Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Preview of Ubara of Gor

So, here's a sneak preview of a few pages (pretty much spoiler free) of one of the early chapters of Ubara of Gor, to wet your appetite for the fifth Emma novel later this year. The picture above by the way is of a new character for the book, called Naomi, who at the beginning of the novel is First Girl on the Larl of the Thassa. Art by the talented chloeK of course.

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Chapter Four: The Bastion


“Lady Yishana, it is such a pleasure to see you again. You and your... fifty heavily armed Askaris...” Grigor Sanson, the self proclaimed 'Ubar' of the Bastion, smiled and bowed in greeting as he met us halfway along the the wave soaked causeway that led from the narrow harbour front to the high rock that formed the base of the Bastion. As a defensive position it had many advantages, not least of all the imposing vertical height of the island's cliffs. An army could only ascend it by a series of wide stone steps that centuries ago had been hewn from the rock itself. Aerial assault by tarns would be difficult as the Bastion was located far out to sea in the southern Thassa territorial waters, maybe twenty pasangs from the shores of the Black Ubardoms and as is commonly known, tarns – those mighty war birds of Gor – are loathe to fly out over the Thassa once they lose sight of land. Controlling them in such circumstances is next to impossible, though it is said that Tarl Cabot (him again!) came up with an interesting way to utilise tarns in naval combat at the great sea battle that took place between the armadas of Cos and Tyros against the fleets of Kar on the 25th of Se'Kara, over 50 years ago.

But even if you were brave or foolhardy enough to march your foot soldiers up the winding flight of stone steps to reach the summit of the small island and then assault that fortress Bastion at its peak, you would first have to bring your troops across the sea and land them.

The harbour itself is a narrow inlet that is situated in a cove in a much smaller island that is shaped something like a horse shoe. The harbour has been fortified with sea walls to allow ships in only via a twisting corridor of stone pillars close to the harbour mouth that forces sea captains to traverse their vessel carefully by oar power alone, for even if you were to destroy some of the pillars that are in the way, it is said that further out there are man made rock reefs on either side which would gouge holes in a ship's hull if a ship sailed over them. There is a way past these reefs if you happen to possess a chart detailing their locations but of course said charts are carefully guarded by the Lords of the Bastion over the centuries.

As an aside, there is a small free standing rock that rises out of the Thassa just before you reach the harbour inlet. It can easily be reached from the harbour by a rowing boat in ten minutes or so. A series of ledges have been chiselled away in the rock and slave rings have been fixed in place. On most days, provided the weather is agreeable, slaves are chained to this rock to stand brazenly on the ledges with their wrists secured above their heads in display positions. These beautiful girls are usually the first thing a sailor sees as his ship approaches the Bastion. The rock and its lovely chained girls is in a sense a welcoming beacon and an ostentatious display of the services the Bastion can provide. It acts like a shop window on the high street.

A stone causeway leads from the harbour isle to the Bastion itself, and so once you had hypothetically taken the harbour cove by force, fighting past its sea walls, you would then have to unload your men and march them across the bare causeway in open view on all sides to the base of the Bastion isle.

It is a fact that the Bastion has never been taken by force, which makes it perfect for its commercial purpose.               

“Tal, Grigor. You are well I trust?” said Yishana. She stood there in her flowing robes of softly brushed silk. Her hair as always was braided, she wore knee length sea boots of tooled leather beneath her long calf length skirts, and at her tightly belted waist hung two knives in jewelled sheaths. These were good knives, sharp and suitable for fighting with. The knife is typically more suitable for use by a woman than say a sword, for it is quicker to use, assuming of course that the woman happens to be close enough to her assailant to do so. This is often the case as whereas a man would choose to slay another man at extreme sword range, he is more likely to move in close to capture a woman, and clasp her alluring wrists in slave steel, especially a woman as beautiful and desirable as Yishana. This would put him within the required range for a dagger strike, while simultaneously putting him too far in for his sword to be of much use, for the length of a weapon can be turned against you if you do not have the room to use it. A man with a sword would want to keep an opponent with a dagger at the optimum distance where the sword is lethal but the dagger is useless. Yishana's right hand rested on the pommel of one of her knives as she spoke. She regarded the Ubar of the Bastion with an air of confidence rarely seen in Free Women on Gor. Her confidence of course was understandable bearing in mind she had an honour guard of fifty warriors and she was a valued customer of the Bastion. Economic greed and good sense is a powerful stimulant to a man's behaviour.

“All the better for seeing your beautiful face again, my dear,” said Grigor as he brandished his arms in a welcome. “But still you bring so many men with you when you visit! It is almost as if you do not trust me!”

