"Kaissa" is Gorean for "Game." It is a general term, but when used without qualification, it stands for only one game, Kaissa.
It is said that to some men this game is music and women. It can give them pleasure. It can help them forget. It is Ka-la-na wine, and the night on which such wine is drunk.
As I began this research I was going to concoct an elaborate narrative with the names (and variation of names), of all the pieces and how each piece moves. I had plans to mention all named defense and attack strategies. And so on and so on.
As I then began to compile quote upon quote, I realized I have no need to compete with the numerous other sites describing the game. I chose instead to simply (or the inverse thereof) provide all the book references.
If you are looking for something in particular, don't forget Ctrl+F or use the search feature at the bottom of the page.
I wish you well,
Mintar was lost in thought, his small eyes fastened to the red and yellow squares of the board. Having recognized our presence, Marlenus, too, turned his attention to the game. A brief, crafty light flickered momentarily in Mintar's small eyes, and his pudgy hand hovered, hesitating an instant, over one of the pieces of the hundred-squared board, a centered Tarnsman. He touched it, committing himself to moving it. A brief exchange followed, like a chain reaction, neither man considering his moves for a moment, First Tarnsman took First Tarnsman, Second Spearman responded by neutralizing First Tarnsman, City neutralized Spearman, Assassin took City, Assassin fell to Second Tarnsman, Tarnsman to Spear Slave, Spear Slave to Spear Slave.
Mintar relaxed on the cushions. "You have taken the City," he said, "but not the Home Stone." His eyes gleamed with pleasure. "I permitted that, in order that I might capture the Spear Slave. Let us now adjudicate the game. The Spear Slave gives me the point I need, a small point but decisive."
Marlenus smiled, rather grimly. "But position must figure in any adjudication," he said. Then, with an imperious gesture, Marlenus swept his Ubar into the file opened by the movement of Mintar's capturing Spear Slave. It covered the Home Stone.
Mintar bowed his head in mock ceremony, a wry smile on his fat face, and with one short finger delicately tipped his own Ubar, causing it to fall.
"An absorbing game," said Marlenus, almost absent-mindedly. "To some men this game is music and women. It can give them pleasure. It can help them forget. It is Ka-la-na wine, and the night on which such wine is drunk."
"Game! Game!" I heard, and quickly shook my head, driving away the memories of Ar, and of the girl once known, always loved.
The word actually cried was "Kaissa," which is Gorean for "Game." It is a general term, but when used without qualification, it stands for only one game. The man who called out wore a robe of checkered red and yellow squares, and the game board, of similar squares, with ten ranks and ten files, giving a hundred squares, hung over his back; slung over his left shoulder, as a warrior wears a sword, was a leather bag containing the pieces, twenty to a side, red and yellow, representing Spearmen, Tarnsmen, the Riders of the High Tharlarion, and so on. The object of the game is the capture of the opponent's Home Stone. Capturings of individual pieces and continuations take place much as in chess. The affinities of this game with chess are, I am confident, more than incidental. I recalled that men from many periods and cultures of Earth had been brought, from time to time, to Gor, our Counter-Earth. With them they would have brought their customs, their skills, their habits, their games, which, in time, would presumably have undergone considerable modification. I have suspected that chess, with its fascinating history and development, as played on Earth, may actually have derived from a common ancestor with the Gorean game, both of them perhaps tracing their lineage to some long-forgotten game, perhaps the draughts of Egypt or some primitive board game of India. It might be mentioned that the game, as I shall speak of it, for in Gorean it has no other designation, is extremely popular on Gor, and even children find among their playthings the pieces of the game; there are numerous clubs and competitions among various castes and cylinders; careful records of important games are kept and studied; lists of competitions and tournaments and their winners are filed in the Cylinder of Documents; there is even in most Gorean libraries a section containing an incredible number of scrolls pertaining to the techniques, tactics and strategy of the game. Almost all civilized Goreans, of whatever caste, play. It is not unusual to find even children of twelve or fourteen years who play with a depth and sophistication, a subtlety and a brilliance, that might be the envy of the chess masters of Earth.
But this man now approaching was not an amateur, nor an enthusiast. He was a man who would be respected by all the castes in Ar; he was a man who would be recognized, most likely, not only by every urchin wild in the streets of the city but by the Ubar as well; he was a Player, a professional, one who earned his living through the game.
The Players are not a caste, nor a clan, but they tend to be a group apart, living their own lives. They are made up of men from various castes who often have little in common but the game, but that is more than enough. They are men who commonly have an extraordinary aptitude for the game but beyond this men who have become drunk on it, men lost in the subtle, abstract liquors of variation, pattern and victory, men who live for the game, who want it and need it as other men might want gold, or others power and women, or others the rolled, narcotic strings of toxic kanda.
There are competitions of Players, with purses provided by amateur organizations, and sometimes by the city itself, and these purses are, upon occasion, enough to enrich a man, but most Players earn a miserable living by hawking their wares, a contest with a master, in the street. The odds are usually one to forty, one copper tarn disk against a forty-piece, sometimes against an eight-piece, and sometimes the amateur who would play the master insists on further limitations, such as the option to three consecutive moves at a point in the game of his choice, or that the master must remove from the board, before the game begins, his two tarnsmen, or his Riders of the High Tharlarion. Further, in order to gain Players, the master, if wise, occasionally loses a game, which is expensive at the normal odds; and the game must be lost subtly, that the amateur must believe he has won. I had once known a Warrior in Ko-ro-ba, a dull, watery-eyed fellow, who boasted of having beaten Quintus of Tor in a Paga Tavern in Thentis. Those who play the game for money have a hard lot, for the market is a buyer's market, and commonly men will play with them only on terms much to their satisfaction. I myself, when Centius of Cos was in Ko-ro-ba, might have played him on the bridge near the Cylinder of Warriors for only a pair of copper tarn disks. It seemed sad to me, that I, who knew so little of the game, could have so cheaply purchased the privilege of sitting across the board from such a master. It seemed to me that men should pay a tarn disk of gold just to be permitted to watch such a master play, but such were not the economic realities of the game.
In spite of having the respect, even to some degree the adulation, of almost all Goreans, the Players lived poorly. On the Street of Coins they found it difficult even to arrange loans. They were not popular with innkeepers, who would not shelter them unless paid in advance. Many were the nights a master would be found rolled in robes in a Paga tavern, where, for a bit of tarsk meat and a pot of paga, and an evening's free play with customers, he would be permitted to sleep. Many of the Players dreamed of the day they might be nominated for inter-city competitions at the Fairs of the Sardar, for a victor in the Sardar Fairs earns enough to keep himself, and well, for years, which he then would devote to the deeper study of the game. There is also some money for the masters in the annotation of games, printed on large boards near the Central Cylinder, in the preparation or editing of scrolls on the game, and in the providing of instruction for those who would improve their skills. On the whole, however, the Players live extremely poorly. Further, there is a harsh competition among themselves, for positions in certain streets and on certain bridges. The most favorable locations for play are, of course, the higher bridges in the vicinity of the richer cylinders, the most expensive Paga taverns, and so on. These positions, or territories, are allotted by the outcome of games among the Players themselves. In Ar, the high bridge near the Central Cylinder, housing the palace of the Ubar and the meeting place of the city's High Council, was held, and had been for four years, by the young and brilliant, fiery Scormus of Ar.
"Game!" I heard, an answering cry, and a fat fellow, of the Caste of Vintners, puffing and bright eyed, wearing a white tunic with a representation in green cloth of leaves about the collar and down the sleeves of the garment, stepped forth from a doorway.
Without speaking the Player sat down cross-legged at one side of the street, and placed the board in front of him. Opposite him sat the Vintner.
"Set the pieces," said the Player.
I was surprised, and looked more closely, as the Vintner took the wallet filled with game pieces from the man's shoulder and began, with his stubby fingers, to quickly arrange the pieces.
The Player was a rather old man, extremely unusual on Gor, where the stabilization serums were developed centuries ago by the Caste of Physicians in Ko-ro-ba and Ar, and transmitted to the Physicians of other cities at several of the Sardar Fairs. Age, on Gor, interestingly, was regarded, and still is, by the Castes of Physicians as a disease, not an inevitable natural phenomenon. The fact that it seemed to be a universal disease did not dissuade the caste from considering how it might be combated. Accordingly the research of centuries was turned to this end. Many other diseases, which presumably flourished centuries ago on Gor, tended to be neglected, as less dangerous and less universal than that of aging. A result tended to be that those susceptible to many diseases died and those less susceptible lived on, propagating their kind. One supposes something similar may have happened with the plagues of the Middle Ages on Earth. At any rate, disease is now almost unknown among the Gorean cities, with the exception of the dreaded Dar-Kosis disease, or the Holy Disease, research on which is generally frowned upon by the Caste of Initiates, who insist the disease is a visitation of the displeasure of Priest-Kings on its recipients. The fact that the disease tends to strike those who have maintained the observances recommended by the Caste of Initiates, and who regularly attend their numerous ceremonies, as well as those who do not, is seldom explained, though, when pressed, the Initiates speak of possible secret failures to maintain the observances or the inscrutable will of Priest-Kings. I also think the Gorean success in combating aging may be partly due to the severe limitations, in many matters, on the technology of the human beings on the planet. Priest-Kings have no wish that men become powerful enough on Gor to challenge them for the supremacy of the planet. They believe, perhaps correctly, that man is a shrewish animal which, if it had the power, would be likely to fear Priest-Kings and attempt to exterminate them. Be that as it may, the Priest-Kings have limited man severely on this planet in many respects, notably in weaponry, communication and transportation. On the other hand, the brilliance which men might have turned into destructive channels was then diverted, almost of necessity, to other fields, most notably medicine, though considerable achievements have been accomplished in the production of translation devices, illumination and architecture. The Stabilization Serums, which are regarded as the right of all human beings, be they civilized or barbarian, friend or enemy, are administered in a series of injections, and the effect is, incredibly, an eventual, gradual transformation of certain genetic structures, resulting in indefinite cell replacement without pattern deterioration. These genetic alterations, moreover, are commonly capable of being transmitted. For example, though I received the series of injections when first I came to Gor many years ago I had been told by Physicians that they might, in my case, have been unnecessary, for I was the child of parents who, though of Earth, had been of Gor, and had received the serums. But different human beings respond differently to the Stabilization Serums, and the Serums are more effective with some than with others. With some the effect lasts indefinitely, with others it wears off after but a few hundred years, with some the effect does not occur at all, with others, tragically, the effect is not to stabilize the pattern but to hasten its degeneration. The odds, however, are in the favor of the recipient, and there are few Goreans who, if it seems they need the Serum's, do not avail themselves of them. The Player, as I have mentioned, was rather old, not extremely old but rather old. His face was pale and lined, and his hair was white. He was smooth shaven.
The most startling thing to me about the man was not that he was older than one commonly sees in the streets of a Gorean city, but rather that he was clearly blind. The eyes were not pleasant to look upon, for they seemed empty of iris and pupil, and were simply ovoid glazes of massed scar tissue, ridged and irregular. Even the sockets of the eyes were ringed with white tissue. I knew then how the man had been blinded. A hot iron had been pressed into each of his eyes, probably long ago. In the center of his forehead, there was a large brand, the capital initial of the Gorean word for slave, in block script. But I knew that he was not a slave, for it is not permitted that Players be slave. That a slave should play is regarded as an insult to free men, and an insult to the game. Further, no free man would care to be beaten by a slave. I gathered, from the blinding and the mark on his forehead, that the man had once offended a slaver, a man of power in the city.
"The pieces are set," said the Vintner, his fingers trembling.
"Your terms?" asked the Player.
"I move first," said the Vintner.
This, of course, was an advantage, permitting the Vintner to choose his own opening, an opening he may have studied for a lifetime. Moreover, having the first move, he might more speedily develop his pieces, bringing them into the central areas of the board where they might control crucial squares, the crossroads of the board. And further, having the first move, he would probably be able to carry the initiative of the aggressor several moves into the game, perhaps to the conclusion. Players, when playing among themselves, with men of equal strength, frequently play for a draw when they do not have the first move.
"Very well," said the Player.
"Further," said the Vintner, "I declare for the three-move option at my time of choice, and you must play without the Ubar and Ubara, or the first tarnsman."
By this time there were four or five other individuals gathered about, besides myself, to observe the play. There was a Builder, two Saddle Makers, a Baker, and a Tarn Keeper, a fellow who wore on his shoulder a green patch, indicating he favored the Greens. Indeed, since there were no races this day in Ar, and he wore the patch, he perhaps worked in the tarncots of the Greens. None of this crowd seemed much to object to my presence there, though, to be sure, none would stand near me. In the prospect of a game, Goreans tend to forget the distances, amenities and trepidations of more sober moments. And through this small crowd, when it heard the terms of the Vintner, there coursed a mutter of irritation.
"Very well," said the Player, looking out over the board placidly, seeing nothing.
"And the odds I choose," said the Vintner, "are one to eighty."
At this a real growl of anger coursed through the onlookers.
"One to eighty," said the Vintner, firmly, triumphantly. "Very well," said the Player.
"Ubar's Tarnsman to Physician Seven," said the Vintner. "The Centian Opening," said one of the Saddle Makers. The Baker looked over his shoulder and called down the street to some men gathered there. "The Centian!"
The men ambled over to watch. I supposed they were interested in seeing what the Player's response would be to yellow's fourteenth move, a move on which authorities disagreed sharply, some favoring Ubar's Initiate to Scribe three, and others the withdrawal of Ubara's Spearman to cover the vulnerable Ubar's two.
To my surprise, the Player chose the withdrawal of Ubara's Spearman to cover Ubar two, which seemed to me rather defensive, and surely cost him the possibility of a dangerous but promising counterattack, which would eventually, if all went well, culminate with his second tarnsman at his opponent's Initiate two. When this move was made I saw two or three of the observers look at one another in disgust, and wink, and then turn about and walk away. The Vintner, however, did not seem to notice, but made the standard aggressive response, pressing his attack forward by moving Second Spearman to Initiate Five. The face of the Player seemed placid. I myself was keenly disappointed. It seemed reasonably clear to me, at that point, that the Player had made a presumably weaker move in order to prejudice the game against himself, a move which could be defended, however, on the grounds that certain authorities favored it. I myself, in Ko-ro-ba, had seen Centius of Cos playing his own opening more than a dozen times and he had never drawn back the Ubara's Spearman at that point. When I saw the excitement of the Vintner and the calm, stoic placidity of the Player I felt sad, for I recognized, as did several of the others, that this game, expensive though it might be, was to be the Vintner's. The Vintner, you must understand, was not a bad player. He was actually quite skilled, and would have played well among even gifted Goreans, to whom the game is almost second nature, but he was not of Player caliber, by far.
I continued to watch, but not happily. At one or two points I noted the Player had made subtly ineffective moves, apparently sound but yet leaving weaknesses which could be, even four or five moves in the future, exploited rather decisively. Late in the game, the Player seemed to rally, and the Vintner began to sweat, and rubbed his fingers together, and held his head in his hands, studying the board as though he would bore through it with his gaze.
No one watching was much impressed, incidentally, that the Player was blind and yet remembering each move and the complexities of the board. Goreans often play without the board and pieces, though generally they prefer them because then less effort need be expended on the purely mnemonic matters of keeping the pattern in mind, move to move. I myself had seen chess masters on Earth play twenty boards simultaneously and blindfolded. Yet I, of Earth origin, while recognizing that what I was witnessing was actually not as astonishing as it might seem, was nonetheless impressed. The Vintner, of course, seemed to give no heed to anything but the game.
At one point, when the Vintner seemed hard pressed, I, and several of the others, noted that his hand strayed to the board, moving his Second Spearman to Builder Four from Physician Four, thus placing him on an open column.
One of the Saddle Makers cried out in anger. "Watch out there! He moved Second Spearman to Builder Four!"
"I did not!" cried the Vintner - almost a shriek.
The Player looked puzzled.
All eyes turned to the Player and he put his head down for a moment, apparently reconstructing the game from memory, through all of its better than forty moves to that point, and then he smiled. "His Second Spearman," he said, "should be at Builder Four."
"You see!" cried the Vintner, gleefully.
Angrily the Saddle Maker turned away and strode down the street.
No one else said anything further. From time to time others would come to watch, but, as it became clear what was occurring, they would leave. At most times there were, however, some seven or eight individuals, including myself, who were watching.
Finally it grew late in the end game and it would be but a matter of four or five moves and the Player's Home Stone must be lost. The Vintner had taken his three-move option late in the game to build up an incredibly devastating attack.
The Player was now in such a predicament that I doubted that Centius of Cos, or Quintus of Tor, or even the city's champion, Scormus of Ar, could have done much. I, and others in the crowd, were angry.
I spoke. The Player, of course, could only hear my voice. "A tarn disk of gold and of double weight," said I, "to red, should red win."
The crowd gasped. The Vintner acted as though struck. The Player lifted his sightless eyes toward my face.
I took from my belt a tarn disk of double weight, and of gold, and gave it to the Player, who took it in his fingers and felt its weight, and then he put it between his teeth and bit it. He handed it back to me. "It is truly gold," he said. "Do not mock me."
"A double tarn," said I, "to red, should red win."
Such an amount I knew would not be likely to be earned in a year by a Player.
The Player turned his head toward me, lifting the scarred remains of his eyes, as though he might see. Every nerve in that old face seemed strained, as though trying to understand what might lie there beyond him in the darkness that was his world save for the memory of the movement of pieces on a checkered board. He put out his hand over the board, and I grasped it, firmly. I held his hand for a moment and he held mine, and I felt his grip, and smiled, for I knew then, blinded and branded, weak and old, he was yet a man. He released my hand and sat back, cross-legged, his back straight as that of a Ubar, a smile playing across the corners of his mouth. The sightless eyes seemed to gleam.
"Second Tarnsman," said he, "to Ubar's Builder Nine."
A cry of astonishment coursed through the crowd. Even the Vintner cried out.
He must be insane, I said to myself. Such a move was utterly unrelated to the game. It was random, meaningless. He was subject to one of the most devastating attacks that could be mounted in the game. His Home Stone, in four moves would fall. He must defend, for his very life!
With a trembling hand, the Vintner shoved his Second Spearman to the left, capturing the Player's First Spearman, which had not been defended.
I inwardly groaned.
"Ubar's Rider of the High Tharlarion," said the Player, to Ubar's Physician Eight."
I closed my eyes. It was another meaningless move. The crowd looked on, staggered, puzzled, speechless. Was this not a Player?
Relentlessly the Vintner forced through again with his Second Spearman, this time capturing the Player's Ubara's Rider of the High tharlarion.
"Ubar's Scribe to Ubara's Scribe Six," said the Player. Under other conditions I would have left at this point, but as I held the gold piece in question I knew that I would to remain until the end, which, as some consolation, be but shortly now.
Even the Vintner seemed disturbed. "Do you wish reconsider your last move?" he asked, offering a rare concession among players of the game, and one I had expected the Vintner, from what I had seen of him, to offer. I decided he was perhaps not such a bad fellow, perhaps winning meant more to him than it should.
"Ubar's Scribe to Ubara's Scribe Six," repeated the Player.
Mechanically the Vintner made the move on the board for the Player.
"My first tarnsman," said the Vintner, "captures Ubara's Scribe."
The capture of the Player's Home Stone would take place on the next move.
"Do you wish to reconsider your move?" asked the Player, looking across the board, not seeing, but smiling. There seemed something grand about him in that moment, as though it were a gesture of magnanimity worthy of a victorious Ubar.
The Vintner looked at him puzzled. "No," he said. "I do not."
The Player shrugged.
"I capture your Home Stone on the next move," said the Vintner.
"You have no next move," said the Player.
The crowd gasped and they and I, and the Vintner, studied the board.
