Chapter 14: Dominance and Submission
There was a look of incredulous fury in Marissa’s eyes as I led her to my bed chamber for the night. This probably had something to do with the fact that I had asked one of the silver masked women to gag her and secure her wrists behind her back. A further consideration may have been the leash I then attached to the small ring fixed to her collar. These things matter to Free Women I suppose. If looks could kill, Marissa was close to the nuclear launch option right now.
“I’ll explain later,” I whispered to no discernible effect as I led her down the internal corridors towards the bed rooms. I felt her pull angrily at the leash and there were muffled grunts from her gagged mouth, no doubt a combination of protests and threats. I sighed and coerced her to move with a sharp tug of the leash. Marissa stumbled forward, no doubt adding to her fury.
A silver masked woman in a radiant blue gown passed us by. She nodded in greeting and said, “Hail Tharna,” in a sort of neo-Nazi fashion. Give it time and they would probably come up with some sort of appropriate salute. I gave her a 'Hail Tharna' back and carried on my way.
It was unlikely that the Lady Marissa had ever been led anywhere, barefoot, on a leash before. Still, there is a first time for everything. The door to my room was unlocked, for the only locks on the door were on the inside. Before entering I took the time to note the arrangement of the other bedrooms along the corridor. After my experiences in the furring chamber with Brinn I had the notion that there might be some observational points in my room where one or more of the silver masked women might spy on Marissa and myself from an adjoining chamber. This was the reason for gagging Marissa because I feared that the moment we entered the bed chamber she would start ordering me about before I had a chance to check the space for spy holes or one way glass panels. I couldn’t risk Marissa giving our true identities away before I had a chance to say anything by way of warning.
But even so, despite being gagged and braceleted, Marissa stamped her foot the moment I thrust her into the room. I swung the door shut and slid the two bolts to secure it in place. Ignoring Marissa’s further muffled entreaties to be freed, I began subtly checking the inside of the room for anything that might suggest an observation point. Again I ruled out any advanced technology as it would be against the Priest King edicts, and I felt sure that Elizabeth wouldn’t have access to banned technology anyway. So any observation points would have to be low tech in construction. The only windows in the room were small, barred and situated on the exterior walls overlooking some sloping ground that led to one of the lagoons. The only mirrors in the room were free standing, ruling out the possibility of spy glass, and while the room had a number of ornaments, there were no paintings fixed to the walls. But still, I paced about the room, running my hands along the surfaces as my eyes flickered up and down in search of anything unusual. Marissa watched me, her eyes still blazing.
It occurred to me to check the ceiling as well, and so armed with a lantern (the house was too old to have energy bulbs) I held it as high as I could and tried to discern any obvious holes that might be there. Again the ceiling seemed fine. The floor was simply floorboards covered in large rugs, so that ruled out any spying from below, and in any case my rough idea of the geography of this large building suggested that my bed chamber was situated above the grand entrance hall. Satisfied that this time I was secure and private, I turned round to face Marissa who was now desperately trying to get my attention with a stream of muffled sounds.
“Before I free you I want to say a few things.” I placed the lantern down on a low table and cast my eyes around the room, taking in the old fashioned sleep couch with its ornate timber frames and slave ring hanging from the foot of the frame. There was a dressing table, free standing closet, some stools and a chest of drawers. Sanitation consisted of a large ceramic chamber pot, several jugs of water and some folded rags that seemed clean enough. I tested the bars at the windows – they could be opened but they were locked in place by heavy wrought iron padlocks of the kind you might use on an outer gate. Obviously enough I had not been given a key.
Marissa shook with anger and stamped her foot again to get my attention. This really was growing tiresome. A low table by the windows was obviously a place where I might kneel in the evening and partake of the tapas like snacks and the jug of ka-la-na wine that had been thoughtfully provided. A number of candles also had been made available along with a tinder box for lighting them. There was nothing that might prove suitable for use as a weapon which was a shame as I could have done with a dagger of some kind. On the wall by the windows was a slave whip, and hanging from a hook just below it were a number of chain arrangements that might prove useful if you owned a slave.
Only when I felt it safe to do so did I remove my silver mask, and then turn round and concern myself with Marissa. Obviously I had to un-gag and free her. Obviously. I mean, she was after all a Free Woman. Yes, she had submitted to me, but she had done so knowing that I was a slave and that slaves could not own anything. On that basis the submission could not legally have any validity, otherwise you could in theory submit to a hamster. From a legal standpoint I felt sure she was still free. It was therefore inappropriate for her to be gagged and for her wrists to be held behind her back in slave bracelets.
Her muffled cries were now coming faster than before from an increased state of agitation. She looked to be very, very angry indeed. I dreaded to think what she was actually trying to say.
