Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Panther Girl of Gor Chapter Six

Chapter Six: We are followed into the Forest by a band of Panther Girls

We were followed the moment we left the Exchange Point. Twenty five yards behind us walked a group of seven Panther Girls keeping pace with us, but always mindful not to approach any closer than that for fear of Brinn's short sword. Leading the group were the two Panther Girls I had seen on my first day at the Exchange Point – Aphris and Nessa. The girls travelled light, carrying only their spears, shoulder sacks, knives and in two cases, short bows. I suppose in hind sight they had noticed us taking apart our camp and preparing to leave on foot. The Panther Girls were waiting for us at the edge of the Exchange Point, curling their lips into cruel smiles as we passed them by, pretending to be engrossed in a game of dice as they sat cross-legged in imitation of the way men sit. One or two of them waved as they sat there on the grass. It was only after we had cleared the neutral zone and were more than half way across the flat expanse of fields that they began to follow and slowly catch us up.

“What are we going to do?” I said to Brinn.

“If they come any close then I’ll kill them,” he said without looking round.
But of course for the time being they wouldn’t come any closer. Not until we were in the thickest reaches of the Forest. For now we were walking across fields of long grass, interspersed with the first thin expanses of trees. On two occasions Brinn, feeling angry and frustrated, ordered us to stop, and as soon as he did so the Panther Girls stopped too, twenty five yards behind us. They stood there watching us, hands on their hips, leaning on spears, mocking us with their smiles. Only when Brinn commenced walking again did they also begin to move.

“This isn’t good,” I said quietly.

“No, it isn’t.”

Brinn had also tried taking them on. He had ordered Rachel and me to kneel in the long grass and he had taken his shield from Rachel’s back, where it was slung over her shoulders. He had drawn his short sword and had stalked towards the group of girls, but with every step he took, they took a similar step backwards. The space between us always remained at twenty five yards.

“Leave us!” barked Brinn, his anger only too apparent, but the girls simply laughed and kept their distance.

“You seem nervous, male,” said Aphris with a sneer. “Is something wrong?”

“He seems to be worried about something,” said Nessa. “It cannot possibly be us of course, for we are mere women, defenceless and easily outmatched by a warrior.”

“I do not like being followed,” snapped Brinn.

Aphris shrugged her shoulders and stopped the moment Brinn did. “These are our lands. We come and go as we please, and today we happen to be going the same way that you are. Is that a problem?”

“Come closer, girl, and I’ll teach you to respect me.”

“I think not,” laughed Aphris. “We are not stupid. We have no intention of fighting you.” They could see he was a warrior who knew how to fight in close combat with a sword and shield. The Panther Girls were skilled at ambush and attacking en-masse, but they would be extremely reluctant to take on a warrior in an open space like this. The worry was what they might try to do once we were in amongst dense forest.

“Stand still, damn you,” said Brinn as he clashed his sword against the rim of his shield and took five quick steps forward. The girls all giggled and took five equal steps back. The distance between us remained at twenty five yards.

I had a second concern, for I could see that Brinn was straining to hold his shield correctly. It was quivering from the effect of the injury he had received in Lydius. Perhaps the Panther Girls didn’t notice, but I could see his shoulder wound was still far from healed. He was in no fit state to carry a shield for a long period of time, and I think Brinn now realised that. But it was only the large Gorean round shield that might protect us from arrows. Without it the short bows of the Panther Girls might prove deadly.

“He’s quite handsome, isn’t he?” said Nessa as she walked in a slight circle around us. She was careful to keep the radius of the circle to twenty five feet. “What’s your name, male?”

“Brinn, of the Sardar mountains.” Brinn turned slightly, aware that Nessa was in effect flanking him. Not wishing this to happen, and seeing two other Panther Girls also doing so from the other side while he remained static, Brinn reluctantly began to retrace his steps back to where we knelt in the long grass. Seeing the warrior effectively retreat, the girls all laughed again. They made no attempt to continue the encirclement – it was enough to prove to Brinn that he would be best advised to keep moving.