"Aii!" I cried, though the outburst was scarcely in keeping with the somber black I wore, and an instant later the Tarn Keeper and the Saddle Maker cried out, and began to stamp their feet in the dust and pound their fists against their left shoulders. Then others watching cried out in glee. I myself removed my sword from its sheath and with it struck my shield. Then the Vintner began to howl with pleasure and slap his knees so pleased he was at the wonder of it, though he himself was the victim. "Magnificent!" he cried weeping, taking the Player by the shoulders and shaking him.
And then the Vintner himself, as proud as though it had been his own, announced the Player's next move. "Scribe takes Home Stone."
The crowd and I cried out with delight, marveling on it, the now apparent simplicity of it, the attack which had been not so much mounted as revealed by the apparently meaningless moves, intended only to clear the board for the vital attack, coming from the improbable Ubara's Scribe, one of least powerful pieces on the board, yet, when used in combination with, say, a tarnsman and a rider of the high tharlarion, as devastating as the Ubar itself. None of us, including the Vintner, had so much as suspected the attack. The Vintner pressed the copper tarn disk, which the Player had won from him, into the Player's hands, and the Player placed this coin in his pouch. I then pressed into the hands of the Player the tarn disk of gold, of double weight, and the man held it clenched in his hands, and smiled and rose to his feet. The Vintner was picking up the pieces and putting them back in the leather game bag, which he then slung about the man's shoulder. He then handed him the board, which the Player hung over his other shoulder. "Thank you for playing," said the Vintner. The Player put out his hand and touched the Vintner's face, remembering it. "Thank you for playing," said the Player.
"I wish you well," said the Vintner.
"I wish you well," said the Player.
I heard Cernus announce "Capture of Home Stone," and turned to see Caprus sit back in defeat, staring at the board. Cernus began to arrange the pieces once more on the board.
You could have been a Player," said Caprus.
Cernus laughed with pleasure, turning the board. "Take yellow," he offered.
Caprus shrugged and pushed Ubar's Spearman to Ubar Four.
Cernus looked at me eagerly. "Do you play?" he asked.
"No," I said.
He turned again to regard the board. He pushed his Ubara's Initiate's Spearman to Ubara's Initiate's Spearman Four. The Torian Defense.
"Capture of Home Stone," announced Cernus, moving his First Tarnsman to Ubara's Builder One, where Caprus had, at that point in the game, been attempting to protect his Home Stone. The Home Stone, incidentally, is not officially a piece of the game, as it cannot capture, though it can move one square at a time; further, it might be of interest to note that it is not on the board at the beginning of play, but must be placed on the board on or before the seventh move, which placement counts as one move.
"Capture of Home Stone," I heard Cernus say to Caprus, who spread his hands helplessly, acknowledging defeat.
Cernus smiled at Caprus and then, unexpectedly, as though he had been teasing him, he placed his first tarnsman at Ubara's Scribe Two.
Caprus studied the board for a moment and then, with an exasperated laugh, tipped his own Ubar, conceding the board and game.
"No," she said. Then she looked at me very timidly, "Would you," she asked, "teach me to play the game?"
I looked at her, flabbergasted.
She looked down, immediately. "I know," she said. "I am sorry. I am a woman. I am slave."
"Have you a board and pieces?" I asked.
She looked up, happily. "Will you teach me?" she asked, delighted.
"Have you a board and pieces?" I asked.
"No," she said, miserably.
"Do you have paper?" I asked. "A pen, ink?"
"I have silk," she said, "and rouge, and bottles of cosmetics!"
In a short time we had spread a large square of silk on the floor between us, and, carefully, finger in and out of a rouge pot, I had drawn the squares of the board. I put a dot in the center of the squares that would normally be red on a board, leaving those squares that would normally be yellow blank. Then, between us, we managed to find tiny vials, and brooches, and beads, to use as the pieces. In less than an Ahn we had set up our board and pieces, and I had showed Sura the placing of the pieces and their moves, and had explained some of the elementary techniques of the game to her; in the second Ahn she was actually negotiating the board with alertness, always moving with an objective in mind; her moves were seldom the strongest, but they were always intelligent; I would explain moves to her, discussing them, and she would often cry out "I see!" and a lesson never needed to be repeated.
"It is not often," I said, "that one finds a woman who is pleased with the game."
"But it is so beautiful!" she cried.
We played yet another Ahn and, even in that short amount of time, her moves had become more exact, more subtle, more powerful. I became now less concerned to suggest improvements in her play and more concerned to protect my own Home Stone.
"Are you, sure you have never played before?" I asked.
She looked at me, genuinely delighted. "Am I doing acceptably?" she asked.
"Yes," I said.
I began to marvel at her. I truly believe, also, that she had never played before. I realized, to my pleasure, if danger, that I had come upon one of those rare persons who possess a remarkable aptitude for the game. There was a rawness in her play, a lack of polish, but I sensed myself in the presence of one for whom the game might have been created. Her eyes sparkled.
"Capture of Home Stone!" she cried.
"I do not suppose you would care to play the kalika," I proposed.
"No! No!" she cried. "The game! The game!"
"You are only a woman," I reminded her.
"Please, Kuurus!" she said. "The game! The game!" Reluctantly I began to put out the pieces again. This time she had yellow.
To my astonishment, this time I began to see the Centian Opening unfold, developed years ago by Centius of Cos, one of the strongest openings known in the game, one in which the problems of development for red are particularly acute, especially the development of his Ubar's Scribe.
"Are you sure you have never played before?" I asked, thinking it well to recheck the point.
"No," she said, studying the board like a child confronting something never seen before, something wonderful, something mysterious and challenging, a red ball, some squares of brightly colored, folded orange cloth.
When it came to the fourteenth move for red, my color, I glanced up at her.
"What do you think I should do now?" I asked.
I noted that her lovely brow had already been wrinkled with distress, considering the possibilities.
"Some authorities," I told her, "favor Ubar's Initiate to Scribe Three at this point, others recommend the withdrawal of Ubara's Spearman to cover Ubar Two."
She studied the board closely for a few Ihn. "Ubar's Initiate to Scribe Three is the better move," she said.
"I agree," I said.
I placed my Ubar's Initiate, a perfume vial, on Scribe Three.
"Yes," she said, "it is clearly superior."
It was indeed a superior move but, as it turned out, it did not do me a great deal of good.
Six moves later Sura, as I had feared, boldly dropped her Ubar itself, a small rouge pot, on Ubar five.
"Now," she said, "you will find it difficult to bring your Ubar's Scribe into play." She frowned for a moment. "Yes," she mused, "very difficult."
"I know," I said. "I know!"
"Your best alternative at this point," she explained, "would be, would it not, to attempt to free your position by exchanges?"
I glared at her. "Yes," I admitted. "It would."
I, too, laughed.
"You are marvelous," I told her. I had played the game often and was considered, even among skilled Goreans, an excellent player; yet I found myself fighting for my life with my beautiful, excited opponent. "You are simply incredible," I said.
"I have always wanted to play," she said. "I sensed I might do it well."
"You are superb," I said. I knew her, of course, to be an extremely intelligent, capable woman. This I had sensed in her from the first. Also, of course, had I not even known her I would have supposed her a remarkable person, for she was said to be the finest trainer of girls in the city of Ar, and that honor, dubious though it might be, would not be likely to have been achieved without considerable gifts, and among them most certainly those of unusual intelligence. Yet here I knew there was much more involved than simple intelligence; I sensed here a native aptitude of astonishing dimension.
"Don't move there," she told me, "or you will lose your Home Stone in seven."
I studied the board. "Yes," I said at last, "you are right."
"Your strongest move," she said, "is first tarnsman to Ubar one."
I restudied the board. "Yes," I said, "you are right."
"But then," she said, "I shall place my Ubara's Scribe at Ubar's Initiate Three."
I tipped my Ubar, resigning.
"I am concerned," continued Cernus, "to be fair in all matters and thus propose that we wager for your freedom."
I looked up in surprise.
"Bring the board and pieces," said Cernus. Philemon left the room. Cernus looked down at me and grinned. "As I recall, you said that you did not play."
"On the other hand," said Cernus, "I of course do not believe you."
"I play," I admitted.
Cernus chuckled. "Would you like to play for your freedom?"
"Of course," I said.
"I am quite skillful, you know," said Cernus.
I said nothing. I had gathered in the months in the house, from what I had seen and heard, that Cernus was indeed a fine player. He would not be easy to beat.
"But," said Cernus, smiling, "since you are scarcely likely to be as skilled as I, I feel that it is only just that you be represented by a champion, who can play for you and give you some opportunity for victory."
"I will play for myself," I said.
"I do not think that would be just," said Cernus.
"I see," I said. I then understood that Cernus would appoint my champion. The game would be a meaningless charade.
"Perhaps a slave who scarcely knows the moves of the pieces," I suggested, "might play for me if such would not be too potent an adversary for you?"
Cernus looked at me with surprise. Then he grinned. "Perhaps," he said.
Sura, bound, lifted her head.
"Would you dare to contend with a mere slave girl," I asked, "one who has learned the game but a day or two ago, who has played but an Ahn or so?"
"Whom do you mean?" inquired Cernus.
"He means me, Master," said Sura, humbly, and then dropped her head.
I held my breath.
"Women do not play the game," said Cernus irritably. "Slaves do not play!"
Sura said nothing.
Cernus rose from the table and went to stand before Sura. He picked up the remains of the small cloth doll which lay torn before her and tore them more. The old cloth broke apart. He ground the bits of the doll into the tile with the heel of his sandal.
I saw tears from the eyes of Sura fall to the tiles. Her shoulders shook.
"Have you dared to learn the game, Slave?" inquired Cernus, angrily.
"Forgive me, Master," said Sura, not raising her head.
Cernus turned to me. "Pick a more worthy champion, fool," said he.
I shrugged. "I choose Sura," I said. Cernus would surely have no way of knowing that Sura possessed perhaps one of the most astounding native aptitudes for the game that I had ever encountered. Almost from the beginning she had begun to play at the very level of Players themselves. Her capacity, raw and brilliant, was simply a phenomenon, one of those rare and happy girls one sometimes discovers, to one's delight or dismay, and she had caused me much of both. "I choose Sura," I said.
The men about the tables laughed.
Cernus then, for no reason I understood clearly, struck Sura with the back of his hand, hurling her to the tiles.
I heard one of the men near me whisper to another. "Where is Ho-Tu?"
I myself had been curious about that.
The other whispered in return. "Ho-Tu has been sent to Tor to buy slaves."
The first laughed.
I myself thought it was perhaps well that Cernus, doubtless by design, had sent Ho-Tu from the house. Surely I would not have expected the powerful Ho-Tu to stand by while Sura, whom he loved, was so treated, even by the Master of the House of Cernus. With hook knife in hand, against a dozen blades, Ho-Tu would probably have rushed upon Cernus. I was, as I suggested, just as well satisfied that Ho-Tu was not now in the house. It would be one less to die. I wondered if Cernus would have him slain on his return. If Sura were permitted to live I supposed Ho-Tu, too, would live, if only to be with her, to try to protect her as he could.
"I will not play with a woman!" snarled Cernus and turned away from Sura. She looked at me, helpless, stricken. I smiled at her. But my heart had sunk. My last hope seemed now dashed.
Cernus was now again at the table. In the meantime Philemon had brought the board and arranged the pieces. "It does not matter," said Cernus to me, "for I have already arranged your champion."
"I see," I said, "and who is to be my champion?"
Cernus roared with laughter. "Hup the Fool!" he cried.
The tables roared with laughter, and the men pounded with their fists on the wood so pleased were they.
At this point, from the main entryway to the hall, there entered two men, shoved by guards. One retained a certain dignity, though he held his hands before him. He wore the robes of a Player. The other rolled and somersaulted onto the tiles and bounded skipping to his feet, to the amusement of those at table. Even the slave girls clapped their hands with amusement, crying out with pleasure.
Hup was now backing around ogling the slave girls, and then he fell over on his back, tripped by a Warrior. He sprang to his feet and began to leap up and down making noises like a scolding urt. The girls laughed, and so, too, did the men.
The other man who had entered with Hup was, to my astonishment, the blind Player whom I had encountered so long ago in the street outside the Paga tavern near the great gate of Ar, who had beaten so brilliantly the Vintner in what had been apparently, until then, an uneven and fraudulent game, one the Player had clearly intended to deliver to his opponent, he who had, upon learning that I wore the black of the Assassins, refused, though poor, to accept the piece of gold he had so fairly and marvelously won. I thought it strange that that man should have been found with Hup, only a fool, Hup whose bulbous misshapen head reached scarcely to the belt of a true man, Hup of the bandy legs and swollen body, the broken, knobby hands, Hup the Fool.
I saw Sura regarding Hup with a kind of horror, looking on him with loathing. She seemed to tremble with revulsion. I wondered at her response.
"Qualius the Player," called Cernus, "you are once again in the House of Cernus, who is now Ubar of Ar."
"I am honored," said the blind Player, whose name I had just learned.
"Would you care to play me once more?" asked Cernus.
"No," said the blind Player dryly. "I beat you once."
"It was a mistake, was it not?" asked Cernus humorously.
"Indeed," said Qualius. "For having bested you I was blinded in your torture rooms and branded."
"Thus, in the end," said Cernus, amused, "it was I who bested you."
"Indeed it was," said Qualius, "Ubar."
"How is it," inquired Cernus, "that my men, sent for Hup the Fool, find you with him?"
"I share the fool's lodgings" said Qualius. "There are few doors open to a destitute Player."
Cernus laughed. "Players and fools," said he, "have much in common."
"It is true," said Qualius.
We turned to look at Hup. He was now sneaking about the tables. He took a sip from one of the goblets and narrowly missed an amused, swinging blow aimed at him by the man whose goblet it was. Hup ran scampering away and crouched down making faces at the man, who laughed at him. Then Hup, with great apparent stealth, returned to the table and darted under it. On the other side his head suddenly appeared, then disappeared. Again he came under the table, and this time his hand darted out and back, and he began to chew on his prize, a peel of larma fruit snatched from a plate, discarded as garbage. He was grinning and cooing to himself while chewing on the peel.
"Behold your champion," said Cernus.
I would not reply to him.
"Why not slay me and be done with it?" I asked.
"Have you no faith in your champion?" asked Cernus. Then he threw back his head and laughed. The others, too, in the room laughed. Even Hup, his eyes watering, sat on his rump on the tiles and pounded his knees, seeing others laugh. When the others ceased to laugh, so, too, did he, and looked about, whimpering, giggling.
"Since you have a champion," said Cernus, "I thought it only fair that I, too have a champion."
I looked at him, puzzled.
"Behold my champion," said Cernus, "who will play for me." He expansively lifted his hand toward the entryway. All turned to look.
There were cries of astonishment.
Through the entryway, rather angrily, strode a young man, perhaps no more than eighteen or nineteen years of age, with piercing eyes and incredibly striking features; he wore the garb of the Player, but his garb was rich and the squares of the finest red and yellow silk; the game bag over his left shoulder was of superb verrskin; his sandals were tied with strings of gold; startlingly, this young man, seeming like a god in the splendor of his boyhood, was lame, and as he strode angrily forward, his right leg dragged across the tiles; seldom had I seen a face more handsome, more striking, yet rich with irritation, with contempt, a face more betokening the brilliance of a mind like a Gorean blade.
He stood before the table of Cernus and though Cernus was Ubar of his city he merely lifted his hand in common Gorean greeting, palm inward. "Tal," said he.
"Tal," responded Cernus, seeming somehow in awe before this mere boy.
"Why have I been brought here?" asked the young man.
I studied the face of the young man. There was something subtly familiar about it. I felt almost as though I must have seen him before. I felt it was a face I somehow knew, and yet could not know.
I happened to glance at Sura and was startled to see her. She could not take her eyes from the boy. It was as though she, like myself, somehow recognized him.
"You have been brought here to play a game," said Cernus.
"I do not understand," said the boy.
"You will play as my champion," said Cernus.
The boy looked at him curiously.
"If you win," said Cernus, "you will be given a hundred gold pieces."
"I will win," said the boy.
There had been nothing bold in his tone of voice, only perhaps impatience.
He looked about himself, and saw Qualius, the blind Player. "The game will be an interesting one," said the boy.
"Qualius of Ar," said Cernus, "is not to be your opponent."
"Oh?" inquired the boy.
Hup was rolling in a corner of the room, rolling to the wall, then back, then rolling to it again.
The boy looked at him in revulsion.
"Your opponent," said Cernus, pointing to the small fool rolling in the corner, "is he."
Fury contorted the features of the boy. "I will not play," he said. He turned with a swirl of his cloak but found his way barred by two guards with spears. "Ubar!" cried the boy.
"You will play Hup the Fool," laughed Cernus.
"It is an insult to me," said the boy, "and to the game. I will not play!"
Hup began to croon to himself in the corner, now rocking back and forth on his haunches.
"If you do not play," Cernus said, not pleasantly, "you will not leave this house alive."
The young man shook with fury.
"What is the meaning of this?" he inquired.
"I am giving this prisoner an opportunity to live," said Cernus, indicating me. "If his champion wins, he will live; if his champion loses, he will die."
"I have never played to lose," said the young man, "never."
"I know," said Cernus.
The young man looked at me. "His blood," he said to Cernus, "is on your hands, not mine."
Cernus laughed. "Then you will play?"
"I will play," said the young man.
Cernus leaned back and grinned.
"But let Qualius play for him," said the young man.
Qualius, who apparently knew the voice of the young man, said, "You need have no fear, Ubar, I am not his equal."
I wondered who the young man might be if Qualius, whom I knew to be a superb player, did not even speak as though he might force a draw with him.
Again I glanced at Sura, and was again startled at the intentness, almost the wonder, with which she regarded the incredibly handsome, lame boy who stood before us. I racked my brain, trying to understand something which seemed somehow but a moment from comprehension, something elusive, hauntingly near and yet undisclosed.
"No," said Cernus. "The Fool is your opponent."
"Let us be done with this farce," said the boy. "Further, let no word of this shame be spoken outside this house."
Philemon indicated the board, and the young man went to it and took a chair, Cernus' own, surrendered eagerly by him, at the table. The boy turned the board irritably about, taking red. Philemon turned the board back, that he might have yellow, and the first move, permitting him to choose his opening.
The young man looked about him with disgust, but did not protest.
"To the table, fool," cried Cernus to Hup.
Hup, as though shocked, leaped to his feet, turned a somersault, and bounded unevenly to the table, where he put his chin on the boards, trying to nibble at a piece of bread lying there.
Those in the room laughed, with the exception of Relius, Ho-Sorl, the young boy, and myself, and Sura. Sura was still looking at the boy. There were tears in her eyes. I tried to place the boy, his features.
"Would you not care," asked Cernus of the boy, "to inform the prisoner of your name?"
The handsome boy looked down from the chair of Cernus on me. His lips parted irritably. "I am Scormus of Ar," he said.
I closed my eyes and began to shake with laughter, seeing the joke on myself. And the others, too, those with Cernus, laughed, until the room roared with their mirth.
My champion was Hup, a Fool, that of Cernus was the brilliant, fiery, competitive Scormus of Ar, the young, phenomenal Scormus, who played first board of the city of Ar and held the highest bridge in the city as the province of his game, the master not only of the Players of Ar but doubtless of Gor as well; four times he had won the cap of gold at the Sardar Fairs; never had he entered a tournament he had not won; there was no Player on Gor who did not acknowledge him his master; the records of his games were hungered for throughout all the cities of Gor; his strategy was marked with a native and powerful subtlety, a profundity and brilliance that had made him, even in his youth, a legend in the harsh cities of Gor; it was little wonder that even Cernus himself stood in awe of this imperious youth.
Suddenly Sura cried out. "It is he!"
And in that instant the recognition came to me so suddenly and powerfully that the room seemed black for a moment and I could not breathe.
Scormus looked irritably from the board at Sura, kneeling bound on the tiles.