“Please forgive me, Mistress, but as you can probably now guess it was necessary for me to gag you before we entered this room. I was concerned that we might be under observation inside this room and I feared you might say or do something that would give away our true identities before I could check the room for surveillance.”
Marissa continued to mumble incoherent words that didn’t sound at all pleasant. I began to feel nervous that maybe she didn’t truly appreciate the necessity for me having her bound and gagged like this.
“I couldn’t warn you in advance. I am really sorry. You do understand this was for your benefit, Mistress?”
Marissa stamped her foot again and seemed to be trying to give me urgent orders. She turned round and showed her bound wrists to me. Presumably she was indicating I should remove the slave bracelets at once.
She was a Free Woman. I had to free her. But I was scared now how she might be once she was free.
“Please remain calm when I remove your gag,” I said as I approached her. In all the stamping and shaking, Marissa’s hem line had ridden up rather scandalously on her thighs and with her wrists bound she was unable to correct her garment. I tactfully slid the thin clinging fabric back down her thighs about as far as it would go, but the realisation of how exposed she had been seemed to anger her even more. I felt sure she was hissing and screaming beneath that gag.
It really was a very brief, tight fitting tunic, even for slave garments. It occurred to me that it might perhaps be a size or two too small for her. I suppose the silver masked women did not have a large and varied wardrobe of slave garments to choose from.
“Please keep quiet, Mistress. I’m going to remove your gag now.”
The gag was supple stitched leather with a ball attachment to go in the mouth. It fastened at the back with a strap and buckle arrangement. The nature of the ball insert meant that her mouth was filled, the tongue was pressed down and the jaws were unnaturally forced open making a combination that successfully prevented speech. It is a very uncomfortable gag to wear, which I knew from past experience, but it is very efficient. Marissa’s hair at the back of her head where the straps buckled tightly was damp with perspiration. I unfastened the buckle, loosened the leather and slid the ball part from her mouth. As soon as I did I regretted it. There was a brief few moments of gasping, retching, gulping in air, before the stream of abuse began.
“How dare you! How dare you! I’ll whip you to within an inch of your life for this you filthy slut! Free me now! Now! Then strip and kneel to the whip! I will make you suffer like you have never suff….” Her voice was suddenly cut off as I slipped the ball gag back in place. Now the moaning became even more frantic as she felt me buckle the strap securely back in place. She shook her head frantically, terrified that the gag was not now going to come off after all. Her wrists pulled futilely at the steel bracelets and she collapsed to her knees on the rug.
Removing her gag had obviously been a mistake. And yet I was only prolonging and making worse my eventual punishment for there was no doubt that Marissa would have me severely beaten and punished for replacing the gag. Even now her mind was probably racing with all manner of punishments for me. But coward that I was, I could at least postpone the inevitable for a while.
I looked down at the bound, gagged free woman. To the casual observer she looked every bit a slave right now. Only the brand was missing. For a moment I imagined taking her to a slaver in the city, keeping her gagged so she couldn’t declare her identity, and having her branded and then sold. Let’s see her punish me then. But no, Samos would find out. And what Samos would do to me would make Marissa's vengeance seem like a warm day lazing in the sunshine in a park by comparison. I was fucked either way, only I feared the wrath of Samos more than I did Marissa. At least Marissa would probably whip me herself and she had only a woman’s strength.
“Please, Mistress, please understand that I’m trying to keep us both alive.” It was no good. From the way her body was shaking she was about ready to kill me if she could. There was no way I could free her like this in that state, not when it was down to me to free Brinn and Simon and to steal the Kurii device from under Elizabeth's nose. I could not have this level of volatile distraction to contend with. “Okay, now listen – I’ve had just about enough of this. I’m the only playing piece Samos has remaining on the kaissa board, understand? And if I don’t do something right now, in the next hour or so Brinn and Simon are likely to be killed and come the morning Elizabeth is going to slaughter the Council of Captains in Port Kar. Probably including Samos. Now I’m going to remove your gag again but honestly, if you start shouting at me again, it’s going back on, and this time it will stay there until this is over. I mean it. You’ll spend all day wearing that thing. Do you want that?”
Marissa’s eyes blazed wildly but then common sense kicked in and her struggling and hissing subsided to be replaced by a soft whimper. She began to understand that I could leave her like this. It was in my power to do so. And then gradually as realisation dawned that her threats for now were meaningless, a subtle change came over her body. I could recognise the change for I had seen it in newly captured women before and I had felt it myself from time to time. Submissive enzymes were now flooding her brain, making her docile and compliant, submissive for her own good. She was reducing down to a helpless slave-like state once she realised that resistance wasn’t getting her anywhere. Perhaps she now felt the first hint of what it is to be a bound and helpless woman. I nodded, making it clear I understood how she was now feeling.
