Friday, 12 May 2017

Panther Girl of Gor Chapter Twelve

Chapter Twelve: Lake Siljin

We're nearing the end now. Can you feel it? Can you feel the disparate threads drawing together in this woven tapestry of fate? Oh God, I tried to make that sentiment sound as poetic as I could, but looking back at it I realise only too well that I'm not a poet. I'm so near the end now that much of this is relatively fresh in my memory. I can still smell the burnt flesh from the flame strike that devoured Seremides's shield wall, and I can still hear in my head the raucous sound from the terrified birds and animals that had survived the divine intervention of the Priest Kings from the sky.

But I'm still no nearer to guessing who I'm writing this for. I thought perhaps that as my account grew in length I might remember some small thing that would answer that nagging question in my head. I do have one thought, and unlikely as it seems, I'm going to voice it aloud.

Are you Tarl Cabot? I mean, are you? Because wouldn't that be ironic if after all the many times I've espoused theories about Tarl Cabot being a series of different men taking on the name to further the ambitions of the Priest Kings,  and even having speculated that there hasn't been a Tarl Cabot in decades, wouldn't it be ironic if that is exactly who I'm writing this account for?

Are you Tarl Cabot, sitting in some curule chair in your house in Port Kar, with enslaved beauties such as Vella chained to a slave ring at your feet as you read these pages? Did Vella ever really exist? Do you still take an interest in the affairs of the Kurii and of Priest Kings, and do you send for written accounts of momentous events that threaten to shatter the uneasy balance of power on this savage alien world?

It's a wild guess. But there it is, on paper now.

I think you're Tarl Cabot, if only because that is the most incredible theory I can come up with, and it would be just so ironic, after all I have said about you.

But I guess I'll never really know, will I?

But perhaps it's not really me that you're interested in. Maybe by now you've become fascinated with the ultimate fate of the former Miss Rachel Evans of Oakhampton? Have you become enamoured with her through these writings? I think she has the power to capture many hearts, my own included. Do you scrutinise each chapter of my writings for clues as to her eventual fate? Do you secretly fear the worst for her? Well, you haven't long to wait now before you have the answers.

Rachel was an amazing woman. I do not think I will meet anyone like her ever again.

And oh God, every day I miss her so very much.   

As darkness began to fall over the Northern Forest, Brinn wasted no time in looting the bodies for anything that might prove useful. He had his eye in particular on one of the bows carried by the handful of huntsmen that had served under Seremides.

“At last - a man's bow,” he said with pride as he strained his muscles to bend the taut long bow and fire an arrow that pierced two inches into a tree trunk. He loaded three quivers with the best arrows he could find, and draped two of those quivers over my shoulders to carry. The third he carried himself. He also helped himself to provisions and some pouches of gold, silver and gem stones which again he placed into a small sack and tied it to my back.

That night we camped maybe half a pasang from the cliff face where I had slaughtered Seremides's men. I expected Brinn to say something, to congratulate me for what I had managed to do, but he was uncharacteristically silent on the matter. I had never seen him brooding quite so much, and again my thoughts strayed to Rachel's comments that he really didn't have a plan.

“We wait now for the Panther Girls to return,” he said as he built a camp fire and began to cook some meat. “Serve me paga in the meantime, Emma.”

He had of course ordered me to remove my Panther skins and burn them.

“You are dressed inappropriately for my tastes. You're not a Panther Girl, Emma.” Brinn gave me a simple slave tunic to wear instead that he had found amongst the supplies. I pulled it on over my body and wriggled it tightly over my curves. Then I served him paga on my knees while he continued to brood and stare into the flickering camp fire light.

Night was falling by the time the line of Panther Girls returned, pushing cautiously through the tress, wary of the possibility of running into Seremides's men. Sabina and Marilla were the first to appear, and my heart sank as I saw Rachel follow, for she was stripped naked now, her wrists tied behind her back, and led on a chain leash clipped to her collar. The girls had evidently turned on her as she had feared they might do. I could see marks on her lower back and thighs where one or more of the Panther girls had beaten her once they had forced her to submit. Another couple of Panther Girls followed, and then I saw Erin being led on a leash too. Like Rachel she had been stripped and beaten, probably for daring to dress in Panther skins.

“Tal, male,” said Sabina as she entered the glade and observed Brinn sitting cross legged by the camp fire with his weapons laid out nearby.

“Tal, Panther girl,” he said, apparently pleased to see them. “Come join me. I have meat and paga. You are welcome.”

“Excellent.” Sabina grinned and tugged Rachel forward. She had been crying and looked so dejected. All her plans and bravery had come to nothing. “And we have two slave-girls who have been posing as Panther Girls. Aren't they pretty?”

“So I see.” Brinn drank some of the paga and watched as the Panther Girls lined up beside their new leader. There were eleven girls in all. “I take it you do not tolerate such a thing?”

“We do not,” snapped Sabina as she cuffed Rachel for good measure with the back of her hand. “Kneel, slut!”

Rachel knelt and lowered her head. She looked tired and worn out. Her lower legs and bare ass were covered in dirt.

“She wore a collar and she could not remove it,” said Sabina in derision. “Only slaves wear a collar that they cannot remove.”

“That is very true,” said Brinn. “You did the right thing. I would have thought less of you if you had not. The collar suits her. It would be a shame for it to be removed.”

“I assure you it will not be, male.” Now Sabina sat down beside the fire, cross-legged like Brinn, and she motioned for her girls to sit where they liked. She seemed very pleased with Brinn's reaction to her capture of Rachel and Erin, and she wasted no time in helping herself to paga and cooked meat. Erin was made to kneel beside Rachel. “We thought you might be interested in buying one or maybe both of these girls. They are for sale if the price is right.”

Brinn gazed first at Erin, and then at Rachel as they knelt in the grass with their heads bowed down. For Erin this was just another change in fortune, but for Rachel I sensed this felt like the end of all her attempts to survive on the planet Gor. She had been struggling against insurmountable odds for over forty years, and now at last it seemed she had finally given up. Fresh tears rolled down her cheeks as she knelt before her captor, and now she truly looked like she had no strength left with which to resist. She had been so strong for so long, and yet she hadn't been able to save herself from the collar. But still she had fought and clung on to the hope that she might eventually save herself and me too.

“What do you want for Erin?” asked Brinn as he sipped his paga.

“She is pretty don't you think?” Sabina made Erin lift her head as she gripped her long hair in a fist. “She would be eager to please you in the furs, like the slut she so obviously is. Do you wish to try her first?”

“She is very beautiful. But that will not be necessary. What do you want for her?”

“Beg him to buy you,” hissed Sabina into Erin's ear. “Beg him to buy you or I will cut your nose off with my knife and then both your ears.”

“Please buy Erin, Master,” said Erin as she parted her thighs and looked with desperate longing at Brinn. She knew that Sabina's threats were only too real. Sabina obviously intended to make a good sale here and now, or not at all. She had a lot of work ahead of her to rebuild the Panther band and perhaps steal now vacant territory for herself, and therefore she wished to be rid of excess baggage such as a couple of captured slave-girls. “I have been trained in the slave pens of Banu Hashim and I know how to please a man. Please buy me, Master.” The edge of a sharp knife hovered close to Erin's nose as she spoke to Brinn.

“Your price, Panther Girl?”

“A silver tarn,” said Sabina, obviously opening with a very high price that she expected Brinn to barter down.  

“Agreed.” He took a coin from his pouch, one of many that he had taken from the warriors I had killed, and he flicked it towards the Panther Girl who caught it in her left hand. She seemed surprised that Brinn hadn't haggled, and was perhaps annoyed that she had not anticipated such a thing and had not instead opened with a higher asking price.