“I do not trust you, Grigor Sanson, for you are a pirate and I am not a fool.” Yishana glanced at Grigor's own honour guard. It was much smaller – a mere six men, but then Grigor had little to fear. This was his land, he had men everywhere. If Yishana did anything to him she would have to fight her way back along the causeway to the horseshoe shaped cove to reach her ship. It is unlikely that she would reach the Larl alive. The symbolism was important of course. By bringing fifty Askaris with her, Yishana was subconsciously stating that she was weaker than Grigor. She needed the large numbers to feel safe. Grigor on the other hand demonstrated his relative position of strength in the relationship by bringing contrastingly fewer numbers. It was as if he was saying, 'you are just a woman, and I do not fear you.'

“A ridiculous notion, Yishana. The reputation of the Bastion is inviolate. My business would be ruined if I developed a reputation for turning on my customers. I depend on good will and the knowledge that Captains such as yourself can negotiate freely with me without fear.”

“I am comforted by that notion,” said Yishana, “but not to the degree where I will meet you without my men. As I said, I am not a fool.”

Grigor smiled. I could imagine what he was thinking. “I see you still forgo the veil Yishana. You are as bold as you are lovely.”

“I have never seen a pirate ship's captain who is veiled,” said Yishana with a smile. “Have you?” This made Grigor laugh and he acknowledged the skill of her quick retort with a nod of his head.

“I do like you Yishana. I really do.”

“And you have certain qualities that are not altogether abhorrent,” said Yishana as she met his gaze calmly. I think she knew that her unveiled face might prove quite distracting to men. They could for example clearly see her lips – those luscious semi-parted lips that on Gor are a powerful sexual aphrodisiac to men. Perhaps she felt that such a distraction might give her an edge in some of her dealings with men like Grigor. It is possible. Her own Askaris of course believed her to be the living incarnation or Avatar of their jungle Goddess, and so her unveiled face was the face of Nakeisha the wind-rider herself. A Goddess I suppose is exempt from the usual customs governing Free Women on Gor.

“It is business, I assume?” Grigor looked behind Yishana to where the Lady Saffia of Telnus stood. She was barefoot now, her delicate slippers having not lasted the journey here, and her gown was ragged below the knees where the hem line had been amateurishly cut away at about mid-calf length. Grigor could clearly see her pretty ankles. The Lady Saffia was not secured, for there was nowhere here she could possibly run to. Behind her however were the two other Free Women, the Ladies Amelia and Tamaya. Unlike their friend they were naked and chained in sirik with their wrists secured in close chains before their body, their ankles secured with other chains and a central chain hanging from their collars to the wrist bracelets and then the ankle restraints. I think the sirik arrangement is the most beautiful way of chaining a girl, but not everyone agrees on that point. “May I perhaps invite you to my personal chambers high up in the Bastion where a great hearth fire will be lit, exquisite wines will be served, and we may recline on opulent couches facing one another as my most sensuous slave-girls serve an array of delicious pastries? I am sure we share many points of interest and the conversation will be enlightening and entertaining?”

Yishana gazed up at the high stone fortress sitting atop the summit of the great rocky crag that was accessible only be that single flight of stone steps and guarded by hundreds of loyal swords.

“A most generous offer, Grigor, and one that I should in fairness return to you. Perhaps you might like to join me on the Larl where I will entertain you with roast tarsk over a charcoal fire, tribal rhythms and beautiful dancing slaves, and seated on my ship, surrounded by my loyal and potentially violent Askaris, we could have this engaging conversation that you speculate may ensue?”

Grigor chuckled and nodded in appreciation once more. “You are so suspicious, Yishana! I respect you. Truly I do.”

“That is nice to know.”

“You are as safe in my private chambers at the summit of the Bastion, surrounded by my loyal warriors, as you would be on board your own ship.”

“An interesting choice of words, Grigor,” said Yishana. “I suspect your personal slave-girls are also 'safe' in the fortified Bastion, are they not?”

Grigor rubbed his chin. “The word might well be applied to the luscious sluts I own, yes. They are certainly 'safe' in the extended sense of the word. But you are hardly a slave, Yishana!”

“And I seek to remain that way.” She clicked her fingers and two of the Askaris led the Lady Saffia forward. Each man held one of her wrists, despite her protests. She was the Lady Saffia Luna Josefina Alejandra of Telnus, and she was apparently not happy at being touched.

“Slave or ransom?” asked Grigor as he examined her.

“Ransom,” said Yishana. “Her Free Companion is Captain Matias Thiago Alejandra of Telnus, Third Sword to the city and Sea Admiral of the Second Fleet of Cos.”

“Ah...” Grigor smiled. “Quite a catch then. The ransom you have in mind?”

“What do you suggest?” asked Yishana as she stood there on the causeway.