“That’s better, Mistress. Much better. The gag is very uncomfortable isn’t it?”
She stared up at me and mumbled something. I smiled. “One whimper for yes, two whimpers for no.”
“You really want me to take it off you, don’t you?”
“And if I do, you’re going to be well behaved aren’t you? You’re not going to scream abuse and threats at me are you?
I reached out, unbuckled the strap again and slid the ball gag from her mouth. This time she doubled up and retched a bit of saliva and sick onto the rug. She coughed and spluttered for a few seconds before lifting her agonised face up towards me, wet tears rolling down her cheeks. Her wrists of course were still held in tight Gorean slave steel.
She hadn’t said anything this time, rather her eyes regarded the gag that I still held in my right hand. The leather was wet from her mouth. It could easily be replaced.
“Please…” she said softly, her voice broken now.
“I’m not going to free your wrists just yet, Mistress. Not until I know for certain you’re not going to endanger us. Now kneel by the foot of the great couch. Over there by the slave ring, please.”
“Why?” she said.
“Because I told you to.” My eyes narrowed and she quickly stumbled on her knees to the place I indicated. She grew alarmed when I went to the hook on the wall and selected a length of chain with two snap clasps.
“Please no…” she sobbed. “I’ll be good, Emma. I won’t cause any trouble!”
“We’ll see, won't we.” Now I snapped one of the clasps to the ring on her collar. The other clasp I snapped to the slave ring at the foot of the couch. The snap locks once closed required a key to open. That key was hung on a piece of string from the wall hook. I pocketed it for later.
“I’ll be good, Emma. I’ll do what you say. There’s no need to chain me.”
“We’ll see.” Now I sat on one of the stools and regarded her. Call me bad, but it actually felt good to have the Free Woman, Marissa, chained and on her knees before me.
“I think it might be useful for you and I to have a little talk,” I said as I watched Marissa. “Ever since we met in the Sardar you’ve treated me like shit on the heel of one of your slippers. But it’s not just you, it’s Free Women on Gor in general. Do you know something? I really hate Free Women on Gor. They are nothing but shitty towards me. You’re not the worst if I'm being honest. There's a Free Woman in the Sardar who would really have something to fear if she was in your position right now, but you’re part of the problem. You call me a slut. Do you know why you call me a slut? Because men force me to dress in the same skimpy slave tunic that you’re now wearing. Does that make you a slut, Mistress?”
“I’m not a slut,” she whispered. “I’m a free woman!”
“And yet there you are dressed in a scandalously brief tunic, and look how tightly it clings to you. Only a couple of inches of your legs are covered. I can see your bosom. Your arms are bare. You look like a slut to me dressed like that.”
Marissa blushed bright red and lowered her head in misery. “You dressed me like this!”
“And there is my point. You’ve made it clear – all Free Women make it abundantly clear – that any woman dressed the way you are is a slut. That makes you a slut.”
“Don’t say that! I’m not like you!”
“Oh, how many times in my early captivity did I say the same thing? Do you think it ever made any difference?” I rose from the stool and paced about the slave ring and chain that secured Marissa. “And look – you wear a slave collar. What sort of girl wears a slave collar?”
“I asked you a question, Mistress. What sort of girl wears a slave collar?”
I picked the whip up off the hooks where it sat on the wall and with a quick flourish I unravelled its broad straps.
“A slave! A collared girl is a slave!” She cried out. “Please don’t use that on me!”
“Oh? Well, that makes you a slave then, doesn’t it, Mistress. And if you’re a slave that must mean you’re a slut as well. Slaves are sluts, yes?”
“Please… please…” She shrank back on the rug and began to cry.
“I’m told that it’s common practice for a new slave to feel the whip early on in her slavery. It instils a fear of the lash that saves her making mistakes in the next few months.”
“You can’t whip me! I’m free!”
“All Free Women say that when they're first collared. Did you know that? I probably said something like that early on in my slavery. Do you think the Master holding the whip spared me because of it?”
“Oh please, please, Emma, I promise not to punish you for anything you’ve done… I promise. Please don’t use that on me. I’m not strong, I can’t comprehend what it is like to be whipped. I wouldn't be able to take the pain!”
“We both know that although you say that now, once you’re back in Samos’s halls with the collar gone and you’re dressed in your finery again, you’ll have me tied to a steel ring and tear my back open with a whip. Your word doesn’t mean anything if it's given to a slave.”
“I swear, Emma, I swear on everything I hold dear that I will not punish you for anything you have done until now. I swear, just please believe me! I won’t be able to bear this! Please… please… I’m sorry. Please believe me. I can't take the whip!”