"Is your slave mad?" he asked of Cernus.
"Of course he is Scormus of Ar, Foolish Slave," cried Cernus to Sura. "Now be silent!"
Her eyes were glistening with tears. She put down her head and was weeping, shaking with emotion.
I, too, trembled.
And then it seemed to me that Cernus might have miscalculated.
I saw Hup waddle over to Sura and put his bulbous head to hers. Some of those at the table laughed. Sura did not draw back from that fearful, grotesque countenance that faced her. Then, to the wonder of all, Hup, the misshapen, misformed dwarf and fool, gently, ever so gently, kissed Sura on the forehead. Her eyes were wet with tears. Her shoulders were shaking. She smiled, crying, and put down her head.
"What is going on?" demanded Cernus.
Then Hup gave a wild yip and turned a backward somersault and bounded suddenly, squealing like an urt, after a naked slave girl, one of those who had served the tables. She screamed and fled and Hup stopped and turned around several times rapidly in the center of the room until, dizzy, he fell down on his seat and wept.
Scormus of Ar spoke. "Let us play."
"Play, Fool!" cried Cernus to Hup.
The little fool bounded to the table. "Play! Play! Play!" he whimpered. "Hup plays!"
The dwarf seized a piece and shoved it.
"It is not your move!" cried Cernus. "Yellow moves first."
Irritably, with genuine disdain and fury, Scormus thrust out a tarnsman.
Hup picked up a red piece and studied it with great care. "Pretty, pretty wood," he giggled.
"Does the fool know the moves of the pieces?" inquired Scormus acidly.
Some of those at the table laughed, but Cernus did not laugh.
"Pretty, pretty," crooned Hup. Then he put the piece down on the intersection of four squares, upside down.
"No," said Philemon, irritably, "on the color, like this!"
Hup's attention was now drawn to the side of the table where there was a sugared pastry, which he began to eye hungrily.
Scormus of Ar, I was pleased to note, regarding the board, suddenly eyed Hup warily. Then the boy shrugged and shook his head, and moved another piece.
"Your move," prompted Philemon.
Without looking at the board Hup poked a Ubar's Scribe, with one of his swollen fingers. "Hup hungry," he whined.
One of Cernus' guards threw Hup the pastry he had been eyeing and Hup squealed with pleasure and sat on the dais, putting his chin on his knees, shoving the pastry in his mouth.
I looked at Sura. Her eyes were radiant. She saw me and through her tears, smiled. I smiled back at her. She looked down at the remains of the doll on the tiles before her and threw back her head and laughed. In her bonds she threw back her head and laughed.
She had a son. His name, of course, was Scormus of Ar, her son by the dwarf Hup, conceived years ago in the revels of Kajuralia. I now, clearly, recognized the boy, though I had not seen him before. His features were those of Sura, though with the heaviness of the masculine countenance, the bred slave lines of the House of Cernus. Cernus himself had not recognized them; perhaps none in the room had; the lame foot was perhaps the legacy of his misshapen father; but the boy was fine, and he was brilliant; he was the marvelous Scormus, youthful master Player of Ar.
I looked at Sura and there were tears in my eyes, with my happiness for her.
Hup had kissed her. He had known. Could he then be the fool he pretended? And Scormus of Ar, the brilliant, the natively brilliant master Player was the offspring of these two. I had sensed the marvelous raw power of Sura, her amazing, almost intuitive grasp of the game; and I wondered of Hup, who could be the father of so brilliant a boy as Scormus of Ar; perhaps Hup, the Fool, was no stranger to the game; I looked to one side and saw Qualius of Ar, the blind Player; unnoticed, he was smiling.
After Hup's second move Scormus of Ar had looked for a long time at the board, and then at Hup, who was devouring his pastry.
Cernus seemed impatient. Philemon suggested three or four counters to the position now on the board.
"It is impossible," said Scormus, more to himself than another. Then he sighed and pushed his third piece.
Hup was still eating his pastry.
"Move!" cried Cernus.
Hup leaped dutifully up and, crumbs on his mouth, seized a yellow piece and shoved it sideways.
"No," said Cernus, intensely, "you move red pieces."
Hup obediently started shoving the red pieces about the board.
"One at a time!" screamed Cernus.
Hup cringed and, lifting his head timidly over the board, pushed a piece and darted away.
"His moves are random moves," said Philemon to Scormus.
Scormus was looking at the board. "Perhaps," he said.
Philemon snorted with amusement.
Scormus then made his fourth move.
Hup, who was waddling about the walls, was then summoned again to the board and he hastily picked up a piece and dropped it tottering to a square, and went back to the walls.
"His moves are random," said Philemon. "Develop your tarnsmen. When he places his Home Stone you will be able to seize it in five moves."
Scormus of Ar regarded Philemon. His look was withering. "Do you tell Scormus of Ar how to play the game?" he inquired.
"No," said Philemon.
"Then be silent," said Scormus.
Philemon looked as though he might choose to reply, but thought the better of it, and glared angrily at the board.
"Observe," said Scormus to Cernus, as he moved another piece.
Hup, singing some mad little song of his own devising bounded back to the table, turned a somersault, and crawled up on the dais, whence he seized another piece in his small, knobby fist and pushed it one square ahead.
"I will give you two hundred pieces of gold if you can finish the game in ten moves," said Cernus.
"My Ubar jests." said Scormus of Ar, studying the board.
"I do not understand," said Cernus.
"I should have known my Ubar would not have perpetrated the farce he pretended," said Scormus, not raising his eyes from the board. He smiled. "It is seldom that Scormus of Ar is so fooled. You are to be congratulated, Ubar. This joke will bear telling in Ar for a thousand years."
"I do not understand," said Cernus.
"Surely you recognize," asked Scormus, curiously, looking up at him, "the Two Spearman variation of the Ubar's Scribe's Defense, developed by Miles of Cos and first used the tournament at Tor held during the Second Passage Hand of the third year of the Administrator Heraklites?"
Neither Cernus nor Philemon said anything. The tables were silent.
"The man I am playing," said Scormus of Ar, "is obviously a master."
I cried out with joy, as did Sura, and Relius and Ho-Sorl. We, the four of us, cheered.
"It is impossible!" cried Cernus.
Hup, the Fool, blinked, sitting on the tiles before the dais. Scormus of Ar was studying the board intently.
"Hup, my friend," said the blind player Qualius "can play with Priest-Kings."
"Beat him!" cried Cernus.
"Be quiet," said Scormus. "I am playing."
There was little sound in the room save the occasional noises of Hup. The game continued. Scormus would study the board and move a piece. Hup would come from somewhere in the halt, rolling, skipping or bounding, sniffing, gurgling, glance at the board, cry out, and poke a piece about. And then Scormus would again, head in hands, face not moving, study the board once more.
At last, after perhaps no more than half an Ahn, Scormus stood up. His face was hard to read. There was something in it of irritation, but also of bafflement, and of respect. He stood stiffly, and, to the wonder of all, extended his hand to Hup.
"What are you doing?" cried Cernus.
"I am grateful to you for the game," said Scormus.
The two men, the young, fiery Scormus of Ar, and the tiny, misshapen dwarf shook hands.
"I do not understand," said Cernus.
"Your departure from the Two Spearman Variation on the sixteenth move was acute," said Scormus to Hup, paying the Ubar of Ar no attention. "Only too later did I realize its position in your plan, the feint of the four-piece combination covering your transposition into the Hogar Variation of the Centian, striking down the file of the Ubara's Scribe. It was brilliant."
Hup inclined his head.
"I do not understand," said Cernus.
"I have lost," said Scormus.
Cernus looked at the board. He was sweating. His hand trembled.
"Impossible!" he cried. "You have a winning position!"
Scormus' hand tipped his Ubar, resigning the game.
Cernus seized the piece and righted it. "The game is not done!" he cried. He seized Scormus by the cloak. "Are you a traitor to your Ubar?" he screamed.
"No, Ubar," said Scormus, puzzled.
Cernus released Scormus. The Ubar trembled with fury. He studied the board. Philemon did, too. Hup was looking away from the table, scratching his nose.
"Play!" cried Cernus to Scormus. "Your position is a winning one!"
Scormus looked at him, puzzled. "It is capture of Home Stone," said he, "in twenty-two."
"Impossible," whispered Cernus, trembling, staring at the small pieces of wood, the intricate pattern, the field of red and yellow squares.
"With your permission, Ubar," said Scormus of Ar, "I shall withdraw."
"Be gone!" cried Cernus, regarding the board.
"Perhaps we shall play again," said Scormus to Hup, inclining his head to the dwarf.
Hup began to dance on one foot, turning about.
Scormus then went to Qualius, the blind player. "I leave," he said. "I wish you well, Qualius of Ar."
"I wish you well, Scormus of Ar," said Qualius, the blind, branded face radiant.
Scormus turned and regarded Hup. The little fellow was sitting on the edge of the dais, swinging his feet. When he saw Scormus regarding him, however, he stood up, as straight as he could with his crooked back and one short leg; he struggled to stand straight, and it must have caused him pain.
"I wish you well, Small Master," said Scormus.
Hup could not reply but he stood there before the dais, as straight as he could, with tears in his eyes.
"I shall play out your position and win!" screamed Cernus.
"What will you do?" asked Scormus, puzzled.
Cernus angrily moved a piece. "Ubar's tarnsman to Ubara's Scribe's four!"
Scormus smiled. "That is capture of Home Stone in eleven," he said.
As Scormus, his path uncontested, took his way from the room, he stopped before Sura, who lowered her head, shamed that she should be so seen before him. He regarded her for a moment, as though puzzled, and then turned and faced Cernus once again. "A lovely slave," he commented. Cernus, studying the board, did not respond to him. Scormus turned and, limping, left the room.
I saw that Hup now stood close to Sura, and once again, gently, he kissed her on the forehead.
"Little Fool!" cried Cernus. "I have moved Ubar's tarnsman to Ubara's Scribe's Four! What will you do now?"
Hup returned to the table and, scarcely glancing at the board, picked up a piece and dropped it on a square.
"Ubar's tarnsman to Ubara's tarnsman six," said Cernus, puzzled.
"What is the point of that?" asked Philemon.
"There is no point," said Cernus. "He is a fool, only a fool."
I counted the moves, eleven of them, and, on the eleventh, Cernus cried out with rage and dashed the board and its pieces from the table. Hup, as though puzzled, was waddling about the room scratching his nose, singing a silly little ditty to himself. In one small hand he held clutched a tiny piece of yellow wood, the Home Stone of Cernus.
I regarded the board. Carefully, I set the Ubar's Tarnsman at Ubar's Scribe Six.
"It is dangerous," said Samos.
"It is your move," said I, intent upon the game.
He threatened the Ubar's Tarnsman with a spearman, thrust to his Ubar Four.
"We do not care to risk you," said Samos. There was a slight smile about his lips.
"We?" I asked.
"Priest-Kings and I," said Samos.
"I no longer serve Priest-Kings," said I.
"Ah, yes," said Samos. Then he added, "Guard your tarnsman."
We played in the hall of Samos, a lofty room, with high, narrow windows. It was late at night. A torch burned in a rack above and behind me, to my left. The shadows flickered about the board of one hundred red and yellow squares. The pieces, weighted, seemed tall on the board, casting their shadows away from the flame, across the flat arena of the game.
We sat cross-legged on the floor, on the tiles, over the large board.
"Guard your tarnsman," said Samos.
Instead I swept my Ubar to Ubar's Tarnsman One.
I looked into Samos' eyes.
He turned his attention again to the board.
He had a large, squarish head, short-cropped white hair. His face was dark from the sun, and wind-burned, and sea-burned. There were small, golden rings in his ears. He was a pirate, a slaver, a master swordsman, a captain of Port Kar. He studied the board.
He did not take the Ubar's Tarnsman with his spearman. He looked up at me, and defended his Home Stone by bringing his Scribe to Ubar One, whence it could control his Ubar's Tarnsman Three, controlling as well the killing diagonal.
I moved my Ubar's Rider of the High Tharlarion to command the file on which the Home Stone of Samos lay richly protected.
"Builder to Ubara's Scribe Six," said Samos, moving a tall wooden piece toward me on the board.
I looked down. I must defend my Home Stone.
"You must choose," said Samos, "between them."
My Home Stone was threatened.
"Home Stone to Ubar's Tarnsman One," I said.
Samos made the move for me.
Samos and I looked down upon the board, with its hundred squares of red and yellow, the weighted, carved pieces. "Ubar to Ubar Nine," said Samos. He looked at me.
I had planned well. "Ubar to Ubar Two," I said, and turned, robes swirling, and strode to the portal, whence I might leave the hall.
At the broad, bronze-linteled portal I turned.
Samos stood behind the board. He looked up at me, and spread his hands. "The game is yours," he said.
There, lost to the bustle in the tavern, oblivious to the music, sat two men across a board of one hundred red and yellow squares, playing Kaissa, the game. One was a Player, a master who makes his living, though commonly poorly, from the game, playing for a cup of paga perhaps and the right to sleep in the tavern at night. The other, sitting cross-legged with him, was the broad-shouldered, blond giant from Torvaldsland whom I had seen earlier. He wore a shaggy jacket. His hair was braided. His feet and legs were bound in skins and cords. The large, curved, double-bladed, long-handled ax lay beside him. On his large brown leather belt, confining the long shaggy jacket he wore, which would have fallen to his knees, were carved the luck signs of the north. Kaissa is popular in Torvaldsland, as well as elsewhere on Gor. In halls, it is often played far into the night, by fires, by the northern giants. Sometimes disputes, which otherwise might be settled only by ax or sword, are willingly surrendered to a game of Kaissa, if only for the joy of engaging in the game. The big fellow was of Torvaldsland. The master might have been from as far away as Ar, or Tor, or Turia. But they had between them the game, its fascination and its beauty, reconciling whatever differences, in dialect, custom or way of life might divide them.
The game was beautiful.
"Patience, too," said Rim, "is a characteristic of players of the Game, and of certain warriors."
"Would you care for a game?" asked Marlenus, indicating a board and pieces which stood to one side. The pieces, tall, weighted, stood ready on their first squares.
"No," I said to him. I was not in a mood for the game.
I had played Marlenus before. His attack was fierce, devastating, sometimes reckless. I myself am an aggressive player, but against Marlenus it seemed always necessary to defend. Against him one played defensively, conservatively, positionally, waiting for the tiny misjudgment, the small error or mistake. But it was seldom made.
Marlenus was a superb player.
He had not been able to handle me as well as he liked on the board. This had whetted his appetite to crush me. He had not been able to do so. In the past year, in Port Kar, I had grown much fond of the game. I had tried to play frequently with players of strength superior to my own. I found myself often, eventually, capable of beating them. Then I would seek others, stronger still. I had studied, too, the games of masters, in particular those of the young, handsome, lame, fiery Scormus of Ar, and of the much older, almost legendary master of Cos, gentle, white-haired Centius, he of the famed Centian opening. Scormus was fierce, arrogant and brilliant. The medallion and throne of Centius was now, by many, said to be his. But there were those who did not agree. The hand of Centius now sometimes shook, and it seemed his eyes did not see the board as once they did. But there were few men on Gor who did not fear as the hand of Centius thrust forth his Ubar's Tarnsman to Physician Seven. It was said that Scormus of Ar and Centius of Cos would sometime meet at the great fair of En'Kara, in the shadow of the Sardar. Never as yet had the two sat across from one another. Cos, like Tyros, is a traditional enemy of Ar. It was said that some coming En'Kara Scormus and Centius must meet. All Gor awaited this meeting. Already weights of gold had been wagered on its outcome. Players, incidentally, are free to travel where they wish on the surface of Gor, no matter what might be their city. By custom, they, like musicians, are held free of the threat of enslavement. Like musicians, and like singers, there are few courts at which they are not welcome. That he had once played a man such as Scormus of Ar or Centius of Cos is the sort of thing that a Gorean grandfather will boast of to his grandchildren.
"Very well," said Marlenus. "Then we shall not, now, play."
During her beating, and afterward, Marlenus and I had been engaged in playing the game. He had beaten me once, and I had drawn twice. After her beating, she had been left bound to the post for two Ahn. When Marlenus ordered her freed from the post, he stood nearby. "Do not attempt to run away again," he told her, and then turned away.
I turned and left. I looked back once, to see Marlenus regarding the board, intently, it placed now before him on the table. He was moving pieces, trying combinations, lines and permutations.
Scarcely had Marlenus flung his Ubar's Tarnsman to Ubar's Builder's Seven when we heard the cry at the gate.
"Ubara's Builder to Ubara's Builder Nine," said Marlenus. He moved the piece.
"Ubara to Ubara Four," said Marlenus.
I moved my Ubar's Physician to my Ubara Six, interposing it between the Ubara and the Home Stone.
"Tarnsman to Ubara Six," said Marlenus. He moved his tarnsman to his Ubara Six, my Ubara Four.
"Capture of Home Stone," said Marlenus.
It was set on a square chest. It was a board made for play at sea, and such boards are common with the men of Torvaldsland. In the center of each square was a tiny peg. The pieces, correspondingly, are drilled to match the pegs, and fit over them. This keeps them steady in the movements at sea. The board was of red and yellow squares.
I studied the board before me.
It was set on a square chest. It was a board made for play at sea, and such boards are common with the men of Torvaldsland. In the center of each square was a tiny peg. The pieces, correspondingly, are drilled to match the pegs, and fit over them. This keeps them steady in the movements at sea. The board was of red and yellow squares. The Kaissa of the men of Torvaldsland is quite similar to that of the south, though certain of the pieces differ. There is, for example, not a Ubar but a Jarl, as the most powerful piece. Moreover, there is no Ubara. Instead, there is a piece called the Jarl's Woman, which is quite powerful, more so than the southern Ubara. Instead of Tarnsmen, there are two pieces called the Axes. The board has no Initiates, but there are corresponding pieces called Rune-Priests. Similarly there are no Scribes, but a piece, which moves identically, called the Singer. I thought that Andreas of Tor, a friend, of the caste of Singers, might have been pleased to learn that his caste was represented, and honored, on the boards of the north. The Spearmen moved identically with the southern Spearmen. It did not take me much time to adapt to the Kaissa of Torvaldsland, for it is quite similar to the Kaissa of the south. On the other hand, feeling my way on the board, I had lost the first two games to the Forkbeard. Interestingly, he had been eager to familiarize me with the game, and was abundant in his explanations and advice. Clearly, he wished me to play him at my full efficiency, without handicap, as soon as possible. I had beaten him the third game, and he had then, delighted, ceased in his explanations and advice and, together, the board between us, each in our way a warrior, we had played Kaissa.
The Forkbeard's game was much more varied, and tactical, than was that of, say, Marlenus of Ar, much more devious, and it was far removed from the careful, conservative, positional play of a man such as Mintar, of the caste of Merchants. The Forkbeard made great use of diversions and feints, and double strategies, in which an attack is double edged, being in effect two attacks, an open one and a concealed one, either of which, depending on a misplay by the opponent, may be forced through, the concealed attack requiring usually only an extra move to make it effective, a move which, ideally, threatened or pinned an opponent's piece, giving him the option of surrendering it or facing a devastating attack, he then a move behind. In the beginning I had played Forkbeard positionally, learning his game. When I felt I knew him better, I played him more openly. His wiliest tricks, of course I knew, he would seldom use saving them for games of greater import, or perhaps for players of Torvaldsland. Among them, even more than in the south, Kaissa is a passion. In the long winters of Torvaldsland, when the snow, the darkness, the ice and wintry winds are upon the land, when the frost breaks open the rocks, groaning, at night, when the serpents hide in their roofed sheds, many hours, under swinging soapstone lamps, burning the oil of sea sleen, are given to Kaissa. At such times, even the bond-maids, rolling and restless, naked, in the furs of their masters, their ankles chained to a nearby ring, must wait.
