Chapter Ten: 'Fidelio'
“Stop pulling at the skirt of your garment,” I whispered as Marissa and I walked quickly along the side of a deep canal, being careful that we kept to the shadows. “She-urts don’t do that.”
I shouldn't have spoken to her like that of course, but looking at the Lady Marissa now it was so easy to forget that she was a Free Woman and not just another slave girl like me. Her legs were bare after all; her arms were bare; she wore a skimpy rag of a tunic, tight fitting, brief, figure hugging, with a slashed neck line, and her face was bare. I was of course used to speaking in a certain way to women who looked like that, and it was the manner in which a First Girl speaks to a Kajira of a lesser rank. But she wasn't really a Kajira – she was a Free Woman who was playing the part of a she-urt of the canals of Port Kar.
“But I’m practically naked!” Marissa said by way of reply as she held the skirt hem of her brief figure hugging tunic with the fingers of both hands, seeking to tug and hold it in place as far as the rep cloth would allow. “The fabric rides up as I walk. This is intolerable.”
“It’s a disguise. It’s meant to be like that,” I sighed.
“And call me Mistress!” she snapped. “Samos may have removed your collar as part of your disguise tonight, but you’re still a Kajira. You still have a brand on your thigh. Slave girl!”
I slowed to a stop and turned to regard the Free Woman whose safety was now my main concern. It was true that for the second time since I had arrived in Port Kar, I no longer wore earrings in my ears, a nose ring in my nose, or a steel collar about my throat. Such things would not be practical for my disguise as a she-urt of the canals, for she-urts are after all still Free Women. I’d been listening to the Lady’s complaints for the last ten minutes since Simon, Chloe, and a number of Samos’s men had sent us on our way after having first escorted us to the perimeter of the harbour wharf. As a concession to the Lady Marissa’s modesty she had been escorted through the streets with the covering of a long dark hooded cloak that reached to the tips of her toes. The cloak had been fastened at her throat by an intricate clasp, and she had held the folds tightly closed about her person with the small fingers of her hands grasping both edges together. She had however been denied footwear.
“Better your feet become accustomed to the rough stones of the canals before you reach wharf nine, than afterwards,” Samos had said in his usual matter of fact way.
And so she had walked slowly, feeling the loose pebbles and stones under her soft feet, wincing whenever she placed a foot on something unpleasant such as damp lichen. For myself, walking barefoot is no great hardship, for after six years of being a slave-girl the soles of my feet have toughened, and the skin that was once so soft and tender has more resistance to the roughness of a road or pathway. I feel more at home with nature these days now that I walk barefoot, and I relish the experience being able to appreciate the touch of earth and grass beneath my toes, and to scent the fragrance of the air as I walk. I never would have chosen to discard my shoes had I still been free, but now that I can travel without them, I don't mind at all.
When Simon judged we were close enough, he ordered the men to turn around so that the Lady Marissa might remove her cloak with all due modesty. It was a relatively warm night, or rather it would have been had another faint sea mist not descended from the Thassa to the west of the port, bringing a damp chill to the air. I knelt on the wet cobbled stones as Simon glanced about to make sure no one was watching from the deep shadows of the two adjoining alleyways, or from the narrow doorways that lined the street periodically. Only then did he avert his eyes too.
“No one is to look at me,” snapped Marissa as her hands went to the metallic clasp at her throat. Simon had of course already seen her lovely figure, so well revealed in the brief ragged hem tunic, so there was little modesty left to guard as far as he was concerned, but the other men I suppose had not seen the Lady in anything other than her fine gowns and veils.
“The men are all looking away, Lady,” said Simon in reassurance. “You may strip now.”
“Strip?!” Marissa bristled at the word.
“I meant only that you might now remove your enveloping cloak in place of the tunic you wear beneath it.”
“Slave girls strip,” said Marissa. “I disrobe.”
“Of course. It was a poor choice of words on my part,” said Simon, with perhaps a trace of impatience on his part. “Nevertheless, now is the right time for you to disrobe.”
Quickly then, Marissa unclipped the hinged, hooked clasp and allowed the black cloak to fall from her shoulders. The light here was dim, but I was close enough to see once again how lovely she looked in that brief, clinging tunic. I picked up the fallen cloak and folded it neatly, placing it on a nearby low wall so that Simon might retrieve it when he left. Marissa stood there, looking miserable as she tugged the skimpy skirt line down as far as it might go on her thighs. The tunic had been deliberately ripped in various places, as had mine been, and the hem had been brutally shortened by the simple process of fraying it. It happened to also have a deep plunging neckline, which I thought was perhaps a cruel prank by the man who had selected the garment.
“It's far too short!” said Marissa. “The hem should be longer than this!”
“Do you wish me to take a look at it?” suggested Simon. “I could make adjustments...”
“No! Do not turn round! Do not look at me!” Marissa scurried backwards until she almost collided into me.
“As you wish.”
“I’m cold,” said Marissa as she rubbed her bare arms and fidgeted where she stood. In truth the temperature was relatively mild – maybe fourteen degrees centigrade, but the sea mist this close to the canals would have a chilling effect on the natural climate.
“I know how to warm a woman,” said Simon with perhaps a smile as he continued to face away from us. “But what I have in mind is not appropriate for a Free Woman. Go now. You both have a job to do.”
And so we did.
“I can call you Mistress if that is what you wish, Mistress,” I said as I stood there with one hand on my hip, now that the men had left us to our mission. “But it will be to the detriment of your disguise. Do you want people to know that you’re not really a she-urt? Do you want them to know you’re actually a Free Woman who is walking around the canals late at night dressed as a she-urt?”
“Of course not,” she snapped.
“Then it is probably best if I do not call you Mistress.”
“I find your tone of voice offensive. Furthermore your attitude borders on being disrespectful, Emma. When I am through with this mission I shall have you beaten, for I do not find your demeanour pleasing.”
“I meant no disrespect, Mistress.” I could see she meant what she said, and in her current mood was likely to have me beaten as a way of getting back at someone for the orders of Samos. I would bear the brunt of her anger for what Samos had made her do.