“And the other girl?” Sabina untied Erin's wrists and unclipped the chain leash. She pushed Erin towards Brinn, and I saw her crawl quickly away from the Panthers towards my Master. Now Sabina placed her curled fist in Rachel's hair and drew her face up for Brinn to see it in the firelight. I had never seen Rachel looking so abjectly miserable before. All sign of hope was gone from her eyes.

“I'm not interested in the other girl,” said Brinn to my surprise. “You can keep her.”

“Master!” I said sharply, touching his arm in dismay. “Please... that is Rachel! Rachel!”

“I know her name.” Brinn growled at me. He seemed angry, even though I had only hours before saved both our lives. “She tells me she is not a slave. So be it. I am at war with the Kurii and I do not have the time nor the inclination to break a girl into slavery. Therefore I will not buy her. The Panther Girls can sell her at the Exchange Point, or they can slit her throat here. It matters not to me.” He sipped some more of the paga.

A cold chill ran down my spine as I gazed at Brinn in mounting horror. “Please! You have money! Please don't do this! It's Rachel! It's Rachel!”

“She tells me she is not a slave. I am only interested in buying slaves.” He did not look at Rachel as he said that.

“Oh God...” I turned now and looked at Rachel, who was of course staring in numb disbelief at Brinn's comments. She felt the knife edge at her throat as Sabina snarled and hissed at her.

“If I can't sell you, slut, then you're not worth keeping,” said Sabina. The point of the blade drew a thin prick of blood as I watched. Rachel held herself very still, knowing if she flinched she could very well cut her throat on the knife edge.

“Please buy me, Master,” said Rachel as she gazed directly at Brinn. I could see how terrible it was for her to have to speak such words, to plead for her very life, but Sabina was prepared to cut her throat open if she proved to be of no value to her.

Brinn shrugged and drank his paga. “I only buy slave-girls. You, I am told, are not a slave-girl.”

Several seconds ticked by and I feared that Rachel was going to let herself be killed, such was her complete and total misery now. There was such a look of despair on her face – the look of a woman who had just been through so much and had no strength left to continue.

“Rachel, please... don't leave me,” I begged. “Don't leave me. I need you.” I reached out with my hands to her and I was crying too, for I could see that my friend was teetering on the verge of suicide. “I love you, Rachel, and I can't lose you. Please! Do not give up! Do not ever give up and leave me here alone!”

She gazed at me then, and perhaps found some last spark deep within herself to continue, after all else had failed her.

“La Kajira,” she said, as she gazed back up at Brinn. 'La Kajira,' which are the words in Gorean that mean, 'I am a slave-girl.' Brinn lowered his cup of paga as he heard Rachel say that.

“You proclaim yourself a slave-girl?”

“Yes, Master.”

“Then perhaps I will buy you after all.” Brinn turned his attention back to Sabina. “What do you ask for her?”

“Three silver tarsks,” said Sabina, upping the price she had set for Erin. I don't think she expected to get such a high price, but she was starting high in order to barter down to a price above a single silver tarsk.

“I will not pay three silver tarsks for her,” said Brinn. Again I glared at him for I knew he had plenty of money now looted from the corpses of Seremides's men.

“Master, please, do not do this. This is Rachel!”

“Be quiet, Emma.” He was ignoring me, concentrating only on Sabina and Rachel who knelt before her.

“Then what is your counter offer, male?” said Sabina angrily as she drew the flat of the blade alongside Rachel's throat.

“My counter offer is this.” Brinn picked up a separate pouch from his satchel, one that he had prepared earlier, perhaps in anticipation of Sabina bringing Rachel to him as a captured girl for sale. “I will offer you a realistic purchase price, based on her qualities as a slave, and not one copper tarsk more.” And then he opened the pouch and counted out a number of coins that he placed on a flat stone beside the camp fire. There were thirty coins in all, taken from Seremides's mission funds, and they were all of gold, minted in the city of Ar. “That is my offer. That is what I will buy her for. No more, no less. It is my only offer.”

No one spoke for a while. Sabina stared at the thirty golden coins in silence. It was a crazy price for even a superbly trained pleasure slave, let alone an untrained girl like Rachel. A gold coin is said to be worth more than a labourer might earn in a whole year on Gor, and corresponds roughly with the sum of £20,000 in UK currency. Brinn had just offered to purchase Rachel for £600,000. Erin, in contrast, he had bought for a silver tarsk, ten of which equal a gold coin.

“Are you insane, male?” said Sabina as she quickly scooped up the fortune in gold and untied Rachel's hands. She unclipped the leash chain from her collar.

“Hardly. I am in fact only offering you what I can afford, not what she is actually worth. I am, I believe, getting a bargain.” He looked now at Rachel and smiled. “This woman is worth far more than thirty Tarn discs of gold.”

Brinn had chosen this place to camp for the night because he had spotted a tree trunk lying across a trough like depression in the ground that suited his requirements. It had no doubt fallen from a combination of old age and high winds at some point as the shrivelled root structure stuck out at one extremity. For a good fifteen feet or so the trunk lay free of the ground by a depth of two to three feet from the gradual curve of the forest floor. The Panther girls had remained with us for maybe half an hour, discussing with Brinn what had happened in the forest while we had run from the warriors belonging to Seremides. We learned that there had been a great battle between the forces of Kurgus and the superior forces of Miss Bentley.

“It actually looked like Kurgus was going to win,” said Sabina as she tore at a piece of meat with her teeth. “His men were very disciplined and loyal to him.”

“But?” said Brinn as he stabbed a piece of meat on the point of his knife. He had not fed Rachel, Erin or myself. He seemed to be ignoring us as he spoke with the Panther girls and fed only himself. My stomach was rumbling as I smelled the cooked meat. Occasionally I looked up at him with hunger, but he refused to meet my gaze. Did he not know I was hungry? What was wrong? I had saved our lives? Was that not worth at least some food? I grew angry with him, with this inexplicable silence, and I turned my face away, hoping he might sense my displeasure and react in some way, but still he ignored me.

“But Miss Bentley had five of the great beasts with her.”

“Ah.” Brinn nodded. “They charged?”

“Yes. And three fell into a deep spiked pit carefully disguised on one of the flanks of the formation. It seems Kurgus anticipated an attack by the Kurii on either of his flanks. Apparently he had subtly invited it by what seemed to be an error of judgement on his part. He is clever.”

“Kurgus is not clever. He is simply the enemy.” said Brinn with a scowl. “And he murdered the greatest man I have ever known. I will not accord him the honour of such a compliment.”

“But still,” said Sabina, “there are now three dead Kurii in a deep spiked pit.”

“And the other two?”

“Kurgus killed one. The other broke his shield wall.”

“Kurgus killed a Kurii?” Brinn shook his head in disbelief.

“Yes. He may be a man, but I now have a grudging respect for him.”

“How?” Brinn finished the meat and wiped the grease from his hands on my hair.

“With an axe, apparently. A great axe.” Sabina helped herself to some more of the meat.

“That's it? He just killed it with an axe? That's all there is to it?”

“He severed its throat with the axe as it lunged at him. His men had to pull him out from under the beast's body.”

“And then?”

“The Bentley woman outnumbered his surviving and broken shield wall three to one. The surviving Kur was tearing his men apart. He lost.”

“Good.” Brinn rubbed his hands together. “One more enemy dealt with, though I had looked forward to killing Kurgus myself.”

Brinn sat silently for about half an hour after the Panther Girls had left. I think that was because he didn't truly trust them not to remain close by. He sat facing away from the camp fire, so that his night sight would not be ruined by the fire light, and he simply listened to the sound of animals and birds in the forest, for where there is the sound of animals and birds, there is unlikely to be people. 

Only once he was satisfied that we were now truly alone did he rise and motion us towards the fallen tree trunk.

