Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Kiera of Gor (3)

3: Sadric of Corcyrus

Although my rational mind told me that I couldn’t possibly be on an alien planet, there were three factors now that I couldn’t explain or account for.

Firstly was the fact that I now stood outside the steel hull of what looked remarkably like a space ship of advanced technology, about the length of an Easy Jet passenger plane, but bulkier, and it rested, embedded in a deep trench of scorched earth. The vessel was utterly seamless, with no visible means of propulsion and no weaponry that I could discern. There was a line of devastation that could be seen in the moonlight once my eyes grew accustomed to the night time, from where the ship had perhaps skidded through trees and fields for several miles before coming to rest. Something had happened to the vessel, for the hull on this side was breached with jagged tears and in one place a gaping hole. No doubt pressured bulkheads had sealed off the damaged area or else none of us would have survived what seemed to be a crash landing.

Secondly, there were, as I had already mentioned, three moons high up in the night sky. If perhaps the ship itself could be a fake, I could not see how the moons could be. How can you place two fake moons in the sky, and why would you do so just to make poor Michelle Frost think she was no longer on Earth?

And then there was the third thing – the tug of gravity I now felt was slightly less than I had been used to before. My limbs felt lighter, walking was less strenuous, and my reflexes felt sharper, faster than I might have enjoyed back on Earth. I could see no way to fake gravity, and again, why would you simply do so to make Michelle Frost believe she was on another world?

From the expressions on the faces of Sophia, Eleanor and the other girls I could see the same thoughts were racing through their heads too.

“This is insane,” said the red-head. “No, no…. this isn’t real. It can't be.”

“Be quiet,” snapped Eleanor. She sniffed the air and looked around at the scrubland and the vegetation. She had seen what we now observed, that the plants and trees bore little resemblance to the vegetation we were used to on Earth. Strange plants grew in thickets close to the crash site, their flowers shaped like hungry mouths with serrated edges.

“Do not go near those,” said the English speaking man as he pushed Sophia away from a nearby clump. “They attach themselves to flesh and suck blood out through your skin. They leave abrasive red marks that take weeks to heal.”

I couldn’t believe I was hearing this. I shrank back, fraught with churning emotions as I tried to comprehend everything I was now experiencing.

“Where are we?” I asked. I dreaded the answer.

“According to my instruments before we lost power, we may be one hundred pasangs from the walls of Argentum. We need to keep away from there. We are therefore in the region of the silver cities of Gor,” he said.

“What are you talking about?” said the red-head suddenly. “What is going on? Why are we chained like this?” She stamped her foot in anger and wrapped her arms again about her breasts in an x fashion.

“Be quiet, Kajira. I don't have time for your questions. We need to move out now. We are not presently safe.”

And so we were herded together and walked in a line away from the damaged hull of the spaceship, my own coffle leading, with the second coffle following close behind. The men took position ahead of us (the English speaking man who I now knew was Sadric, as that is the name the other man called him) and Leofric some distance behind us all. The red-headed girl, Miss Sally Peterson, led our coffle, with Eleanor next, followed by me and then Sophia. We walked slowly on account of the fact that we were barefoot and unused to walking without shoes, and because we were chained together by our ankles. Sadric had told us to lift up the connecting chain between our ankles with our left hands – the chain being long enough to do so – so that it would not snag on the ground and slow us down any further. But even so it was cumbersome. By mid morning our stumbling pace had proved such an inconvenience that we were ordered to stop, and one by one the ankle rings were unlocked and re-secured around our left wrists instead. This would enable us to make better progress it seemed.

The summer land through which we travelled was a magnificent expanse of grass and meadow flowers, long grass rustling gently in the fresh breeze. We followed the path of a narrow brook flowing freely, though choked with weeds in places. I spied varieties of tall water-mint with pale lilac flowers, near plants that grew like purple cat-tails. Near the edges of the brook as it grew into a larger, faster flowing river grew the blue-violet Irises, speckled with touches of gold, standing tall and proud in the warm dappled sunshine. This was a vibrant, living world, unpolluted, unspoilt, a place which man shared rather than dominated.

We were burdened as we walked, by various bags and satchels that had been slung over our bodies. The men had spent some time procuring supplies and tools and equipment from inside the hull of the downed vessel, and these things they placed in large sacks and forced us to carry. I myself had a heavy sack full of what I think was food slung around my shoulders, while Sophia carried a number of sealed water containers about her person.