“My mind is made up, but the exact number of your strokes will depend on how the next hour or so develops. Do not anger me further and your punishment later on will be correspondingly merciful.”
Marissa was standing mere inches from the edge of the canal. It occurred to me that a simple quick push would drop her into the inky black water. With a bit of luck she might be eaten by canal urts before she could clamber out.
“Well, girl? You seem offensively silent?”
“I am just thinking how beautiful Mistress is,” I said diplomatically.
“Oh.” Marissa put her hand to her hair, somewhat surprised by my comment. She blushed and looked quickly around to ensure there was no one else nearby. There wasn't of course, for I would never have spoken to her like that if I had seen even another she-urt in the vicinity. “You think so?”
“Yes, Mistress. I had no way of telling before when you were fully clothed. I think men would be very distracted indeed if they saw you like this.”
“Men are beasts,” she said quickly. “I am not interested in their unbridled lusts. Come along, Emma. I wish to get our night time excursion for Samos over with as soon as possible.”
From our viewpoint as we walked through the narrow streets, the doorways we passed facing the canals seemed like nothing much, just blunt pieces of featureless wood set inside plain, functional stone recesses. There were no windows on the ground floor of any of the buildings in this harbour front of Port Kar, and precious few upstairs windows that overlooked the docks. Those that did exist were narrow, heavily barred and impossible to break through without heavy tools. The area looked almost derelict with its withered mortar and decaying wood, under constant siege from the salt spray corrosion. Where there was paint it was peeling away, revealing heavy stone brickwork built long ago by cheap slave labour. Narrow side alleys punctured the remorseless exterior of these grim buildings, plunging deep into shadow, like sallow knife wounds daubed in black charcoal. The buildings around each alleyway seemed taller than they obviously were as they loomed over the labyrinth of passages that invariably led back out into the docks or came to dangerous dead ends deep within the maze. Alleyways such as these are the underworld of Port Kar – its veins and arteries, oozing puss from its pores. I kept Marissa and myself well away from any alley mouth for fear that silent figures might be lurking in the pitch black, ready with hard cruel hands to seize one or both of us and drag us deeper into that perpetual gloom.
As soon as we reached the perimeter of the desolate harbour front, I saw two Free Women hiding in the shadows close by the walls and doorway of a warehouse structure facing the piers of wharf nine. They seemed to be alone and defenceless, which was very unusual for a city of Gor, let alone one with the reputation of Port Kar. Both women wore long hooded cloaks over their gowns, woven from black cloth and they stood apprehensively as if unsure what was going to happen next. I couldn’t imagine they had come all this way on their own. Almost certainly they would have been escorted by at least one armed man, for the streets of Port Kar can be dangerous for Free Women once the sun sets.
Interestingly the women did not talk to one another, and from what I could see of their body language, they faced away from one another, suggesting they hadn’t previously met. Perhaps they had not even travelled here together. I felt sure they would not even know what one another looked like beneath the layers of veils.
But the more I looked around, the more I realised that the women were not truly here alone. I counted three guardsmen watching from hidden positions, keeping a wary eye out for interlopers. Possibly the women did not know the positions of the men, or that they were being observed.
The sea in Port Kar by night had given up any trace of the aquamarine blue it had during the day. Now it was sombre and dark pitch in colour, and the scattered stones around the canals, once russet coloured by day, were bleak shingle by night. The air tasted dull with the sting of salt and brine that coated my eyelashes, lips and skin. Port Kar by night reminds me of a strip of land bitten from the coast by a hungry and vengeful God and spat out again into a series of lagoon like islands. It seems to resent the presence of men intruding onto a place that is violently contested by the sea.
We needed somewhere to hide from view, close enough to the main wharf pier that we could eavesdrop on whatever was about to happen. The solution was obvious to me – the pier that stretched out into the harbour canal was built up on large timber beam supports, and I could see it might be possible for us to climb down into that criss-crossing series of horizontal and vertical beams and move about under the very feet of the conspirators, listening to them as they conversed. I motioned to Marissa, pointed out the sunken beams, against which the cold waters of the Thassa lapped, and then pointed out a route by which we might clamber down and conceal ourselves. We would have to be careful as the wooden beams would be wet and slimy from moss and weeds, but by guiding ourselves with our hands on the vertical supports we should be safe enough.
“I'm not a good swimmer,” said Marissa as she considered the prospect of climbing down and moving along slippery beams set just two or three feet above the churning black waters.
“Just hold on to the vertical supports and you'll be okay, Mistress,” I said. “Or, you can remain here if you like and I'll go down alone?”
“No. This is my mission. I cannot have Samos know I was scared.”
“Are you scared, Mistress?”
“Yes, Emma, I am scared. Are you satisfied, hearing that? I feel out of my comfort zone. I haven't done anything like this before. I don't like being dressed like this, and I don't like deep water. This is a nightmare as far as I'm concerned.”
She was being brave, that I could see. Samos had asked a lot from her, and I suspected that was Samos's way. “I'll go first and we'll move slowly. Take your time. There's no rush.”
Earlier that day...
The visit to Marissa's home seemed to be dragging on for ages. I sat in a corner of the room feeling bored as the free people talked and laughed over a few cups of wine served by Marissa's house slave, Kiera. Simon and Marissa seemed to be enjoying one another's company, and so after an hour of pleasant and vaguely formal conversation Marissa had suggested Simon should dine with her before she introduced him to see Samos.
“Emma, make yourself useful and assist Kiera in the kitchen preparing food,” said Marissa as she gazed at Simon with sparkling, happy eyes. “You said she is a kettle slave after all,” she said then to Simon.
“She is that, Lady,” said Simon as he sat at a low table and clicked his fingers for Chloe to adopt a modest serving position in Tower close by. “Chloe will attend to us while the others cook.”
I walked into the kitchen area where Kiera looked round at me with a smile. I knew what was coming. “So...” she said.