“What are you doing?” asked Rachel as Brinn lay her on her stomach along the length of the freely suspended tree. He tied binding fibre to her left wrist, drew it under the curvature of the trunk and then secured the other end to her right wrist, pulling it taut so that her arms were now held tightly, either side of the trunk, such that she couldn’t rise from where she lay helplessly on her belly. Brinn then did the same with her ankles until she was firmly secured in place with her back and ass exposed.

“Please, no.” said Rachel as she shook her head to clear her hair from her eyes, for she could see that Brinn had removed a five bladed slave whip from his satchel and had lain it on the rough bark of the fallen tree, just behind her bare feet.

“Lie on the trunk on your stomach, head facing Rachel, Emma,” said Brinn. Now it was my turn to look at him in nervous apprehension.


“Do as I say, Emma. I’m going to whip you both.”

My face must have turned white with shock as I saw Brinn nod in response to my reaction. Brinn had not really whipped me since he had bought me, but now something had changed. He seemed cold, angry, and I could see he meant to teach us both a lesson.

“Whatever I’ve done to anger you, please, I am sorry, Master.”

“Not as sorry as you will be, Emma. Lie on your stomach.” The look in his eyes made it clear how much worse my punishment might be if I hesitated to obey. And so I lay down on the tree trunk, facing Rachel, and stared into her eyes and then Brinn set about binding my wrists and ankles in the same fashion about the trunk.

“To be clear, I take no pleasure from whipping a slave-girl.” He tightened the bonds on me and drew my head up by my hair so that I was looking straight at Rachel. “You will look into one another’s eyes during your whipping. If one or the other of you breaks eye contact, I will recommence the beating from the first stroke for both of you. Understand?”

“Please, Master…” I lay there perfectly still, but I could see Rachel wriggle and test her bonds. They were of course perfectly secure. Brinn always knew what he was doing when he secured a girl.

“I am very angry with you. Emma. You carried a concealed weapon. And not just a blade, but a weapon specifically prohibited by the laws of the Priest Kings. Do you have any idea what the penalty is for a slave-girl to carry a weapon, let alone use it?”

“I did it to save our lives…”

“Another Master might have had you killed for such a serious thing. I will however be lenient and give you twenty lashes of the whip.”

“Twenty! Oh God, no, please, no…” now I did struggle in my leather bindings. I knew what twenty strokes of the lash would do to me. It would be horrible beyond anything I’d endured save the confinement in the narrow hole in Patashqar. “Please, Master have mercy…”

“And as for you.” He turned now to regard Rachel. She looked just as scared as I must have been. “You too carried weapons while you were a collared slave-girl. A spear and a knife. These were not in breach of the Priest King edicts, and so you will receive half the lashes Emma will receive. But you are also owed lashes from the time you failed to call me Master. Also, you dressed yourself in panther skins without my permission. For that a further four lashes. Is there anything you wish to say, Rachel?”

“Please, I can’t take a punishment like that…” We were both distraught, I’m sure. I reached out with my fingers and found I was able to touch Rachel’s with both hands. Brinn had tied our wrists so that we might be able to hold onto one another’s fingers if we so wished. I squeezed Rachel’s hand and she squeezed mine back as we stared at one another in a state of impending shock.

“I know this will be very painful for you both, but your actions were very serious. Neither of you will ever touch a weapon without permission ever again, nor will you dare to cover yourself with clothing not provided by me. The punishment next time will make this seem trivial in comparison.”

Brinn picked up his whip and shook the strands loose. He began by sliding the leather blades across our skins and watched as we trembled to its touch. I wanted to close my eyes, but I knew if I did so, or if I looked away from Rachel’s eyes, the punishment might never end. There was a sudden crack and I screamed and my body shook as the first blow was delivered sharply across my back. A repeat of that blow was then struck on Rachel in the same place and her scream seemed even louder than mine. Brinn paused to allow the pain of the first blow to resonate through our bodies before he laid down second and third strokes. We were both weeping by the time of the fourth and fifth blows, and I felt Rachel’s nails dig into my hand as we clutched at each other for support.

The seventh, eighth and ninth blows of the whip seemed to explode in a fiery haze as every inch of my back seemed to be on fire. I think Rachel was begging Brinn, like she had never begged before, but Brinn paid no attention. After the tenth blow he did however address her.

“What are you Rachel?”

“A slave-girl, Master! La Kajira! Please, please!”

“You say that now, but maybe tomorrow you’ll claim to be free inside, not a slave-girl at all?”

“No, Master, I’m a slave, your slave!”

“I don’t believe you.” The lash came down twice more, and to our horror he added, “Those two strokes are in addition to your punishment, those strokes are for lying to me, claiming you don’t truly believe yourself to be free.”

“I’m a slave! I am a slave!” howled Rachel. She was delirious with pain now. The look of suffering in her face must surely have reflected my own. Now I again felt the lash and it was my turn to cry and beg for mercy. It hurts so much! We were both howling and promising to obey as further strokes of the lash came down. I could no longer feel the rough irregular bark under my stomach, for all I could feel was the searing intense pain of the whip. Again and again it seemed I was being beaten. Surely I had received more than twenty strokes by now! And then Brinn paused again to address us both.

“I will have no more disobedience. No more taking dangerous risks. No more planning behind my back. You are both slaves if you remain with me. No more. You do not presume to know better than me, you do not presume to think you need to take action against my enemies on my behalf. You are just slaves, and if you cannot be perfectly pleasing and obedient in all things, then you are of no value to me. I take the risks, not you. Kiss the whip, Rachel.” He pressed the blades of the whip to Rachel's mouth and watched as she licked and kissed it. Then he did the same with me. “Speak, Rachel. Tell me something that will end this punishment, because I do not enjoy hurting you.”

“I'm your slave-girl, Master. Please do not beat me again. I'm not a Free Woman any more, I'm not a Panther Girl. I will do whatever you say. Please do not beat me any more...”

Rachel was broken. She was finally broken. I could see it in her eyes. She could take no more. She lay there trembling, unable to even think straight any more as Brinn held the whip strands where we could both clearly see them.

“This is your last chance, Rachel. If I hear one more presumption that you are anything but my slave...”

“You won't, Master, you won't. Just please...”

“Very well.” Brinn folded the whip and replaced it in his satchel. Erin had watched the whole affair from her knees close by. Now Brinn signalled for Erin to tend to us with water and soothing salves. I watched as she searched in my medicine supply bag and found what she needed.

Rachel said nothing for the rest of that night. She just lay on the grass, curled slightly, crying. I curled up next to her with Brinn's permission and held my friend close to me. Brinn took Erin in the furs and ravished her throughout the night, but Rachel and myself were past caring. We had saved Brinn's life. We had both done what this Gorean superman without a plan had failed to do. We had both achieved something in the war against the Kurii. I held Rachel and kissed her, and in the darkness I felt for the ring of red metal that I had secreted within my sex for safe keeping. I held it hidden in my left hand and I thought of Brinn's stubborn and inflexible demand for obedience in all things. I looked at my friend Rachel, and saw what he had done to her. I felt confused. In one sense I wanted Brinn sexually, but on the other I was angry now at his ingratitude. Perhaps he felt embarrassed that two slaves had saved him from capture and then death. Maybe the Gorean male pride cannot accept that, and if so maybe it is a failing of Gorean men as a whole, and Brinn's actions were simply a consequence of his upbringing, but I was furious with him. I was in pain. Rachel even more so. Rachel couldn't stand pain. It was her one weakness. I held her so close and I felt so in love with her. She had sacrificed so much for me.

“Promise me you'll use the ring to escape all of this,” said Rachel eventually in a quiet whisper as we lay together. “When I give you the opportunity, take it. Otherwise this will never end. You can't stay here, Emma. You will die inside eventually. When I give you the opportunity, run for Skaffel Peak, and don't look back. Promise me.”