“Where are we going?” demanded the red-head. “You can’t just march us like this! I’m tired. My feet hurt. I’m hungry.”

“Do you wish to feel the slave goad?” enquired Sadric, not pleasantly. The red-head shrank back, frightened, shaking her head in the negative.

The air here smelled fresh and clean in a way that the air in the cities of England never did, though since I had never known anything better, the true nature of clean natural air was not something I had much experience of. The air on Gor made me feel invigorated, stronger, cleaner. And then we saw further evidence that this couldn’t be our world, for high in the sky there was a giant bird, much like an Eagle, but the size of a small aircraft. It flapped and glided well above our heads, and to my stunned amazement I saw a man seated on a saddle on its back. He carried a long spear and wore a scarlet tunic. There were saddle sacks to either side of the giant bird and it was apparent that in this lighter gravity it could carry heavy burdens without too much discomfort. The bird flew past us, though Sadric had ordered us all to drop down into the long grass as a precaution. I did not know why. Was he afraid of the man on the giant bird? Was the man perhaps an enemy of sorts?

I lay on my stomach in the long grass, aware that Eleanor lay just ahead of me, my left wrist chained to hers. I was having difficulty in adjusting to the things I was now experiencing. My mind told me that it was impossible that I could actually be on an alien planet. Things like that did not happen. Especially not to me. And yet the evidence was steadily mounting up all around us.

An hour later I saw a herd of animals somewhat like deer or antelope stampede ahead of us in fright. The hide of this animal was a mottled yellow and brown, and on its head it boasted a single horn of ivory, possibly a yard or so long and two and a half inches at the base. Something had scared them it seemed as I watched them scatter away from the direction of the ka-la-na thickets in which they had been feeding. I watched the graceful alien animals as they ran, and Sophia stood beside me, staring at them in wonder too.

“Those are Tabuk. There is probably a sleen in the vicinity,” said Sadric, seeing my interest in the animals as he unsheathed his sword. “We proceed now with caution.”

“What is a sleen?” said Eleanor. She turned her gaze to the abundance of heavy thickets to our right. That is after all where the herd of grazing animal shad stampeded from.

“The sleen is the greatest predator on Gor, save perhaps for the Larl.”

“Sleen? Larl? I do not understand any of this!” screamed Sally, for she seemed to be close to a nervous breakdown now. “Please stop this! Please make it stop! I can't take any more!” She was crying as she dropped to her knees in the long grass.

“Get up,” said Sadric as he advanced on her. “Get up, Kajira!” He slapped her across the face and that made her howl and cry some more. In response, Sadric drew what looked like a short riding crop from his belt, raised his hand and was about to beat Sally with it! I shrank back in horror at the sight of the raised hand. This was insane! A man was going to beat one of us with a whip! But then Eleanor dropped to her knees beside Sally and, holding out the palms of her hands in supplication to Sadric, convinced him to pause just long enough for her to cajole and persuade a sobbing red-head to rise again.

“He will beat you, girl, do you not understand that?” she said sharply to Sally. “You will be beaten! Look!” She pointed towards the riding crop. “You have to keep moving. Because if you stop we all stop, and I think he would beat us all in response to you doing so.”

“I don’t like this!” sobbed Sally. “I want to go home!”

“I will not be beaten because you are stupid and hysterical,” said Eleanor. “If I suffer because of you, I will make you regret it. So get up and move!” She slapped Sally twice about the cheeks until the girl seemed able to pull herself together enough to stand there once again ready to move out at the head of the coffle. I think Sally found the black girl, Eleanor, rather scary, and I think I understood why. For a mere woman, Eleanor seemed quite fierce and determined. She was certainly stronger looking than either Sophia or myself. It suddenly occurred to me that I wouldn’t wish to anger her. I might even, if I found myself in a place where there were not men to protect me, seek to placate her, so that she might look kindly upon me. Thankfully I did not live in the sort of society where that might prove to be necessary. I did not have to be pleasing towards Eleanor, for she had no authority over me. She was simply a prisoner – just another girl on a chain.

