’t owe that Earth bitch anything. She was supposed to be my agent and now the great Kur has promoted her above me!”

“I really feel sorry for you. It must be another case of people just not realising how incredibly brilliant you are,” I shouted back in a voice dripping with sarcasm. “And by the way, you've got a small cock!”

That was a lie actually. He was perfectly normal size, but I suspected he had never compared himself with other men.

Some more arrows thudded around us as the Panther Girls fired high above the embankment level. Of course the trajectory arc meant they landed well behind us with no chance of hitting anyone.

I peered over the rim of the earthen embankment and saw even more warriors pouring out from the tree line. Now it seemed there were maybe fifty to sixty men, plus Panther girls on the flanks, and huntsmen archers with powerful long bows.

“Seremides has brought his entire force,” I said to Brinn.

“So it seems.” If he was scared, he didn't show it. Rachel slid close to us in the mud and her eyes spoke volumes.

“We have to run. He's obviously abandoned the Bentley woman to fight on her own.”

Brinn risked a glance over the earth embankment long enough to see the solid shield wall begin to march down the opposite slope and through the slow flowing stream. “Agreed. Take your Panther girls left of the stream. Emma and I will show ourselves and run towards the right. They'll be drawn to us because they want the co-ordinates that Emma has, but we should be able to out run them. In the meantime, circle round their rear and...”

“And?” Rachel gazed at Brinn expectantly.

“Use your initiative.”

Rachel stared at him silently for several seconds. “That's it? I mean, just, 'use your initiative'? Really?”

“Well, that and make maximum use of any natural cover.”

“I have no idea how men have ruled Gor for so long...” Rachel shook her head in dismay. “How long have you been fighting the Kurii?”

“Hundreds of years, I think,” said Brinn. “Possibly longer.”

“It doesn't surprise me.” Rachel crawled back and made some complicated hand signals to her girls. They nodded, gathered their weapons and  began to slide along the mud embankment towards the left of us. Suddenly Brinn seized Rachel's right wrist. “Brinn?” she looked round at him.

“If it looks like I'm going to die, save yourself, Rachel.”

Rachel suddenly laughed. “Oh, Brinn, talk about stating the obvious. You're cute, but I'm not going to weep tears...” She suddenly reached over and kissed him on the lips, much to his surprise. “Good luck, and try to keep Emma alive.” And then she pulled her hand free and slid down the mud embankment towards her scowling Panther Girls. I couldn't help but notice that several of them were gazing at her steel collar.

We ran, and we were indeed pursued by Seremides's men. But not all of them. The majority followed us through the forest, but their reduced numbers meant he had despatched some of them after Rachel. But we were fast. We weren't trying to move carefully in formation, nor were we stopping on occasion to fire a bow. Soon Seremides's force had to break formation and follow us at full speed, racing between the trees, losing all form of cohesion. We were wild and exhilarated, knowing that no one would catch us unless we permitted it. We ran blindly, not caring where we might be heading, trusting in our certainty that Rachel and her girls would find us again.

We ran and ran and ran, until we emerged in a forest glade that was suddenly compromised by a sheer cliff wall of slate and granite. Stumbling to a sudden halt we came face to face with a sharp precipice too steep to climb.

"They say that if a tree falls in the forest when there is no one to witness it, it makes no sound," said Seremides in all his martial might as he led his men into the secluded space. "Well, today you will die in this forest glade, and there will be no one save us to witness it, and your name will pass into nothingness, just another trivial footnote in history. So passes the legend of Brinn of the Sardar mountains."

His line of warriors began to form into a shield wall as we turned round, unable to proceed any further. Panther Girls from the Blood Moon tribe began to assemble on the flanks of his line.

“I'm prepared to take you alive,” said Seremides as he lifted the crested helm from his head and handed it to one of his men. “But the fact I told you what I'll do to you both – all that painful skinning alive while you're hanging from a tree – well, I don't really blame you if you want to die fighting.”

And then Brinn turned to me as my left hand reached down to unfasten the canvas backpack that I had slung over my shoulder, and he said something along the lines of, "when I am dead, submit to Seremides and he may spare you, Emma. Do that for me, for I do not wish you to die." And then he prepared his sword and shield, ready for the Gorean equivalent of Valhalla, for he is a Gorean man and he has no concept of surrender.

I shifted the weight of the shoulder bag and placed my right hand inside it, digging down past the medical supplies in their sterile wrappings until I felt the comforting weight of the 9mm Browning automatic.  