“Keep walking, male. That is if you’re scared of girls!” cried Nessa.

Brinn was furious. He turned again and now ran at Nessa, only for her to laugh and run backwards away from him. Only when Brinn realised he was effectively being drawn away from us, and he saw the main body of Panther Girls now advance in our direction, did he reluctantly turn back and block them off. Again Aphris and her girls pulled back to twenty five feet. Brinn cursed and retraced his steps to where we were. If he tried to approach the girls, they would simply fall back. If he continued walking they would follow. And if he stood still, they would begin to encircle him. He wasn’t used to this at all.

By the time he reached us, I could see his arm was growing weak from the weight of the shield. There was blood on his shoulder dressing from where he had obviously strained his wound. I ran up to him and took the shield, lifting it from his left arm with both hands. It was incredibly heavy. I could never have held it very long with one arm, but that is why women are not warriors on Gor. I turned and hung the shield from Rachel’s shoulders and saw her stiffen under its weight once more.

Brinn's shield was large and concave similar to the aspis or hoplon carried by ancient Hoplites of Homeric times. It was made from solid wood and then covered in steel, measuring roughly 1 metre in diameter and weighing about 18 pounds. The immense size of this shield was made possible partly by its shape, which allowed a man to support it on his shoulder. The revolutionary part of the shield design was, in fact, the grip. It placed the handle at the edge of the shield, and was supported by a leather fastening (for the forearm) at the centre. These two points of contact eliminated the possibility of the shield swaying to one side after being struck, and as a result warriors rarely lost their shields in battle. When used correctly it rested on a man's shoulders, and stretched down past his knees.

There was no way we could extend the distance between us and the girls because we were forced to travel more slowly then they did. This was on account of the fact that Rachel and myself were loaded down with Brinn’s belongings. His war helm and shield were hung around Rachel's body, along with three bags full of our equipment and supplies. Rachel could therefore walk but not run. I too carried several bags containing camping supplies, bedding, and food. I was not as heavily laden as Rachel, for I was First Girl and was therefore able to give Rachel the heaviest burden to carry, but even so, I would be out of breath soon enough if we were forced to run for any length of time.

Once you find yourself deep inside the forest the sky seems to vanish almost completely, with only a scattering of jigsaw puzzle size pieces of blue visible through the broken canopy above your head. The air feels rich with the fragrance of damp leaves and loam underfoot. The Northern Forests of Gor are ancient by the standards of the forests in England, with trees that have stood and weathered the centuries, trees with thick trunks and old twisted roots. Down here you felt like you were stalking through a perpetual twilight, insulated from the outside world, cocooned beneath a dense canopy of emerald green. I was a slave-girl and so I walked barefoot and felt the twigs and rough scrapings of bark and leaves beneath my toes. The forest floor is anything but flat, formed instead of ridges, depressions and undulating layers of dead trees, some rotted away and some still present like barricades. Sometimes the forest floor rose up into tree covered hillocks, and sometimes it descended down into boggy marshland, irrigated by slow moving streams. The Northern Forest cares nothing for the common passing of time for in here the slow countdown of seconds, minutes, and even hours seem inconsequential in the face of such primeval nature. The only measure of time beneath the canopy is the immutable cycle of daylight and darkness. Even then the forest is more in tune with its seasons: spring brings a natural rebirth followed by the delights of a warm summer, the darker days of Autumn and the eventual chilling bite of winter.