"It is your move," said Forkbeard.
"I have moved," I told him. "I have thrown the Ax to Jarl six."
"Ah!" laughed the Forkbeard. He then sat down and looked again at the board. He could not now, with impunity, place his Jarl at Ax four.
Forkbeard put his First Singer to his own Ax four, threatening my Ax. I covered my piece with my own First Singer, moving it to my own Ax five. He exchanged, taking my Ax at Jarl six, and I his First Singer with my First Singer. I now had a Singer on a central square, but he had freed his Ax four, on which he might now situate the Jarl for an attack on the Jarl's Woman's Ax's file.
The tempo, at this point, was mine. He had played to open position; I had played to direct position.
The Ax is a valuable piece, of course, but particularly in the early and middle game, when the board is more crowded; in the end game when the board is freer, it seems to me the Singer is often of greater power, because of the greater number of squares it can control. Scholars weight the pieces equally, at three points in adjudication's, but I would weight the Ax four points in the early and middle game, and the Singer two, and reverse these weights in the end game. Both pieces are, however, quite valuable. And I am fond of the Ax.
"You should not have surrendered your Ax," said Forkbeard.
"In not doing so," I said, "I would have lost the tempo, and position. Too, the Ax is regarded as less valuable in the end game."
"You play the Ax well," said Forkbeard. "What is true for many men may not be true for you. The weapons you use best perhaps you should retain."
I thought on what he had said. Kaissa is not played by mechanical puppets, but, deeply and subtly, by men, idiosyncratic men, with individual strengths and weaknesses. I recalled I had, many times, late in the game, regretted the surrender of the Ax, or its equivalent in the south, the Tarnsman, when I had simply, as I thought rationally, moved in accordance with what were reputed to be the principles of sound strategy. I knew, of course, that game context was a decisive matter in such considerations but only now, playing Forkbeard, did I suspect that there was another context involved, that of the inclinations, capacities and dispositions of the individual player. Too, it seemed to me that the Ax, or Tarnsman, might be a valuable piece in the end game, where it is seldom found. People would be less used to defending against it in the end game; its capacity to surprise, and to be used unexpectedly, might be genuinely profitable at such a time in the game. I felt a surge of power.
Then I noted, uneasily, the Forkbeard moving his Jarl to the now freed Ax four.
"Your hall is taken," said the Forkbeard. His Jarl had moved decisively. The taking of the hall, in the Kaissa of the North, is equivalent to the capture of the Home Stone in the south.
"You should not have surrendered your Ax," said the Forkbeard.
"It seems not," I said. The end game had not even been reached. The hall had been taken in the middle game. I would think more carefully before I would surrender the Ax in the future.
"We have time," said Ivar Forkbeard, "for another move or two."
"I am still attempting to break the Jarl's Ax's gambit," I said.
"Singer to Ax two is not a strong move," said the Forkbeard.
Twice yesterday, in long games, until the Torvaldsland gulls had left the sea and returned inland, I had failed to meet the gambit.
"You intend to follow it, of course," said the Forkbeard, "with Jarl to your Ax four."
"Yes," I admitted.
"Interesting," said the Forkbeard. "Let us play that variation."
It was a popular variation in the south. It is seen less frequently in the north. In the south, of course, the response is to the Ubar's Tarnsman's gambit. I could see that the Forkbeard, though expecting the variation, given the preceding four moves, was delighted when it had materialized. He had, perhaps, seldom played it.
"You play Kaissa well," had said Ivar Forkbeard. "Let us be friends."
"You, too, are quite skilled," I told him. Indeed, he had much bested me. I still had not fathomed the devious variations of the Jarl's Ax's gambit as played in the north. I expected, however, to solve it.
We placed the board again between us on the chest. The position of the pieces had not changed, held by the board's pegs.
"A most interesting variation," said Forkbeard, returning his attention to the board.
"It may meet the Jarl's Ax's gambit," I said.
"I think not," said Forkbeard, "but let us see."
I discovered, to my instruction, an Ahn later, that Singer to Ax two, followed by Jarl to Ax four, is insufficient to counter the Jarl's Ax's gambit, as it is played in the north.
"I did not think it would be," said Ivar Forkbeard.
"It is time for the Kaissa matches at the Fair of En'Kara, at the Sardar," I said. I found it hard to think that this was not on the mind of Samos. "Centius of Cos," I said, "is defending his title against Scormus of Ar."
"How can you be concerned with Kaissa at a time like this?" he asked.
"The match is important," I pointed out. Anyone who knew anything of Kaissa knew this. It was the talk of Gor.
"I should have you whipped, and chained to an oar," said Samos.
"I have been whipped," I said, "at various times, and, too, I have been chained to an oar." I had felt the leather. I had drawn the oar.
"Apparently it taught you little," he said.
"I am difficult to teach," I admitted.
"Kaissa!" grumbled Samos.
"The planet has waited years for this match," I said.
"I have not," said Samos.
It had been delayed because of the war between Ar and Cos, having to do with piracy and competitive commercial claims on the Vosk. The war persisted but now both players had been brought to the Sardar by armed men from their respective cities, under a special flag of truce, agreed upon by Lurius of Jad, Ubar of Cos, and Marlenus of Ar, called the Ubar of Ubars, who ruled in Ar. Hostilities between the two cities were suspended for the duration of the match. Kaissa is a serious matter for most Goreans. That Samos did not seem sufficiently impressed with the monumentality of the confrontation irritated me somewhat. It is hard to understand one who is not concerned with Kaissa.
"We all have our limitations," I said.
"That is true," he said.
"What did you say?" I asked. He muttered something.
"I said," said Samos, "that Kaissa is a disease."
"Oh," I said. If it was a disease, and that seemed not unlikely, it was at least one which afflicted perhaps a majority of Goreans. I expected to have to pay a golden tarn disk for standing room in the amphitheater in which the match would take place. A golden tarn disk would purchase a trained war tarn, or several women.
"If there was a crucial act to be done at a given time," said Samos, "and the fate of two worlds hung upon that act, and it interfered with a Kaissa match, what would you do?"
I grinned. "I would have to think about it," I told him. "Who would be playing?"
I remembered Scormus of Ar, whom I had seen in the house of Cernus, of Ar, some years ago. He was an incredibly handsome fellow, young, brilliant, arrogant, haughty, lame. He lived much by himself. It was said he had never touched a woman. He ruled the high bridges of Ar with his Kaissa board. No other player might call "Kaissa" on those bridges until he had bested the young Scormus. His play was swift, decisive, brilliant, merciless; more than one player had given up the game after being indulged, and then toyed with and humiliated by the genius of Scormus. Kaissa was for him a weapon. He could use it to destroy his enemies. Centius of Cos, on the other hand, was an older man; no one knew how old; it was said the stabilization serums had not taken their full effect with him until he had seen fifty winters; he was slight and gray-haired; he was quite different in personality and character from the young Scormus; he was quiet, and soft-spoken, and gentle; he loved Kaissa, and its beauty. He would often ponder a board for hours, by himself, searching for a supreme combination. "It eludes me," he would say. Once he had been bested by Sabo of Turia, at the Tharna tournaments, and he had wept with joy and embraced the victor, thanking him for letting him participate m such a beautiful game. "Winning and losing," he had said, "do not matter. What matters is the game, and the beauty." Men had thought him mad. "I had rather be remembered as the loser in one beautiful game," he said, "then as the winner in a thousand flawed masterpieces." He had always sought for the perfect game. He had never found it. Beauty, I suspect, lies all about us. The craftsman can find it in a turning of leather, where I might never see it. A musician may find it in a sound which I cannot detect. And one who plays Kaissa may find it in the arrangements of tiny bits of wood on a board of red and yellow squares. Centius of Cos had sought always for the perfect game. He had never found it.
"Where are the merchant tables," I asked a fellow from Torvaldsland, with braided blond hair and shaggy jacket, eating on a roast hock of tarsk, "where the odds on the Kaissa matches are being given?"
"I do not know," he said. "They play Kaissa only in the North."
"My thanks, fellow," said I. It was true that the Kaissa of the north differed in some respects from tournament Kaissa in the south. The games, however, were quite similar. Indeed, Kaissa was played variously on the planet. For example, several years ago Kaissa was played somewhat differently in Ar than it was now. Most Gorean cities now, at least in the south, had accepted a standard tournament Kaissa, agreed upon by the high council of the caste of players. Sometimes the changes were little more than semantic. For example, a piece which once in Ar had been called the "City" was now identified officially as the "Home Stone" even in Ar. Indeed, some players in Ar had always called it the Home Stone. More seriously there were now no "Spear Slaves" in common Kaissa, as there once had been, though there were distinctions among "Spearmen." It had been argued that One might note also, in passing, that slaves are not permitted to play Kaissa. It is for free individuals. In most cities it is regarded, incidentally, as a criminal offense to enslave one of the caste of players. A similar decree, in most cities, stands against the enslavement of one who is of the caste of musicians.
"Have they drawn yet for yellow?" I asked.
"No," he said.
Normally much betting would wait until it was known which player had yellow, which determines the first move, and the first move, of course, determining the opening.
But already the betting was heavy.
I speculated one the effect which the draw for yellow might have on the odds in the match. If Centius drew yellow, I reasoned, the odds favoring Scormus might be reduced a bit, but probably not much; if Scormus, on the other hand, drew yellow, the odds might rise so in his favor as to preclude a rational wager. Few people would accept a bet of even twenty to one under such circumstances. Already I suspected I would have to wager at least ten to one to bet on Scormus, who would be champion. I noted a fellow from Cos a few men ahead of me in the line. "On whom do you wager?" I asked him. "On Centius of Cos," he said, belligerently. I smiled to myself. We would see. We would see. I wondered if his patriotism would last all the way to the betting table. Often, incidentally, the first move in a match is decided by one player's guessing in which hand the other holds a Spearman, one of the pieces of the game. In this match, however, a yellow Spearman and a red Spearman were to be placed in a helmet, covered with a scarlet cloth. Scormus of Ar and Centius of Cos would reach into the helmet and each draw forth one Spearman. He who held the yellow Spearman had the first move.
I wondered what thoughts occupied these giants of Kaissa on the eve of their confrontation. Scormus, it was said, walked the tiers of the amphitheater, alone, restlessly, eagerly, like a pacing, hungry beast. Centius of Cos, in his tent, it was said, seemed unconcerned with the match. He was lost in his thoughts, studying a position which had once occurred a generation ago in a match between the minor masters Ossius of Tabor, exiled from Teletus, and Philemon of Aspericht, not even of the players, but only a cloth worker. The game had not been important. The position, however, for some reason, was thought by Centius of Cos to be intriguing. Few masters shared his enthusiasm. It had occurred on the twenty-fourth move of red, played by Philemon, Physician to Physician Six, generally regarded as a flawed response to Ossius' Ubar to Ubara's Scribe Five. Something in the position had suggested to Centius of Cos a possible perfection, but it had never materialized. "Here, I think," had said Centius of Cos, "the hand of Philemon, unknown to he himself, once came close to touching the sleeve of Kaissa."
I saw that now the Kaissa flag, with its red and yellow squares, flew from a lance on the amphitheater's rim. Flanking it, on either side, were the standards of Cos and Ar. That of Ar was on the right, for Scormus had won yellow in the draw; it had been his hand which, under the scarlet cloth, had closed upon the tiny, wooden, yellow spearman in the helmet, the possession of which determined the first move and, with it, the choice of opening.
The amphitheater, of course, is used for more than Kaissa. It is also used for such things as the readings of poets, the presentations of choral arrangements, the staging of pageants and the performances of song dramas. Indeed, generally the great amphitheater is not used for Kaissa, and the Sardar matches are played in shallow fields, before lengthy sloping tiers, set into the sides of small hills, many matches being conducted simultaneously, a large vertical board behind each table serving to record the movements of the pieces and correspond to the current position. The movements of the pieces are chalked on the left side of the board, in order; the main portion of the board consists of a representation of the Kaissa board and young players, in apprenticeship to masters, move pieces upon it; one has thus before oneself both a record of the moves made to that point and a graphic representation of the current state of the game. The movements are chalked, too, incidentally, by the young players. The official scoring is kept by a team of three officials, at least one of which must be of the caste of players. These men sit at a table near the table of play. Games are adjudicated, when capture of Home Stone does not occur, by a team of five judges, each of which must be a member of the caste of players, and three of which must play at the level of master.
"Scormus of Ar will destroy him," said a man.
"Yes," said another.
Behind the table of play on the stage, and a bit to the right, was the table for those who would score. There was a man there from Ar, and one from Cos, and a player from Turia, Timor, a corpulent fellow supposed to be of indisputable integrity and one thought, at any rate, to be of a city far enough removed from the problems of Cos and Ar to be impartial. Also, of course, there were hundreds of men in the tiers who would simultaneously, unofficially, be recording the match. There was little danger of a move being incorrectly recorded. An official in such a situation insane enough to attempt to tamper with the record of the moves would be likely to be torn to pieces. Goreans take their Kaissa seriously.
Centius of Cos tossed his cap into the crowd and men, too, fought to possess it.
He lifted his arms to the crowd. He seemed in a good mood.
He walked across the stage, in front of the table of play, to greet Scormus of Ar. He extended his hand to him in the camaraderie of players. Scormus of Ar, however, angrily turned away.
Centius of Cos did not seem disturbed at this rebuff and turned about again and, lifting his hands again to the crowd, returned to the side of the stage where his party stood.
Scormus of Ar paced angrily on the stage. He wiped the palms of his hands on his robe.
He would not look upon, nor touch, Centius of Cos in friendship. Such a simple gesture might weaken his intensity, the height of his hatreds, his readiness to do battle. His brilliance, his competitive edge, must be at its peak. Scormus of Ar reminded me of men of the caste of Assassins, as they sometimes are, before they begin their hunt. The edge must be sharp, the resolve must be merciless, the instinct to kill must in no way be blunted.
The two men then approached the table.
Behind them, more than forty feet high, and fifty feet wide, was a great vertical board. On this board, dominating it, there was a giant representation of a Kaissa board. On it, on their pegs, hung the pieces in their initial positions. On this board those in the audience would follow the game. To the left of the board were two columns, vertical, one for yellow, one for red, where the moves, as they took place, would be recorded. There were similar boards, though smaller, at various places about the fair, where men who could not afford the fee to enter the amphitheater might stand and watch the progress of play. Messengers at the back of the amphitheater, coming and going, delivered the moves to these various boards.
A great hush fell over the crowd.
We sat down.
The judge, Reginald of Ti, four others of the caste of players behind him, had finished speaking to Scormus and Centius, and the scorers.
There was not a sound in that great amphitheater.
Centius of Cos and Scormus of Ar took their places at the table.
The stillness, for so large a crowd, was almost frightening.
I saw Scormus of Ar incline his head briefly. Reginald of Ti turned the spigot on the clock of Centius of Cos, which opened the sand passage in the clock of Scormus.
The hand of Scormus reached forth. It did not hesitate.
The move was made. He then turned the spigot on his clock, ceasing its flow of sand, beginning that in the clock of Centius.
The move, of course, was Ubara's Spearman to Ubara five.
There was a cheer from the crowd.
"The Ubara's Gambit!" called a man near me.
We watched the large, yellow plaque, representing the Ubara's Spearman, hung on its peg at Ubara five. Two young men, apprentices in the caste of players, on scaffolding, placed the plaque. Another young man, also apprenticed in the caste of players, recorded this move, in red chalk, at the left of the board. Hundreds of men in the audience also recorded the move on their own score sheets. Some men had small peg boards with them, on which they would follow the game. On these boards they could, of course, consider variations and possible continuations.
It was indeed, I suspected, that opening. It is one of the most wicked and merciless in the repertoire of the game. It is often played by tournament masters. Indeed, it is the most common single opening used among masters. It is difficult to meet and in many of its lines has no clear refutation; it may be played accepted or declined; it would be red's hope not to refute but to neutralize in the middle game; if red could manage to achieve equality by the twentieth move he might account himself successful. Scormus of Ar, though almost universally a versatile and brilliant player, was particularly masterful in this opening; he had used it for victory in the Turian tournaments of the ninth year of the Ubarate of Phanias Turmus; in the open tournaments of Anango, Helmutsport, Tharna, Tyros and Ko-ro-ba, all played within the past five years; in the winter tournament of the last Sardar Fair and in the city championship of Ar, played some six weeks ago. In Ar, when Scormus had achieved capture of Home Stone, Marlenus himself, Ubar of the city, had showered gold upon the board. Some regarded winning the city championship of Ar as tantamount to victory at the Fair of En'Kara. It is, in the eyes of many followers of Kaissa, easily the second most coveted crown in the game. Centius of Cos, of course, would also be a master of the Ubara's Gambit. Indeed, he was so well versed in the gambit, from both the perspective of yellow and red, that he would doubtless play now for a draw. I did not think he would be successful. He sat across the board from Scormus of Ar. Most players of the master level, incidentally, know this opening several moves into the game in more than a hundred variations.
"Why does Centius not move?" asked the man next to me.
"I do not know," I said.
"Perhaps he is considering resigning," said a fellow some two places down the tier.
"Some thought Scormus would use the Two Tarnsmen Opening," said another fellow.
"He might have," said another, "with a lesser player."
"He is taking no chances," said another man.
I rather agreed with these thoughts. Scormus of Ar, no irrational fool, knew he played a fine master, one of the seven or eight top-rated players on the planet. Centius of Cos, doubtless, was past his prime. His games, in recent years, had seemed less battles, less cruel, exact duels, than obscure attempts to achieve something on the Kaissa board which even many members of the caste of players did not profess to understand. Indeed, there were even higher rated players on Gor than Centius of Cos, but, somehow, it had seemed that it was he whom Scormus of Ar must meet to establish his supremacy in the game. Many regarded Centius of Cos, in spite of his victories or defeats or draws, as the finest player of Kaissa of all time. It was the luminosity of his reputation which had seemed to make the grandeur of Scormus less glorious. "I shall destroy him," had said Scormus. But he would play him with care. That he had chosen the Ubara's Gambit indicated the respect in which he held Centius of Cos and the seriousness with which he approached the match.
Scormus would play like an Assassin. He would be merciless, and he would take no chances.
Centius of Cos was looking at the board. He seemed bemused, as though he were thinking of something, something perhaps oddly irrelevant to the game at hand. His right hand had lifted, and poised itself over his own Ubara's Spearman, but then he had withdrawn his hand.
"Why does he not move?" asked a man.
Centius of Cos looked at the board.
The correct response, of course, whether the Ubara's Gambit be accepted or declined, is to bring one's own Ubara's Spearman to Ubara five. This will contest the center and prohibit the advance of the opposing spearman. Yellow's next move, of course, is to advance the Ubara's Tarnsman's Spearman to Ubara's Tarnsman's five, attacking red's defending spearman. Red then elects to accept or decline the gambit, accepting by capturing the Ubara's Tarnsman's spearman, but surrendering the center in doing so, or declining the gambit, by defending his spearman, and thus constricting his position. The gambit is playable both ways, but not with the hope of retaining the captured spearman for a material advantage. We wished Centius to move the Ubara's Spearman to Ubara five, so that Scormus might play the Ubara's Tarnsman's Spearman to Ubara's Tarnsman's five. We were then eager to see if Centius would play the gambit accepted or declined.
"Does he not know his clock is open?" asked a man.
It did seem strange that Centius did not move swiftly at this point in the game. He might need this time later, when in the middle game he was defending himself against the onslaughts and combinations of Scormus or in the end game, where the contest's outcome might well hang upon a single, subtle, delicate move on a board almost freed of pieces.
The sand flowed from the clock of Centius.
Had the hand of Centius touched his Ubara's Spearman he would have been committed to moving it. Too, it might be mentioned, if he should place a piece on a given square and remove his hand from the piece, the piece must remain where it was placed, subject, of course, to the consideration that the placement constitutes a legal move.
