These are the relevant references from the Books where Cards 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,
"A serving slave, a display slave, a lure slave, such things," he said. "They encourage men to drink, to eat, to spend, to wager, to linger at the tables, to draw further cards, to cast the dice just one last time, and such."
"The gambling," she said, "is not then done with lives, those of men and animals."
"Not in any obvious sense," said the man.
"I see," she said. And it sounded as though she dismissed the bouts of the spinning wheel, the shaken box, the buying of chances, the drawing of cards. The blood shed in such games is largely unseen, doubtless, but, I fear, it is there.
"The master of the wagons," said Master Desmond, "is of Ar. His name is Pausanias. The leader of the hunters, or supposed hunters, is Kleomenes. Pausanias spent the evening in card-sport, with Kleomenes."
His hand was still tight, almost absently so, in my hair.
"I would be interested in seeing the cards," he said.
I did not understand his interest there.
"You are familiar with card-sport from the gambling house, are you not," he asked.
"No," I said. "I did not know those games. Some were played at tables in the back."
There are different decks of cards, containing different numbers of cards, with different markings, and such. The most common deck of cards is thick, and contains a hundred cards. For the most part there is little standardization on Gor, and many things differ from city to city. One game does tend to be standardized, or relatively standardized, however, and that is kaissa. The kaissa of Turia is apparently identical with that of Ar, and that with that of Port Kar, Ko-ro-ba, Anango, Tabor, the island ubarates, and so on. This probably has to do with the Sardar Fairs. As you know there is literally a caste of Players, generally itinerant, which makes its living by "the Game." The charge for a game can range from a tarsk-bit, which is common, to a golden tarn disk, of double weight. Important kaissa players are celebrities, welcomed in a hundred cities, and entertained at the courts of Ubars. They have a status comparable to that of conquerors and poets.
"Was the card-sport honest in the gambling house?" asked he in whose care I was.
"I do not think so," I said.
"No more than other games?"
"One guesses not," I said.
"You seem to know little of it," he said.
"I am a slave," I said.
Such things were managed by the masters. They were seldom made clear to slaves. Our concern was to keep men at the tables.
"Would you care for a game of cards?" asked Desmond of Harfax.
"No," said Kleomenes, "I do not gamble."
I was frightened by the sound of that.
"Come now Kleomenes," said one of his men, jocularly, "you do cards."
"Ah, yes," said Kleomenes, "now and then, but not now."
"In the house of chance," he said, "there were games involving cards, were there not?"
"In the back of the large room, at the far tables," I said, "but I did not attend on those tables. Most of us attended on the gaming tables, with the wheels, and the dice where most of the men were."
"But you must have heard things," he said.
"One always hears things," I said, warily.
"I am not an investigating magistrate," he said, "with a rack in the next room."
"I understand," I said.
"Presumably," he said, "those gambling on behalf of the house would wish to have some advantage in the matter."
"Otherwise," I said, "they might lose money, unintentionally."
"Unintentionally? " he smiled.
"It is important," I said, "for the patron to win occasionally, else he might abandon the game, or grow suspicious."
"And how," he asked, "does the house obtain its advantage? Are there apertures in the ceiling through which an accomplice, perhaps with a glass, might somehow signal the house's player, are there loitering observers nearby, in a position to read cards, and convey signals?"
"I do not think so," I said.
"The advantage then," he said, "lies in the cards themselves."
"That is my understanding," I said. "But I did not personally, attend on the far tables."
"There would be calls for new decks, sealed decks," he said.
"I think that decks were prepared, and then sealed," I said.
"The house's player could recognize the nature and value of an opponent's card from the back " he said.
"There were intricate designs on the back of the cards," I said, "apparently identical on each card."
"But not identical," he said, "for those who knew what to look for."
"I think the differences were subtle," I said, "very subtle."
Desmond of Harfax then reached again into the leather envelope. He produced another sheet of paper. It was as unintelligible to me as the first which had resembled, as I had been given to understand, the record, or annotation, of a kaissa game, but it was clearly different.