“I don’t believe you.” I touched the left cheek of her face with the leather blades of the whip and she began crying hysterically, fearful for the beating she was about to receive.
“I’ll do anything, Emma, please, please, mercy, mercy…”
“I only show mercy to slaves, Mistress. Free Women deserve whatever they get.”
“I'm a slave, Emma! Deep in my heart I know I'm a slave! I have slave feelings when I’m close to a man... it’s true... I can never admit it to anyone, but I’m terrified by the feelings I sometimes have... even with Simon... there was a part of me, a shameful part of me that wanted him not to honour and respect me but to take me and throw me onto a couch, tear away my gowns and have me in the furs like he would have a slave. I feel so ashamed when I think things like this... I fight so hard against those feelings...
“Is this really true?” I smiled. “It could make a difference I suppose...” I pretended to look thoughtful.
“It is! Believe me! Sometimes at night when I lie in my own bed alone… I feel so miserable… so unfulfilled. I want the touch of a man. I need the touch of a man. I am so ashamed of myself.”
“There is a part of you that is a natural slave then, Mistress?”
She simply sobbed, with more tears flooding down he cheeks.
“I had suspicions,” I said as I knelt down next to her and touched her face with my left hand. “When we first met in the Sardar foothills you seemed very brazen in revealing your face to Simon. At first I assumed you already knew one another fairly well, for a Free Woman would normally only reveal her lips to a man she trusted. Why did you do that, Mistress, when you had only met Simon once before?”
“I... hoped he might like what he saw. Your Master is strong, and very handsome.”
“I see. You wished him to find you attractive and then court you gradually over time, eventually reaching the point where you might walk together and hold hands? Maybe eventually even kiss?”
“No.” Marissa blushed and lowered her head again.
“Oh Mistress, you didn't desire him sexually, did you?” I made a disapproving 'tsk' sound with my tongue.
“He is a very handsome man, and strong.”
“I suppose he is. What did you fantasise might happen when he saw your unveiled lips?”
“Please Emma, I can't speak of these things.”
“Speak clearly, Mistress. It may make the difference between me using this whip or replacing it on the wall brackets.”
Marissa's slight body trembled in her chains as she squeezed her eyes shut. It seemed she found it easier to say what she had to say if she couldn't see me looking at her. “I fantasised... it was just a fantasy... I fantasised he might take me by the wrist, pull me to him, tell me he wanted me. He would lock the door with bolts, trapping me in my apartment and tell me to strip, completely. He would make me do so, and I would have to obey. And then he would make me crawl to a slave ring at the foot of the couch and he would chain me to it, and...”
“Slut,” I said simply.
“Please, Emma... it was just a fantasy... I don't really want it.”
“Slut,” I said again as I stroked her face with my hand. “In your fantasies you would resist my Master of course, for you are a proud Free Woman. You would fight him, preferring to die.”
“At first I would struggle,” wept Marissa, “but then he would raise the whip to me and I would comply with all his wishes, desperately trying to please him. He would... Master me...”
“Such a slut,” I said softly as I stroked her hair.
“I hate feeling this way! I hate it! I try to push these thoughts away, but it is so hard!”
“Perhaps it's right that you should wear a collar after all?”
“No! I fear what I would become.”
“Is this why you disliked me? Because I belong to Simon?”
Marissa nodded quickly. “Of course I hated you! You are his slave! You wear his collar! You share his furs at night! He told me that night at the estate that he had once had sex with you. Of course I hated you for that, and then when I was asked to buy you on his behalf, and I knew you would lie in his arms from that moment on... it was one of the worst moments of my life.”
Poor Marissa. She was jealous that I belonged to Simon. Despite myself I began to feel a little sorry for her.
“Sex with Simon wasn't quite how you probably imagined it to be. We did it once under a lake and we were interrupted. He hasn't had me since. Nor do I think he ever will.”
Marissa sobbed again. “You're just saying that to be kind to me.”
“Why would I ever want to be kind to you?” I said back. “It's the truth. I have no need to make you feel better. How old are you Mistress?” On Gor such a question is a very valid one because Marissa looked to be about 23. Most Goreans have their physical appearance stabilised with miraculous serums around that age. Being on Gor is like being on the set of a swords and sorcery version of Logan's Run where nearly everyone appears to be under the age of 30. My father of course is an exception, as is Samos, though in the case of Samos I suspect that is because he has indeed lived a very long life, bordering on the life of an Anne Rice vampire.
“I'm 37 years old, Emma.”
“Are you a virgin?”
Marissa looked at me confused. “I don't understand the word.”
“I'm sorry – I used an English word. I forget myself sometimes. Are you white silk, Mistress?”