And then I remember as if yesterday, I stood straight and tall and I looked Brinn in the eyes and I said, "kiss me one last time, Master, for if I am wrong in what I'm about to do, then I've doomed us both," and he obviously didn't understand, but he kissed me anyway because he thought he was going to die, and I thought 'he now loves me', though he would never ever admit to it, and then with a smile on my face I said to him, "we are not dying today, Master." And then I took several steps to the side, for I knew Brinn would try to stop me in what I was about to do, and I turned to face Seremides and the shield wall of his mightiest warriors with their glittering shields and short swords, and I said to Seremides, striding forward, barefoot, semi-naked in my Panther skins towards the wall of his men, "many months ago you betrayed me. Many months ago you enslaved me. Many months ago you raped me. And now today I will kill you and all your men. And you will all die screaming in agony, wishing you had never crossed Emma of London." And then I raised my right hand from inside the canvas shoulder bag and I clearly remembered Brinn screaming, "Emma, don't!" and I remembered the sudden absolute fear in Seremides's eyes as he saw me brandishing the 9mm Browning automatic pistol, so forbidden by the Priest King laws.

I had these last few weeks given some thought to the nature of the Priest King edict against modern weaponry, or rather, the means by which they enforced it. Kurgus had told me that if anyone fired a gun powder or energy weapon it would be detected by the Priest Kings almost instantly. An orbital beam would then ignite the culprit. But while others failed to consider past that point I began to speculate on what the actual target of the beam might be. Was the flame death fired at the precise point where the gun had been fired? Or was it instead targeted on the gun itself? It occurred to me that if it was the former – the point on the ground where gun powder ignited or a beam was discharged, then the Kurii could possibly get round the weapons edict by simply moving quickly enough to avoid the flame death, for there had to be at least one or two seconds before death occurred. Nothing was actually ‘instantaneous’ in life. I was gambling then that the flame death locked on to the position of the weapon, and now I was going to gamble my life and Brinn’s that I was right.

Brinn seemed to be moving in slow motion as I squeezed the trigger of the 9mm Browning automatic. There was an incredibly loud crack as I fired a single bullet into the air and then without pausing, I threw the gun as hard as I could directly towards the centre of the shield wall. A second had gone by, maybe two, and now I threw myself at Brinn, terrified of what was going to come.

There was suddenly a searing flash that engulfed the centre of the shield wall as the pistol fell amongst them. A searing, blinding blue flame from the sky that tore through muscle, bone, skin and steel. The radius of the blast tore the shield wall apart, incinerating the men in the centre of the line and hideously burning the men on either flank. I felt the shock wave of heat singe my body too, even though I was at least ten yards away. Every blade of grass was blackened by this insidious heat ray, and when I was finally able to blink, gaze up from where I lay on top of Brinn (I had literally been flung on top of him) I saw charred and blackened bodies thrown about the glade. A few were still screaming in agony, unable to rise. Seremides lay five yards ahead of his men. He had been running towards me, ready to throw his spear as I fired the gun. The five yards had been enough to save his life, but like the other survivors he was badly burned.

He must have been in incredible pain from the third degree burns covering the entirety of his back and shoulders. I lifted myself up off the ground and staggered towards him with the canvas back pack in my hands. I could hear him howling in pain as he tried and failed to get up. Half his face was also burnt from where he must have glanced back as the flash struck. I knelt down beside Seremides and placed my hand inside the backup and searched until I found a single use hypodermic containing morphine.

“You’ll live, I think,” I said as I twisted the cap off the morphine needle. “This will relieve the pain.”

“Please…” he really was hurting. I held the hypodermic in front of his face. He could after all still see through one eye.

“Call me Mistress,” I said. “Call me Mistress and lick and kiss my feet. “ I stood up and placed my right foot before his lips. It was dirty from the mud and earth. “Or I’ll leave you like this. You’ll die of thirst before you die from your burns.”

“Please!” he was weeping, unable to cope with the intense paid from his burns.

“You call me Mistress.”

“Please, Mistress… please…” Seremides began to lick and kiss my foot. When I was satisfied I shifted position and gave him my other foot. He licked and kissed that too.

“Tell me who defeated you,” I said coldly. “Tell me the name of the Mistress who was better than you were in the end.”

“Emma,” he croaked. “Emma of London.”

And then I gave him the morphine, for I am not capable of watching torture the way Tallia and maybe Rachel could do. Many on Gor would consider my act of mercy towards an enemy as weakness. I do not care. I am who I am, and I do not like to see anyone suffer that way. I then moved between the dying and the dead and passed out morphine to the grievously wounded warriors while Brinn watched me with his impassive gaze.

We camped that night a pasang from the scene of the devastation where Emma of London, a mere slave-girl, had decimated the entire armed force commanded by Seremides. The next morning we found Fell's Bane and the Kurii force commanded by Miss Elizabeth Anna Bentley of Park Lane that had occupied it.

But my greatest triumph was still to come.  

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