"What do you make of this?" he asked.
"I cannot read," I said.
"This appears to be a list of cards," he said. "But I am not sure what it actually is. I suspect a concealment is involved."
"Perhaps in the manner of the preceding concealment," I said, "a different card standing for a different letter, more than one card for a single letter, perhaps some cards standing for nothing."
"Possibly," he said. "But there are no doublings, or repetitions."
"That is important?" I asked.
"I think so," he said. "surely it would severely restrict the potentiality for communication."
"Perhaps it is an inferior device," I said.
"We are not dealing with fools," he said.
I was silent.
"In the case of the kaissa concealment," he said, "we were fortunate enough to obtain, and later copy, crucial sheets, materials in virtue of which the message might be concealed, and then, later, revealed. But we have nothing similar here, no such sheets, no materials in virtue of which the message might be concealed or revealed."
"In the first case," I said, "you may have been fortunate."
"I have a principal," he said, "who is highly placed, who would have access to such things, if they existed."
"Perhaps not," I said.
"Yes, perhaps not," he said.
"I fear I can be of little help to Master," I said.
"Perhaps there is something simple here," he said, "so simple we cannot see it."
"Perhaps a single explanatory sheet to which we lack access?" I suggested.
"Possibly," he suggested, "but I do not think so."
He reached again into the leather envelope. He drew out a deck of cards. He handed me the deck. "I want you to examine these cards, and see if anything occurs to you."
"I suppose you have arranged the deck in the order prescribed by the sheet," I said.
"Yes," he said.
"And that did not prove illuminating?"
"No," he said. "But, I did not expect it to. It tells no more than the sheet itself."
"They are very plain," I said. "If they are prepared in such a way as to admit reading their values from the back, it must be very subtly done."
"We are not concerned here with cheating at cards, but with concealed messages," he said. "Does anything about the deck strike you as different, or unusual?"
"No," I said. "You are thinking of something like the kaissa concealment."
"That would be the initial conjecture," he said, "but it seems unlikely, as each card is different."
"Then the order of the cards must be important," I said.
"I think so," he said, "but what is the relevance of the order? What would it mean if, say, a Physician's Vulo is succeeded by a Scribe's Tarsk?"
"Perhaps that would stand for an entire message," I said, "something like 'Meet at dawn', 'Bring gold', 'Depart on the morrow', such things."
"That is far too complex in one sense," he said, "for it would require a storeroom of messages, and too simple in another, as one might wish to express something not in the stock of messages."
"The arrangements of the cards would be limited," I said.
"That is not the problem," he said. "You are dealing with sixty cards. Consider the matter. The formula is simple and involves diminishing multiplications. If there were two cards, there would be two arrangements, as in two times one; if three cards, six arrangements, as in three times two times one; if five cards, one hundred and twenty arrangements, as in five times four times three, times two, times one. If there were ten cards, in this fashion, there would be over three million arrangements, and so on."
"On my former world," I said, "I left such things to others."
"You doubtless left many things to others."
"Yes, Master," I said.
"You were substantially useless, were you not?" he asked.
"Perhaps," I said.
"But one can find uses for such women," he said, "whether of your former world or of Gor, when they are collared."
"Yes, Master," I said. On Gor I had found myself owned, under discipline, and put to work. On Gor women such as I were good for something, indeed many things. Masters saw to it. And one of the things a slave was to be good for, indeed usually the most important thing, was to give her master incredible pleasure. Surely she was expected to do more than cook and clean, shop fetch sandals on all fours, bringing them to a fellow in her teeth and such. Why then, I wondered, with all his opportunities, even in the slave wagon on a blanket, had he never put the slave, Allison, to use, full slave use, in the fullest sense that is understood on Gor. Ah yes, I thought, honor, honor! Mina at least, I thought, had the reassurance and comfort of her shackle at a slave ring. To be sure, there was a difference. Trachinos had bought her.