I held Rachel for a long time, not saying anything. I don't think I have ever loved anyone as much as I loved Rachel that night by the camp fire. We healed each other that night with some of the things we said to one another. I will not repeat them. Some things will remain a secret even in this frank and honest account that I am now writing. We spoke for maybe a couple of hours and we shared everything. I told Rachel the truth about myself, and it turns out she had always known, and she didn't care. Kurgus had told her of course, like he had told Tallia in Corcyrus.

“I was a Ziggy Stardust fan,” she said, “do you honestly think I'd have a problem with androgyny?”

And then sometime in the morning we kissed. And I mean kissed. And quietly, very very quietly, as Brinn slept nearby with Erin in his arms, Rachel and I made love, the way two girls can pleasure one another. It was soft, it was gentle, and it was wonderful.

We clung on to the last shreds of night as dawn threatened to break and with it a return to the reality of what we now faced. For we were very close to Fell's Bane, to Lake Siljin, and our final moments together were drawing to an end.

“Promise me,” said Rachel with the last shreds of her determination. “I will buy you an opportunity with my life if necessary. Promise me, Emma.”

“I can't leave you,” I sobbed. “I love you, Rachel.”

“Promise me, or I swear, Emma, I have nothing else to live for now.”

And so I promised her. I promised her that I would take my chance when it came my way, even though it meant I would abandon her to her fate on Gor.

And I hated myself for saying that, even though it is what she wanted.        


Fell’s Bane was visibly poisoned from many years’ prolonged exposure to the leaking radiation emanating from the breached cargo container that had been jettisoned during what must have been an erratic and damaged flight from the attacking forces of the mysterious Priest Kings. The canister itself was the size of a small bungalow and it lay wedged at an angle in a crushed area of blighted marsh land. The vegetation surrounding the area was shrivelled and desiccated, with only the hardiest of weeds surviving the poison that even now must still be seeping into the water. The air smelled stagnant with decay like rotting cork and mould intermixed with a foul miasma that even the birds avoided.

Death had come to Fell’s Bane, and it held dominion over the stunted and decayed extent of its realm. Only the bravest of water rats came anywhere near the place and even then we saw on occasion their dead and decaying bodies, lying on their backs in puddles, stomachs bloated and burst where other forms of carrion wisely refused to pick their bones clean.

I was reminded of the black and white pictures I had sometimes seen in books and Television programmes of the sombre battlefields of the First World War – mud flat wastelands punctuated by dead tree stumps and blasted firewood. A hellish vista in which nothing lived and where the mutilated carcasses of farm animals lay half submerged in thick cloying mud. Fell’s Bane was in a sense a deep depression in the land, possibly made deeper still by the impact of the cargo hold that had ploughed a deep furrow through the forest, levelling trees to either side of its path. Steep banks of earth, barely sustaining a few shrivelled clumps of dried weeds, rose on either side, and it was here that we saw the encampments established by the victorious Miss Bentley. Scaffold platforms built from thick timbers housed primitive cranes and lifting tackle that was being used with the aid of winches and pulleys to lift enormous crates of weapons and equipment from the dank splintered mire in which they lay. The remains of her army oversaw a large number of male slaves that constituted a makeshift work force as they struggled, often thigh deep in the dank filthy mud, to manoeuvre the crates and barrels up on to the lowest part of the slope where other men in collars and work chains laboured to secure the winch cables in place.

“They have the weapons,” said Brinn grimly, and for a moment I felt like saying to him, 'well what do you expect? You’ve come here with hardly any plan except to improvise on the spot and now that you’re here you can see the impossibility of your task.' But I was a slave-girl, and that would be disrespectful, and I did not wish to be beaten later for speaking my mind. We lay on our bellies on the distant side of the ridge that overlooked Fell’s Bane and we hoped and prayed that we were well out of sight of the main body of Miss Bentley’s warriors.

“I count maybe thirty five men with spears. There must be more. We need to be careful as she’s likely to have men posted around the perimeter.”

And then I saw her – Miss Bentley – still dressed in her calf length skirt, hooded hunting jacket with tailored waist and laced sleeves, and knee high boots. She stood on one of the raised platforms that jutted out on thick beam supports over the precipice of the sunken pit, with her last surviving Kur by her side. It was the largest of the two Kur that spoke to us that evening at Kurgus’s camp, and it looked like the Lord of Hell now, for it had dyed rich patterns of an esoteric and perhaps occult nature in its fur with a blood red ink. It sniffed the air as we watched and it seemed to say something to Miss Bentley as she nodded, and pointed out into the vastness of the marsh land that was Fell’s Bane where naked collared men were hoisting a large crate with a symbol that was only too familiar to me – a nuclear symbol.

“They have some of the plutonium devices,” I said to Brinn in a whisper as I motioned towards the crate now being lifted high into the air. “It will probably kill them in the long term, unless they took the same medicine that we did.”

Brinn motioned to another platform set back from the main camp. It was a raised platform, again constructed from timbers, and its elaborate build suggested that Miss Bentley had been here now for some days, possibly well before she had fought Kurgus. No doubt it had been simple enough to work out that Fell’s Bane was the location she sought once she questioned her Panther Girl allies and heard of the symptoms of radiation poisoning in the area. Seremides of course would not have understood this. I guessed she had found Fell’s Bane maybe two or three days before she had walked into our camp with her Kurii bodyguards. The platform was raised high above a clearing and it resembled the Tarn cot platforms I had seen before in Corcyrus – platforms where Tarn riders might land safely while mounted on their giant birds.

“She will fly the most important weapons from here by Tarn,” mused Brinn.

“No wonder they call it Tarn Strike,” I said. I felt Rachel crawl beside me and lie down in the earth on my right hand side. I felt her left hand surreptitiously touch mine – our fingers brushing in intimate contact, unseen by Brinn.

“She could in theory fly the explosive weapons directly to the Sardar. Tarns would not arouse any particular suspicion. They could be detonated soon after arrival.”

I felt a tremble of excitement as Rachel squeezed my fingers and stroked the back of my hand without looking at me. I didn’t dare show any sign of this new found arousal to Brinn. Curiously I had seen little interest from Gorean men in the fantasy that was exceptionally common on Earth – that of two beautiful girls kissing and making love to one another while the man watched. Gorean men it seemed were not especially interested in such a thing, when the alternative was to have both girls for himself.

“What are we going to do, Master?” I asked. I hoped Brinn wouldn’t notice the slight breathlessness in my voice as Rachel now touched my inner thigh with her hand, out of Brinn’s sight.

“I am of a mind to try a shot with my bow at the Bentley woman.”

“Is that wise? If you miss…”

“I will not miss. I will stand, take careful aim, and fire. The range is good. She is a clear target, and she is exposed on that platform. If I have time I will then continue to place arrows into the great Kur until I see signs that the warriors are coming for us. The more I think about it, the more obvious the solution is: cut off the two heads of this expeditionary force and watch the remaining men succumb to inertia through a lack of leadership. Perhaps I will then stalk the remaining men in the forest, taking them out from cover, one bow shot at a time. It worked once for Tarl I recall.”

I didn’t like the sound of this at all, but who was I to argue?

Brinn reached for his bow and threaded the string to it, straining to hold it bent long enough to notch the string in place. He still hadn't fully recovered from his shoulder wound, but I knew there was no point in suggesting to him that maybe he should use a lighter bow until he was fully recovered. He crouched, and I knew he was clearly visible now if anyone cared to look in our direction, but I trusted him to take his shot quickly without too much risk. Rachel and I exchanged glances as Brinn suddenly stood, placed an arrow to his bow, bent it until the string touched his ear, and then he fired.