But Centius of Cos had not touched the Ubara's Spearman. No scorer or judge had contested that.
He looked at the board for a time, and then, not looking at Scormus of Ar, moved a piece.
I saw one of the scorers rise to his feet. Scormus of Ar looked at Centius of Cos. The two young men who had already picked up the Ubara's Spearman's plaque seemed confused. Then they put it aside.
Centius of Cos turned the spigot on his clock, opening the clock of Scormus.
We saw, on the great board, the placement not of the Ubara's Spearman at Ubara five, but of the Ubar's Spearman at Ubar five.
It was now subject to capture by yellow's Ubara's Spearman.
There was a stunned silence in the crowd.
"Would he play the Center Defense against one such as Scormus?" asked a man.
That seemed incredible. A child could crush the Center Defense. Its weaknesses had been well understood for centuries.
The purpose of the Center Defense is to draw the yellow Spearman from the center Yellow, of course, may ignore the attack, and simply thrust deeper into red territory. On the other hand, yellow commonly strikes obliquely, capturing the red spearman. Red then recaptures with his Ubar. Unfortunately for red, however, the Ubar, a quite valuable piece, rated at nine points, like the Ubara, has been too early centralized. Yellow simply advances the Ubara's Rider of the High Tharlarion. This exposes the advanced Ubar to the immediate attack of the Initiate at Initiate one. The Ubar must then retreat, losing time. Yellow's Initiate, of course, has now been developed. The move by the capturing yellow spearman, too, of course, has already, besides capturing the red spearman, developed the yellow Ubara.
The Center Defense is certainly not to be generally recommended.
Still, Centius of Cos was playing it.
I found this intriguing. Sometimes masters develop new variations of old, neglected openings. Old mines are sometimes not deficient in concealed gold. At the least the opponent is less likely to be familiar with these supposedly obsolete, refutable beginnings. Their occasional employment, incidentally, freshens the game. Too often master-level Kaissa becomes overly routine, almost automatic, particularly in the first twenty moves. This is the result, of course, of the incredible amount of analysis to which the openings have been subjected. Some games, in a sense, do not begin until the twentieth move.
I looked at the great board.
Scormus, as I would have expected, captured the red spearman.
Centius of Cos had moved his Ubar's Tarnsman's Spearman to Ubar's Tarnsman four.
It was undefended.
The Center Defense was not being played. Men looked at one another. Centius of Cos had already lost a piece, a spearman. One does not give pieces to a Scormus of Ar.
Most masters, down a spearman to Scormus of Ar, would tip their Ubar.
But another spearman now stood en prise, vulnerably subject to capture by the threatening, advancing spearman of yellow.
"Spearman takes Spearman," said a man next to me. I, too, could see the great board.
Red was now two spearmen down.
Red would now advance his Ubar's Rider of the High Tharlarion, to develop his Ubar's Initiate and. simultaneously, expose the yellow spearman to the Initiate's attack.
"No! No!" cried a merchant of Cos.
Instead Centius of Cos had advanced his Ubar's Scribe's Spearman to Ubar's Scribe three.
Another piece now stood helplessly en prise.
I grew cold with fury, though I stood to win a hundred golden tarns.
Scormus of Ar looked upon Centius of Cos with contempt. He looked, too, to the scorers and judges. They looked away, not meeting his eyes. The party of Cos left the stage.
I wondered how much gold Centius of Cos had taken that he would so betray Kaissa and the island of his birth. He could have done what he did more subtly, a delicate, pretended miscalculation somewhere between the fortieth and fiftieth move, a pretended misjudgment so subtle that even members of the caste of players would never be certain whether or not it was deliberate, but he had not chosen to do so. He had chosen to make his treachery to the game and Cos explicit.
Scormus of Ar rose to his feet and went to the table of the scorers and judges. They conversed with him, angrily. Scormus then went to the party of Ar. One of them, a captain, went to the scorers and judges. I saw Reginald of Ti, high judge, shaking his head.
"They are asking for the award of the game," said the man next to me.
"Yes," I said. I did not blame Scormus of Ar for not wishing to participate in this farce.
Centius of Cos sat still, unperturbed, looking at the board. He set the clocks on their side, that the sand would not be draining from the clock of Scormus.
The party of Ar, and Scormus, I gathered, had lost their petition to the judges.
Scormus returned to his place.
Reginald of Ti, high judge, righted the clocks. The hand of Scormus moved.
"Spearman takes Spearman," said the man next to me.
Centius of Cos had now lost three spearmen.
He must now, at last, take the advancing yellow spearman, so deep in his territory, with his Ubar's Rider of the High Tharlarion. If he did not take with the Rider of the High Tharlarion at this point it, too, would be lost.
Centius of Cos moved his Ubara to Ubar's Scribe four. Did he not know his Rider of the High Tharlarion was en prise!
Was he a child who had never played Kaissa? Did he not know how the pieces moved?
No, the explanation was much more simple. He had chosen to make his treachery to Kaissa and the island of Cos explicit. I thought perhaps he was insane. Did he not know the nature of the men of Gor?
"Kill Centius of Cos!" I heard cry. "Kill him! Kill him!" Guardsmen at the stage's edge, with shields, buffeted back a man who, with drawn knife, had tried to climb to the level where sat the table of the game.
Centius of Cos seemed not to notice the man who had been struck back from the edge of the stage. He seemed not to note the angry cries from the crowd, the menace of its gathering rage. I saw many men rising to their feet. Several raised their fists.
"I call for a cancellation of all wagers!" cried a man from Cos. He had, I assumed, bet upon the champion of Cos. It would indeed be a sorry way in which to lose one's money. Several men had bet fortunes on the match. There were few in the audience who had not put something on one or the other of the two players.
But among the angriest of the crowd, interestingly, were hot-headed men of Ar itself. They felt they would be cheated of the victory, were it so fraudulently surrendered to them.
I wondered who had bought the honor of Centius of Cos, to whom he had sold his integrity.
"Kill Centius of Cos!" I heard.
I did not think my hundred tarns were in danger, for it would be madness on the part of the odds merchants to repudiate the documented bargainings they had arranged. I did think, however, that I would not much relish my winnings.
Guardsmen, with spear butts and cruel shield rims, forced back two more men from the stage's edge.
Scormus of Ar moved a piece.
"Spearman takes Rider of the High Tharlarion," said the man next to me, bitterly.
I saw this on the great board. Yellow's pieces, as they are arranged, begin from their placements at the lower edge of the great board, red's pieces from their placement at its upper edge.
Centius of Cos had now lost four pieces, without a single retaliatory or compensating capture. He was four pieces down, three spearmen and a Rider of the High Tharlarion. His minor pieces on the Ubar's side had almost been wiped out. I noted, however, that he had not lost a major piece. The response of Centius of Cos to the loss of his Rider of the High Tharlarion was to retake with his Ubar's Initiate.
There was a sigh of satisfaction, of relief from the crowd. Centius of Cos had at least seen this elementary move. There were derisive comments in the audience, commending this bit of expertise on his part.
This move, of course, developed the Ubar's Initiate. I also noted, as I had not noted before, that red's Ubar's Scribe was developed. This was the result of the earlier advance of red's Ubar's Tarnsman's Spearman. The Ubara, of course, as I have mentioned, had been developed to Ubar's Scribe four. The Ubar, too, I suddenly realized, stood on an open file. I suddenly realized that red had developed four major pieces.
Scormus, on his sixth move, advanced his Ubar's Spearman to Ubar four. Ubar five would have been impractical because at that point the spearman would have been subjected to the attack of red's Ubara and Ubar. Scormus now had a spearman again in the center. He would support this spearman, consolidate the center and then begin a massive attack on red's weakened Ubar's side. Scormus would place his Home Stone, of course, on the Ubara's side, probably at Builder one. This would free his Ubar's side's pieces for the attack on red's Ubar's side.
Centius of Cos then, on his sixth move, placed his Ubar at Ubar four. This seemed too short a thrust for an attack. It did, however, place his Ubar on the same rank with the Ubara, where they might defend one another. The move seemed a bit timid to me. Too, it seemed excessively defensive. I supposed, however, in playing with a Scormus of Ar, one could not be blamed for undertaking careful defensive measures.
On his seventh move Scormus advanced his Ubar's Tarnsman's Spearman to Ubar's Tarnsman five. At this point it was protected by the spearman at Ubar four, and could soon, in league with other pieces, begin the inexorable attack down the file of the Ubar's Tarnsman.
Scormus of Ar was mounting his attack with care. It would be exact and relentless.
I suddenly realized that yellow had not yet placed his Home Stone.
The oddity in the game now struck me.
No major piece had yet been moved by yellow, not an Initiate, nor a Builder, nor a Scribe, nor a Tarnsman, nor the Ubar nor Ubara. Each of these major pieces remained in its original location. Not one piece had yet been moved by yellow from the row of the Home Stone.
I began to sweat.
I watched the great board. It was as I had feared. On his seventh move Centius of Cos advanced his Rider of the High Tharlarion to Ubara's Builder three. This would prepare for Builder to Builder two, and, on the third move, for placement of Home Stone at Builder one.
The crowd was suddenly quiet. They, too, realized what I had just realized.
Anxiously we studied the board.
If Scormus wished to place his Home Stone at either Ubar's Builder one or Ubara's Builder one, it would take three moves to do so. It would also take three moves if he wished to place it at Ubar's Initiate one, or at Ubara's Scribe one, Ubara's Builder one or Ubara's Initiate one. He could place the Home Stone, of course, in two moves, if he would place it at Ubar's Tarnsman one, or Ubar's Scribe one, or Ubar one, or Ubara one, or Ubara's Tarnsman one. But these placements permitted within two moves left the Home Stone too centralized, too exposed and vulnerable. They were not wise placements.
Already, though he had red, Centius of Cos was moving to place his Home Stone.
Now, on his eighth move, Scormus of Ar angrily advanced his Rider of the High Tharlarion to Builder three. His attack must be momentarily postponed.
On his own eighth move Centius of Cos advanced his Ubara's Builder to Builder two, to clear Builder one for placement of Home Stone.
On his ninth move Scormus of Ar, following suit, advanced his Ubara's Builder to Builder two, to open Builder one for the positioning of the Home Stone on the tenth move.
We watched the great board.
Centius of Cos placed his Home Stone at his Ubara's Builder one. He had done this on his ninth move. It needed not be done before the tenth move. His tenth move was now free, to spend as he would.
Scormus of Ar, on his tenth move, inexplicably to many in the crowd, though he possessed yellow, a move behind, placed his Home Stone at Builder one.
The two Home Stones, at their respective locations, faced one another, each shielded by its several defending pieces, Scribe and Initiate, one of the central spearmen, a flanking spearman, a Builder, a Physician, and a Rider of the High Tharlarion.
Scormus might now renew his attack.
"No," I cried suddenly. "No, look!"
I rose to my feet. There were tears in my eyes. "Look!" I wept. "Look!"
The man next to me saw it, too, and then another, and another.
Men of Cos seized one another, embracing. Even men of Ar cried out with joy.
Red's Ubar's Initiate controlled the Ubar's Initiate's Diagonal; the red Ubara controlled the Ubar's Physician's Diagonal; the red Ubar controlled the Ubar's Builder's Diagonal; the Ubar's Scribe controlled the Ubar's Scribe's Diagonal. Red controlled not one but four adjacent diagonals, unobstructed diagonals, each bearing on the citadel of yellow's Home Stone; the red Ubara threatened the Ubara's Scribe's Spearman at Ubara's Scribe two; the Initiate threatened the Ubara's Builder at Builder two, positioned directly before yellow's Home Stone; the Ubar threatened the Rider of the High Tharlarion at Builder three; the Scribe threatened the Ubara's Flanking Spearman at Ubara's Initiate three. I had never seen such power amassed so subtly in Kaissa. The attack, of course, was not on the Ubar's side but on the side of the Ubara, where Scormus had placed his Home Stone. Moves which had appeared to weaken red's position had served actually to produce an incredible lead in development; moves which had appeared meaningless or defensive had actually been deeply insidious; the timorous feint to the Ubar's side by red with the Ubara and Ubar had, in actuality, prepared a trap in which Scormus had little choice but to place his Home Stone.
On his tenth move Centius of Cos moved his Rider of the High Tharlarion, which had been at Builder three, obliquely to Builder four. This opened the file of the Builder. The power of this major piece now, in conjunction with the might of the Ubar, focused on yellow's Rider of the High Tharlarion. The attack had begun.
I shall not describe the following moves in detail. There were eleven of them.
On what would have been his twenty-second move Scormus of Ar, saying nothing, rose to his feet. He stood beside the board, and then, with one finger, delicately, tipped his Ubar. He set the clocks on their side, stopping the flow of sand, turned, and left the stage.
For a moment the crowd was silent, stunned, and then pandemonium broke out. Men leaped upon one another; cushions and caps flew into the air. The bowl of the amphitheater rocked with sound. I could scarcely hear myself shouting. Two men fell from the tier behind me. I scrambled onto my tier, straining to see the stage. I was buffeted to one side and then the other.
One of the men of the party of Cos which had now returned to the stage stood on the table of the game, the yellow Home Stone in his grasp. He lifted it to the crowd. Men began to swarm upon the stage. The guards could no longer restrain them. I saw Centius of Cos lifted to the shoulders of men. He lifted his arms to the crowd, the sleeves of the player's robes falling back on his shoulders. Standards and pennons of Cos appeared as if from nowhere. On the height of the rim of the amphitheater a man was lifting the standard of Cos, waving it to the crowds in the fields and streets below.
The stage was a melee of jubilant partisans.
I could not even hear the shouting of the thousands outside the amphitheater. It would later be said the Sardar itself shook with sound.
"Cos! Cos! Cos!" I heard, like a great drumming, like thunderous waves breaking on stone shores.
I struggled to keep my place on the tier.
Pieces were being torn away from the great board. One sleeve of the robe of Centius of Cos had been torn away from his arm.
He waved to the crowds.
"Centius! Centius! Centius!" I heard. Soldiers of Cos lifted spears again and again. "Centius! Cos!" they cried. "Centius! Cos!"
I saw the silvered hair of Centius of Cos, unkempt now in the broiling crowd. He reached toward the man on the table who held aloft the yellow Home Stone. The man pressed it into his hands.
There was more cheering.
Reginald of Ti was attempting to quiet the crowds. Then he resigned himself to futility. The tides of emotion must take their course.
Centius of Cos held, clutched, in his hand, the yellow Home Stone. He looked about in the crowd, on the stage, as though he sought someone, but there was only the crowd, surgent and roiling in its excitement and revels.
"Cos! Centius! Cos! Centius!"
I had lost fourteen hundred tarns of gold. Yet I did not regret the loss nor did it disturb me in the least. Who would not cheerfully trade a dozen such fortunes to witness one such game.
"Centius! Cos! Centius! Cos!"
I had, in my own lifetime, seen Centius of Cos and Scormus of Ar play.
On the shoulders of men, amidst shouting and the upraised standards and pennons of Cos I saw silver-haired Centius of Cos carried from the stage.
Men were reluctant to leave the amphitheater. I made my way toward one of the exits. Behind me I could hear hundreds of men singing the anthem of Cos.
I was well pleased that I had come to the Sardar.
It was late now in the evening of that day on which Centius of Cos and Scormus of Ar had met in the great amphitheater. There seemed little that was discussed in the fair that night save the contest of the early afternoon.
"It was a flawed and cruel game," Centius of Cos was reported as having said.
How could he speak so of the masterpiece which we had witnessed?
It was one of the brilliancies in the history of Kaissa.
"I had hoped," had said Centius of Cos, "that together Scormus and I might have constructed something worthy of the beauty of Kaissa. But I succumbed to the temptation of victory."
Centius of Cos, it was generally understood, was a strange fellow.
"It was the excitement, the press, the enthusiasm of the crowds," said Centius of Cos. "I was weak. I had determined to honor Kaissa but, on the first move, I betrayed her. I saw, suddenly, in considering the board what might be done. I did it, and followed its lure. In retrospect I am saddened. I chose not Kaissa but merciless, brutal conquest. I am sad."
I was well pleased that I had come to the Sardar.
It was late now in the evening of that day on which Centius of Cos and Scormus of Ar had met in the great amphitheater. There seemed little that was discussed in the fair that night save the contest of the early afternoon.
"It was a flawed and cruel game," Centius of Cos was reported as having said.
How could he speak so of the masterpiece which we had witnessed?
It was one of the brilliancies in the history of Kaissa.
"I had hoped," had said Centius of Cos, "that together Scormus and I might have constructed something worthy of the beauty of Kaissa. But I succumbed to the temptation of victory."
Centius of Cos, it was generally understood, was a strange fellow.
"It was the excitement, the press, the enthusiasm of the crowds," said Centius of Cos. "I was weak. I had determined to honor Kaissa but, on the first move, I betrayed her. I saw, suddenly, in considering the board what might be done. I did it, and followed its lure. In retrospect I am saddened. I chose not Kaissa but merciless, brutal conquest. I am sad."
But any reservations which might have troubled the reflections of the master of Cos did not disturb those of his adherents and countrymen. The night at the fair was one of joy and triumph for the victory of Cos and her allies.
His response to Ubara's Spearman to Ubara's Spearman five, sequential, in its continuation, was now entitled the Telnus Defense, from the city of his birth, the capital and chief port of the island of Cos. Men discussed it eagerly. It was being played in dozens of variations that very night on hundreds of boards. In the morning there would be countless analyses and annotations of the game available.
On the hill by the amphitheater where sat the tent of Centius of Cos there was much light and generous feasting. Torches abounded. Tables were strewn about and sheets thrown upon the ground. Free tarsk and roast bosk were being served, and Sa-Tarna bread and Ta wine, from the famed Ta grapes of the Cosian terraces. Only Centius of Cos, it was said, did not join in the feasting. He remained secluded in the tent studying by the light of a small lamp a given position in Kaissa, one said to have occurred more than a generation ago in a game between Ossius of Tabor, exiled from Teletus, and Philemon of Asperiche, a cloth worker.
On the hill by the amphitheater, where sat the tent of the party Ar, there was little feasting or merriment. Scormus of Ar, it was said, was not in that tent. After the game he had left the amphitheater. He had gone to the tent. He was not there now. No one knew where he had gone. Behind him he had left a Kaissa board, its kit of pieces, and the robes of the player.
I used the Telnus Defense on the fellow, a response to his Ubara's Gambit, which I thought might be unknown in Schendi, as it had first been seen only last spring at the Fair of En'Kara, near the Sardar Mountains. He met it squarely, however, and I myself, no Centius of Cos, was soon involved in perplexing difficulties. I did manage, narrowly, to eke out a win in the endgame.
"I did not expect you would handle my response to your Ubara's Spearman to Ubara five as you did," I told him.
"You were obviously using the Telnus Defense," he said.
"You have heard of it?" I asked.
"I have read more than a hundred analyses of it," he said. "Do you think we are barbarians in Schendi?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"I congratulate you," he said. "You are quite skilled at Kaissa."
"I did not play my best game," I said.
"No one ever does," he said.
"Perhaps you are right," I said. "You are a fine player," I said. "Thank you for the game."
Barus looked at me, soberly. "Of course," he said. "Yet I think neither Cos nor Ar, nor the confederation, truly desires a full-scale war."
"They could be maneuvered into it, perhaps," I said, "by those who do."
"It is possible," said Barus. "Matters are delicate." He looked south. "Kaissa," he mused, "is sometimes played for high stakes." Kaissa is an intricate board game popular on Gor.
"It is your move," said Samos.
I regarded the board. I moved my Ubar's Tarnsman to Ubara's Tarnsman Five. It was a positioning move. The Tarnsman can move only one space on the positioning move. It attacks only on a flight move.
The woman struggled fiercely in the grasp of the two guards. She could not, of course, free herself.