Sometimes it is hard to be a slave. One is so much at the mercy of the free. May one be clothed? Will one be caressed, will one be given a sweet? Will one be allowed to crawl, begging, to the feet of the master?
"But even so," he said, "even with so many possibilities, it is almost certain one would often wish to express something new or different."
"Yes, Master," I said.
"More importantly," he said, "Kleomenes, in the camp I am sure, conveyed something secretly to Pausanias by means of cards, furnishing him with instructions, directions, or such. Surely Kleomenes had no bundles of messages to rummage through, in the saddle bags of his tharlarion, looking for a card equivalent, nor had Pausanias a wagon load of card equivalents by means of which he might locate messages."
"I do not think so," I said.
"So there must be something simple here, so simple that it is hard to see, so obvious that it is not noticed."
"Perhaps you do not have the right deck " I said.
"Perhaps," he said. "Yet this deck was furnished by my principal."
"Can he not explain these things?" I asked.
"He is as baffled as we," said Desmond of Harfax. "He has tortured himself to make sense of the possible meaning of the list, the meaning of the individual cards, their order, and such."
"Perhaps there is no meaning," I said.
"Are you serious?" he asked.
"Perhaps the cards are a diversion, a false trail, a distraction of sorts, something to consume time, while the actual messages are conveyed in some other way, as by the kaissa concealments."
"That seems unlikely," he said, "for, as far as we know, the conspirators feel themselves unidentified and secure at present. Into whose hands would they wish such a thing to fall, and for what purpose, at present?"
"Perhaps into your hands," I said, "and that of your principal."
"If we were suspected," he said, "I do not think we would find ourselves at liberty."
"Perhaps," I said, "it is not that the cards are meaningful, but that they are not yet meaningful, that they might become meaningful."
"They must now be meaningful," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because we have the list," he said, tapping that small sheet of paper on the table.
"I thought poorly," I said.
"No, no," he said. "Any thought is welcome."
"Why am I here?" I asked.
"You served in a house of chance," he said. "I thought you might be helpful."
"The door is bolted," I said. "Was there no other reason?"
"No," he said.
I put my cheek on his knee. "I am uncomfortable," I said. "My body whispers to me."
"Do not tell me that the little barbarian's slave fires have begun to burn," he said.
"Men have done things to me," I said.
"The cards," he said, "the deck, the order. Think, think!"
"My presence here has been unavailing," I said.
"Tell me about the tables, the play, everything," he said.
"I know nothing," I sobbed. "They invite men to the tables, some seek them by themselves, games are suggested, drinks are brought, decks are produced, and opened, men divide the decks, disarrange the cards, distribute them to the players in certain fashions, depending on the game. Other cards may be drawn, such things."
"Of course!" he said.
"Master?" I said.
"That is it!" he said. "You have it!
"What?" I asked.
"It is so simple, so deceptively simple!"
"I do not understand," I said.
"We were looking for the wrong things in the wrong places!" he said. "We were too sophisticated, too devious, too clever, too stupid! It was there before us, all the time!"
"What?" I asked.
"The list is the preparation for a message, not the message," he said. "You were right. It is not that the cards are meaningful, but that they might become meaningful, and easily so."
I did know that messages were somehow conveyed in some decks of cards, but, as far as I could tell, this was an ordinary deck. It did have the speckling about the edges of the deck, which I had seen in the Cave, but I had seen such cards, as well, in the house of chance. Indeed, many decks came decorated, in one fashion or another.
"You are illiterate," he said.
"Yes," I said.
"But you can read cards, can you not?"
"I can tell the color," I said, "and recognize the pictures, the Tarn, the Sleen, and such."
"The deck is presumably arranged in order, as might be a new deck, a sealed deck " he said, "from White Tarn to Red Ost."
"That would be Initiate's Tarn through Warrior's Ost," I said.
"Do you know the nature of this list?" he asked.