“A sum in the region of two hundred golden tarns of full authenticated weight would not be excessive,” he said. Although currencies on Gor vary considerably, if only because the gold coin of one city may not contain quite the same percentage of gold as the coin of another city, it is safe to assume that a gold coin has the buying power of approximately twenty thousand dollars on Earth. This would make Saffia's ransom in the region of four million dollars, a tidy sum for a single prisoner transaction. “My fee is of course ten percent of that,” said Grigor.

“If you are so fond of me,” suggested Yishana, “maybe I would be entitled to a favoured rate of eight percent?”

Grigor rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “It is precisely that sort of thing we could of course discuss in my private chambers in the Bastion, over fine wines and pastries,” he suggested with an innocent smile.

“My desire for a preferential rate does not extend quite that far,” said Yishana.

“A shame, for the wines are first class.”

“I am sadly no expert when it comes to wine,” said Yishana with another smile. “The quality would probably be lost on me. I often drink common paga with my men.”

“And the other two ladies? They who are naked and in sirik? Grigor regarded them.

“Slaves,” said Yishana without any emotion. Behind her the two Ladies cried out in despair, accompanied by the jingle of chains as they shook in terror. “You will have them branded, slave papers drawn up, and sold as usual.”

“Please spare us such a fate!” sobbed Lady Tamaya. Yishana turned round, a look of annoyance on her face. She slapped Tamaya hard across her face, knocking the girl over.

“Be quiet, Cosian slut!” she snapped.

The Bastion has always played an important role in the southern part of the Thassa where pirate ships prowl the ocean in search of plunder, prizes and precious women. It has both a primary and secondary purpose and is commonly used by virtually all the pirate Captains who sail within the region of the equatorial waters of the Black Coast.

The secondary role is quite minor, and if that had been its primary function, it is unlikely the Bastion would have become the economic powerhouse that it is today. The secondary function is therefore simply a place at which slaves can be sold in small numbers or in bulk. It is a clearing house that will purchase any quantity of slaves quickly and without any fuss. Questions will not be asked, and the semi-legitimacy of the pirate ships is not a matter for concern. Bear in mind that many successful pirate Captains have bounties on their heads from Gorean city states who find their activities to be a nuisance at best or a serious threat to their shipping at worst. Pirate ships therefore do not have free rein where they may dock and transact business. It is safe to say that there are many ports on the west coast of mainland Gor where Yishana would be ill advised to visit. And so the Bastion is a useful place in which to sell slaves. Plunder too can be exchanged there but commonly the prices for plunder are low and so Yishana has other places on the Black Coast itself where merchants will turn a blind eye to where the trade goods come from if the price is right. They will meet her with hooded lanterns in secluded coves, far from the prying eyes of city guardsmen and customs officials, and they will pay good silver for what Yishana has been able to steal.  

But the Bastion's primary function is what has made it legendary. It is an agent for conducting ransoms – a clearing house for high priced captives.

On Gor it is easy enough to take a valuable captive. The problem is always the tricky business of ransoming her. If you are paying a ransom how do you trust that the pirate will indeed free your loved one? How do you know that your loved one has been cared for in the meantime and left inviolate? And if you are a pirate, how do you know that a trap has not been set for you when it is time to collect the ransom? Mistrust on both sides has often led to tragic mistakes in the past. This is where the Bastion comes into play. A pirate can hand his captive to the Bastion. She will be kept securely in reasonable conditions and a message will be despatched to whomsoever will pay her ransom. The ransom is then paid directly to the Bastion, and because the Bastion enjoys a hard earned reputation for playing fairly with both parties of the transaction, the pirate can be assured that he will receive the ransom, less 10%, and the relative can be assured that he will receive his Lady back in the same condition that she was in when she was given over to Grigor Sanson's safe keeping. The reassurance that this arrangement offers makes for smooth transactions in the case of ransoming women.

If ransom isn't paid for whatever reason, the contract between the Bastion and the pirate states that after a certain period of time the captive becomes their property and she will be enslaved and sold in the markets of Gor to recoup the expense of maintaining her during the window of ransom. The enslavement condition is important of course for otherwise there could be the suspicion that the Bastion would subtly frustrate ransom negotiations long enough for the period of ransom to expire, thereby rendering the captive theirs, and in secret they might make their own deal with the family and thereby collect the whole ransom for themselves. By being contractually forced to brand and  enslave the girl, she is then rendered worthless in terms of ransom for no family will pay to get her back once she is a slave. She would be an embarrassment to them. Far better that she be sold to a foreign market where she may crawl and lick the whip without bringing shame to her original Home Stone.   

I cannot think of a single instance when a woman has been successfully ransomed once she is a legal slave.

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