The forest tolerates us, it does not welcome us. I am always aware that I am treading carefully in a forbidden land that has never been tamed, measured or contained by human kind.
This forest was alive with layers of sounds echoing in the cool mid-morning air from the drone of humming insects to the croaking of frogs hidden beneath broad leaves. Bushes were decorated with spider webs holding delicate drops of morning dew, glistening in the first shards of sunlight. We passed through a copse of what seemed like dark spruce trees standing like ancient guardians of the way, leaning towards one another, black and forbidding, past stout oaks, some straight, some bent as if from labouring against the winds for centuries, and then there were trees I didn't recognise, twisted, gnarled, knotted, leaning, squat, always green with moss, and often shaggy and covered in lichen. I stepped over interlacing roots, and pushed through thick undergrowth, across bare earth, and occasionally sucking pools of mud.

And always, behind us, came the band of Panther Girls.

The further we walked, the more trees there were. I didn’t know whether a denser forest would work to Brinn’s advantage or theirs. It would certainly render their short bows ineffective unless they moved in very close, and that might put them within reach of Brinn’s sword charge. But on the other hand they would almost certainly know the region better than we did, and the cover of the trees might allow them to outflank us. And at some point we would surely have to stop to rest? What then?

“We could go back, Master, to the Exchange Point? It is not too late?”

“No. They are only women.” I could see Brinn’s pride was hurt and offended by the very suggestion that a group of Panther Girls might be enough to make him run back to safety with his tail between his legs. That was never going to happen.

The visibility in the outskirts of the forest was still good enough for us to see the Panther Girls as they calmly stalked us. I began to despair of the attempts Brinn made to stop, turn round and advance on the girls with his sword. He was making himself look stupid, because the girls would simply back away, taunting him, and the effect would make him angrier and angrier. It was part of their game I think and he was falling for it.

“If you want to fight, then come here and fight!” he screamed eventually, brandishing his sword now without the shield, for his shoulder was stained with blood under the linen dressing.

“We’re just weak girls,” said Aphris, “what chance do we have against such a mighty warrior?” The other girls laughed. Some of them struck suggestive poses as they leaned on their spears. They were all incredibly beautiful and desirable in their tight, revealing animal skins.

“We dare not approach you any closer, Brinn of the Sardar Mountains, for fear you will seize us and enslave us. What hope do we have in your strong, cruel arms?”

“We would be helpless and in your power,” laughed another of the girls who carried a short bow and quiver, rather than a spear.

“My name is Essenya!” cried out a brunette Panther Girl with long strands of animal teeth hung about her neck. “Why do you not catch and Master me?” She mocked the dancing style of slave-girls before him in a comical fashion.

“It will be dark in a few hours,” said Aphris as she leaned on her spear. “Will you camp, or walk blindly in the dark? Your pretty slave-girls look tired. Shall we let you rest for a while?”

Brinn snarled and ran at the girls. They shrieked in surprise and separated, darting in different directions through the loose tree line. Brinn locked his gaze on the girl who had taunted him with a mocking slave dance and ran for her, but as he did so, three of the Panther Girls ran towards us.

“Master!” I screamed, seeing hard eyed Panther Girls darting now towards Rachel and myself, with spears and capture nets. Brinn realised this just in time and, cursing, doubled back to scare them away.

“They’re trying to lure you away from us!” I said, amazed at his recklessness. “They have capture nets in their sacks! They want us, not you...”

“So I see.” Brinn stiffened as an arrow sank into the ground mere feet away from us. A Panther Girl with a bow, perhaps twenty feet away from us, notched a second arrow, but then disappeared back in amongst the trees the moment she saw Brinn reach for his far more powerful hunting bow. I do not think she had actually aimed to kill, but rather to keep us moving.

“Move,” said Brinn, conscious that their bows would be effective only so long as the tree cover was thin. Once we were in denser terrain they would have to move in dangerously close to be of any use, and the Panther Girls would be reluctant to do that. Nevertheless, a dense tree line presented other concerns to us. We might not see the capture nets and spears coming before it was too late. 

We hurried now, fast walking, much to Rachel’s discomfort. She was struggling with the heavy shield, and the war helm, crested in a Corinthian style, thumped against her chest with each hurried step she took. It had been looped around her neck and hung from binding fibre. The sacks slung across her shoulders swung around her as she stumbled along. Burdened like this, we could not prevent the Panther Girls from moving ahead of us if they so wished.