The thing about the long bow is you don't actually aim properly if you bend the string all the way back to your ear because you can't sight all the way down the arrow as you might do if you simply pulled the string back to the point of your eye. For an experienced long-bowman a shot is therefore dependent on experience and intuition, knowing just where the arrow point will strike. Brinn had practised with the bow many times, but he was not an archer, not like a peasant might have been. He missed with his shot. I saw it sail across the ravine and fly past the standing figure of Miss Bentley. She turned, apparently unperturbed by the sudden attack and as she did, so did the great Kur. Brinn reached for a second arrow as the beast sighted us and roared in a voice that echoed around this bleak, parched wilderness.

Miss Bentley however simply grinned, took a step forward on her wooden platform and spread her arms wide, exposing her chest, inviting us to take a second shot. She was clearly insane, for Brinn was about to do just that. I saw his hand tremble a little from holding the bow – another sign that his shoulder wound was still tender, and then he let fly with a second arrow as Miss Bentley didn't even flinch. The arrow smacked hard into an oaken shield that the great Kur suddenly lifted in front of the woman. I saw her laugh and step forward again, now in front of the shield, still with her arms spread wide, inviting further attacks.

But now her men were running along the edge of the ravine towards us, drawing swords from scabbards, alerted by the whistling of the arrow shafts and the roar of the Kur.

“Master! We can't stay here!” I cried.

“I almost have her.” Brinn's wounded shoulder arm trembled again, and I could see he was over compensating from the stress and importance of his shot. He fired a third time but again the arrow tip struck the shield of the Kur who had moved to protect Miss Bentley once more.

“I will get her,” snarled Brinn as he reached for another arrow, but Erin snatched the quiver away and screamed at him:

“We're going to die if we stay here on this pathway!”

Brinn was about to shout something at her but then Rachel tugged at his arm and he reluctantly looked round to see ten swordsmen maybe fifty yards away and closing. His chance was gone, and Brinn reluctantly recognised the fact.

We ran.

We ran until we felt sure the swordsmen were no longer following, because of course what we had just done had all the makings of a trap – fire some hopeless shots at the enemy, stand around until they got close, and then run to lead them to a pre-arranged ambush point with concealed warriors waiting. Only of course we had no concealed warriors to back us up and there was no trap, but they didn't know that, and only the most foolhardy warrior would have discounted the ever-so likely possibility.

By the time we slowed, gasping for breath, we were somewhere in the forest perhaps halfway between Fell's Bane and Lake Siljin on our maps. Brinn called us to halt so that he could consult the navigational tools he had taken from Seremides's forces.  
“Rachel, do you know of this vessel that is hidden beneath the lake?” Brinn pointed at the position on the map. “Erin told me of it last night when I made full use of her in the furs.”

Rachel sniffed as she heard him say that. We had both heard the passionate moans from Erin throughout the night as Rachel and I had lain together, healing one another with soft words. Erin was no different from the two of us it seems when Brinn was fucking her. Or rather she was different, because in her face I could see no shame, no embarrassment at having had her most intimate arousal made public before the two of us. It was as if she didn't care that we had been witness to her slave-like responses.

“I've been a slave a lot longer than you, Emma,” she said to me later when I asked her about her night with Brinn. “I long ago came to accept what I become in the furs. You will too, I suppose, in time. You should still fear the opinions of Free Women when you respond like a slave, but you won't care what other slaves might think. Especially ones who are perhaps jealous because their Master is fucking me instead of them.”

Rachel of course knew about the Kurii ship. She knew a lot of things about Kurii dispositions on Gor during her forty years in service to Kurgus.

“It’s a small space ship that landed in the centre of the lake during the Nest War of the Priest Kings sometime in the 1970s. I’ve never been there, but I know of it. During that time the Priest Kings were in disarray fighting one another and we were able to slip through their defences without being spotted. Because the ship has remained under water since then, the Priest Kings are unaware of it.”

“How is it that the water hasn’t leaked in to your ship?” asked Brinn.

“It’s a space ship. For travelling through space,” said Rachel as she rolled her eyes.

“Explain. I have not seen one of these ships.”

“Well it doesn’t use sails.” Rachel sighed. “It’s air tight, sealed. I guarantee you water won't get in.”

“What is it doing there, under water?”

“I have no idea. It’s mainly been used as a hidden base. Different people have used it over the decades. There was a lot of tracking work routed through its servers in the 1990s. I didn’t have anything to do with the data gathering analysis. I suspect there are probably various pieces of hi-tech scanning equipment located close to the lake with feeds into the ship. Probably cables buried under the shore line that snake through the water.”

“I have no idea what any of that means,” snapped Brinn.

“It receives and processes information from across Gor,” sighed Rachel.

“How do you board the ship?” asked Brinn.

“There’s a concealed hatch on the shore line which opens into a buried tunnel made of flexible metal, like an umbilical cord, large enough to walk through. That tunnel emerges from the sea bed once the water is deep enough and it then runs along the bottom of the lake and connects to the airlock of the ship. You simply open the hatch, climb down and walk through the flexible tube. Kurgus told me the hatch isn’t locked, but the airlock on the ship has a key code. There are motion sensors near the hatch entrance, controlled by a box panel close to some rocks. The alarms can be deactivated before you pass through the motion sensors if you know the code, otherwise alarms go off inside the ship and the men in there will know you're coming”

“Do you know the code?”

“Yes.” Rachel nodded. “Kurgus gave it to me. 'Golden Klaw' was to be our back up plan in the event of losing to Miss Bentley. I had orders to fall back and regroup in the ship for safety. I assume Kurgus had a backup plan that he would use in the event that Miss Bentley reached the atomics before he did.”

“And that back up plan was?”

“He didn’t tell me. Kurgus kept his plans very much to himself, especially after the betrayal by Seremides. I assume there must be weapons on board the ship.”

“Using them would bring down the flame strike from the Priest Kings.”

Rachel shrugged. “Knowing Kurgus he had some way round that. He wasn’t prone to committing suicide. I really don’t know. Maybe it’ll be obvious once we’re inside Golden Klaw and…” Rachel suddenly noticed Erin was trying her best not to laugh. “What?”

“Sorry, it’s just…” she glanced at me and saw I was trying not to laugh too. “Well, it’s called Golden Klaw…”

“And?” Brinn looked very impressed. “I may have my differences with Kurgus, but I have to admit he has a talent for coming up with strong, proud names for his projects. First ‘Tarn Strike’ and now…”

Erin and I looked at each other and we couldn’t help ourselves now – we burst out laughing.

“What?” Brinn looked very confused. “What’s so amusing about powerful sounding names for military operations and resources?”

We said nothing, and tried our best to stifle the giggles as Brinn frowned, still not comprehending what the names sounded like to us. Obviously irritated, he made to change the subject.

“I think my best course of action now is quite clear. We shall head to Lake Siljin, locate this hidden ship and enter it. Once inside I will undoubtedly figure out what Kurgus had planned, and then I shall use those resources to destroy the atomics before they can be flown to the Sardar Mountains.” Brinn considered the possibilities. “Is there likely to be any long range communications equipment on board this ship?”

“Yes. Very likely,” said Rachel.

“Excellent. In that case we shall seize control of the interior and make use of the communication channels to contact the Sardar Mountains. We shall simply alert them to the threat and await the wrath of the Priest Kings. They will destroy our enemies while we sit secure inside the Kurii vessel.”

“You know how to contact the Sardar Mountains by radio?” asked Erin.

“No, but we need merely keep one of the men on board alive and persuade him to operate the equipment for us. I knew I could improvise a plan on the spot. Tarl would be proud of me.”

“I could probably get us inside without fighting,” suggested Rachel. “No one on board Golden Klaw is likely to know I abandoned Kurgus. I have the pass codes that will identify me as a high ranking Kur agent. Provided I give them, I should be able to get us onboard and probably gain access to the channels you need, for they will acknowledge me as an ally.”