“I know. Please don't say anything.” I gazed out of a small narrow window at the grounds of the courtyard where a couple of Free Women were conversing.
“Still wearing a collar then?” said Kiera. “I thought you might be free by now, so-called special girl?”
I wept silently. What was there to say? “Please, don't, Kiera... I'm not in a good place right now. You were right. You don't need to make it worse for me.” We were speaking in English because Kiera was still learning Gorean and her vocabulary remained basic.
Kiera leaned back against the worktop, folded her arms and regarded me. She could see the tears on my cheeks. She shrugged and pointed at a large pile of vegetables. “Start chopping them, Emma. Small cubes.”
I've never been a particularly good cook. I remember that first night by the camp fire when Brinn had used me over and over again shortly after buying me, he had mentioned that I would need to learn to cook well, but I never really did. There were other girls on the estate who could do that instead. It's also a lot harder to cook food on Gor without the luxury of temperature controlled gas and electric ovens. Simply getting a coal/wood stove up to the required heat and maintaining that exact level of heat is an art in itself. Luckily Kiera had learnt such things and she tutored me in how to cook food on naked flames without turning it to charcoal.
“You're lucky,” she said after a while as she set me to mixing some sauce.
“How the fuck am I lucky?” I felt anything but.
“You have a personal Master. You wear his collar. And your Master is handsome and strong.” Kiera lowered her voice and added, “have you seen how my Mistress is with him?”
“Yes. She desperately wants Simon to fuck her. That much is obvious. Simon seems to have doe-eyed Free Women following him around all the time. It's very annoying.”
Kiera smiled. “She does want that, yes. My Mistress is a conflicted woman at times. It can't be easy for her. But then it's not easy for me either, belonging to a woman.” Kiera gazed towards the closed door. We could hear the soft murmur of conversation and laughter beyond it without making out any of the words. “I don't want to be a slave. I want to go home. But if I can't, I think I would rather be in a man's collar, like you are.”
I supposed Kiera had little opportunity to enjoy sex. Probably none. Being the slave to a woman meant the woman would not permit you to be furred by a man unless she was offering him some form of extended hospitality, and even then she would resent his attentions towards you. Kiera must be quite a frustrated girl by now.
“So, you're from Earth?” I said as I stirred the sauce.
Kiera nodded. “I used to work in a call centre. I was abducted from my flat in London some months ago, along with my best friend. When I woke up I was on board a crashed ship on the plains of Gor with a number of other girls. And you?”
“My story is a bit more complicated than that.” I decided not to tell her I had originally been a man. It was difficult subject as far as I was concerned. And anyway, I no longer really thought in terms of having ever been a man. I think I had always been a girl, in my mental state anyway. Being a girl is such a precious gift that I would not give it up even in exchange for my freedom. I couldn't understand why anyone would want to be a man, even if it meant being free.
Kiera hesitated for a moment before asking me the million dollar question. “I've never been owned by a man. My Mistress bought me in the slave market when we were all first put on sale together. I can only imagine what it must be like to be owned by a man...”
She was curious it seems. I was surprised that she had never been owned by a man for she was very beautiful, and no doubt had the potential to be very sexual. A thought occurred to me, and so I asked, “you've been with men before though, yes? Back on Earth?”
“No.” Kiera looked away. “I'm a virgin still. I had a lot of boyfriends, but I grew irritated with them easily. I didn't like the way they just presumed they could have me. I didn't really think any of them were good enough.”
“Wow. So you're a slave-girl on Gor, and you've not been used sexually? Ever?”
“Well, there was a market value in me still being white silk girl when I was put up for sale, so the slavers kept me that way. And then a woman bought me, so...” Kiera looked uncomfortable by this. “She bought me precisely because I was white silk. She thought I might be more decent, unsullied and respectable that way.”
“I'm sorry. It must be very hard to be a white silk girl on Gor. It's a very sexual world.”
“Yes. Yes it can be. My Mistress would beat me if I looked at Simon with so much as a lingering gaze. So you see, Emma, you are lucky.”
“The grass always seems greener from different perspectives,” I said with a shrug. “Hey...” a thought suddenly crossed my mind. “You were taken several months ago? It's what, 2023 on Earth? Did you used to watch Game of Thrones at all? I was abducted in 2016. I have no idea how it ended.”
“Not really. One of my boyfriends did though. I think there was a bit where one of the dragons died and was raised as a zombie dragon by the monsters. He got really exited about that episode and showed me bits of it on his phone.”
“Anything else? The ending?”
Kiera shrugged. “Not my thing really.”
“I was relieved, you know, at first, when Marissa bought me in the slave market. I saw men buy some of the other girls I had travelled in coffle with across Gor after the ship crashed. I saw the look in their eyes and I knew what was in store for those girls. I was very scared for myself. I didn't want a man to buy me. I feared them. So when Marissa bought me, I was relieved, I felt safe. She was a woman. I didn't understand though how Free Women on Gor relate to slaves.”
“She's cruel?” I said, still frustrated that I hadn't found an Earth slave-girl who used to watch Game of Thrones. I thought everyone watched Game of Thrones! This was getting ridiculous. Statistically it seemed the slavers of Gor wouldn't abduct you if you watched HBO TV shows. Bear that in mind if you're a beautiful woman reading this and you're at all concerned for your own continued freedom.
“Not really. Not compared to other Free Women who might own me. But I have to be careful. She secretly resents me I think. She resents how men will look at me. As if it's my fault!”
“Men rarely look at Free Women the way they look at slaves. In fact, some men rarely look at Free Women full stop. You're absolutely sure none of your boyfriends ever mentioned anything about the final season of Game of Thrones?”
“And my Mistress can feel very lonely. She sometimes takes out her frustrations on me in fits of spite. I never know in advance when she might be like that, but it's usually after she has met a man who pays her little attention.”
“On Earth she'd be constantly harassed by men desperate to spend time with her.”
“Yes,” said Kiera. “On Earth. But on Gor she competes with slaves.”