“Yes,” she blushed.
And there was the crux of the problem for Free Women on Gor: Imagine being absolutely beautiful, but by the time you reach the age of 37 you still have not experienced sexual intercourse because all the men you meet are more interested in the abundance of slave-girls. To reach the age of 37 and know that you may never have sex unless it is on men's terms, and those terms are that you wear a slave collar and a brand. Poor Lady Marissa.
“I feel so alone, so miserable at times,” she said. “How can I compete with you and Chloe? You are so beautiful, so sensual. Of course a man like Simon would prefer you to me. I hate you for what you have. You have no idea! You have everything and I have nothing!”
“I’m not going to whip you.” I folded the whip away and replaced it on the wall mount. “Apparently it is wrong to whip a slave-girl for the things she did when she was a Free Woman. But I know your secret now.”
“Please don’t tell Samos… it would be my ruin…”
“Yes, it would be. Your complete and utter ruin.”
“I beg you, Emma.”
“I think this changes things a bit, Mistress.” I paced over to the low table and poured myself a little of the ka-la-na. It was golden and delicious. “For what it’s worth, you would be a highlight on the auction block.”
Marissa looked up, her eyes glazed. I smiled.
“You didn’t know that, did you? You have no idea what your auction price would be?”
“No...” she whispered.
“I suppose you must have sometimes fantasised about being led onto an auction block and sold?”
Marissa nodded again and wept. “I am ashamed of my dreams. But they’re just fantasies! I wouldn’t want any of it for real!”
“I understand. Fantasies are very different from the harsh reality. But we’re not in control of our fantasies are we? That has always been our curse as women. You’re untrained, but you’re very beautiful, both in face and form. Slave beautiful in fact. You have the most exquisite lips. I'm actually jealous of those lips. Men would overlook your raw state, your lack of experience, and they would see the splendid potential in you. You’d go for somewhere between one to two silvers in the current season.”
“Is that all?”
I laughed, “It’s a good price for an untrained slave. Trust me. You might fetch between two to three silvers if you were trained to move well on the block before hand. But few slavers have time for that. They tend to have a lot of girls to sell in a very short space of time.”
“I don’t want to be sold, not really, Emma.”
“Of course you don’t. The reality is a horrifying experience, nothing like the fantasy. Do you know what the holding pens full of girls waiting to be auctioned off smell like? Piss and vomit. Piss and vomit and cheap slave perfume to mask the piss and vomit. That’s the reality of an auction.” I sipped some more of the ka-la-na. “Would you train well?”
“What?” Marissa looked angry by the question.
“I asked you if you would train well as a slave.”
“Would I have any choice?” she said bitterly.
“The choice of training well or feeling the whip.”
“Then I would train well.” She held her head up proudly.
“Of course you would, Mistress. We always do in the end.”
I watched Marissa as she trembled again where she knelt on the rug. She was becoming very aware of the steel chain hanging from her collar, and the inflexible security of the slave bracelets on her wrists. She no longer felt very proud, haughty or free.
“Please don’t tell Samos…”
“Well, you know the penalty for a slave girl lying to a Master. What if he should ask me if you showed any slave feelings? What would happen to me if I lied?”
Marissa began crying again, her body convulsing with the growing horror of what I might say if questioned. “I’m at your mercy, Emma. Please spare me.”
“We’ll see, won’t we?” I finished the wine and placed the goblet back onto the low table. I think I had already made up my mind that I would not tell Samos the truth about Marissa. I think my problem is I am too sensitive to displays of emotion like this and it cracks my hard resolve. Marissa was at my mercy now, and I am not the kind of woman who is merciless. “You're probably hungry,” I said as I picked up a plate of tapas style food – pieces of cooked meat, cheeses, some fruit, arrayed decoratively on a ceramic dish with Mediterranean style mosaic patterns on it. I placed the dish on the floor beside Marissa where she still knelt and now I unlocked the slave bracelets so that she might eat with dignity. The length of chain I had used on her collar was long enough for her to stand if she wished, and long enough that she could move about the room freely, but not quite as far as to be able to touch any of the walls, doors or windows. She could not therefore leave this room. She would remain chained to the slave ring subject to my will. At the moment it lay in coiled loops around her feet. I watched as Marissa flexed her wrists for a while to restore feeling in them before she reached for a piece of smoked cheese and placed it in her mouth.
“Thank you, Emma.” She seemed pathetically grateful now, perhaps because she was desperate to form a bond with me that might mean I would keep her secret. The haughty, proud Lady Marissa would want to please me, to appear pleasing, polite, as I now knew her secret. I watched as she ate quickly for she was quite hungry. Fear, when it abates, increases an appetite. I didn't feed her by hand or tell her to eat without using her own hands. That wouldn't be appropriate. She was after all a Free Woman. “We need to find a way out of here, Emma. We can't stay here.”