“Do you think me stupid?” said Brinn with a smile. “Do you think I’ll let my slave-girl identify herself to her men and then command them to seize me? No, we shall gain a stealthy entrance to the ship after you disable the motion sensors, and then I will kill any of the warriors on board who stand in my way. We will then be in control. It is an excellent plan. It is a plan worthy of a warrior of the Priest Kings. Tarl would approve.”

Tarl, Tarl, Tarl. I was beginning to wonder if there was some sort of Bromance going on between Brinn and this mythical Tarl that I should know about.

Rachel just shrugged again and lowered her gaze. “As you wish, Master.”

We set off then for Lake Siljin, and he journey took us the better part of five hours, after a few false starts. By the time we reached the edge of the forest bordering the grasslands surrounding this side of the great lake, it was clear that we weren't alone.

We saw them as soon as we emerged from the concealment of the tree line. I don't know how long they had been walking, but they seemed to be headed for the same destination as us: the hidden circular hatch on the shoreline of Lake Siljin that opened into a long telescopic underwater tube which in turn was connected to the airlock of the Kurii spaceship that lay at the bottom of the water. They were walking along the shoreline of the lake with the water's edge on their right hand side.

I recognised Kurgus immediately, and I could see from the way he clutched his ribs with his left hand that he had been injured. Tallia was close by, walking on his right hand side as a sword brother might do, and behind them trailed a line of thirteen men and six girls – presumably all that he had managed to salvage from the bloody battle with the forces controlled by Miss Bentley.

“They have no bows,” said Brinn with a smile.   

Gorean men talk a lot of shit about the glory and honour in war. I have heard such terrible rank hypocrisy in my time on Gor, and I have come to the conclusion that for all their talk of martial brotherhood and obeying the codes of their caste, Gorean warriors are little better than their Earth counterparts. What occurred that afternoon at the side of Lake Siljin was not the glorious combat espoused in the heroic annals of paga halls, but rather cold blooded slaughter to achieve an end. Kurgus’s men had made the retrospectively fatal mistake of throwing away their shields in the forest to enable them to move quickly and quietly away from Miss Bentley's pursuing warriors, and now they paid the fatal price for that decision. As they circumnavigated the shoreline of Lake Siljin, they were essentially trapped on their right hand side by the water's edge. They could move forwards or backwards along the line of the lake, or they could move towards Brinn, Rachel, Erin and myself. Their destination, the hidden bunker door of the coiled undersea tunnel that led to the sunken spaceship in the centre of the lake was still ten minutes away. Brinn ensured they would never reach it.

Brinn had three quivers of arrows with him, and he handed the first to me to hold, and the second to Rachel to hold. Erin, he instructed to draw arrows from one or the other of the quivers and pass them on to him as he fired each shot. We were maybe twenty five yards away from Kurgus, Tallia and their men and women when Brinn shot the first arrow into the body of one of Kurgus’s toughest looking men. He dropped with a scream, immediately alerting the others to our presence. Kurgus had twelve men still standing, and Tallia had six girls. Brinn had over sixty arrows.

The second arrow was on Brinn’s bow string before Kurgus even knew where the first shot had come from. I think maybe he realised this was the end as the next arrow killed the second of his men. Brinn didn’t stop there. Two of his next four arrows hit, taking out further men. Now two of the remaining warriors ran towards Brinn, kicking up loose earth as they drew their swords. They didn’t stand a chance of course. Brinn took his time and killed them both with three out of five accurate hits. We walked parallel with Kurgus and Tallia as they gazed at us, and they watched as Brinn notched further arrows to his bow string. He took his time, not caring to hurry. Only if a man tried to make a futile attempt to run towards him, or perhaps forwards or backwards along the shore of the lake, did Brinn send a couple of arrows into his chest or back. He concentrated of course on the men, leaving Tallia’s girls alone with their spears and their short knives. I think Tallia was snarling as she saw Kurgus’s men being cut down, but like Kurgus she was powerless to intervene with out any bows of her own.

“Fight me!” shouted Kurgus as he drew his own blade and began to walk slowly up the slope towards us. “Fight me, Brinn!” He thumped the hilt of his sword against his chest and stared in anger at my Master as he ignored Kurgus’s challenge and placed an arrow in the chest of another of his men.

One of the Panther girls tried to flee, and Brinn shot her in the thigh, bringing her down in a cloud of dust. He motioned with another arrow that the girls should huddle together close to the edge of the lake and not attempt to flee again.

“Fight me!” Kurgus strode purposefully forward, now just ten yards from where Brinn fired again and took out another of the warriors. The last two of Kurgus’s men threw down their swords in surrender, but Brinn didn’t care. He shot each one in cold blood in the chest without mercy before calmly turning his bow on Kurgus.

“Coward!” screamed Kurgus. “I challenge you, Brinn of the Sardar Mountains! I dare you to fight me one on one; Kurii warrior against Priest King warrior! Fight me you cowardly fuck!”

“You wish me to fight you like you fought Marcellus?” enquired Brinn as he kept the arrow trained on Kurgus. He motioned for Kurgus to stop. “No further, Kurgus, or I will shoot you down where you stand.” They were five yards apart now.

“I fought Marcellus one on one. I gave him that dignity as a warrior to another warrior. I showed him respect!”

“Did you,” said Brinn with a sneer. “You fought a brave man, well past his prime, a man with a lame leg. How brave of you, fighting a cripple who had nowhere left to run.”

“I gave him the dignity of facing me with a sword in his hand!” snarled Kurgus. “The codes matter to me. Apparently not to you.”

“Do not speak to me of the codes, Kurgus. Do not suggest we are brothers in any way because we both wear scarlet. You are my enemy. You plot the downfall of Gor. You would enslave us all to savage beasts from another star system. Such treachery transcends the codes of our caste. I owe you no dignity, no forms of respect.”

“Don’t you? I spared your fucking life, you miserable piece of Priest King shit! I had archers who could have shot you down the morning of the battle with the rebel forces, but I spared you!”

“You spared Rachel, and you did so because you felt guilty for the way you had treated her over the years. I just happened to be with her. Had I been on my own you would have killed me. I owe you nothing. You killed the greatest man I have ever known. You killed him in close combat knowing that with a lame leg he was no match for you. And you call that courage. I have no respect for you, Kurgus. I spit on your presumption of honour.”

“You fucking piece of shit, Brinn. I have more honour in my right arm than you have in your whole fucking body. I have always obeyed the codes Always! You call me the enemy? You call me the villain here? At least I have honour! At least I keep my word! At least I acknowledge bravery and respect my enemy when he deserves it! You are far worse than me, Brinn. I have heard some of the things you have done in the past to combat your enemy. The ends justify the means for you as much as they do for me. You are no noble, gallant champion of good. You’re a cold blooded killer, no different than any of us.”

Brinn smiled now. “You wish to fight me one on one as you did with Marcellus?”

“Yes! Fight me, Brinn. Fight me with a sword in your hand!”

“Then I will fight you as you fought Marcellus.” Brinn suddenly shot Kurgus in the left leg. I watched as the arrow pierced his thigh with the point protruding from the other side of the limb. Kurgus screamed briefly and dropped to his one good knee.

“There. Now you shall have the same fair fight that you offered Marcellus.” Brinn now handed his bow casually to Erin. We were all shocked I think by what he had done. It was contrary to the codes of the warriors, from what I knew of them, and I could only assume Brinn was filled with so much hatred for the death of my Father that he was prepared to act like this.

“This is what you are, Brinn?!” screamed Kurgus, his face red with rage. “This is the honour and courage of the Priest Kings? Is this what our caste has become over the years?”

“You are welcome to plead and beg terms,” said Brinn as he drew his sword. “I cannot promise to offer them to you, but you can try if you wish.”

“This is as good a place as any to die,” said Kurgus as he pushed himself stiffly back onto his feet, his injured leg trembling with the effort. “This is as good a place as any to die.” He stuck the point of his sword in the ground for a moment and then placed both hands on the arrow shaft that had impaled his left thigh. With a grimace he snapped it at the feathered end and then, as we all watched, dragged it out through his wound. Blood spilled down his leg as he limped forward, picking up his sword again by the hilt. “To the death then, Brinn. To the death.”