“Oh, what it is to be free,” I said sarcastically. “You should be happy that your Mistress preserves and protects your dignity. She spares you the sexual attentions of men. If you're lucky you'll remain a virgin for the rest of your life.” I smiled. “How lovely for you.”
Kiera said nothing.
“I'm sorry. I have this bitch mode sometimes. Chloe told me about it some weeks ago. I've been through a lot. I don't really have a problem with you Kiera. I don't know why I say the things I do sometimes.”
Kiera nodded and folded her arms again. “Its so hard sometimes,” she said. “I don't even have any friends here. All the other slaves nearby are Gorean. They laugh at me because my spoken Gorean is poor. I'm trying to learn. I am! They know I am a barbarian from Earth and they mock me for it. And they know I am white silk... so they tease me, saying no man wants me.”
“I can assure you that's not true. If you were on Brinn's estate you'd be raped every night by one or more of his warriors. You'd be very popular, Kiera.”
“Emma!” Kiera looked shocked.
“Just thought you should know,” I shrugged. “I used to be in charge of the rotas there so I would have been chaining you by the ankle to various couches on a regular basis.”
“Emma!” Kiera turned away. I smiled. Yes, she was definitely still a virgin.
“I hope my Mistress and your Master do become close,” said Kiera as she stared out of the window. “It would make things easier for me if my Mistress was happy and content.”
“Won't happen,” I said. “Your Mistress wants nothing more than for Simon to reach out, take hold of her and ravish her. But you know what, firstly Simon won't do that. He has this ridiculous level of respect for what he perceives as honourable Free Women, and even if he did, and that would be what Marissa wanted, I agree, you know what she would do? What she is conditioned to do by her upbringing? She would slap him hard in the face, scandalised by his approach, and order him to leave.”
“But she wants him!” Said Kiera as she turned around.
“Yes. And that's the problem. That's why she's frustrated and she takes it out on you. Sucks to be owned by a woman, I guess.”
“I wish she would sell me.” Kiera clenched her fists in anguish. “I wish your Master would buy me.”
“You're welcome to him.” I finished the sauce – well, I assumed it was finished – and I passed it to Kiera to taste. “Simon and I aren't in a very good place right now.”
“I think if I were you, I would crawl to him on the floor and beg his touch,” said Kiera softly. She tasted a little of the sauce on her fingers and nodded.
“Yeah, well, you're not me, are you?” Crawl to Simon! The very idea! This new look Simon was just his shock reaction to my unfortunate words when I had been chained inside Boots's tent for paid use. Simon would get over this ridiculous notion that he was some sort of Gorean Master, and probably in a few days time he'd have intense feelings of guilt for the way he had acted and spoken to me. No doubt I would then see a very different Simon indeed – contrite, apologetic, desperate to receive my forgiveness. I would make him suffer for a while in anguish, before I might consent to grant him some absolution on condition he promised he'd never treat me like that again.
Simon was from Earth. He could never be Gorean. Never. It was a ridiculous notion. I admit there were moments recently when I was scared, when it actually seemed that he had changed and that he would from now on treat me as a low slave, maintaining a level of discipline that was certainly not suitable bearing in mind we were both from Earth. But it was of course just bluster on his part. I realised that now that I had time to think on the matter. He wouldn't be able to bring himself to go through with it, especially when it now seemed there was a good chance that Brinn was still alive.
And so we descended, Marissa and I, clinging to each heavy beam in turn, hampered by the fact that there was practically no moonlight beneath the pier, and so we had to move by touch and feel alone. I could imagine how terrified Marissa must feel right now, standing so close to the dark sea, feeling her feet slide from time to time on the wet sea moss and slime that grew on the surface of the wood. Once or twice I heard her stifle a soft cry as her foot threatened to give way as she walked, but holding on to the vertical beams saved her from slipping. I don't think she was in any real danger while she stood still on a beam, but while she moved she had to move carefully. Eventually we found a spot where the horizontal beams criss-crossed, giving us room to crouch down and wait. We were close enough to the edge of the pier that we could see the harbour canal, and if we wished, by holding on to a vertical support for balance, we might lean out far enough to look up at the side of the wharf.
We waited maybe twenty ehn before we saw it arrive.
It was a gondola, a low bottomed boat propelled by two men who stood facing the bow, rowing in time with a combination of a forward stroke, followed by a compensating backward stroke. The design is elegant enough, as the oar rests in an elaborately carved wooden forcola, shaped to project from the side of the craft so as to allow the slight drag of each return stroke to pull the bow back to its forward course. Owing to the vessel's flat bottom it may also be drifted sideways as required. Unlike the modern gondolas of Earth, the Port Kar ones are fitted with a small cabin to protect the passengers from the weather or, if they happen to be elegant Free Women, from crude onlookers lining the banks of the canals. I watched silently as it glided towards the pier of wharf nine, carrying a single passenger in addition to the oarsmen. It was a Free Woman who stood in the centre of the boat as if she was intent on surveying the canals. She wore a long hooded cloak secured with a clasp about her neck, and as the gondola drew near I could make out that she wasn’t veiled; instead the features of her face were artfully concealed behind an ornate silver mask moulded in the shape of a beautiful yet emotionless woman.
I had heard of such a thing in the past history of Gor. The city of Tharna had once been ruled by silver masked women at a Gorean time roughly corresponding to the late 1960s on Earth. Tharna was a wealthy city, one of the three main silver cities of its region, whose wealth derived from rich veins of silver ore deep underground. It was a city ruled by a Tatrix, that is to say a female ruler, and it was said that in that city at the time the natural laws of male supremacy on this planet were reversed. No doubt much of the criticism levelled against the matriarchy at the time can be put down to the vilification of such a society on Gor. While it is true that a small number of cities on Gor have female rulers, by and large the Tatrixes who occupy the seats of power do so as ceremonial figureheads and their power is given to them by men who support the regime with swords and political will. I have no doubt that to his day there is not a single Tatrix ruled city where the Tatrix in question actually has the authority to make radical decisions on behalf of her people. The real power always lies behind the throne in the hands of men.