"It would seem to have to do with the cards," I said.
"It has sixty entries," he said, "each pertaining to a card. I shall read the list to you, and you will arrange the cards in the order of the list."
The text, as I have it, contains no detailed exposition of the nature of the "deck" which seems to be in question here. To those readers accustomed to the uniformities and standardizations of a modern industrial and technological society, where diversity has come to mean thinking alike and agreeing on everything, the genuine liberties and remarkable differences of a plurality as, say, municipal cultures is likely to be troubling. If one expects everything to be the same, it is easy to object when something is found not to be the same. On the other hand, if one does not expect everything to be the same, one is less likely to be troubled. To take a simple example, consider the Gorean alphabet, or alphabets. From the above text it would seem that one Gorean alphabet might contain, say, twenty-eight letters, and another perhaps more or less. That the modern English alphabet contains twenty-six letters is obviously arbitrary, and requires that several different sounds, in some cases, be represented by the same letter, say, 'a'. One might have a different letter for these sounds. An alphabet presumably represents a pragmatic compromise between enough letters to be useful, and few enough to be manageable. In one Earth language English, its entire vocabulary is specifiable in terms of some fifty phonemes, or sounds, out of a theoretically infinite number of sounds which a human being might make. Here, too, we see something of a pragmatic compromise between elegance and utility. Another example of Gorean difference, which some may find troubling, is that in some versions of kaissa the piece called the Home Stone is permitted to capture, and in other versions it lacks this capacity. Goreans do not object to this. They merely wish to know which version will be played. Returning to the question of cards, I will supply an account, however inadequate, of the nature of a Gorean "deck." It is based on the only account I have been able to find in what one might refer to as the Gorean Miscellany," a plethora of materials often accompanying, but independent of, various narrative manuscripts. Almost all of the "Miscellany" has accompanied the Cabot manuscripts, and this material, much of it unorganized, and sometimes tantalizingly incomplete, seems to have little in common other than the fact that Mr. Cabot may have found it of interest.
In any event, at least one Gorean deck of cards, presumably one commonly found, as it appears in the "Miscellany," contains sixty cards, divided into five suits. It will be helpful, I think, if we devote some attention to the number "60," as it is a most interesting number. It is the smallest number which contains the largest number of factors. It contains twelve factors, which is germane to the twelve cards in each of the five suits. The twelve factors of 60 are, 60, 30, 20, 15, 12, 10, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1. The number 60 is sometimes referred to as "The Great Number," "The Ubar's Number," "The Sacred Number," "The Priest-Kings' Number," and so on. The five suits are named for the five high castes of Gor, namely, the Initiates, whose color is white; the Builders, whose color is yellow; the Scribes, whose color is blue; the Physicians, whose color is green; and the Warriors, whose color is red. Each of these suits consists of twelve cards, respectively the Tarn, the Larl, the Sleen, the Panther, the Tarsk, the Tharlarion, the Urt, the Verr, the Vulo, the Jard, the Vart, and the Ost. The Initiate's Tarn would be white the Builder's Tarn yellow, and so on. The values follow the factors of 60. A Tarn counts 60 the Larl 30 the Sleen 20, and so on, until one reaches the Ost which has a value of 1. Thus, a Larl at 30 would take precedence over a Sleen at 20, but two Sleen, giving us 40 would take precedence over a Larl, which is valued at 30. There is nothing in the Miscellany, to the best of my knowledge which, at least to date, gives us the rules for any particular game. One supposes, naturally, as with most decks of cards, any given deck might sustain an indefinite number of games.
Paga was of little assistance, or the belled sluts of the taverns. The turning wheels and the cards, the dice tumbling on the felt, were of little assistance, save in lightening my purse.
The oarsmen were idle, resting, or amusing themselves, some with cards, or the game of stones.
The lamp-it premises were large. In the crowded room there were more than two dozen tables devoted to various games of chance. Many dealt with colored placards or marked stones. There are several such games.