We walked until noon when the men told us we could rest. Gratefully we set ourselves down on a hillock that benefitted from the cover of numerous bushes and thickets. The height allowed us to see anyone who might try to approach our position on foot, and the thickets would give us cover against any aerial threat. I thought back to the man in the scarlet tunic who had been mounted on that giant bird. What manner of world was this where Roman looking warriors tamed and rode war birds through the sky?

I felt ravenous for I had not eaten since the night when I had been seized and taken in my apartment. The men had given us water to drink throughout the day, but food had not been mentioned. I had never felt this hungry before in my entire life. How long had I been without food inside that canister? It was hard to tell as the feeling of utter starvation was new to me. I could see from the way the other girls gazed longingly at the food sacks now slung on the grass that they felt the same way. One girl in the second coffle mewled piteously as she saw Leofric pick out a piece of blue fruit and bite into it. It seemed to be very juicy and sweet looking, and the sight of the juice dribbling down his chin made me quiver with hunger.

Another girl in the second coffle began to beg piteously, extending her hands out to Leofric. Her left wrist was still chained of course, and so she raised the connecting chain in the process. How graceful her arms looked with the the length of steel chain descending from her small wrist. I too was chained, but unlike her I had my dignity and would not beg for food. Obviously we would be fed. There was no need to beg. She was such a fool. Men would not respect her for begging like that. She would do herself no favours in the long run. Let her beg, if she wished. She would feel so foolish when food was finally handed out to us regardless. I gazed at the sacks, my mouth watering. Oh God, I felt so hungry. It must have been several days since I had fed.

Leofric saw the exquisite desperate pleading by the girl in the second coffle. He observed her for a while before he reached into the sack, produced some strips of salted and cured meat and pressed them into her open mouth. He was feeding her by hand! I gazed in shock as she attempted to take the food now with her own hands, but as soon as she tried, he barked an order at her, and terrified, she put her hands back down onto her thighs as she sat there in the grass with her legs folded beneath her. She would not be permitted to feed with her own hands! If she wished the cured salted meat, she would take it between her teeth, strip by strip like some sort of pet!

And feed she did, taking the food bit by bit, and when Leofric looked at her meaningfully after each offering, she thanked him, because he would not feed her again until she did.

I turned my head away now, angry. The stupid fool... I hated her. Why had she acquiesced like that? We would all be fed while we rested. Obviously we would be. There was no need to beg. I watched from the corner of my eyes as the girl seemed to feed well on the strips of meat. How delicious the meat looked. My stomach hurt so much, empty as it was except for digestive juices. I felt weak with hunger at the sight of the food. And now Leofric turned away, leaving the girl to chew on the last of the meat he had offered her.

Where was our food? Where was our food?! Sophia looked at me with concern, as did Eleanor. We all knelt there quivering as Leofric walked past us with the food sack. Why wasn’t he feeding us? He had to feed us!

“Please…please feed me…” said Sophia suddenly as she knelt behind me. “Please…” I turned to see her with outstretched hands now, the wrist chain connecting her to me lifted along with her hand. And then suddenly the pleading for food was taken up by two of the other girls on the second coffle, and then the red-head, Sally, and before I knew what I was saying, I too was on my knees pleading for food. Leofric stood there watching us all for a while and then he regarded the one girl who wasn’t begging for food. He looked at Eleanor who, despite her own hunger, resolutely refused to beg to be fed.

Leofric said something to us all and then walked away. Sophia began to cry, and I felt angry.

“Not all of you are hungry, it seems,” said Sadric as he ate from some bread and cheese and smoked meats. He regarded Eleanor who bit her lower lip, wanting desperately to be fed like the rest of us, but too proud to do so. “It is good that you are not as hungry as I feared you might be, for we will need to marshall our food stocks until we reach a village where trade is welcome.” He bit into the bread and the cheese and the smoked meat. “Perhaps when you are all hungry we might see about feeding you.”

I gazed in anger at Eleanor. Oh, so it was her fault we weren’t being fed! She refused to beg! Did she think she was so much better than us? How dare she deprive us of food! I could see the other girls on both coffle chains felt the same way as I did, and Eleanor now looked very uneasy, surrounded by girls who had good reason to be angry with her.

“I’m starving!” I hissed at her. “We would have been fed if you hadn’t been so proud!”