Samos studied the board. He positioned his Home Stone. It was, looking at the tiny counter at the edge of the board, his tenth move. Most Kaissa boards do not have this counter. It consisted of ten small, cylindrical wooden beads strung on a wire. The Home Stone must be placed by the tenth move. He had placed it at his now-vacated Ubar's Initiate One. In this position, as at the Ubara's Initiate One, it is subject to only three lines of attack. Other legitimate placements subject it to five lines of attack. He was also fond of placing the Home Stone late, usually on the ninth or tenth move. In this way, his decision could take into consideration his opponent's early play, his opening, or response to an opening, or development.
I myself, whose Home Stone was already placed, preferred a much earlier and more central placement of the Home Stone. I did not wish to be forced to sacrifice a move for Home-Stone placement in a situation that might, for all I knew, not turn out to be to my liking, a situation in which the obligatory placement might even cost me a tempo. Similarly, although a somewhat more central location of the Home Stone exposes it to more lines of attack, it also increases its mobility, and thereby its capacities to evade attack. These considerations are controversial in the theory of Kaissa. Much depends on the psychology of the individual player.
Incidentally, there are many versions of Kaissa played on Gor. In some of these versions, the names of the pieces differ, and, in some, even more alarmingly, their nature and power. The caste of Players, to its credit, has been attempting to standardize Kaissa for years.
A major victory in this matter was secured a few years ago when the caste of Merchants, which organizes and manages the Sardar Fairs, agreed to a standardized version, proposed by, and provisionally approved by, the high council of the caste of Players, for the Sardar tournaments, one of the attractions of the Sardar Fairs. This form of Kaissa, now utilized in the tournaments, is generally referred to, like the other variations, simply as Kaissa. Sometimes, however, to distinguish it from differing forms of the game, it is spoken of as Merchant Kaissa, from the role of the Merchants in making it the official form of Kaissa for the fairs, Player Kaissa, from the role of the Players in its codification, or the Kaissa of En'Kara, for it was officially promulgated for the first time at one of the fairs of En'Kara, that which occurred in 10,124 C.A., Contasta Ar, from the Founding of Ar, or in Year 5 of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains, in Port Kar.
He moved his Ubara's Rider of the High Tharlarion to Ubara's Builder Three. This seemed a weak move. It did open the Ubara's Initiate's Diagonal. My Ubar's Rider of the High Tharlarion was amply protected. I utilized the initial three-space option of the Ubar's Scribe's Spearman. I would then, later, bring the Ubar's Builder to Ubar's Scribe One, to bring pressure to bear on the Ubar's Scribe's file. Samos did not seem to be playing his usual game. His opening, in particular, had been erratic. He had prematurely advanced significant pieces, and then had lost time in withdrawing them. It was as though he had desired to take some significant action, or had felt that he should, but had been unwilling to do so. He moved a spearman, diffidently. "That seems a weak move," I said. He shrugged.
I brought the Ubar's Builder to Ubar's Scribe One. To be sure, his opening had caused me to move certain pieces more than once in my own opening.
"Let us stop playing, and adjudicate the game as a draw," I suggested.
"No," he said. "It is all right."
I moved my Ubara's Builder to threaten his Ubar. This movement of the Builder produced a discovered attack on his Home Stone by my Ubara's Initiate. He interposed his own Ubar's Builder, which I then took with the Initiate, a less valued piece. The Initiate's attack, of course, continued the threat on the Home Stone. He then took the Initiate with his Ubara's Builder, and I, of course, removed his Ubar from the board with my Ubara's Builder.
I returned my attention to the board, as did Samos.
"It is capture of Home Stone in four," I said.
He nodded. He removed his Home Stone from the board, resigning.
He was now resetting the pieces. He would take Yellow this time.
"Ubar's Spearman to Ubar Five," he said.
This move attacks the center and opens a diagonal for the Ubara. It also makes possible a positioning move, if it be desired, for the Ubar's Tarnsman. I made the same move, matching him positionally in the center, stopping an advance on that file and securing the same advantages for the Ubara and Ubar's Tarnsman. This is one of the most common opening moves in kaissa.
We played twice more that night. I won both games easily, the first with a battering ram of Spearmen and Riders of the High Tharlarion on the Ubar's side, and the second with a middle-game combination of Ubara's Scribe, Ubara and Ubar's Tarnsman.
A fellow, a pulley-maker I recognized from the arsenal, and the arsenal kaissa champion, rose to his feet, from where he had been sitting cross-legged before the kaissa board in the kaissa booth. "A marvelous game," he said, rubbing his head, bewildered. "I was humiliated. I was devastated. I do not even know how he did it. In fourteen moves he did it! In fourteen moves he captured three pieces and it would have been capture of Home Stone on the next! Perhaps there were illegal moves. Perhaps I did not see everything he did!"
"Try another game," encouraged the paunchy fellow, he who had been associated with the stage and who, it seemed, had an interest also in the kaissa booth. "Perhaps your luck will change!"
But the pulley-maker, almost reeling, made his way away, through the crowds.
"Why did you do that?" asked the paunchy fellow of the man sitting behind the board.
"He thought he knew how to play kaissa," said the man behind the board.
"How much have you taken in tonight?" asked the paunchy fellow, angrily, pointing to the copper, lidded pot, with the coin slot cut in its top, chained shut, near the low kaissa table.
The fellow behind the table began to move the pieces about on the board.
The paunchy fellow seized up the pot. He shook it, assessing its contents. "Four, five tarsk bits?" he asked. Judging from the timing and the sounds of the coins bounding about inside the pot there was not much there.
"Three," said the fellow behind the board.
"You could have carried him for at least twenty moves," said the paunchy fellow. He replaced the copper coin pot, chained shut, beside the kaissa table.
"I did not care to do so," said the fellow behind the board. Interestingly the man behind the board wore black robes and a hoodlike mask, also black, which covered his entire head. He did not wear the red-and-yellow-checked robes of the caste of players, he was not, thus, I assumed, of that caste. Had he been of the players he would doubtless have worn their robes. They are quite proud of their caste. His skills, however, I conjectured, must be considerable. Apparently the arsenal champion, one of the best twenty or thirty players in Port Kar, had been no match for him. Perhaps he had engaged in illegal moves. That seemed more likely than the fact that he, a fellow like him, associated with actors and carnival folk, and such, could best the arsenal champion. It was carnival time, of course. Perhaps the champion had been drunk,
"If the game is not interesting for them, if they do not think they are really playing, seriously, they will not want a second or a third game," said the paunchy fellow. "We want them to come back! We want the board busy! That is how we are making the money!"
The price for a game is usually something between a tarsk bit and a copper tarsk. If the challenger wins or draws, the game is free. Sometimes a copper tarsk, or even a silver tarsk, is nailed to one of the poles of the booth. It goes to the challenger if he wins and the game is free, if he draws. This is because a skillful player, primarily by judicious exchanges and careful position play, can often bring about a draw. Less risk is involved in playing for a draw than a win, of course. Conservative players, ahead in tournament play, often adopt this stratagem, using it, often to the fury of the crowds and their opponents, to protect and nurse an established lead. A full point is scored for a win; in a draw each player obtains a half point.
"You must manage to lose once in a while," said the paunchy fellow. "That will bring them back! That way, in the long run, we will make much more money!"
"I play to win," said the fellow, looking at the board.
"I do not know why I put up with you!" said the paunchy fellow. "You are only a roustabout and vagabond!"
I noted the configuration of pieces on the board. The hooded fellow had not begun from the opening position, arriving at that configuration after a series of moves. He had simply set the pieces up originally in that position. Something about the position seemed familiar. I suddenly realized, with a start, that I had seen it before. It was the position which would be arrived at on the seventeenth move of the Ubara's Gambit Declined, Yellow's Home Stone having been placed at Ubara's Builder One, providing red had, on the eleventh move, departed from the main line, transposing into the Turian line. Normally, at this point, one continues with the advancement of the Ubara's Initiate's Spearman, supporting the attack being generated on the adjacent file, that of the Ubara's Builder. He, however, advanced the Ubar's Initiate's Spearman in a two-square-option move, bringing it to Ubar's Initiate Five. I wondered if he knew anything about kaissa. Then, suddenly, the move seemed interesting to me. It would, in effect, launch a second attack, and one which might force yellow to bring pieces to the Ubar's side of the board, thereby weakening the position of the Ubara's Builder's File, making it more vulnerable, then, of course, to the major attack. It was an interesting idea. I wondered if it had ever been seriously played.
You must learn to lose!" said the paunchy fellow.
"I have lost," said the hooded fellow. "I know what it is like."
"You, Sir," said the paunchy fellow turning to me, "do you play kaissa?"
"A little," I said.
"Hazard a game," he invited. "Only a tarsk bit!" He then glanced meaningfully at the hooded fellow, and then turned and again regarded me. "I can almost guarantee that you will win," he said.
"Why is your player hooded?" I asked. It did not seem the kind of disguising that might be appropriate for carnival.
"It is something from infancy, or almost from infancy," said the paunchy fellow, shuddering, "from flames, a great fire. It left him as he is, beneath the mask. He is a disfigured monster. Free women would swoon at the sight. The stomachs of strong men would be turned. They would cry out with horror and strike at him. Such grotesquerie, such hideousness, is not to be tolerated in public view."
"I see," I said.
"Only a tarsk bit," the paunchy fellow reminded me.
"Do not fear that you will not win," said the hooded fellow, in fury, placing the pieces in position for the opening of play. He then, imperiously, removed his Ubar, Ubara, and his Builders and Physicians, from the board, six major pieces. He looked angrily at me, and then, too, he threw his tarnsmen into the leather bag, with drawstrings, at the side of the table. He spun the board about so that I might have Yellow, and the first move. Thus I would have the initiative. Thus I could, in effect, for most purposes, choose my preferred opening. "Make your first move," he said. "I shall then tip my Ubar and the game will be yours.
"Can you not be somewhat more subtle?" inquired the paunchy fellow of the hooded man.
"I would not consider playing under such conditions," I said.
"Why not?" asked the paunchy fellow, pained. "You could then say truthfully that you had won. Others need not know the sort of game it was."
"It is an insult to kaissa," I said.
"He is right," said the hooded fellow.
"Now that fellow," said the paunchy fellow, gesturing to the hooded fellow, "is different from us. He lives only for kaissa. He does not so much as touch a woman. To he sure, it is probably just as well. They would doubtless faint with terror at the very sight of him."
"Do you wish to play, or not?" asked the hooded fellow, looking up at me.
"Under the conditions you propose," I said, "I would not accept a win from you, if you were Centius of Cos." Centius of Cos was perhaps the finest player on Gor. He had been the champion at the En'Kara tournaments three out of the last five years. In one of those years, 10,127 C.A., he had chosen not to compete, giving the time to study. In that year the champion had been Terence of Turia. In 10,128 C.A. Centius had returned but was defeated by Ajax of Ti, of the Salerian Confederation, who had overcome Terence in the semifinals. In 10,129 C.A., last En'Kara, Centius had decisively bested Ajax and recovered the championship.
"How did the accident occur?" I asked.
"What accident?" he asked.
There were fourteen pieces on the board, six yellow, eight red. I was playing red.
I had now been with the company of Boots Tarsk-Bit for several weeks. In this time we had played numerous villages and towns, sometimes just outside their walls, or even against them, when we had not been permitted within. Too, we had often set up outside mills, inns, granaries, customs posts and trade barns, wherever an audience might be found, even at the intersections of traveled roads and, on certain days, in the vicinity of rural markets. In all this time we had been gradually moving north and westward, slowly toward the coast, toward Thassa, the Sea.
"As I understand it," I said, "there was a fire."
He regarded me.
"You wear a hood," I said.
"Yes?" he said.
"That accident which destroyed or disfigured your face," I said, "that rendered it such, as I understand it, that women might run screaming from your sight, that men, crying out, sickened and revolted, might drive you with poles and cudgels, like some feared, disgusting beast, from their own habitats and haunts."
"Are you trying to put me off my game?" he inquired.
"No," I said.
"It is your move," he said. "Your next move."
I returned my attention to the board. "I do not think the game will last much longer," I said.
"You are right," he said.
"Out of the several times we have played," I said, "never have I enjoyed so great an advantage in material."
"Do you have an advantage?" he asked.
"Obviously," I said. "More importantly I enjoy an immense advantage positionally."
"How is that?" he inquired.
"Note," I said. I thrust my Rider of the High Tharlarion to Ubar's Initiate Eight. "If you do not defend, it will be capture of Home Stone on the next move."
"So it would seem," he said.
His Home Stone was at Ubar's Initiate One. It was flanked by a Builder at Ubar's Builder One. It was too late to utilize the Builder defensively now. No Builder move could now protect the Home Stone. Indeed it could not even, at this point, clear an escape route for its flight. He must do something with his Ubara, now at Ubara's Tarnsman Five. The configuration of pieces on the board was as follows: On my first rank, my Home Stone was at Ubar's Initiate One; I had a Builder at Ubar's Scribe One. On my second rank, I had a Spearman at Ubar's Builder Two, a Scribe at Ubara Two, and another Rider of the High Tharlarion at Ubara's Scribe Two. On my third rank, I had a Spearman at Ubar's Initiate Three and another at Ubar's Scribe Three. One of my Riders of the High Tharlarion, as I indicated earlier, was now at Ubar's Initiate Eight, threatening capture of Home Stone on the next move. On his eighth rank he had a Spearman at Ubar's Builder Eight, inserted between my two Spearmen on my third rank. His Spearman at Ubar's Builder Eight was supported by another of his Spearmen, posted at Ubar's Scribe Seven. He had his Ubara, as I indicated earlier, at Ubara's Tarnsman Five. This was backed by a Scribe at Ubara's Scribe Four. This alignment of the Ubara and Scribe did not frighten me. If he should be so foolish as to bring his Ubara to my Ubar's Builder One, it would be taken by my Builder. His Scribe could recapture but he would have lost his Ubara, and for only a Builder. His last two pieces were located on his first rank. They were, as I indicated earlier, his Home Stone, located at Ubar's Initiate One, and a Builder, located at Ubar's Builder One. The Builder was his Ubar's Builder.
"How would you choose to defend?" he inquired.
"You could bring your Ubara over to your Ubar's Initiate Five, threatening the Rider of the High Tharlarion," I said.
"But you would then retreat to your Ubar's Initiate Seven, the Rider of the High Tharlarion then protected by your Scribe at Ubara Two," he said. "This could immobilize the Ubara, while permitting you to maintain your pressure on the Ubar's Initiate's File. It could also give you time to build an even stronger attack."
"Of course," I said.
He placed his Ubara at Ubara's Tarnsman Two.
"That is the better move," I said.
"I think so," he said.
Ubar's Initiate Nine, that square from which I might effect capture of Home Stone, was now protected by his Ubara.
"Behold," I said.
"Yes?" he said.
I now moved my Scribe from Ubara Two to Ubara's Tarnsman Three. This brought it onto the diagonal on which lay the crucial square, Ubar's Initiate Nine. He could not take it with his Ubara, of course, sweeping down his Ubara's Tarnsman File, because it was protected now by my other Rider of the High Tharlarion, that hitherto, seemingly innocent, seemingly uninvolved piece which had just happened, apparently, to be posted at Ubara's Scribe Two. Now its true purpose, lurking at that square, was dramatically revealed. I had planned it well. "You may now protect your Home Stone," I said, "but only at the cost of your Ubara." I would now move my Rider of the High Tharlarion to Ubar's Initiate Nine, threatening capture of Home Stone. His only defense would be the capture of the Rider of the High Tharlarion with his Ubara, at which point, of course, I would recapture with the Scribe, thus exchanging the Rider of the High Tharlarion for a Ubara, an exchange much to my profit. Then with my superior, even overwhelming, advantage in material, it would be easy to bring about the conclusion of the game in short order.
"I see," he said.
"And I had red," I reminded him. Yellow opens, of course. This permits him to dictate the opening and; accordingly, immediately assume the offensive. Many players of Kaissa, not even of the caste of players, incidentally, know several openings, in numerous variations, several moves into the game. This is one reason certain irregular, or eccentric, defenses, though often theoretically weak, are occasionally used by players with red. In this way the game is opened and new trails, even if dubious ones, must be blazed. If these irregular or eccentric defenses tend to be successful, of course, they soon, too, become part of the familiar, analyzed lore of the game. On the master's level, it might be mentioned, it is not unusual for red, because of the disadvantages attendant on the second move, to play for a draw.
"You still have red," observed my opponent.
"I have waited long for this moment of vengeance," I said. "My triumph here will be all the sweeter for having experienced so many swift, casual, outrageously humiliating defeats at your hands."
"Your attitude is interesting," he said. "I doubt that I myself would be likely to find in one victory an adequate compensation for a hundred somewhat embarrassing defeats."
"It is not that I am so bad, I said, defensively. "It is rather that you are rather good."
"Thank you," he said.
To be honest, I had never played with a better player. Many Goreans are quite skilled in the game, and I had played with them. I had even, upon occasion, played with members of the caste of players, but never, never, had I played with anyone who remotely approached the level of this fellow. His play was normally exact, even painfully exact, and an opponent's smallest mistake or least weakness in position would be likely to be exploited devastatingly and mercilessly, but, beyond this, an exhibition of a certain brilliant methodicality not unknown among high-level players, it was often characterized by an astounding inventiveness, an astounding creativity, in combinations. He was the sort of fellow who did not merely play the game but contributed to it. Further, sometimes to my irritation, he often, too often, in my opinion, seemed to produce these things with an apparent lack of effort, with an almost insolent ease, with an almost arrogant nonchalance.
It is one thing to be beaten by someone; it is another thing to have it done roundly, you sweating and fuming, while the other fellow, as far as you can tell, is spending most of his time, except for an occasional instant spent sizing up the board and moving, in considering the ambient trivia of the camp or the shapes and motions of passing clouds. If this fellow had a weakness in Kaissa it was perhaps a tendency to occasionally indulge in curious or even reckless experimentation. Too, I was convinced he might occasionally let his attention wander just a bit too much, perhaps confident of his ability to overcome inadvertencies, or perhaps because of a tendency to underestimate opponents. Too, he had an interest in the psychology of the game. Once he had put a Ubara en prise in a game with me. I, certain that it must be the bait in some subtle trap I could not detect, not only refused to take it but, worrying about it, and avoiding it, eventually succeeded in producing the collapse of my entire game. Another time he had done the same thing with pretty much the same results. "I had not noticed that it was en prise," he had confessed later. "I was thinking about something else." Had I dared to take advantage of that misplay I might not have had to wait until now to win a game with him. Yes, he was sometimes a somewhat irritating fellow to play. I had little doubt, however, that, in playing with him, my skills in Kaissa had been considerably sharpened.
"Do you wish to resign?" I asked him.
"I do not think so," he said.
"The game is over," I informed him.
"I agree," he said.
"It would be embarrassing to bring it to its conclusion," I said.
"Perhaps," he admitted.
"Resign," I suggested.
"No," he said.
"Do not be churlish," I smiled.
"That is a privilege of 'monsters,'" he said.
"Very well," I said. Actually I did not want him to resign. I had waited a very long time for this victory, and I would savor every move until capture of Home Stone.
"I am a slave," she said. "I cannot so much as touch the pieces of the game without permission without risking having my hands cut off, or being killed, no more than weapons."
He looked down at the board. "Perhaps it is stupid, or absurd, or foolish, that men should concern themselves with such things."
"Kaissa?" I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"Now," I said, "you are truly being foolish."
"Perhaps that is all it is, after all," he said, "the meaningless movement of bits of wood on a checkered surface."
"And love," I said, "is only a disturbance in the glands and music only a stirring in the air."
"And yet it is all I know," he said.
"Kaissa, like love and music, is its own justification," I said. "It requires no other."