“As you wish.”

And so they fought, the sole surviving men beside Lake Siljin, and of course with his fractured ribs and lame leg, I knew Kurgus was doomed. But what a swordsman he was. It was clear from the offset that he was superior in the art of the blade to Brinn, and I began to wonder whether Brinn had secretly known that and needed to bring the odds back in his favour. Honour and respect are all well and good when all is said and done, but only when you know the odds are in your favour to begin with.

Their blades clashed as Kurgus moved incredibly quickly with his weapon, turning it from cut to thrust to parry and back again with blinding speed. His sword play was a series of pre-rehearsed manoeuvres designed to exploit any mistake an opponent might make, but he lacked the ability to move quickly with his feet, and that meant he was effectively rooted to the spot, trying not to fall, as Brinn in turn danced backwards and forwards, stepping out of reach and then rushing in with the weight of his body behind his own sword play. Both men drew blood, amazingly so in Kurgus's case as he seemed to fool Brinn into moving to the left when he instead attacked from the right. But Kurgus was handicapped and I think he knew it would be the death of him.

I glanced at Rachel and saw her stunned expression as Brinn now forced Kurgus to stumble backwards, almost falling in the process. She stared at the man for whom she had left Earth of her own volition to come to this planet in the belief that he loved her. I cannot say what she felt that day, what her true feelings were for Kurgus as she saw his very last stand. Did she still have any feelings for him, especially in light of the fact he had spared her life when he could so easily have killed her, or worse? I don't know, and I never asked her. I think now she was still numb from the shock of the vicious beating that Brinn had given her, and she was in no state to mentally articulate what she felt. I was like that after the punishment I had received in the Slave Pens of Banu Hashim, and I can understand completely. Even to this day my time there has left its mark on me, and I remain terrified of confined spaces.

And then of course Kurgus's wounded leg could take no more, and in trying to cut through Brinn's guard as he skipped several paces back, he overreached himself and fell. For a moment I thought it might be a feint, a ruse to draw Brinn in close for a well rehearsed killing blow, but no, his wounded leg could take no more. And then Brinn ran forward and kicked Kurgus square in the face. I heard the crack of his heel against Kurgus's nose, and I saw Brinn club down with the hilt of his sword against Kurgus's skull. Kurgus slumped, momentarily dazed, and it was enough time for Brinn to then stab his sword through Kurgus's right hand to make him lose his blade.

“You want to die with a sword in your hand, don't you, Kurgus?  I was once told you have Torvaldsland blood running through your veins. You want to feast with your old Gods in Valhalla – that is what you call it? But to do that you have to die with a sword in your hand. I will not give you that honour.”

Brinn was cruel. He kicked the blade away, across the grass, where Kurgus could not reach it before the killing stroke found his chest or neck.

“You dishonourable piece of Priest King shit,” swore Kurgus as he he lurched up onto his knees, blood streaming now from his wounded hand. “You refuse me an honourable caste death? You would do that?”

“Yes, and then I'll have your carcass quartered and left for the forest sleen to eat, Kurgus. No funeral pyre or grave for you. You killed the greatest man I have ever known. I'll leave you to rot here, alone and forgotten.”

“And I would have killed you in fair combat, had you not been so scared of me,” said Kurgus as blood now streamed from his broken nose, down past his lips, and down his chin.     

“Think what you like, Kurgus, for now you die, on your knees, like a crippled dog.” Brinn raised his sword arm for the killing blow.

“No!” Suddenly Tallia stood before Kurgus. She carried no weapon, and I think in his blood lust for revenge in the name of my father, Brinn might well have killed her had she been carrying one. But she was unarmed. Her surviving girls stood beside the edge of the lake, their eyes focussed on their leader as she faced Brinn down.

“Step aside, Tallia,” said Brinn. “Kurgus is going to die by my blade.”

“And I say he is not. You say you owe him nothing, male, but you do owe me a blood debt. I saved your life. Nessa would have killed you under the lash of the snake. I challenged her for your life and I won. By the codes of the warriors you owe me a life. I claim this one.” She motioned towards the fallen Kurgus who knelt bloodied in the dirt, unable to rise.

“Choose another life, Tallia. This one is mine to take,” said Brinn.

“I choose Kurgus. You will not kill him.”

“And I say you choose again. The codes of my caste allow me to tell you to pick a second life if I wish to reject the first.”

“In that case, Brinn of the Sardar Mountains, by your own admission you are honour bound to accord me the second name in place of the first if you insist on doing so. And know then that the second life I choose is Emma.” Tallia pointed towards me.

“You can’t have Emma.” Brinn snarled and for some reason stepped slightly to the side to shield my body from Tallia, even though she was hardly able to take me by force.

“Kurgus or Emma, or forfeit your codes, male. What is it to be? Kurgus or Emma, or betray the honour of your caste, for you have no feud with me, and so there is nothing you can claim as a vendetta to justify betraying the debt you owe me. Was Kurgus right? Are you truly without honour?”

“He killed Marcellus!”

“That is nothing to me. It is just name. You owe me a life, male. Kurgus or Emma. The choice is yours.”

“There is no need to barter for my life,” said Kurgus as he stared up at Brinn. “I will die the way I have lived. I do not need a woman to plead for my life.”

“Kurgus or Emma, male,” said Tallia as she stood her ground, unarmed, daring Brinn to strike her down in direct forfeiture of his codes. “Or dishonour yourself in the all seeing eyes of the Priest Kings who are all around us.”

“I will not forget this, woman,” said Brinn. “I owe you nothing after this. Nothing, once we are done with this.”

“Kurgus or Emma. One or the other.”

“Take him. Take him and run. And hope that we never meet again.” Brinn sheathed his sword and took hold of my left wrist and pulled me to him. “I will never give you up, Emma. Not to anyone.”

And as I gazed up at Brinn I was suddenly deathly afraid of the kind of man he could be when he was angry.

Kurgus coughed up some blood, possibly from his fractured ribs, and to his surprise, Tallia knelt down and checked his face.

“Your nose is broken, I think,” she said. “I will set it as best I can, but it may be crooked from now on.”

“Like I give a fuck,” said Kurgus. He gazed back at Brinn. “I killed a Kur with an axe in my hand, Brinn. Tell me who is the better warrior when you have achieved the same thing.”

Brinn said nothing. He simply held me and watched as Tallia set Kurgus's nose back in place with a crack.

“I have been betrayed by everyone I have ever trusted,” said Kurgus to Tallia. “Except for you. I will not forget what you have done for me today. When we return to Corcyrus, you will have a place of honour by my side as my equal, and let anyone dare say to me that you are otherwise and I will feed them their own guts.”

Tallia smiled and, cupping Kurgus's head in her hands, kissed him fiercely on the lips, drawing blood. When she pulled away she simply said, “we are not going back to Corcyrus, male. I told you I wanted you in my collar, and now I shall have you in my collar.”

“What?” Kurgus stared at her, dumb struck.

“You are mine now, Kurgus, and I will take such pleasure from you. We shall live in the deepest, most secret glades of the great forest, and I shall become a Ubara amongst the Panther tribes, and you will be my chosen slave above all other slaves, to pleasure me fiercely in the furs at night.” She suddenly rose and snapped her fingers to summon her surviving girls. “Take him and bind him. He is mine now.”

“Tallia!” Kurgus screamed her name as the other girls descended on him, laughing, delighted that they had the mighty Kurgus as their pleasure slave. As Brinn and I watched, they pushed him to his belly, stripped him of his clothes and bound his wrists. He struggled wildly, but with his wounds, lack of blood, and fading strength, he was helpless against so many fierce girls.