The regime in Tharna was brought down by a rebellion instigated by Tarl Cabot. Maybe there really was a Tarl Cabot at that time, during the late 1960s. Maybe he really did have some inspiring adventures for several years, and maybe the legacy of his name carried on through the decades as a propaganda device. I have no idea as I’ve never met anyone except the less than chatty Samos who can claim to know Tarl Cabot from those very early days. By now I suspect you know my personal theories on the legend that is Tarl.
A still sea mist hung over the canals as the gondola boat steered closer. The two Free Women stood nervously in the shadows, awaiting the boat’s arrival. They held the fabric of their own dark cloaks closely about their bodies as they whispered a few words I couldn’t hear.
The men who steered the gondola towards the pier raised their oars vertically as the gondola coasted the last ten yards or so to reach the wooden jetty with a bump. Quickly then they set about lashing the vessel in place as it bobbed in the current. A plank was lowered from the gondola to the pier, and once the boat seemed steady, the silver masked woman raised the hem of her cloaked skirts sufficiently to permit her to walk onto the wooden boards built above the cold canal waters. In the flickering torch light carried by her men (the torches had been smouldering set on poles at the front and back of the gondola) I could make out soft sequinned slippers, more suitable for the marbled floors of great halls, than the dirty docks of Port Kar.
The woman stood in the torch light, seemingly unconcerned who might see her. Perhaps she knew that there were men positioned close by to keep an eye out for intruders. As I watched she raised her right hand, palm outwards, and she spoke in a soft voice. “Lady Rosalita, Lady Enya, honourable initiates into the Shadow Council, I greet you both warmly. You stand on the threshold of a fabulous revelation, garbed as seekers after the truth. Those who desire to be initiated into the great mystery must now speak the word that signifies their rebirth.”
“Fidelio,” said the two women in unison. It was obviously a password of sorts, and I made a mental note of it for the future. Now the silver mask nodded and the woman lowered the palm of her right hand as she stepped towards the two new supplicants. “An age of wonders will soon unfold,” she said, “and together our order shall rise to a greater stage than it ever had in Tharna of old. What you will see and hear tonight is only the beginning of great things to come. Tonight you shall be initiated into the Greater Mysteries.”
I moved beneath the pier, carefully stepping from one horizontal wooden support to the next, holding on to the vertical beams throughout. I was thankful now for the short, scandalously brief rep cloth tunic which permitted me a great deal of freedom of movements, even though my clambering around on the support beams meant the hem line had ridden up alarmingly in the process. I was tempted to reach down and attend to my modesty, but the beams were slick with wet moss and I didn’t dare surrender the safe grip of one of my hands. I frowned when I noticed Marissa balancing on her haunches on one of the beams slightly to the side of me, as she did let go of the vertical supports so that she could attend to her tunic.
“What are you doing?” I hissed.
“I hardly dare move!” she said in alarm as she struggled with her tunic hem. She wobbled alarmingly as she shifted on the beam, and quickly reached out with her left hand to steady herself.
“Never mind the tunic,” I hissed. “No one can see you.”
“You can see me,” she said. “I’m practically exposing myself when I squat down and crawl across the pier supports.” It was true I suppose. Marissa’s tunic had ridden up far enough to offer a glimpse of her sex at times. It was worse than stepping out of a car in a mini-skirt and flashing a glimpse of your panties, as in this case neither of us wore any kind of under garment, let alone one with a nether closure.
I was keen to get as close as I could without being seen, but Marissa's stupid acts of modesty were becoming a distraction as I kept thinking she was going to lose her footing, slip and go crashing down into the canal water below. It was difficult enough to keep my footing on these slippery wet beams with both hands.
Marissa suddenly slipped on a patch of seaweed slime on the beams, cried out as she flailed for a moment in the air and then fell with a loud splash and another shriek into the oil black waters of the Thassa estuary. In the silence of the wharf there was no mistaking the sound, nor the frantic splashing as Marissa struggled to remain afloat. I could tell immediately that she wasn’t a good swimmer. Crouching on the sunken beams I tried to think what to do. With all the flailing and desperate noises Marissa was making she would be spotted by the men on the wharf side who guarded the silver masked woman. In just a few ehn they would be at the edge of the water with torches to find out who was there. Would Marissa’s disguise pass the test? Would they simply see a she-urt, one of hundreds who roamed the canals of Port Kar for scraps, and if so would they assume she was no threat? Or would they find the fact she was lurking at the water’s edge close enough to listen in on their conversations, suspicious? Would they even seek to pull her out from the water?
I could of course have dived into the water myself, for I swam like a sexy fish, but then we might both be spotted. But if I didn’t help, what might happen to her?
Indecision was a torment that night and even as I moved carefully along the central beam, even as I saw her arms flail in the cold dark brine, I heard voices from above, the sound of gruff men approaching the side of the pier, peering down with their torches ablaze. I shrank back, still hidden by the darkness and concealed behind the many vertical beams that lifted the pier above the water’s surface. I could see a set of stone steps at the side of the jetty that led down to the canal water where a small wooden platform was built on sunken wooden poles. Marissa was maybe twenty feet from it, and I saw how desperately she floundered with her arms, trying to swim in that direction with uncoordinated breast strokes. I saw her head sink under the water for a moment, and I was about to dive in after her when she then reappeared, gasping for air, spluttering, choking, her face hysterical as she spat water from her lungs. Now she was fourteen feet away from the platform, and I saw one of the men run along the side of the jetty to where the steps emerged from the water side. Marissa screamed for help. I think she was screaming to me, though she had lost any sense of where I was now that her head had gone under the water, but the man obviously thought she was crying out to him.
And now once again Marissa sank momentarily, and again she floundered to the surface, beating with her hands against the water, howling in terror as she felt the tidal current begin to carry her a yard or two away from the safety of the wooden platform. And then there was a heavy splash as the man jack knifed into the canal and with powerful broad strokes, swam quickly to Marissa’s side. He took hold of Marissa’s body, cradling it to his own as he then used wide back strokes to return to the platform, keeping her head above water all the while.