By mid afternoon Rachel and I were exhausted and needed to rest. Brinn knew this and reluctantly told us to sit down while he stood between us with his sword drawn. He had picked up the shield again and was sweating as he raised it with his left arm. I could see the strain in his eyes as he held it upright in case of arrows.

“Are your pretty slave-girls feeling tired, male?” called out Aphris. “We should warn you that the Forest is home to Panther Girls who are far less friendly and kind than us. The Daughters of the Golden Sun control this area of the forest. They hunt men who travel through their domain. Why not travel with us for protection?”

“I do not need the protection of women!” snarled Brinn.

“Oh but you do. You would be so much safer with us. All we ask is you leave your weapons behind, for we fear what you might do to us otherwise. We will then protect you with our own spears and knives.” There was much sniggering from Aphris’s other girls. “We like to protect handsome men who enter the forest...”

“Perhaps we will let you fur with us by our camp fire,” laughed Nessa. “You seem handsome enough. Wouldn't that be nice?”

A soft rain began to fall, hissing and pattering on the canopy cover of the bowed branches high above my head. I sneezed, feeling cold in my camisk, but knowing we didn't have time to stop so that Brinn might pull a waterproof poncho from our bags for me to wear. Some times I hear people talk of rain as a gentle pitter patter, but to me raindrops on the foliage of a forest sounds like dancing feet. The rain on Gor can be savage and unpredictable. Rain can strike a flat roof like a hail of bullets, or it can hammer down in sheets of water, varying from driving rain to sudden showers to perhaps just a chilly haze sparkling in the air before you. Little droplets of water began to drench my hair and skin, and soak the fabric of my camisk. The water droplets grew larger, falling with greater intensity as the light ‘pitter patter’ of rain evolved into wet thuds against the canopy roof. And then just as suddenly it died down to a vague mist in the air once more. My feet were muddy, slick with damp earth between my toes. I was practically running now, as in the distance behind us I heard the first hunting cries of the Panther Girls who had grown bolder still.

Panther Girls have various signal calls – a certain whooping and hollering that carries over half a pasang if the acoustics are right. They do this to alert other girls in the forest that they are on the hunt, and that they too should follow the sounds and lend aid. When you hear the hunting cry of a Panther Girl pack you have good reason to begin running, because very soon girls will be coming at you from all directions with spears, bows and capture nets. Be you a man of Gor or a helpless slave-girl, know only that these fierce, proud hunters seek to run you to the ground and chain you in steel bracelets.

Brinn took his powerful hunting bow from his back and notched the string in place. Gorean bows are not typically carried in a pre-strung fashion, because doing so weakens the pull. Unlike the Panther Girls who carried light short bows, capable of being pulled by a woman, Brinn's bow required a great deal of physical strength. I saw him suddenly slide to a halt, notch an arrow to his bow string, and spin round in a fluid movement just as a couple of girls appeared in the misty distance. The great bow was raised and Brinn pulled the bowstring back to touch his right ear. Then he let loose with the arrow, but his aim was poor, affected by his weak left shoulder that made his grip tremble under the strain of the pull. The arrow thumped into a tree trunk, maybe two feet away from a blonde Panther Girl. It was enough to make her scream in surprise and jump back into thicker cover.

Brinn drew a second arrow and fired again at the second girl. Again he was unable to hold the bow firm and at that distance he missed again as his left hand shook. This time his arrow disappeared into thick bushes.

A couple of arrows shot past us. The Panther Girls on the whole weren't particularly experienced at firing short bows at moving targets, but if we remained where we were, one of them might get lucky. Brinn drew a third arrow, causing spots of blood to appear on the dressing on his shoulder, and this time he hit a girl in the left leg. She screamed as the shot threw her backwards onto the ground. Now the other two girls that I saw went running back, out of sight, afraid of facing Brinn's great bow, for they did not know each shot was causing him considerable pain.    