“Believe me, Mistress, I'd like nothing better than to escape from here right now, but this is our only opportunity to free Brinn and Simon. And the only chance we have to steal Elizabeth's Kurii artefact before she uses it against the Council. Scared as I am, I have to try and find Brinn. When he's free with a sword in his hand, then we'll be safe.” I could see something was troubling Marissa when I mentioned Simon's name again. “What is it?”
“Simon... he saw me in the feasting hall, serving as a slave, wearing this collar...”
“Yes he did.” I poured myself a little more ka-la-na to act as Dutch courage for what I was about to do.
“He... had me display my thighs to see if I was branded. How can I ever look at him again with any semblance of dignity? He will always remember the collar around my throat and the brevity of my garmenture,” she sobbed.
“Maybe it will give him ideas,” I said with a smile. “Maybe he will begin to look at you the way he looks at Chloe and myself. Maybe he will begin to speculate what it might be like to have you in the furs at night.”
“As a slave?” she said, alarmed.
“Yes, as a slave. How else would he look at you now?”
“I can't be a slave! I don't want to be a slave!” Her hands touched the steel chain that hung from her collar.
“Sometimes the decision isn't ours to make, Mistress. Sometimes men make the decision for us.”
“Samos will free me,” she whispered. “I work in his service.”
I think she was right. Provided she didn't disgrace herself, it would not be honourable for Samos to keep her in a collar that she wore as a means of subterfuge in his service. All this hinged of course on what I might eventually say to Samos when he asked me to account for our actions. Marissa's fate really was in my hands. But I knew I couldn't bring myself to destroy her life. I just didn't have it in me. In many ways she was just a product of her upbringing within this rigid inflexible society with its gender specific rules and customs. I should put her out of her misery, I supposed.
“I am going to keep your secret, Mistress.”
The relief on her face was absolute. “I will never forget this Emma. Thank you.” She held the steel chain in her hands and looked genuinely grateful. Only time would tell of course whether she might remain grateful or not. “I would of course like this chain to be removed from my collar...”
“I'm sure you would.” Facing the free standing mirror, I replaced the silver mask that concealed the upper half of my face, and tied the ribbons in place, tucking them under my hair. My true identity was concealed once again. I had no idea how late it was – very late I guessed – but there was still always the risk that I might run into someone once I left this room to sneak through the building while the women slept.
“Emma, there is no need now to keep me chained like this. I do not like being chained. The collar is bad enough. Please free me.”
“I'm going in search of the Kur artefact, and to find where the men are being held. I'm hoping no one will be awake at this late hour. You will remain here, Mistress to await my return. Assuming we then have Brinn by our side, we will get out of here together.”
“But the chain...” she looked up at me.
“I think it will do you good to remain chained a while longer, Mistress. It has already done wonders for your outlook on life.”
“It's a slave chain...”
“Naturally, Mistress. And it looks good on you. Imagine how Simon would feel if he could see you now?”
Marissa blushed and lowered her head at the thought. I couldn't help but notice how she squeezed her thighs tightly together.
“Is it a pleasing thought, Mistress?”
“No!” she snapped. I simply smiled, knowing the truth of the matter.
“I will see you soon, Mistress. Be well.” And then I silently left the room, closing the door behind me, leaving the Lady Marissa to her inevitable chain fantasies.
Stealing through the house would be easy enough now that all the women had retired for the night, but even so my heart was pounding as I carefully crept from one corner of the building to the next. I felt paranoid that I might turn a corner and run straight into some masked Tharna fanatic who was too excited to sleep, and would then have to explain myself.
The corridor was dark save for the shards of moonlight that came through the narrow barred windows on the first floor, but this suited my purposes well for I was now in stealth mode like some latter day Modesty Blaise. I allowed myself some time in the gloom for my eyes to become accustomed to the low light before setting out down the corridor towards the stair well. If Elizabeth had carried the globe with her into her own bed chamber then I was stuck, because I couldn't risk opening each bedroom door, even supposing they might be unlocked which was unlikely, until I found hers. My hope was that she had it locked somewhere safe downstairs, and that might be something Brinn could deal with once he was free.
I found the billowing gowns of concealment quite cumbersome as I paced down the length of the corridor. The way the material draped down past my ankles meant I was taking relatively short steps. The clothing worn by Free Women has something of a hobbling effect due to the extreme length of the garments. It is certainly not possible to run dressed like this, which probably accounts for many captures over the years. It is also difficult to fight like this, because the clothing is restrictive in that respect too. I longed for a pair of opaque leggings, flat ankle boots and a long sleeved tunic top, but such clothing isn't part of a Free Woman's ensemble.