Seeing Marissa was safe, I crawled backwards along the broad horizontal beam that formed the spine of the pier support, not daring to be seen now.
“What is it?” said the silver masked woman from the surface of the pier, somewhere above my head. No answer was forthcoming until the first man reached the edge of the wooden platform and hauled himself, and then Marissa onto its rough boards. Marissa lay there on her belly, gasping for breath, and shivering from the cold water. She tried to raise herself up onto her hands and knees, but the man simply pushed her back down again.
“A she-urt,” he said to the woman who was obviously in command. “She was crawling around under the wharf supports and fell into the canal.”
“Strange,” said the silver mask. “The she-urts of Port Kar are not ordinarily so clumsy, and I would have thought they could swim. Examine the girl closely.”
I heard footsteps as the woman walked back across the boards and onto the stone jetty. From my vantage point I saw her cross to the top of the stone steps, below which knelt the guardsman who had fished Marissa from the canal. The second man was already there and he passed down a lit torch to his colleague. In the flickering torch light the first man examined Marissa as commanded.
“Yes, it’s a she-urt. A beautiful one too, by the looks of her.” As Marissa protested her position on her stomach, the man laughed and, drawing a knife cut her skimpy tunic from her body. There was a whistle of appreciation from both him and his colleague as he turned Marissa round now onto her back, exposing her breasts to view. “Yes, very beautiful.” Marissa screamed at her casual stripping and tried to cover herself with her hands, but the man simply brushed them away and a quick motion with the point of his knife made it clear to her she wasn’t to try and impede their observation of her body again. “The canals are home to hundreds of such girls,” said the man as he cast the slit rag that had once been Marissa’s sole garment into the water.
“Maybe, maybe not,” said the silver mask as her impassive face gazed down at Marissa. “I do not believe in coincidences, and I am suspicious by nature. Bring the girl up here where I can see her.”
“As you wish, Domina,” said the man. I had not heard the word before. It seemed to be some sort of title, some sort of honorific, but I could not tell whether this silver masked woman actually held a rank of importance within her cabal, or whether it was a common naming convention amongst the Shadow Council women. I suspected the latter.
Marissa was obviously scared now, but as she was hoisted to her feet, the man took a firm hold of her hair and ushered her before him up the stone steps. She protested with a few sharp words that I feared were far too cultured and sophisticated for a mere canal girl to use.
Fearing the worst, I began to move further back along the half submerged pier supports until I could find a way up to the wharf approach where we had originally gained access to our hiding space. As I emerged I saw the other two women, still robed and hooded, taking shelter in recessed doorways. Obviously they had been told to hide themselves when the commotion was first detected. One of the women was in easy view of the armed men, but the other I noticed had stepped further back into the gloom and was hovering in a doorway at the mouth of a narrow side alley. Unless I was mistaken, without her peering round the corner and exposing her face to view, she was hidden from the guardsmen on the rooftops, not that she understood that. And I could now see an easy way to approach that narrow alleyway, moving between a series of barrels and piles of folded canvas. My heart was pounding as I weighed up my options. In truth I feared the worst for Marissa, and while I didn’t particularly like her, Samos had commanded me to keep her alive. I feared what Samos might do to me if I returned alone and obviously unharmed. Samos might feel I had deliberately abandoned Marissa, or worse still, betrayed her out of spite. If Samos truly believed either of those things, then no one, least of all Simon, would be able to spare me from his wrath. Faced with that desperate outcome, I had nothing to lose by trying my best to help Marissa. Moving slowly I reached the first of the upright barrels in time to observe Marissa being thrown to her belly in front of the silver masked woman.
“Hold the torch close,” she said, “for I suspect this slip of a girl may be more than she seems.” Two torches were lit now, one held by either guardsman. I saw Marissa kneel before the silver masked woman and gaze up at her with genuine concern.
“What is your name?”
“Marissa,” she said. There was no time to concoct an elaborate alias, and in any case one name is much like another in a society where there are no computer data bases to verify identities. Marissa shared Samos’s own belief that it was often simpler and more reliable to speak the truth as closely as possible, and circumstances permitted, for the truth will always come easier to your lips, and there is less possibility of contradicting yourself by mistake with lies that don’t match up.
“You’re a she-urt?” asked the silver mask.
“Yes. Please let me go. I was only fishing for scraps of food.” While their attention was focussed on Marissa, I continued to move between the clumps of barrels, and on past the stacks of folded canvas. The alleyway was close now, and the woman hiding in the recessed doorway seemed to be operating on the ridiculous principle that if she couldn’t see danger, then it couldn’t see her. To my amazement she had made herself seem small, pressing her face against the stone blocks of the door surrounds. Seeing she effectively had her back to me, I sprinted across the cobblestones the remaining fifteen feet where was already out of sight of the guards on the neighbouring roof tops. The woman’s stupidity was going to be a clear advantage to my reckless plan.
“Show me your hands,” said the silver masked woman.
I saw Marissa, out of the corner of my peripheral vision, hold her hands out towards the masked woman. A horrible thought suddenly crossed my mind. Marissa’s nails would be elegant and sculpted, beautifully manicured and hardly the nails of a she urt who had spent months rooting around in garbage. The palms and fingers of Marissa’s hands would be soft, lacking calluses. Unless the silver masked woman was an idiot, she’d instantly notice such a discrepancy in Marissa’s disguise.
“This is not a she-urt,” said the woman with a sneer. “Bind her.”
There was a scream from Marissa, sharp and short as she was thrown to her belly once more, but this time in binding position. There probably wasn’t much time to lose and so I picked up a loose piece of wood and sprinted the last few feet towards the robed Free Woman hiding in the recessed space in the alley. I struck her hard on the back of the head and caught her body as it crumpled instantly into my arms. Still hidden from view, I pulled her further back into the shadows and set about stripping her quickly. I had no idea what was going to happen to Marissa now, but whatever it was couldn’t possibly be good.