“Master, we should keep moving,” I said as I stood there, my hair wet from the rain shower. Brinn nodded and gestured for us to move ahead of him, while he watched for further signs of pursuit. “How is your shoulder?” I asked.

“Bad. I'm bleeding again. I think a couple of the stitches have torn.” The strain from pulling such a powerful bow would not have done him any favours.

I heard more hunting cries coming from my left, answering the cries that emanated from behind us. More girls were being drawn to this area, keen to help in bringing down a man. They would still be wary of Brinn, and in particular getting close to him, but as the Panther Girl numbers swelled, their fear of his sword would reduce.

Rachel staggered, and almost slipped in some patches of mud as she continued to labour under the weight of Brinn's shield across her back and shoulders. As he saw that, Brinn seemed to make up his mind and he seized Rachel's arm to stop her in her tracks. Then, reluctantly I guess, he freed the shield from its straps and threw it away into the nearest bushes. The war helm that hung across Rachel's chest, he removed and placed on his head.

“I'm not going to be able to use the shield with my shoulder the way it is, and it's only slowing us down. Keep moving.” He swatted Rachel's ass and she yelped and ran forward, now able to move a lot more quickly.

Panther Girls begin a hunt feeling very cautious and wary of men. Then comes the tipping point when they seem to work themselves into a sort of group hysteria, and they grow more reckless and begin to take chances, testing the man or men that they hunt, probing for weaknesses or opportunities. Like animals, once they scent weakness, the hunting frenzy takes over and they close in for the kill, or more usually the capture. I could sense they were getting close to this point now as it became apparent that Brinn could not simply shoot them all down with his bow.

I think Brinn was beginning to realise that he had been stupidly overconfident in allowing Aphris's band of girl to follow us. He should have turned back to the safety of the Exchange Point rather than permit them to trail us into the Forest. But male pride can be a stupid thing at times.   

And still we were too heavily burdened with bags and sacks. Brinn tore them away from our bodies and cast them behind us. Our camping supplies, spare clothes, bedrolls, tools, food, all the things we required for our expedition were thrown away to enable Rachel and myself to move quickly through the trees. I heard cries of delight from Panther Girls as they pounced on the supplies, tearing open the sacks to reveal the valuable contents. Brinn had hoped the looting of our possessions might buy us enough time to outrun the girls that were now pursuing us, and maybe that would have worked had he done so earlier, but now we had bands of Panther Girls closing in from the sides as well. I ran, terrified, with Rachel on my left and Brinn just behind in the rear.

And then they came for us. Brinn turned, drawing his sword, as a number of Panther Girls ran screaming out of the tree line to the right of us. There were six girls, maybe seven, carrying spears and capture nets and they shrieked with joy as they saw a single male and two slave-girls. Brinn raised his sword and ran at them, but as he did so, more girls appeared from our left, and they too had spears and capture nets. I ran blindly forwards, knowing we were in danger of being surrounded, and as I did so, girls began to emerge from the bushes ahead of us. Two girls laughed as they ran at me, arms outstretched to catch themselves a squealing slave-girl. The third girl ran towards Rachel.

One of the girls coming towards me carried a capture net made from strong hemp-rope, with leaden balance weights attached to the sides. When the circular shaped net is thrown correctly, the weights enable a spreading effect which should in theory envelop its target. The weights then cause the net to wrap around the target upon impact. Capture nets usually have a stronger thread running around the perimeter of the net which enables the Panther Girl to tighten it around the opponent once he or she is netted. This makes subsequent biding and restraining so much easier.