The house seemed quiet enough except for the occasional creaking of timbers that occurs naturally in old buildings. And then I heard a voice, Elizabeth's voice, coming from a chamber up ahead. It seemed that she was talking to herself like some mad woman might, muttering quietly so I couldn't actually make out the words. There were dim lights of illumination spilling out from the chamber and so I crept in that direction, keen to find out what was going on. When I reached the open doorway I saw her with her back to me, facing a series of tall drapes that covered a far wall. From my vantage point I could see a darkened, recessed alcove on the other side with a single curtain in place. It would make for an ideal hiding spot, and provided Elizabeth didn't turn round I could reach it stealthily in a matter of seconds from the doorway.
I did so, and was behind cover just in time, for I then heard footsteps on creaking wooden boards from somewhere behind the heavy wall length drapes. Something was coming and by the sound of the weight on either the wooden floor boards or wooden steps, it was big and heavy.
I smelled the Kur before it even emerged from behind the heavy drape curtain. Rising up on its hind legs like a bear, the Kur turned its head towards Elizabeth and lowered that great fanged muzzle as she reached up with her arms to embrace it, teeth and all.
The creature raised a paw to a device secured to its throat and depressed a button. I heard raw static for a second or two, before the translator device (for that was what it was) settled into some semblance of working order. It appeared that the device was at least partially damaged, for I could see scorch marks on its casing and a deep indentation where perhaps it had been struck by a projectile or heavy blow. As I watched, Elizabeth moved forward towards the creature’s bulk and, spreading her arms wide, buried her head for a few moments in the creature’s thick fur.
“Kur daughter…” came the mechanical voice from the translator box. “I heard fighting above.” The beast moved a paw with surprising gentleness and raised Elizabeth Bentley high enough that she could nuzzle his great snout with her own face. “Was I needed? I had been in the canal…”
“You heard the screams of men who died beneath my knife, and no you were not needed. I am a warrior of the Kurii remember.”
“You say that… but still you hide your war face… your true face…” the Kur placed Elizabeth back on her feet and then moved a talon to lift away the silver half mask. I saw Elizabeth flinch, pull back slightly in something resembling shame as her horrible scars and disfigurement was made plain. She had been incredibly beautiful when she had been brought to Gor. I remember seeing her in that field outside Milton Keynes – so desirable as her clothes had been cut away by Udumi’s men. But then she had fallen in battle with me atop Skaffel Peak and one side of her face had landed in a puddle of acid. The corrosive fluid had clearly done horrific damage to one half of her face to the point where I couldn’t look long at it. It truly was terrible to behold, and it was my doing. I knew then how much Elizabeth no doubt hated me, and if she ever had reason to discover who I was… well, it didn’t bear thinking about.
“Your vanity remains and it is a weakness, one you must rise above.” The Kur took hold of Elizabeth’s right wrist and pulled her towards a wall mounted mirror. I saw her look away, unable to gaze at her own reflection, and who can blame her, for the scars would probably have driven me to suicide. “You cannot be Kur daughter fully until you embrace your war face.” The Kur bared its teeth as Elizabeth actually sobbed. I had never thought of her as capable of crying before, but as I saw her shoulders shake with the thought of what she had now become, I almost felt sorry for her.
She had been so beautiful once.
“Vain little animal. Did the men of your species lust after you once?” said the great Kur through the crackling interference of the damaged translator. “Do you miss their attention, their words of love, their longing for you?”
“I try to be strong… it is my one weakness…” Elizabeth reached for the mask which lay now on the floor, but the Kur pulled her away from it.
“Look at yourself. Take pride in your scars, for they are the mark or a warrior. Take comfort in the fear that your face will now induce in our enemies. Let them fear to look at you. You have no need of love. If you want a man you can now simply take him for your pleasure. Why should you care if he finds you pleasing in return?”
In reply Elizabeth held the palm of one hand across her injured face. The Kur seemed displeased and released her. Quickly she ran to the fallen mask, picked it up and held it back in place. The ribbons holding it to her face were torn by the Kur’s claw, but Elizabeth fumbled with the strips regardless.
Now the Kur emerged fully from the curtained off alcove and with its great bulk out of the way I could clearly see a torch lit tunnel that ventured down into the basement levels of the house. A strong smell of salt water, damp and seaweed emanated from that opening, making me think that the basement was well below the water level of the lagoon, and possibly even led to a sea gate of some kind where small boats could enter and leave. Such things are common in the great houses of Port Kar where heavy iron grilles at sea level conceal tunnels large enough for medium size row boats to enter discretely at night. Such things were popular with pirates and smugglers who were in competition with one another.