It is easier to remove the elaborate gowns of a Free Woman than it is to dress yourself in them, and of course I had the distinct disadvantage of not having been able to wear such clothes during my time as a slave. Thank heavens then for the excruciating play I had performed for Boots Tarsk-Bit only days earlier, for it had reminded me how the multitude of fastenings on a Free Woman's wardrobe were held together. But first I removed the belt from around the waist of my tunic. It was of binding fibre, and I had requested it in case it might come in useful. Samos would not have given me a weapon, for I was not skilled in the use of one, but he had allowed me to take a length of binding fibre. And so I set about tying the woman's wrists together behind her back while she lay there senseless. I hoped I hadn't killed her with the sudden blow to the back of her skull, and to this day I honestly do not know what happened to her, but faced with the choices I had to make that cold and brutal night, I was in no position to pull my punches. I believe she was breathing still when I left her bound, but more than that I cannot say. Once her wrists were tightly bound behind the small of her back, I then placed her on her side and drew her ankles close to her wrists. With the other end of the length of the fibre I set about tying her ankles together too, effectively hog-tying her. I then drew the rep cloth tunic from my body, twisted it into a long 'rope' and used it as a makeshift gag around her mouth. I could only imagine the sheer terror and dismay, followed by panic when she would finally awake, alone on the quiet side streets of Port Kar, stripped naked, bound and gagged. Eventually she would be found by someone, but exactly how kind and merciful that someone might be remained to be seen.
As I dressed myself in the Lady's fine robes and gowns I caught a few snatches of conversation blown towards me by the wind. The silver mask woman – this 'Domina' – was questioning Marissa, and from what I could tell Marissa was sticking to her story, though by now it was hardly believable. I heard the sound of Marissa being struck repeatedly by the woman with what I can only assume was a slave crop. I heard Marissa scream, and then she was struck again. Further questions were put to her.
Eventually she would break of course, for eventually everyone does, but I was mildly impressed that she wasn't prepared to beg for mercy and confess everything at the first touch of the whip to her flesh.
I struggled with the robes and gowns, for it is far harder to dress yourself in the dark, when you know that every second counts, than in a lazy sunlit boudoir with a Kajira in attendance to help you fasten the difficult to reach clasps at the back of the garments, but eventually I got into the ankle length gowns in a reasonable enough state to pass as a Free Woman. I could hear the commanding voice of the silver mask woman as she slapped Marissa again and demanded to know who she really was. Once I had the hooded cloak in place, I wrapped a loose veil three times about my lower face and then pulled the hood up over my hair. My heart was beating wildly as I plucked up the courage to do what I was about to do.
“This is your last chance, girl, you are obviously not a she-urt. Tell me who you work for and why you were spying on me under the pier supports?” The Domina had produced a knife from her belt and was holding it now to Marissa's throat.
“Please spare me – I am new to the canals. I was cast out only days ago by a man who tired of my companionship. I had no money to speak of and I would not submit to him for a collar. Nothing but curiosity drove me to see who you were, for it is strange to see such well dressed women at the wharf side so late at night. That is all, I swear!”
I thought Marissa was actually quite brave, truth be told. There was a brief snort of derision from the Domina as she released Marissa and pushed her backwards onto the cobblestones, re-sheathing her knife. “It doesn't matter. Nothing you've seen or heard tonight can be repeated once you are dead. Pratos...” she beckoned the man who had dived into the water to rescue Marissa. “I do not wish to stain my robes. Slit this girl's throat and cast her body into the canal.”
“Kill her?” I think Pratos seemed troubled by this, as well he might. He had pulled Marissa from the deep water and he could see that his catch from the sea was long legged, curvaceous and quite beautiful. Typically Gorean men are reluctant to kill women like that when another option involving slave steel presents itself. “That would be a waste, Domina. Let me claim her.”
“How dare you!” said the masked woman as she stepped forward and slapped the man about his face. I marvelled that she could do that without any repercussions, for the man simply stood there and accepted the blow. He didn't for example block the blow, frown, throw her on to her belly, strip her clothing from her body and bind her with ties as Brinn would have done. Perhaps these men had sworn oaths, or perhaps they were being paid a lot of money for their service. But even so, it must have been disrespectful for her to have done that to a Gorean warrior. “Better the clean, swift death of a single cut, then the degradation of a lifetime of bondage in the collar of a man! We do not give women over to men to be slaves! That is not the way of Tharna of old and it is not the way of the Shadow Council now. Restrain your beast like impulses, Pratos, or you shall face a far more savage beast in return.”
The man seemed to baulk at that last remark, and I too pricked up my ears at the mention of a 'beast'. Not everyone on Gor knows of the existence of the Kurii – in fact most Goreans are oblivious to the space faring race of carnivorous alien creatures who enjoy access to technology and weapons far in advance of anything on Earth, but I had encountered them on multiple occasions, and I had good reason to suspect that perhaps this silver masked woman was referring to the Kurii now when she threatened the guard with a 'savage beast'. Did this mean the Silver Mask refugees of Tharna had the backing of the Kur race? If so this was far more serious than Samos had supposed. It was one thing to have a shadow cabal of frustrated Free Women plotting against the Pirate Council of Port Kar, and quite another if they were in fact a tool of the Kurii. Of course I had no proof this was the case. It had simply been a throw away remark, but one that seemed to cow the man into behaving. Obviously this man was disciplined to obey not because he feared a woman, but because he feared a 'beast'.
Six years ago the Kur race had fought a civil war deep in space in the asteroid belt where their space ships lurk far beyond the reach of the Priest Kings. They had expended great resources and manpower in that conflict and it was thought that it would be a long time before they were capable of deploying against the Counter Earth again. I had seen little of the conflict, bar that which had taken place in the Northern Forests of Gor. Perhaps six years was long enough for the Kurii to grow bold again.
“Then I shall claim her,” I said as I emerged from the shadows, appearing to be, to the casual eye, one of the two Free Women who had waited at the wharf side. “I have need of a serving girl. Let me claim her if she is to otherwise die. Let her serve a woman.”