"I have lived for it," he said. "I know nothing else. In times of darkness, it has sometimes been all that has stood between me and my own knife."
"It is your move," I said.
"Do you wish to continue the game?" he asked.
"If it is all right with you," I said, "I would not mind it."
"I thought you might not wish to do so," he said.
"No," I said. "It is all right with me."
"I will offer you a draw, if you like," he said.
"You are very generous," I said.
He inclined his head, graciously.
"You are joking, of course," I said.
"No," he said, puzzled.
"I have a winning position," I said.
"Something like that," I admitted, shrugging.
"That was really very thoughtful of you," he said. "I must insist that you accept a draw."
"With your permission," I said, "I would prefer to play the game to its conclusion."
"This is the first time in my life," he said, "that I have ever offered someone a draw as a gift."
"I am sure I am appreciative of the gesture," I said.
"But you do not accept?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"Very well," he said.
"I have a winning position," I said.
"Do you really think so?" he asked.
"Yes," I said.
"Interesting," he said.
"I have a protected Rider of the High Tharlarion at Ubar's Initiate Eight. When I move him to Ubar's Initiate Nine you can prevent capture of Home Stone only by giving up your Ubara. After that the outcome of the game is a foregone conclusion."
He regarded me, not speaking.
"It is your move," I said.
"That is what you seem to have forgotten," he said.
"I do not understand," I said.
He swept his Ubara down the board, removing the Spearman I had posted at my Ubar's Initiate Three.
"That Spearman is protected," I said, "by the Spearman at Ubar's Builder Two."
"Threat to Home Stone," he said. To be sure, his Ubara now threatened the Home Stone.
"I will permit you to withdraw the move," I said.
"Threat to Home Stone," he said.
"That move costs you your Ubara," I said. "Further, you are losing it for a mere Spearman, not even a Rider of the High Tharlarion. Further, when I remove it from the board, my Rider of the High Tharlarion is but one move from capture of Home Stone."
"Threat to Home Stone," he said.
"Very well," I said. I removed his Ubara from the board, replacing it with the Spearman I had previously had at Ubar's Builder Two. The move was forced, of course. I could not move the Home Stone to Ubar's Builder One because that square was covered by his Scribe at Ubara's Scribe Four. "My Rider of the High Tharlarion is but one move from capture of Home Stone," I reminded him.
"But it is my move," he said.
He then advanced his Spearman at Ubar's Builder Eight to Ubar's Builder Nine. This was now possible, of course, because I had had to open that file, taking the Spearman from it to capture his Ubara, the move forced in the circumstances. One must, as long as it is possible, protect the Home Stone. "Threat to Home Stone," he observed.
His advancing Spearman, a mere Spearman, now forked my Home Stone and Builder. The Spearman is not permitted retreat. It, after its initial move, may move only one space at a time. This move may be directly or diagonally forward, or sideways. It, like the chess pawn, can capture only diagonally.
I could not move my Home Stone in front of the Spearman, even if I had wished to do so, because of his Scribe's coverage from afar of that square, Ubar's Builder One. Similarly, even if I had had the option in the circumstances, which I did not, I could not have brought my Builder to that square for defensive purposes without exposing it to the attack of the same piece. I now began to suspect that what I had thought had been a rather weak, easily averted threat of capture of Home Stone, the earlier alignment of his Ubara and Scribe on that crucial diagonal, might actually have had a somewhat different, more latent, more insidious purpose. Similarly, even if his Scribe had not been placed where it was, it would not have been rational in this specific game situation, though it would have been a possible move, to place my Home Stone at Ubar's Builder One. If I had done so this would have permitted the diagonal move of the Spearman to his War's Initiate Ten, my Ubar's Initiate One, at which point it would doubtless have been promoted to a Rider of the High Tharlarion, thusly effecting capture of Home Stone. The defense of my Builder, on which I was relying, would in such a case have been negated by the placement of my own Home Stone, which would then have been inserted between it and the attacking piece. But, as it was, because of the Scribe's coverage of Ubar's Builder One, my move was forced. I could move only to, and must move to, Ubar's Initiate Two. It appeared I must lose my Builder. I eyed my Rider of the High. Tharlarion at Ubar's Initiate Eight. I needed only a respite of one move to effect capture of Home Stone.
"Your Home Stone is under attack," he reminded me.
"I am well aware of that," I said.
"You have one and only one possible move," he pointed out.
"I know," I said. "I know."
"Perhaps you should make it," he suggested.
"Very well," I said. I moved my Home Stone to Ubar's Initiate Two. A Spearman who attains the rear rank of the enemy has the option of being promoted, if promotion is desired, to either a Tarnsman or a Rider of the High Tharlarion. The Tarnsman is generally regarded as the more valuable piece. Indeed, in many adjudication procedures the Tarnsman is valued at eight points and the Rider of the High Tharlarion at only two. I did not think he would directly advance his Spearman to Ubar's Builder Ten, even though it was now protected, the file opened behind it, by his Builder at Ubar's Builder One. I now began to suspect that the placement of his Builder on that file might not have been an accident, no more than the rather irritating placement of his Scribe at Ubara's Scribe Four. If he did advance it in that fashion, promoting it presumably to a Rider of the High Tharlarion, to bring the Home Stone under immediate attack, and prevent me from advancing my own Rider of the High Tharlarion to Ubar's Initiate Nine, finishing the game, I would take it with my Builder. He would then, of course, retake with his Builder. On the other hand, this exchange would sacrifice his advanced Spearman. I expected him rather, then, to take the Builder and then, with impunity, promote his Spearman to a Tarnsman at his Ubar's Scribe Ten, my Ubar's Scribe One. If he did this, however, it would give me the move I needed to effect capture of Home Stone, by advancing my Rider of the High Tharlarion to the coveted Ubar's Initiate Nine. I mopped my brow. He had miscalculated. The game was still mine!
"Spearman to Ubar's Initiate Ten," he said, moving the Spearman neither to Ubar's Building Ten nor to Ubar's Scribe Ten, taking the Builder. This placed it behind my Home Stone. "Rider of the High Tharlarion," he said, replacing the Spearman now with the appropriate piece. "Threat to Home Stone," he then said.
"I can take it with my Builder," I said.
"Indeed," he said, "you must do so. You have no other move."
I swept my Builder to my left, capturing the new Rider of the High Tharlarion at my Ubar's Initiate One. His career, it seemed, had been a brief one. There was no way he could, in this situation, recapture. It seemed he had done nothing more than deliver his new Rider of the High Tharlarion promptly, and for nothing, into my prison pit. I could not move the Home Stone to either Ubar's Builder One, Two or Three because of the coverage of these squares, all of them being covered by his Builder at his Ubar's Builder One, and Ubar's Builder One being additionally covered by his Scribe, that posted at Ubara's Scribe Four.
"Builder to Ubar's Builder Nine," he said. I regarded the board.
"Capture of Home Stone," he said.
"Yes," I said.
My Home Stone had been maneuvered to Ubar's Initiate Two. There he had used my own men to trap it and hold it helplessly in position. Then he had swept down the opened file with his Builder, to Ubar's Builder Nine, to effect its capture.
"Every one of your moves was formed," he said. "You never had an alternative."
"True," I said.
"An elementary Ubara sacrifice," he remarked.
"Elementary?" I asked.
"Of course," he said.
"I did not see it," I said, "at least until it was too late."
"I gathered that," he said. "Otherwise you might have resigned several moves ago, thereby perhaps saving yourself a bit of embarrassment."
"I thought I was winning," I said.
"I think you were under a grave misapprehension as to just who was attacking," he said.
"Apparently," I said.
"Undoubtedly," he agreed, unnecessarily, in my opinion.
"Are you sure the Ubara sacrifice was elementary," I asked.
"Yes," he said.
"I thought it was brilliant," I said.
"Those such as you," he said, "particularly when they find themselves their victims, commonly salute as brilliancies even the most obvious trivialities."
"I see," I said.
"Do not be despondent," he said. "Among those who cannot play the game, you play very well."
"Thank you," I said.
"You're welcome," he said.
"Would you care to play again?"
"No," I said. "Not now."
"Very well," he said. He began to put the pieces back in a large leather wallet.
"Would you care to wrestle?" I asked.
"No," he said, pleasantly enough.
"That Ubara sacrifice was not really all that bad, was it?" I asked.
"No," he said, "it was actually not all that bad. In fact, it was rather good."
"I thought so," I said.
I watched the player replacing the pieces in the leather wallet. He was in a good mood. Just as I had thought, that Ubara sacrifice had not been all that straightforward, or elementary. That, at least, gave me some satisfaction. This moment, it then seemed to me, might be a good time to speak to him. I had been wanting to speak to him for several days. I had been awaiting only a judicious opportunity, one in which the topic might seem to be broached naturally, in such a way as to avoid arousing his curiosity or suspicion. He drew the strings on the wallet, closing it. Yes, this seemed like an excellent time to take action. I would arrange the whole business in such a way that it would seem quite natural. It would be easy. Yes, I thought, I could manage this quite nicely.
"I wish that I had recorded the game," I said.
"I can reiterate the moves for you, if you wish," he said.
"From memory?" I asked.
"Of course," he said. "It is not difficult."
I drew forth from my wallet some papers and a marking stick. Among some of these papers, which I would apparently use as a backing surface for the sheet on which I intended to record the moves, were the papers I had taken, long ago, from the Lady Yanina near the fair of En'Kara.
"Ah," said the player. "I see."
"What?" I asked.
"Am I not, now, supposed to say, 'What have you there?' or is that to come later?"
"I do not understand," I said.
"We must have played a hundred games," he said. "Never before have you seemed interested in recording one. Now you seem interested. Why, I wonder. Now you draw forth papers from your wallet. Some of these are papers obviously covered with the notation of Kaissa. Am I not to express curiosity? And are you not then, almost inadvertently, to ask me some question, or questions, in which you are interested?"
"Perhaps," I said, hesitantly.
"Are you really interested in the game?" he asked.
"I am interested in it, as a matter of fact," I said, "but, to be sure, as you seem to have detected, it is possible I have an ulterior motive in mind."
"The moves in the game were as follows," he said. He then repeated them for me, even, occasionally, adding in some useful annotational remarks. There were forty-three moves in the game.
"Thank you," I said.
"You're welcome," he said. "Now what are those other papers?"
I handed them to him.
He looked at them, briefly, flipping through them. They appeared to be covered with the notation of Kaissa, as though various games, or fragments of games had been recorded on them.
"Do you have some question, some specific questions, about these?" he asked.
"I am wondering about them," I said.
"I thought you were giving me these in connection with some specific question having to do with Kaissa," he said, "perhaps with respect to the analysis of a position or a suggested variation on a lesser-known opening. I thought perhaps they might be Kaissa puzzles, in which a forced capture of Home Stone in some specified number of moves must be detected."
I said nothing. I was eager to see what he would say.
"What do you make of them?" he asked.
"I am interested in your opinion," I said.
"I see," he said.
"Are they games," I asked. "Parts of games?"
"They might appear to he so," he said, "if not looked at closely."
"Yes," I said.
"Doubtless you have reconstructed the positions, or some of them," he said.
"Yes," I admitted.
"And what do you think?" he asked.
"I think," I said, "that it is highly, unlikely that they are games, or parts of games."
"I agree," he said. "They do not seem to be games, or parts of games. Indeed, it seems unlikely that that is even what they are supposed to be. Not only would the general level of play be inferior but much of it is outright gibberish."
"I see," I said.
"I am sorry," he said. "I can be of no help to you."
"That is all right," I said.
"Where did you get them?" he asked.
"I came on them," I said.
"I see," he said.
"You do not know what they are, then?" I said.
"What they are," he said, "seems to be quite clear."
"What do you think they are?" I asked.
"Kaissa ciphers," he said.
"What are Kaissa ciphers?" I asked. I did not doubt that the papers contained enciphered messages. That conjecture seemed obvious, if not inevitable, given the importance attached to them by the Lady Yanina, she of Brundisium, and her colleague, Flaminius, perhaps also of Brundisium. I had hoped, of course, that the player might be able to help me with this sort of thing, that he, ideally, might be familiar with the ciphers, or their keys.
"There are many varieties of Kaissa ciphers," he said. "They are often used by the caste of players for the transmission of private messages, but they may, of course, be used by anyone. Originally they were probably invented by the caste of players. They are often extremely difficult to decipher because of the use of multiples and nulls, and the multiplicity of boards."
What is the 'multiplicity of boards,'" I asked.
"Do you see these numbers?" he asked.
He indicated small numbers in the left margins of several of the papers. These tiny numbers, in effect, seemed to divide the moves into divisions. In originally looking at the papers I had interpreted them simply as a device for identifying or listing the games or game fragments.
"Yes," I said.
"Those presumably indicate the 'boards,'" he said. "Begin for example, with a Kaissa board, with its one hundred squares, arranged in ten ranks and ten files. Are you literate?"
"Yes," I said. Torm, my old friend, the Scribe, might have expressed skepticism at the unqualified promptness and boldness of my asseveration, as I had always remained somewhat imperfect in writing the alternate lines of Gorean script, which are written from the right to the left, but, clearly, I could both read and, though admittedly with some difficulty, write Gorean. Gorean is written, as it is said, as the ox plows. The first line is written left to right, the second, right to left, the third, left to right again, and so on. I had once been informed by my friend, Torm, that the whole business was quite simple, the alternate lines, in his opinion, at least, also being written forward, "only in the other direction."
"Begin then, on the first square," said the player, "with the first letter of a word, or of a sentence, or even of a set of letters randomly selected. Proceed then as in normal writing, utilizing all available squares. When you come to the end of the initial entry, list all unused letters remaining in the alphabet, in order, again utilizing all available squares. When you have managed that, then begin with the first letter of the alphabet, Al-Ka, and continue writing the alphabet in order, over and over, once more on all available squares, until you arrive at the last square on the board. When you have done this, one board, in effect, has been completed."
"I think I understand," I said. "If, in a given message, for example, the notation 'Ubar to Ubara's Tarnsman Two' occurs, that could mean that, on the board in question, say, Board 7, the square Ubara's Tarnsman Two was significant. On that board, then, we might suppose, given its arrangement, that the square Ubara's Tarnsman Two might stand for, say, the letter 'Eta.' Both the sender and receiver, of course, can easily determine this, as they both have the keys to construct the appropriate boards."
"Yes," said the player.
"The listing of the moves in an orderly sequence, of course, gives the order of the letters in the message," I said.
"Correct," said the player.
"I see how the multiples are effective," I said. "For example, the letter 'Eta,' the most commonly occurring letter, would actually, on any given board, be capable of being represented by any of a number of appropriate squares, each different, yet each corresponding to an 'Eta.' Similarly, of course, one might skip about on the board, retreating on it, and so on, to utilize 'Eta Squares' in any fashion one chose. This would produce no confusion between the sender and the receiver as long as the enciphered notation was in orderly sequence."
"Precisely," said the player.
"But where do the nulls come in?" I asked.
"In my exposition," the player reminded me, "I mentioned 'available squares.' A board key will commonly consist of a given word and a list of null squares. The nulls may frequently occur in the enciphered message but they are, of course, immediately disregarded by the receiver."
"I see," I said. The presence of nulls and multiples in a message, of course, makes it much more difficult to decipher, if one lacks the key.
"The true power of the ciphers come in, in my opinion," said the player, "not so much with the multiples and nulls but with the multiplicity of boards. Short messages, even in elementary ciphers, are often impossible to decipher without the key. There is often just not enough material to work with. Accordingly it is often difficult or impossible to test one's deciphering hypotheses, eliminating some and perhaps confirming others. Often, in such a message, one might theoretically work out numerous, and often conflicting, analyses. The multiplicity of boards thus permits the shifting of the cipher several times within the context of one message. This obviously contributes to the security of the communication."
"These ciphers seem simple and beautiful," I said, "as well as powerful."
"Too, if one wishes," he said, "one need not, in filling out the boards, do so as in the fashion of normal writing. One might write all one's lines left to right, for example, or right to left, or write them vertically, beginning at one side or the other, and beginning at the top or bottom, or diagonally, beginning at any corner. One might use alternate lines, or left or right spirals from given points, and so on. Similarly, after the initial entry the remainder of the alphabet could be written backwards, or beginning at a given point, or reversing alternate letters, and so on. These variations require only a brief informative addition to the key and the list of null squares, if any."
"I see," I said.
"I think you can see now," he said, "why I cannot be of any help to you. I am sorry."
"But you have been of help," I said. "You have made it a great deal clearer to me what may be involved here. I am deeply appreciative."
"Such ciphers are, for most practical purposes, impossible to decipher without the appropriate keys, null-square listings, and so on."
"Do not speak to me of Scormus of Ar," he said.
"Why?" I asked.
"Scormus of Ar is a traitor to his city," he said.
"How is that?" I asked.
"He failed his city," he said, "and was disgraced."
"In what way did this occur?" I asked.
"He lost in the great tournament, in 10,125 Contasta Ar," he said, "to Centius, of Cos."
"Centius is a fine player," I said. The tournament he referred to was doubtless the one held at the Sardar Fair, in En'Kara of that year. It had occurred five years ago. It was now 10,130 C.A., Contasta Ar, from the Founding of Ar. In the chronology of Port Kar, it was now Year Eleven, of the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains. I had been fortunate enough to have been able to witness that game. In it Centius of Cos, one of Gor's finest players, indeed, perhaps her finest player, had, for the first time, introduced the defense which came subsequently to be known as the Telnus Defense. Telnus was the home city of Centius of Cos. It is also the capital of that island ubarate.
The player then turned toward Temenides. "Did you say something?" he asked.
"Send the female slave to my table," said Temenides, angrily, pointing at Bina.
"No," said the player.
"Ubar!" cried Temenides, turning to corpulent Belnar, lounging behind the low table, rolling in his fat, eating grapes.
"Perhaps you could buy her," suggested Belnar, dropping a grape into his mouth.
"He just paid a golden tarn disk for her," protested Temenides.
Belnar, not speaking, slowly put two such disks on the table.
"Thank you, Ubar!" said Temenides. He snatched up the two coins. "Here, fool," he said to the player, lifting up the coins. "Here is a hundred times what she is worth, and twice what you paid for her! She is now mine!"
"No," said the player.
Temenides cast a startled glance at Belnar. Belnar, saying nothing, put three more coins on the table. There were gasps about the hall. Then five coins altogether, five golden tarn disks, and of Ar herself, as it was pointed out, were offered to the player for his Bina, lifted in the furious, clenched fist of Temenides, of Cos, one of the masters of the high boards of Kaissa in that powerful island ubarate.
"No," said the player.
"Take her from him," said Temenides to Belnar. "Use your soldiers."
Belnar glanced about himself, to some of the guardsmen at the side of the hall.
"I am a citizen of Ar," said the player. "It is my understanding that the cities of Brundisium and Ar stand leagued firmly in friendship, that the wine has been drunk between them, and the salt and fire shared, that they are pledged both in comity and alliance, military and political. If this is not true, I should like to be informed, that word may be carried to Ar of this change in matters. Similarly, I am curious to know why a player of Cos, no understood ambassador or herald, sits at a high table, at the table even of Belnar, Ubar of this city. Similarly, how is it that Temenides, only a player, and one of Cos, as well, to whom both Brundisium and Ar stand opposed, to whom both accord their common defiance, dares to speak so boldly? Perhaps something has occurred of which I was not informed, that ubars now take their orders from enemies, and those not even of high caste?"
Belnar turned away from the soldiers. He did not summon them.
"I have soldiers of my own," said Temenides. "With your permission, Ubar, I shall summon them."
I found this of interest. Surely members of the caste of players do not commonly travel about with a military escort.
Temenides, triumphantly, turned about, looking about the hall. "I cannot believe the great Belnar is serious," said the player. "Are soldiers of Cos within the walls of Brundisium to receive an official sanction to steal from citizens of Ar? Is that the meaning of our alliance?"