“That’s what they want. They want us to beg, to depend on them,” said Eleanor, though there was an edge of fear in her voice now.

“So?!” I snapped. “They have food! They would have given us food! This is your fault!”

From that afternoon onwards we no longer walked in silence. Sadric had decided we should use the time well, constructively even, to learn to speak and understand Gorean.

“Your block price will be enhanced if you can comprehend Gorean at a basic level. Each day you will learn 500 words of Gorean. Believe me, you will.” He gazed at us as if to invite any suggestion to the contrary. Obviously no one was stupid enough to say no to him. “We are perhaps five days out from our destination, and so by the time you walk through the great gates of Corcyrus, you will each know 2,500 common Gorean words. That will be good. I will tell you the meanings of these words while we walk and you will all repeat them. Repetition will breed familiarity, and then when we stop to rest, and even while we walk, you will be tested on the words. Any failure to speak the correct Gorean term for an Earth word will result in discipline with the slave crop.” He held up the wicked looking leather whip. I cringed at the sight of it. Would he really use that on me, on any of us if we failed to remember a word?

“I suggest you all pay close attention to your lessons, for you will not like the consequences of failure. 500 words today, another 500 tomorrow. We will begin now: 'La Kajira'. Repeat.”

“La Kajira,” we all said in unison.

“That translates as, 'I am a slave-girl', in Gorean. That is what you are.”

There was an outcry amongst the girls in both coffles. Perhaps one or two of us had suspected or feared that something like this might be the case, but now that it was finally said, now that an explanation had been given for our capture, our nudity, our insufferable chains, our harsh treatment, now that it had been stated openly, clearly, plainly, we were hysterical in our responses.

“This is insane!” I cried out amongst the others. “You can’t enslave us! Slavery is illegal!”

“Not here on Gor it isn’t. Here on Gor it is the natural order. Women in particular belong in chains. The women of Earth even more so. That is why you were taken, that is why you were brought here. You are already slaves, each and every one of you. Your brands signify that.”

Sadric permitted us to cry out and protest for a couple of minutes before he suddenly tired of it and ordered us all to silence with a swish of his slave crop. We complied of course, for we were scared of the men. Now he pointed the slave crop at me and said, “tell me what you are.”

“La Kajira,” I cried, remembering the phrase.

“Good. And you!” He pointed now at Sophia.

“La Kajira!”

He went round each girl in turn and seemed satisfied that this first phrase had been learned.

“From now on you will address all Free Men as Master, and all Free Women, should you come into contact with any of them, as Mistress. Failure to do so from now will earn you a beating.”

We were expected to call men Master? This insanity grew worse with each passing hour!

The men marched us across a series of undulating meadow lands until the sun began to set on the horizon By the time we reached a safe place to rest for the night, my thighs and bottom were burning with stinging stripes made by Sadric’s cruel switch. Memorising 500 words in a day is difficult, and Sadric would accept no excuses for failing to remember what the Gorean word for tree, or flower, or stream or tunic of sandal string might be. I wept with each horrible punishment, as did Sophia, and Sally, and even, to my delight, the stuck up and proud Eleanor. Yes, she was no better than the rest of us when she got a word wrong and down came the slave crop to whip her smooth buttocks or thigh. Then she didn’t look so superior, did she?

I was particularly pleased to see her being punished for a word I knew: 'Larl'. I now knew it to be a large predatory cat like creature, and the excitement on my face when Sadric asked that question was noticed when Eleanor got it wrong.

“You know the answer, Michelle?” he said with a grin.

“Yes, Master, I do!” I had already seen him give out small treats when a girl was able to correct another girl who had made a mistake. I saw his hand reach into a pouch where he kept a supply of dried dates. I had seen Sally earn one ten minutes ago, my stomach rumbling as she sucked and chewed the precious fruit. Now was my chance to earn one too.

“Tell everyone, Michelle.”

I explained almost word perfectly how Sadric had earlier described a Larl. It is six to eight foot tall at the shoulder. Its head is broad, sometimes more than two feet across, and shaped roughly like a triangle. This makes its head viper-like. Their heads are in constant motion. It has an unobtrusive bony ridge which runs from its four nasal slits to the start of its backbone. Eleanor, the stuck up little bitch had got that wrong, but I hadn’t. I was given a plump juicy date and I eagerly took it between my teeth, immediately tasting the sweetness of it.