Marissa looked up, startled, recognising my voice I think. There was a flash of acknowledgement from her eyes before a subtle nod on my part made her look away.
“You are not yet initiated,” said the Domina as she regarded me. “You are not yet of the Shadow Council.”
“But I will be.” I stood there exuding a false confidence that surprised me. “In just a few short hours. Let this girl serve a new Domina of the cabal. Let her serve me. Let your men understand that if a girl submits, she will only do so to another woman.” I approached Marissa and, to her surprise, gathered a fistful of her hair and lifted her head to meet my veiled face. “Do you wish to die, girl?” I asked.
“No... please don't kill me,” said Marissa in what was actually a genuine sounding appeal. I think she understood it was me, and I think she understood I was doing the only thing I could to save her life out here on the abandoned canal wharf.
“If you wish to live, you will submit to me. It is your choice, girl. It is that simple.” I released her hair, clicked my fingers and pointed to my bejewelled slippers that were at least one size too big for me.
Unless you are a Free Woman raised and brought up on Gor you will have little comprehension of the enormity of what the Lady Marissa now faced. I was offering her the choice between life and death, but to choose life she must first submit. To a Free Woman of Gor such a choice has enormous ramifications. Many Free Women claim it is unthinkable to submit, by which they mean they are so incredibly scared of the prospect that they would rather not think about it. In truth it is not unthinkable at all, since nearly every Free Woman is aware that she might one day face such a choice. And in fact many women are schooled in private by their mothers or older sisters at a young age in the correct way to submit should the need ever truly arise. So yes, far from it being 'unthinkable,' the average Free Woman has thought about it a lot.
To submit of your own free will is of course to declare yourself a slave. This means far more to a Free Woman than if she were merely captured. At least if you have slavery forced upon you, you can hold out the belief that you had no choice in the matter. You could for example look down at natural slaves, or women with secret slave feelings who one day begged the collar. But to submit on your knees before someone – that is to suggest you are in your heart of hearts a slave, and that you would rather be a slave than accept the dignity of a clean death. In response I would suggest that life is precious, and that from my own point of view I would rather be a slave than be dead, but many Free Women would claim (while they are free at least) that death is a more honourable alternative. Whether those same Free Women would then choose death over slavery if the choice was forced upon them is another matter entirely. Myself, I think probably not. Invariably Free Women tend to submit if they face death, and I do not think ill of them for it.
Life is indeed precious.
And Marissa now faced that choice as she knelt before me. She knew of course that her circumstances were somewhat different, as I was in actual fact her ally here, and that I was in truth a slave girl myself. Could a Free Woman legally submit to a slave? I had not heard of such a thing before. Perhaps legally the submission would be considered void by a magistrate, for a slave is incapable of owning anything in the eyes of the law, and for a woman to submit to someone, she must then become that person's property. The Catch 22 applies if a slave is then incapable of owning anyone. So perhaps Marissa considered the possibility that her submission would be nothing more than words in the air, and that Samos would hardly hold her to it. Maybe she considered too the fact that I was asking this of her to save her life until we could either seek help or escape. Marissa was not stupid. I think she understood there was little else I could do for her on my own.
“Did you hear me girl?” I said as I lifted the tip of her chin with my hand.
The words of submission are powerfully emotive things for any Free Woman to speak aloud. It is said that some women who have natural slave desires buried deep inside their psyches, some such women may occasionally kneel in front of a wall mirror in the privacy of their own homes and enact postures and words of submission to the mirror, but so powerful are the words that in reciting them they feel almost as real then and there as if they might be spoken aloud to a man with a capture chain. Women who practice such pretend submissions often feel such a thrill from doing so that they are driven to feelings of deep arousal that invariably lead to lonely masturbation in their bed chambers. Such women are of course despised by nobler, more lofty, more chaste women.
If such lofty chaste women actually exist at all.
Poor Marissa. I could see the agonies etched in her expression. It didn’t matter that this might be a pretence – an act of submission is after all an act of submission. It is a mind boggling thing for a Free Woman to even contemplate. I could see she was frozen in fear, unable to say the precious words that might save her life.
“She is a proud woman, I see,” said the silver mask in admiration. “Such women do not submit. Grant her the honourable death she has earned.” The Domina turned her back on us, with a swish of her skirts.
“I submit!” cried Marissa suddenly as she lowered her head and extended crossed wrists towards me as she saw Pratos reluctantly draw his long knife, ready to slit her throat from ear to ear.
“Speak clearly,” hissed the Domina, now no longer feeling any sense of admiration for the naked, kneeling girl. “You know the form of words to use.”
“I, the Lady Marissa of the home stone of Corcyrus, submit myself in bondage to the collar.” She sobbed; the horror and enormity of those words ringing through her head. Pratos handed me a length of binding fibre and nodded as I took Marissa’s wrists and bound them together tightly. I had to play my part of course. I had to seem to be a Free Woman of Port Kar, and that meant treating Marissa as if she meant nothing to me. I hoped she understood that.
“She is yours then,” said the silver mask. “You may collar her at the house. I believe there are some empty collars there. Some women I suppose do not deserve to be liberated from their oppression. Some women obviously welcome the prospect of submission to others. I despise such women for their weakness.”
“Not every woman can be strong,” I said, hoping that was the sort of thing I was supposed to say.
“It is true enough. It is why men have prospered and risen so high in the first place.” She glanced now at Pratos who was regarding the naked body of Marissa with obvious interest. “What are you looking at? You should be keeping watch for other enemies. Be about your business.”
“Yes, Domina,” said the man with perhaps less deference than earlier. If he was being paid coin, I hoped for the silver mask's sake it was a lot of coin, else she might find the patience of a Gorean man only extends so far.
“To your feet, slave girl,” I said, motioning Marissa to stand and, as she did so, I took the opportunity to whisper into her ear, “play along, for both our sakes, Mistress. Or else we'll end up dead.”