“I will teach you to please me in the furs, male,” said Tallia in delight. “There are so many things for you to learn when it comes to pleasuring a Panther Mistress. I have wanted you in my collar since the very first day I stood as your captive in your great hall and I looked upon you, and I thought to myself, I shall have that man, and he shall serve me in a collar and chains in the Northern Forest. You will be my love slave and I will never sell you.” Tallia laughed and rolled Kurgus onto his back to admire his cock. With her fingers she aroused him to an erection, much to the amusement of the other Panther Girls. “And I think you want me too, male. Your body will always betray you. Men are so easy to arouse.” She laughed again, delighted with the turn of events.

And then Tallia leashed Kurgus and with a last glance at Brinn, she led him and her small band of girls away into the forest depths. 

I felt we were doing nothing but walking, moving from one beleaguered location to another, always reacting to events rather than anticipating them. I could sense the frustration Rachel must be feeling, for she was a woman who knew how to make plans and formulate a strategy, but Brinn had that cocksure belief in himself that meant he just assumed things would work out in his favour. We followed the shoreline of the lake for maybe half a pasang before Rachel noted the arrangement of rocks that Kurgus had told her of.

“Here,” she said. “This is it. The hatch will lie across the grassland between the rocks and the lake. Somewhere here will be a hidden box with the motion sensor switch. May I, Master?”

Brinn nodded. “But no tricks, Rachel. If I think you are signalling your people to ambush me, you will regret it.”

“They are not my people. I didn't work for them out of choice.”

“So you say,” said Brinn. “But then you've said a lot of things since I've known you, and not many of them have been true.” He placed his hand on the sword hilt in his scabbard as Rachel knelt between the rocks and brushed away some weeds to reveal a steel box with a lid. Inside the box was a digital display and a keyboard. We watched as she typed in a series of numbers. The digital display then switched to a countdown timer starting at five minutes and counting down in what appeared to be earth seconds.

“We have five minutes to open the hatch,” said Rachel. “Perhaps we should have located it first...” She quickly got to her feet and ran towards the shoreline, gazing down at the earth for signs of any disturbance or camouflage. We followed close by.

“Rachel, what happens if the clock ticks down to zero and we've not opened the hatch?” I asked.

“Alarms go off,” she said as she dropped down to hands and knees again and began scrabbling around.

“And then?”

“Nothing good, I expect, Emma.” She had an intense look now as she brushed with her hands, and with a nod, Erin and I joined her, sweeping away loose Earth in the hope of finding some metal. It was Erin that located the edge of a metal wheel and quickly we all ran over there to help her clear Earth from the steel hatch cover.

“This hasn't been used for quite a while,” said Erin as she cleared the wheel completely.

“It's possible the men inside the ship have a submersible vehicle as well as this hatch,” said Rachel. “Kurgus didn't say.”

Together we turned the wheel and heard tumblers inside the door rotate and click. Now we were able to swing the hatch door up and we gazed down into a circular drop of maybe eight feet, with a ladder running down one side. Halogen lights flickered on inside the umbilical tube as soon as the hatch door opened. The air smelled cold, dank and unwelcoming, and there were signs of condensation dripping from the inside of the tube, but otherwise it seemed safe and secure.

Brinn went down inside first and he switched on a hand held energy bulb just in case the interior lighting failed at some point. Erin lowered herself down next, followed by me and then Rachel, who swung the hatch door shut.

“Are you sure you don't want me to bluff our way through, Master?” Asked Rachel. “There could be a lot of men inside?”

“I'm sure, pretty little Kajira,” he said as he slapped her bottom suddenly without warning and laughed as he saw her flinch and squeal. “You worry too much. Tonight, once we have secured this Kurii vessel, it will be your turn to serve in my furs, Rachel. You'll be a lot happier in the morning after a few rich slave orgasms,” he said with a chuckle. I saw Rachel blush and look away, embarrassed by Brinn's tendency to discuss our sexual responses quite so openly.

The umbilical tube snaked its way along the length of the lake bed until we saw a steel airlock up ahead. There was another keypad, covered by a snap-clasp metal lid on hinges. Rachel lifted it away with a click and typed in the same code sequence. Now the airlock door hissed, rotated and opened to reveal the inner airlock door. This did not require a key code, though it would only open once the outer door was closed. The secondary door had an observation panel of toughened safety glass, and through it I could see a bulkhead style corridor stretching out for maybe twenty feet or so.

We sealed the outer door of the airlock and then opened the inner, as Brinn drew his sword. And as soon as the inner door rotated open, I heard it.                           

Music was echoing down the corridor from the distant doorway and with a sense of shock I realised this was really old pop music from Earth. How incongruous it sounded on this alien planet – the sound of an old vinyl record complete with pops, hisses and crackle reminding me of my home on the far side of the sun.

'Nobody can tell ya
There's only one song worth singin'
They may try and sell ya
'Cause it hangs them up
To see someone like youuuu...'

I felt an inexplicable sense of warmth and longing at this sound, so familiar, so welcoming, so unlike the music on Gor. I knew the song. I had heard it before, but I couldn't remember the title or the artist, but it was lovely. I glanced at Rachel and she nodded, as startled as I was. She knew it too.

And then we heard the voice, a male voice, out of tune, enthusiastic, but nothing more than that, singing over and above the record, singing in an almost laughable karaoke style, over emphasising each syllable as if to compensate for his lack of singing ability. It just seemed, after all I'd been through, just so ludicrous to pass through a circular hatch into a steel corridor and hear the world's worst karaoke singer belting out a late sixties pop record.

'But you've gotta... mayyyyke your own kind of music!
Singgggg your own special soh-ong
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings... alonnnnng!'

Slowly we crept towards the open doorway, Brinn gripping his sword hilt, Rachel and I continuing to stare at one another in abject disbelief as the off key singing sounded louder the closer we got.

'You're gonna be nowhere, baby,
The loneliest kind of lonely
It may be rough goin'
Just to do your thing
The hardest thing to doooooo!'

But you've gotta... make your own kind of music!
Singggggg your own special soh-ong
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else sings alonnnnng!'

“Stay back,” whispered Brinn as he motioned with his hand. “They may be experienced warriors and they may be armed. I will go in first and kill as many of them as I can before they can sound an alarm.”

'So if you cannot take my ha-hand
And if you must be goin'
I will understandddddd....'

And then Brinn rushed down the remaining corridor length with Erin, Rachel and myself hot on his heels. I think the music from the record player would have drowned out our approach even if we weren't trying to be quiet. We swept through the doorway and I saw Brinn suddenly stumble to a halt at what he saw. It was a large room full of computer monitors, banks of equipment jury rigged with a flurry of cables and wires, and the place was a mess. There were cardboard pizza packets stacked up alongside empty beer cans and wine bottles and cigarette ashtrays and the remains of microwave ready meals, alongside a 9 mm automatic pistol and a couple of clips of ammunition, and some Justice League of America action figures? And DVDs and record sleeves and CD cases and a number of damp T-shirts steaming dry on an electric clothes rack, and posters of Jennifer Lawrence and Scarlet Johansson and...

Dancing in the middle of the room, with a hair brush for a microphone, was a young man, somewhere in his early twenties, with floppy fringe hair, dressed in jeans and sneakers and a Firefly 'You Can't Take the Sky From Me' t-shirt. He was apparently working between two computer terminals, writing code and checking data downloads as he drank coffee from a Batman mug. And he was singing really, really badly.   

'You gotta... make your own kind of music!
Sing your own special soh-ong
Make your own kind of music
Even if nobody else....'

And then he turned round and suddenly saw us and almost dropped his hair brush. Three beautiful slave girls in steel collars and perhaps the most frightening Gorean man with a drawn sword that he had ever met stared down at him.

And the first thing he said was, “Oh, fuck...”

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