The girls were working in unison against me as I skidded to my right hand side. The girl with the spear prodded and thrusted to steer me into a required place while the girl with the capture net prepared her net for throwing. I shouted for help from Brinn, but he was now engaged with a line of snarling and spitting Panther Girls, knocking their spear points aside with his blade and sweeping in under their guard. I saw one girl go down with a stab wound to her side, but sudden thrusts with spear points from other girls meant Brinn had to turn and face them rather than finish off his first opponent. Now the girls kept their distance, jumping back the moment Brinn brushed a spear away. As soon as Brinn committed himself against one girl, the other girls would force him to abandon his original target by jabbing at his back. They were now encircling him, though Brinn was able to break through their line so long as they remained disorganised and afraid to commit themselves. Unfortunately for Brinn, he was further hampered by wanting to protect Rachel and myself, but we served as nothing more than a distraction as he had to continually parry spearpoint after spearpoint rather than run to our help. Lacking a shield, Brinn was unable to exploit the confusion and inexperience of the Panther Girls in close combat.

I ran to my left, only to find a spear jab forcing me back again. Now the other girl raised her weighted net and cast it up into the air. It opened itself up from the centrifugal pull of the weights and flew directly towards me. I had just enough time to see the third girl running towards Rachel, eager to wrestle her to the ground for another girl to then bind, but Rachel sprinted forward and launched a stiff palm strike at the girl's nose. There was a crack of cartilage breaking as the girl was flung backwards. Rachel dipped her left hand down and seized the hilt of the girl's knife from a belt sheath. Then, kicking down with the heel of her left foot, Rachel stamped into the girl's solar plexus, disabling her. With a backwards glance at my un-rescuable situation as the thrown net hit and enveloped me, Rachel ran straight on into the tree line ahead of us. Another Panther Girl emerged carrying a capture net, but before she could disentangle it and prepare it for a throw, Rachel had ran past her and sliced upwards with the knife edge, drawing blood across her neck.         

And then Rachel was through the encircling line of Panther Girls and unencumbered by any of Brinn's equipment was free to flee at top speed through the forest, but where she would go and what she might do, clad in a collar and camisk, with pierced ears and nose, I had no idea.

I fell, entangled in the weighted net as the Panther Girls pounced on me. One began tightening the thread along the net's perimeter, closing it around me like a draw string while the other Panther Girl rolled my netted body over onto my stomach, found my wrists and quickly braceleted them. I was caught!

Brinn was now fighting for his life, or rather his freedom, as fifteen to twenty Panther Girls gathered in a circle around him. They were laughing, knowing the numbers were now overwhelmingly on their side. Most of the girls carried spears, but three of them carried capture nets that they were already preparing to throw. 

“Come to Aphris,” said the Panther Girl leader as she waved her spear point in Brinn's face. Other spear points were also jabbing playfully from all sides, forcing Brinn to keep turning around, smacking them away with his sword. I suppose they could easily have killed him now, but they didn't want that. The first net was thrown, and Brinn hit it in mid air with his sword. It wrapped about his arm, and this was the cue for the other two nets to be thrown while Brinn was distracted. They wrapped around him within a couple of seconds of one another, and then the girls rushed him, screaming with joy.

“I have a man!” yelled Nessa as she reached Brinn first and kicked his legs out from under him. Brinn was struggling furiously as the weighted nets entangled his body. Nessa threw the weight of her body on to his, pinning him to the ground while he was caught in the hemp ropes. “Nessa claims the man!” Other girls reached Brinn and began driving sharpened stakes through the open pores of the nets, and into the soft earth, in effect  trapping Brinn so that he couldn't struggle free or get up.

“A woman has taken you,” shouted Nessa with joy as she put her face through the holes in the net to suddenly kiss Brinn on the lips as a man might suddenly kiss a bound and helpless girl. 

I struggled of course in my own net, for all the good it did me. The Panther Girl who had so skilfully cast the capture net over my body crouched down in the grass and turned me round so she could gaze down at my face.

“I know you, don't I, pretty little silk slave girl,” she said with a smile.

I knew her too. It was the Panther Girl called Tallia who had captured me.  

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