Oh, but it tasted so good! I was starving!

“Clever little Kajira,” said Sadric with a smile. I nodded and paid close attention as he paced up and down our line as we walked in the coffle arrangement. I was eager to interject if a girl got another word wrong.

That night we camped by a stream. It was another warm night, but we had blankets with us – thin material of a woollen nature, but good to snuggle in. The chains were adjusted again so that they locked about our ankles now rather than our wrists and this would become the nature of the chaining from then on – wrists during the day and ankles during the night. Now was our second opportunity to beg for food and this time all the girls on both coffles spoke to Eleanor and told her in no uncertain terms that she would beg for food alongside us if she knew hat was good for her. Despite her height and apparent strength she knew she was outnumbered and I think too she was very very hungry, and so we all knelt in line, our hands raised with open palms in supplication for food.

Sadric now taught us a few new things – that we had to spread our thighs wide as we knelt, that we had to keep our back straight and our heads up, stomachs sucked in, eyes down cast. Our hands would rest on our thighs ordinarily, but in begging for food we were permitted to show the palms of our outstretched hands.

“Are you truly hungry, kajirae?” asked Sadric, mostly in Gorean now, for these had been some of the basic words we had learned. Yes came our answer! I was almost faint with hunger from having walked all day on an empty belly. I must have food! I would do practically anything for food. I would perhaps even allow one of the men to kiss me if he so wished.

And so the men prepared 'food' for us that night.

“It's disgusting...” I whispered as I gazed at the slush like paste that had been ladled onto a broad green leaf in lieu of a plate or bowl and then handed to me in line. It was some sort of gruel, made from grains from a sack, mixed with water until it congealed. Leofric had added a few slices of fruit to each portion, along with a handful of berries. “We can't eat this!”

I watched Sophia screw up her face as she dipped her fingers into the gruel on her leaf and placed some of the paste into her mouth.

I sobbed. I felt so incredibly hungry. I hadn't eaten in days. I had never felt this hungry ever before. Once I had gone without food for half a day when I had been stuck in traffic after a motorway accident and that had been awful, but it felt nothing like this.

“They're not going to give you anything else,” said Eleanor as she knelt on her kneels, eating her portion of the meal.

“I'm not interested in your opinion!” I snapped. Already my mind was racing for I remembered how Leofric had given strips of salted and cured meat to one of the girls in the second coffle. She had been fed differently from us because she had been the first to beg for food. Obviously the men were capable of having favourites. I glanced at the girl in the second coffle and felt jealous. She wasn't as beautiful as me. If she could win better food, then so could I. She did not have my natural advantages. I would be clever, I would turn on my charms and make the men like me the most in this coffle. I had done this kind of thing often on Earth, and it had come easy to me. Men naturally wanted to please me, to make me happy, in exchange for which they hoped I might be kind to them. More often than not I would take their praise, their free drinks, their meals at expensive and exclusive restaurants, and then I would wave them away. Sometimes, perhaps, if they offered me expensive gifts, I might allow one of them to kiss me good night, even on the lips when we parted. I was kind like that.

I gazed up at the men. Leofric, I thought, would be harder to please as he seemed not to have any grasp of English. But the other man, Sadric, he could speak my tongue. I had already conversed with him on small matters. It would be he that I would impress. It would simply be a matter of working my charms on him, and very soon he would remove me from this chain arrangement. He would give me clothing to wear and apologise for the way I had been treated. I shook my hair loose and smiled to myself. I would bend him round my little finger and plan tin his head the idea to return me to my home in England. He had brought me here after all, so he would have a way to get me back again. I suddenly noticed the black girl Eleanor, staring at me.

“What?” I snapped.

“Why are you so aggressive to me? We're all victims here after all. We're all slaves in this chain.”

“I am not a slave,” I said quickly.

“The men say you are,” said Eleanor. “Do you wish to debate the matter with them?” She indicated Leofric nearby with a shrug of her head.

“No, I do not.” Even if I could speak his language fluently, I did not think he was the sort of man who would debate matters with a woman.

“Then we need to work together,” said Eleanor. “There are cities here apparently. When we reach one we can try to tell people how we were kidnapped. These men who have us are obviously criminals. There will be someone in a civilised city that we can appeal to for help. We're not natives of this world after all. Their laws do not apply to us. We have been taken from our own world. Someone is bound to listen and to help us.”