“I know what you say is true. I know this is a weakness in me. I am ashamed of my weakness. I will overcome it. I will.” Elizabeth fumbled with the torn ribbons and somehow managed to secure the half mask back in place. I could see that the revelation of her scarring had shattered her confidence from earlier this evening. If she had one Achilles heel, other than her lack of fear which could in theory make her careless, it was this. It was almost a cliché – the villain who unmasked would flinch from her own reflection. I thought of pulp dramas where the hero had struggled with the villain and in unmasking them had stunned the villain long enough to defeat him. But I had no intention of fighting Elizabeth a second time. Let Brinn do that once I freed him from his cell. Let Brinn run amok with a sword in his hand gutting whomever was left here in the service of Miss Elizabeth Bentley.
The Kur now paced about the room and I threw myself back against the stone wall of the alcove in fear as it passed by the curtains that screened me from sight. I was terrified that the creature might smell me, for I assumed it had a keen sense of smell, but the damp odour emanating from the subterranean tunnel blown in by the sea breeze seemed to mask whatever odour I had, for the great beast simply paced past without hesitation. It picked up the leg of meat that Elizabeth had provided and, squatting on its haunches it began to tear great mouthfuls from whatever animal it had once been. Tabuk probably. It looked like a haunch of tabuk.
“I will give you two weeks, and then you will discard that mask if I have to take it from you.”
Elizabeth said nothing.
“If a male of your species finds you hideous, simply kill him. Soon the others will learn to love your beauty. Or I will eat them…” something akin to a laugh emanated from the Kur’s throat.
“It will be dawn in a few hours,” said Elizabeth as she paced about the room. “The beginning of a new era for us in Port Kar. By this time tonight the first of our enemies will be dead. You and I will accomplish so much. We will strike a blow that in time will reverberate through the cities of Gor and shake the Sardar mountains themselves.”
The great Kur smiled, and it was a worrying sight for it bared the creature's teeth. I remained where I was as they talked some more, and I filed away what details I could hear in my head. My plan now was obvious – I had to find Elizabeth's globe and perhaps the keys to Brinn's cell before dawn came. Samos would no doubt be in attendance at the council meeting in the day, and he would be one of the first casualties when Elizabeth eliminated their sight. And sometime before that Brinn and Simon would be killed. By tomorrow evening I would be alone without allies, and it would only be a matter of time before Elizabeth discovered my true identity. My only hope was to act now in the precious few hours remaining until dawn.
It was a tense quarter of an hour as I remained in hiding while the Kur returned to the depths below and Elizabeth retreated into the corridor leading out from this room. I was cautious enough not to emerge immediately for I didn't want to run into Elizabeth when I crept out into the rest of the house. There was also the hope that she might at last get a few hours sleep before her big day. I would feel more confident knowing she was asleep when I tried to steal her globe.
I crept quietly down the main corridor, tracing the rooms by the door handles of the guest rooms for the Tharna women. I could do this, I thought to myself. I had to do this. There really was no other alternative that didn't leave me well and truly fucked, and not in a nice sexy way.
I think perhaps I was focussing too hard on where I knew I had to go, and I was forgetting the first principle of stealth – know your surroundings, because as I passed a darkened and recessed alcove space I didn't notice the still, silent figure waiting for me there. As I passed the alcove space the robed figure stepped neatly behind me and even as I detected a subtle trace of movement, a heavy brass candlestick came down hard against the back of my head. I fell forwards, stunned, crying out as I hit the floor hard with my left hand breaking the worst of my tumble. Precious seconds ticked by as I tried to make sense of what had happened, and I felt a solid kick connect with my solar plexus. I lost all breath in my body and lay there coughing and choking as hands seized my hood and pulled it down away from my face. I felt a woman press down on me with the weight of her own body. I felt myself turned onto my stomach and as I struggled to bring myself back into some functional state, my hands were drawn behind my back and locked in slave bracelets.
“You were quiet, I'll give you that,” said Elizabeth Bentley as she rolled me now onto my back. “But Kratoa caught your scent as you hid behind the drapes. Now let's see who you are.” She placed her hand on my silver mask and pulled it free. In my panic I tried to turn my face to the side, knowing that I had no chance if she saw who I was. Elizabeth rose to her feet and took an oil lantern from a wall sconce, lighting it with a small spark device from a nearby shelf. Then as I squirmed not to be seen, not to be recognised, she pulled my head up by my hair and held the lantern closely enough that she could clearly discern my features.
“Ah...” Her mouth twisted into a delighted smile. “I think we know one another, don't we...” She pulled my hair tighter until I cried out in pain. “And I thought today couldn't possibly get any better... Emma...”