Cities of Dust
Here are relevant references from the Books where the Cities of Dust are mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
Even now I can remember the letter to the last word. I think I will carry its simple, abrupt message burned into the cells of my brain until, as it is elsewhere said, I have returned to the Cities of Dust.
"Outlaw," said he, "what is your name?" "Tarl," I responded.
"Of what city?" he asked.
It was the inevitable question.
"Ko-ro-ba," I said.
The effect was electric. The girl who had been standing behind us, stifled a scream. Thorn and his warrior sprang to their feet. My sword was free of its sheath.
"Returned from the Cities of Dust," gasped the warrior. "No," I said, "I am a living man, as you."
"Better you had gone to the Cities of Dust," said Thorn. "You are cursed by the Priest-Kings."
"You do not need to go with them," I told her.
"I would bring you no pleasure," she said bitterly.
"I will free you," I said.
"I accept nothing from the hands of Tarl of Ko-ro-ba," she said.
I reached out my hand to touch her, and she shuddered and drew back.
Thorn laughed mirthlessly. "Better to have gone to the Cities of Dust than to be Tarl of Ko-ro-ba," he said.
Like most members of my Caste, more than the monstrous tarns, those carnivorous hawklike giants of Gor, I dreaded such creatures as the tiny ost, that diminutive, venomous reptile, orange, scarcely more than a few inches in length, that might lurk at one's very sandal and then, without provocation or warning, strike, its tiny fangs the prelude to excruciating torment, concluding only with sure death. Among warriors, the bite of an ost is thought to be one of the most cruel of all gates to the Cities of Dust; far preferable to them are the rending beak, the terrible talons of a tarn.
"I who was Tatrix of Tharna," she said, her eyes downcast, "did not wish to live as a slave."
"I will not kill you," I said.
"Give me your sword, Warrior," said she, "and I will throw myself upon it."
"No," I said.
"Ah yes," she said, "a warrior is unwilling to have the blood of a woman on his sword."
"You are young," I said," beautiful and much alive. Put the Cities of Dust from your mind."
She laughed bitterly.
He had been destroyed by Priest-Kings as casually as one might jerk loose the thong of a sandal. He had disobeyed and he had been destroyed, immediately and with grotesque dispatch, but the important thing was, I told myself, that he had disobeyed, that he could disobey, that he had been able to disobey and choose the ignominious death he knew must follow. He had won his freedom though it had, as the Goreans say, led him to the Cities of Dust, where, I think, not even Priest-Kings care to follow. He had, as a man, lifted his fist against the might of Priest-Kings and so he had died, defiantly, though horribly, with great nobility.
"How long has it been since you have seen her?" demanded Vika.
"It has been more than seven years," I said.
Vika laughed cruelly. "Then," she gloated, "she is in the Cities of Dust."
"Perhaps," I admitted.
"You are free men," I said. "You need not accompany me."
"I," said Thurnock, in a booming voice, "would follow you even to the Cities of Dust."
"And I," said Clitus, "I, too."
I thought of the assassins of the medieval Middle East. The caste of assassins was quite different. They were not dupes, fools, madmen, too stupid to understand how they had been manipulated by others, young men drunk with the wine of death, who think they will somehow thrive in the cities of dust. Against such mindless puppets, such naive fools, such lunatics, manipulated by those who send them forth, sitting safe in their mountain fastness, safe in their lair of prevarication and deceit, it is difficult to defend oneself. But the Gorean Assassin, he of the Black Caste, is not a naive, twisted, deluded, managed beast serving the purposes of others, but a professional killer. He wishes to kill and vanish, to live, to kill again. Otherwise he is no more than a clumsy oaf, a failure, having accomplished no more than might have a desperate, simple, misguided fool. If he himself dies, he has botched his work, he has failed, he has shamed his caste.
"Seremides, afraid?" I said.
"As Seremides is," he said, "Seremides is entitled to fear."
"Certainly you have sent many before you to the Cities of Dust," I said.
"Never without cause," he said.
"Causes are easily come by," I said.
"What can I do?" I begged, suddenly, looking up at him.
"I do not know," he said. "If something should occur to you, let me know."
"Please, Master," I said. "Do not be frivolous with your slave."
"How can one better approach the Cities of Dust," he said, "than with a light step and a laugh on one's lips?"
I sprang to my feet, and moved to the side. "Do not fight, Master," I said. I did not wish him to be mocked, to appear inept, and foolish. He might, at least, die with a sword in his hand, proudly, arrogantly, not lifted. Too, perhaps Tyrtaios would not strike a man who refused to defend himself. But then I recalled he was of the dark caste. "Master," I moaned. I knew then Kurik of Victoria would fight, no matter the odds. He was Gorean. "Master!" I wept.
"How better to go to the Cities of Dust?" he asked.
"And how many," asked Thurnock, "did the braver folks, the true men, of your village dispatch to the Cities of Dust?"
I took the tarn a few yards higher, isolating myself from the fighting, now desultory, below. It began to rain more heavily. Now I could no longer hear the sounds of war. Darkness had enforced a truce, or perhaps those of the House of Iskander who had not escaped, or had not been able to escape, had made their way to the Cities of Dust.