“You think so?” I moved closer to Eleanor now. Perhaps I had been wrong about the girl. Perhaps it would be a good idea to befriend her. We were on the same chain, and subject to the same discipline, but Eleanor seemed to have a confidence that was reassuring at this awful time. If she could find help, make an appeal for someone to rescue us, then it would be a good idea for me to remain close to her.

“Let us be friends,” I said with a smile. I felt stabbing pains in my stomach as I contemplated the slop that had been given to me as food. Distasteful as it was, it was better than nothing, and so I began to place it in my mouth with my fingers. I caught sight of Sadric grinning as I did so, for I think I was the last girl in coffle number one to feed.

“I was beginning to think you were on a diet, Michelle,” he said with a laugh that annoyed me. “What you are eating is slave paste, or slave gruel. Despite the stale flavour and unappealing texture, it is highly nutritious.”

“Really,” I said as he walked towards me. Eleanor moved a couple of paces away now, not wishing to be in the way.

“Yes, It was developed by my caste to satisfy all the nutritional needs of a healthy female adult.”

“Your caste? And what is your caste exactly?” I was familiar with the meaning of the word from the Hindu society in India if nothing else. I had been on holiday there when I was seventeen.

“I am of the caste of slavers. These are my caste colours,” he said, indicating the blue and yellow of his tunic.

“You call yourself a slaver?” It seemed a bold claim to make.

“Yes. I deal specifically in women. Beautiful women with deeply repressed slave potential.” He reached out and tipped my head up by my chin and regarded me. I swallowed and held myself perfectly still as he turned my head first to the left and then to the right.
“What are you going to do with me?” I whispered.

“Sell you, of course. That is what slavers do, isn't it?”

“Are you from here?”

He smiled but said nothing.

“It's just that you speak English well, but with an accent I can't recognise. And you speak it with certain colloquialisms. And you sound different to your colleague, who I think is native to this place.”

“So many questions, little Kajira. So many questions. We have a saying about that.”

“May I speak with you in private?” I said, adopting a conciliatory and pleasing tone.

“You have something you wish to say to me that you do not wish the other kajirae to hear?” he said with a smile. Eleanor glanced at me with narrowed eyes. Sally too now turned and regarded me with concern.

“It is a delicate matter. Please...”

This seemed to amuse Sadric. “Very well.” He produced a key and knelt down beside me on one knee. Then, taking my left ankle in the grip of his left hand, he inserted the key, turned it in the lock and removed the steel from my body. “Precede me,” he said, getting up again. I flexed my ankle, now free of the shackle and I smiled as I rose to my feet. I was conscious of my nudity, and I adopted a somewhat shy position, shielding my modesty as best I could, which made him laugh again. “Over there,” he said, pointing to a tree on which deep burgundy coloured fruit grew in clusters.

I walked to the tree and when I reached the broad trunk I turned round to face Sadric. He stood there in front of me, gazing down at me. “Well?”

“You do not seem a truly terrible man,” I say as I placed my hand affectionately on his chest, “and unlike your more brutish compatriot, who seems incapable of understanding English, you seem like someone who is well educated and can be reasoned with. Surely the two of us can be reasonable together, and we can maybe come to some sort of arrangement whereby you choose to spare me from the fate you have in store for the other girls? I am not like them you see.” I smiled at him in the way I knew would melt the hearts of men on Earth. “You spoke of beautiful women with deeply repressed slave potential, and while I am I suppose the former, quite obviously the former, I am most certainly not the latter. So let me bargain with you. Let me buy my freedom. You do not have to tell the others. It can be our secret, and...” I suddenly saw a flicker of alarm in Sadric's face as he seemed to hear or sense something. “What? What is it?” I looked around, but saw nothing but the camp site with the girls in the chain coffle and Leofric sharpening his blade on a wet stone. “What is it?”

“Be quiet, Kajira.” And then I heard it. A soft throaty growl from within the deep thickets, followed by another throaty growl. Suddenly I was pushed with my back against the trunk of the tree and Sadric, his blade still in its scabbard, next to the sacks and bags piled up beside Leofric, simply spoke one further word under his breath. “Sleen...”

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