Belnar put another grape in his mouth.
"Ubar?" asked Temenides.
"I have a much better idea," said Belnar, smiling. "He is a player. You will play for her."
The player folded his arms and regarded Temenides.
"Ubar!" protested Temenides. "Consider my honor! I play among the high boards of Cos. This is a mountebank, a player at carnivals, no member even of the caste of players!"
"Do not think to suggest that I should dishonor my caste by stooping to shame this arrogant cripple. Far nobler it would be to set your finest swordsmen upon some dimwitted bumpkin brandishing a spoon. Let him rather be driven from the hall with the blows of belts like a naked slave for his presumption!"
"Would the court not find such a contest amusing?" inquired Belnar.
Several of the men slapped their shoulders in encouragement. Others called out for a game. I gathered that among those present this discomfiture of Temenides, matching him with so unworthy and preposterous an opponent, might not be unwelcome. In its nature it would be a prank, a practical joke, perhaps a somewhat cruel one, at the least a broad Gorean jest.
"Ubar," said Temenides, "do not call for this match. I have no desire to humiliate this deformed freak more than I have already done. Order the female suppliantly to me."
Bina, terrified, threw herself to her stomach before the player on the platform. She kissed the wood twice before his feet. Then, lifting herself on the palms of her hands, she looked piteously up at him, "Risk not so much in this hall, I beg of you, Master," she wept. "Permit me to crawl suppliantly to him, proposing myself for his pleasures."
"Strip," snarled the player.
Instantly Bina tore away the scarf knotted about her hips, that which had formerly been tied about her throat, concealing her collar.
The player continued to regard her.
She now knelt weeping, trembling, before him, at his mercy, owned, slave naked.
"Now," said the player, "what did you say?"
"Permit me to crawl suppliantly to him, proposing myself for his pleasures," she whispered, frightened.
The player suddenly, angrily, kicked her to her side. She cried out with pain and twisting, frightened, a spurned and disciplined slave, turned to look at him. On her left wrist there was a use bracelet. On her neck there was a collar. On her thigh was a brand.
"You belong to me," he said.
"Yes, Master," she said.
"It seems," said Belnar to Temenides, amused, "that the player is disinclined to extend to you the female's use."
"Do not seek to force a match between us, Ubar," said Temenides. "I will not consider a match with such a fellow, not with a creature of such outrageous deformity, not with one such as he, one who is, by all reports, at best naught but a harrowingly disfigured monster."
"The slave is exquisite," said Belnar. "Apparently you do not wish to have her yielding helplessly, passionately, obediently in her collar, in your arms."
"Ubar," said Temenides, in protest.
"Play," said Belnar.
"Forcing me to such an extremity," said Temenides, "could well be construed as a state insult in the lofty chambers of Cos."
This remark surprised me. How could such a trivial thing as a joke in Brundisium, one having to do with a mere member of the caste of players, the fellow, Temenides, involve relations among thrones?
"Very well," said Belnar, agreeably, "but forgo then the woman."
Temenides' fists clenched. He regarded Bina, who shrank back from his gaze.
"Play, play!" urged more than one man.
Temenides looked about himself, angrily. Then he regarded the player.
"Perhaps the great Temenides, who holds a high board in Cos, fears to enter into a banquet's friendly game, or, say, an evening's casual tourney, with one who is a mere mountebank, a monster," suggested the player.
There was laughter at this suggestion.
Temenides turned red.
"Could it be?" asked the player.
"I do not play bumpkins," said Temenides.
"I, on the other hand," said the player, "am obviously willing to do so."
This remark brought a roar of laughter from the crowd. Even Belnar chuckled. Temenides turned even more red, and clenched his fists savagely. His mood was turning ugly.
Near the feet of the player, Bina trembled, head down.
Temenides rose to his feet. In his movement, studied and unprecipitate, there was resolution and menace. "Very well," said he. "I shall play you, but it shall be but one game, and upon one condition, that the game may be worth my while." The hall was suddenly quiet. Temenides spoke softly and clearly. In his words there was an exactness, and a chill. His anger now was like the stirring of a beast beneath ice, whose shape may be vaguely seen below, giving some hint of the force and danger lurking in the depths. "We shall play," said he, "not for the mere use of the female, but for her ownership, to see whose collar it will be that shall be locked upon her throat. Further, the life of he who loses shall he forfeit to the victor, to he done with as he pleases."
Several of those in the hall gasped. "But he is a free man," protested one. It is one thing to play for a female, of course, for Goreans tend to regard such as fit for spoils and loot, particularly if they should be, to begin with, naught but properties, mere chattels, but it is quite another to set free males at stake.
Temenides did not respond to this protest.
"And," asked the player, "if you should win, and claim this forfeit, what might I expect to be your pleasure?"
"That you be boiled alive in the oil of tharlarion," said Temenides.
"I see," said the player.
"There will now he no game," said one of the fellows at the Ubar's table.
"Well, fellow?" inquired Temenides.
"Agreed," said the player.
Several of those in the hall, free men and naked slaves alike, gasped.
"No, no, Master, please!" cried Bina.
"Be silent," said the player.
"Yes, Master," she wept.
"Secure the female," said Belnar. "Let a board and pieces be brought."
Bina's hands were thonged tightly together before her body. A ring, on a rope, one of several, was lowered from the ceiling. These rings, when lowered, hung a few feet above the floor, some six or seven feet above it, in the open space between the tables. These rings may serve various purposes, such as the display of disgraced females destined for slavery, most likely debtors, or the public punishment of errant slaves, but their number is largely dictated by the occasional use of displaying captured, stripped free women of enemy cities. These women, during the course of a victory feast, are caressed by whips, or beaten by them, until they beg, though free, to serve the tables as slaves. After they have so served, Ahn later, they are taken below. There they will be properly branded and collared, and will begin to be taught the lessons, intimate and otherwise, appropriate to their new condition in life. The lowered ring dangled near the center of the hall, in the space between the tables. Bina was dragged to the ring and her bound wrists tied over her head to it. She was tied in such a way that her heels were slightly off the floor. She was beautiful then, her legs extended, her heels slightly lifted from the floor, her back straight, her stomach flat, her small breasts arched, the entire line of her slim, lovely body lifted by her upraised wrists, helpless under the duress of the thongs and ring, tied in place, displayed as stake.
A table was brought and placed near the ring. Too, a board and pieces were brought. Bina looked down upon it with a lack of understanding. Once or twice, long ago when she had been haughty and cruel, before she had come to learn her slavery properly, the player would have been willing to teach her the moves of the game but after she had come into his use, his attitude towards her had significantly changed. He was then no longer interested in trying to please her. It had then been up to her to try and please him, and perfectly. Their relationship had completely changed. She was then to him only as slave to master. It was perhaps just as well. Bina did not have the sort of intellect that lent itself naturally to the game, nor the patience for it.
Her intelligence, which was considerable, tended to find its most natural expression in a different domain, in the modalities of the sensuous. Indeed, she had proved herself extremely gifted in matters of sexuality and love. Clearly the collar belonged on her neck. Perhaps it was just as well that the player had not tried to force her to become a player, an activity for which she was not naturally suited, and in which she would have, at best, after years of work, achieved only a hard-won and mediocre success, but had instead forced her to become that for which she was most deeply suited and that which, ultimately, she was and wished to be, a profoundly marvelous female. At any rate, whatever might be the truth and falsity in such matters, poor Bina would not now be permitted to so much as touch the pieces of the game. She was a slave. She looked down at the board without understanding, but with misery. On it her ownership would be decided.
Her placement, standing, near the board, of course, was not a mistake. It is thought amusing to place the slave in this position. The informed slave, perhaps once a free woman who has some comprehension of the game, may thus observe fearfully the careful processes that will determine her disposition; and even the uninformed slave, such as Bina, who in her fearful, agonized observation of the board may understand next to nothing, not even being certain often who is winning, may sense such things as the shifting tides of battle and the removals of pieces from the board; in both cases, of course, the reactions of the slaves, tied as they are, are available for the delectation of the crowd. The major reason, however, for tying the slaves in this position is doubtless that the game's stakes and their value, so prominently displayed, may be properly considered and appreciated.
The player, and Temenides, of Cos, came to the board. "You may surrender the woman, and withdraw," said Temenides.
"Temenides is generous," said the player.
Temenides nodded, and then he said, "Cut down the woman, and take her to my place at the table."
"No," said the player.
"No?" asked Temenides, startled.
"Let the pieces be put in place," said the player.
"You are a fool," said Temenides. "You will pay dearly for your folly."
The pieces, with the exception of the Home Stones, were marshaled on the board. They were tall, and of weighted, painted wood. The two Home Stones cannot be placed on the board before the second move nor later than the tenth.
"Who will move first?" asked the player.
"You may move first," said Temenides."
"No," said Belnar, Ubar of Brundisium.
"Come now, Ubar," said Temenides. "Let the fool extend the game, if he can, by two or three moves."
"He of Cos is our guest," said Belnar. "He will move first."
"Spearmen might be chosen," said a man.
"Yes," said another.
There are many ways in which this can be done. If the pieces are small enough a red spearman can be held in one hand and a yellow spearman in the other. He not holding the spearmen then guesses a hand. If the guesser guesses the hand in which the yellow spearman is held, he moves first. If he guesses the hand in which the red spearman is held he moves second. Yellow, of course, moves first, red, second. Another common way of doing this is to place the two pieces behind a cloth or board, or to wrap them in two opaque clothes, the guessing proceeding similarly.
"I will conceal the pieces," volunteered Boots Tarsk-Bit, helpfully.
"No," said the player.
"I will hold them," said Belnar.
"Ubar," acceded Temenides.
Belnar then, disdaining subterfuge, picked up two yellow spearmen. There were gasps in the audience. Bina moaned, in her ropes. Even she knew this much, that her champion was to be categorically denied the privilege of the initial move, with its weight and influence in determining the nature of the game.
"Choose," said Belnar, to Temenides.
"Choose," said Belnar.
Temenides, angrily, pointed to Belnar's right hand.
Belnar, grinning, lifted up the yellow spearman in his right hand, showing it to the crowd. Then he put the pieces down.
"You have won the guess," observed the player. "Congratulations."
"I was willing to show you mercy, if only to protect my honor," said Temenides. "But now I shall destroy you, swiftly and brutally."
"I, on the other hand, will take my time with you," said the player.
"Arrogant sleen!" cried Temenides. "Recall my conditions, and intentions!"
"I do," said the player.
"The mountebank grows tiresome," said Belnar. "Let a vat of tharlarion oil, suitable for the immersion of a human being, be prepared."
"Yes, Ubar," said a soldier.
"With stout neck ropes," said Belnar.
"Yes, Ubar," said the man, turning about, to leave the hall. The purpose of the neck ropes, stretched from holes drilled near the top of the vat, is to hold the victim, whose hands are usually bound behind him, in place, preventing him not only from attempting to leave the vat but also from trying to drown himself. The oil is heated slowly.
"Play," said Belnar, turning to the player and Temenides.
"I beg you once more, Ubar," said Temenides, "not to perpetrate this farce."
"Play," called men, standing about. Bina moaned.
"Play," said Belnar.
"Ubar's Spearman to Ubar Five," said Temenides, angrily. A man made the move.
"Ubara's Rider of the High Tharlarion to Ubara's Builder Three," said the player.
"Have you ever played before?" asked Temenides.
"Occasionally," said the player.
"Do you understand the moves of the pieces?" asked Temenides.
"Somewhat," said the player.
"That is an absurd move," said Temenides.
"I believe it is a legal move," said the player.
"I have never seen anything like it," said Temenides. "It violates all the orthodox principles of opening play."
"Orthodoxy is not invariably equivalent to soundness," said the player. "Your great master, Centius of Cos, should have taught you that. Besides, from whence do you think orthodoxy derives? Does it not blossom from the root of heresy? Is it not true that today's orthodoxy is commonly little more than yesterday's heresy triumphant?"
"You are mad," said Temenides.
"Similarly," said the player, "the more orthodox your play the more predictable it will be, and thus the more easily exploited."
"Sleen!" hissed Temenides.
The player's move brought Temenides' Ubar's Spearman under immediate attack by the player's Ubara's Initiate. This might lure Temenides into wasting a move, advancing the Spearman again, perhaps overextending his position, or even, perhaps, defending prematurely. Still, I did not think I would have made the move.
"To be sure, if I respected you more highly," said the player, "I might have selected a different opening move."
"Sleen! Urt!" said Temenides.
"It is your move?" asked a man of the player.
"Yes," said the player. The man moved the piece.
"Thank you," said the player.
"I think this fellow may not be such a fool as we thought," said Belnar.
"Nonsense," said Temenides, angrily. "He is a mountebank, a bumpkin!"
"It is warm in here," said the player. He casually opened the light, dark robe he wore. Beneath it, as I had suspected, was the robe of the players, the red-and-yellow-checked robe that marked those of that caste. I think it must have been years since he had worn it openly. There were cries of astonishment. Bina looked at him, startled, her hands twisting in the cruel thongs that confined them.
"He is of the players," gasped a man.
"I had suspected it," said Belnar. "He did not seem truly insane."
"It matters not," said Temenides. "I hold a high board in Cos. I shall destroy him. It means only that the game may be somewhat more interesting than I had originally anticipated."
Are you truly of the players?" asked the man.
"It is my caste," said the player. The hair on the back of my neck rose up. I think in that moment the player had come home to himself.
"And in what minor ranks of the players do you locate yourself?" asked Temenides, scornfully. Rankings among players, incidentally, resulting from play in selected tournaments and official matches, are kept with great exactness.
"I was a champion," said the player.
"And of what small town, or village?" inquired Temenides, scornfully.
"Of Ar," said the player.
"Ar!" cried Temenides.
"Ar!" cried others.
"Perhaps you have heard of it," said the player.
"Who are you?" whispered Temenides, fearfully.
The player reached to the mask, that dark hood, which he wore. He suddenly tore it from his head. Bina closed her eyes, wincing. Many were the cries of astonishment in the hall, from free men and slaves alike. Bina opened her eyes. She cried out, startled, wonderingly. No longer did the player wear that dark concealing hood. He looked about himself, regally. His visage bore no ravages, either of the terrors of flames or of the instruments of men. On it there was not one mark. It was a proud face, and a severe one, at this moment, and one expressive of intellect, and power and will, and incredibly handsome. "I am Scormus of Ar," he said.
"Scormus of Ar no longer exists!" cried Temenides.
"He has returned," he said.
"I cannot play this man," cried Temenides. "He is one of the finest players on Gor!"
"But the game has begun," Scormus reminded him.
"Master!" cried Bina. "Master! I love you, Master!"
"For speaking without my permission," said Scormus of Ar to the slave, "you will in the morning beg for ten lashes, if this matter should slip your mind, you will receive fifty."
"Yes, Master," she said, joyfully.
"Too, if you should speak again, before the conclusion of the game," said Scormus of Ar to her, "your throat will be cut."
She looked at him, frightened, lovingly.
"See to it," said Scormus to a man.
"Yes, Player," said he. He drew forth a knife and went to stand near Bina, a bit behind her. He drew her head back by the hair, gently, and lifting up her collar slightly with the edge of the knife, with a tiny scraping sound, let her feel the blade lightly, but unmistakably, against her throat, just under the steel edge of the collar. The man then removed the knife from the vicinity of her throat. He thrust it in his belt. He remained standing near her.
Bina was silent. If Bina spoke again before the conclusion of the game, she would be slain.
"The first move was yours," said Scormus to Temenides. "The last move will be mine."
Temenides looked in agony to Belnar for succor. "I cannot play with one such as he," he said.
"Play," said Belnar.
"Ubar!" begged Temenides.
"It is amusing," said Belnar.
"Please, Ubar," said Temenides.
Some men then, near the back of the hall, using poles, brought in a giant vat of tharlarion oil, mounted over a large, flattish, curved-edge iron plate. Fuel in this plate was then kindled.
"Ubar!" protested Temenides.
"Play," said Belnar.
I then took my way quietly from the hall. I had business elsewhere. I would have time. The player would not hurry with Temenides.
I reentered the hall.
The game, as I entered, moving past the simmering vat of tharlarion oil, was no more than a move from its conclusion. I made my way near the board.
"Never have I seen such play," marveled a man.
"It was not a mere slaughter," said a man, "but a profound humiliation."
"Piece by piece was stripped from Temenides," said a man. "He now has only his Home Stone, isolated in a gauntlet of enemies."
I looked down at the board. The player need not have done that. Doubtless at a hundred points he could have brought the game to its conclusion, but he had preferred to dally with his opponent, divesting him of material, herding him like a nose-ringed tarsk helplessly about the board.
"Build up the fire beneath the oil," said Belnar.
"Yes, Ubar," said a man.
Temenides was white-faced, sitting before the board.
"Capture of Home Stone," announced the player.
"An excellent game," said Belnar.
"Thank you, Ubar," said Scormus of Ar. He rose to his feet.
Temenides did not move. He continued to sit before the board. He seemed transfixed with terror.
I had known, or at least suspected, the identity of the player, incidentally, even from Port Kar, when I had first seen him. His limp was distinctive, as well as his demeanor and manner of speech. I had seen him, too, at close hand, long ago, in the hall of Cernus of Ar. His touchiness on the matters of Scormus of Ar and Centius of Cos, and the great match of 10,125 C.A., had also been revealing. Too, of course, his play had been brilliant. Too, how many poor players would have had in their possession a Champion's Cup, and that of Ar, that cup which the brigands had found when they had raided the camp of Boots Tarsk-Bit, that which had so fascinated them and which the player had been so anxious to conceal? Yet he had not sold it nor had he cast it from him. Under his dark robes and grim hood, it seemed, in his heart, he had remained always, and as I had suspected, Scormus, of Ar, and a loyal citizen of that municipality.
"Free the slave," said Belnar. "She belongs to Scormus of Ar. He has well earned her."
"Yes," said a man.
"Yes," said another.
The fellow who had stood near to Bina during the match, he who would have cut her throat if she had erred in her behavior, speaking before the conclusion of the game, now cut her wrists free of the thongs. She threw herself to her belly before Scormus of Ar, weeping with joy, covering his feet with kisses.
"I am yours!" she cried. "I am yours!"
"That is known to me," said Scormus of Ar.
"I love you!" she wept.
"That, too, is known to me," said Scormus.
She scrambled to her knees, clutching him about the legs, looking up at him, weeping. "You paid a golden tarn disk for me," she said. "I am not worth so much!"
"I will let you know in the morning," said Scormus.
"Take Temenides into custody," said Belnar. "Strip him. Bind him. Put ropes on his neck."
Men seized the moaning Temenides and tore away his robes and tied his hands behind his back. Then heavy ropes, suitable for confining him in the vat of oil, were put on his neck. He looked wildly about himself in terror. "Ubar!" he wept.
"I have had the oil heated," said Belnar. "Doubtless it is now, or soon will be, boiling. In this fashion the end will come swiftly. We have not forgotten, in the hospitality of Brundisium, that Temenides is our guest."
"Ubar!" wept Temenides.
"Ubar," said Scormus.
"Yes, Player?" said Belnar, obviously the player had earned his respect. There are few on Gor who do not stand in awe of the skills of high players.
"As I recall," said Scormus of Ar, "the life of Temenides, my worthy opponent, whom perhaps I treated a bit harshly, being carried somewhat away in the heat of the moment, is forfeit not to you, but to me."
"So it is," said Belnar. "Forgive me, Player. I was thoughtless. I shall have the temperature of the oil reduced, that it may then again be built slowly to boiling. Thus the gradually increasing intensity of your opponent's torments, and their prolonged nature, will be all the more amusing."
"That will not be necessary," said Scormus.
"Player?" asked Belnar.
"Temenides," said Scormus to Temenides, "your life, which was forfeit to me, I return to you, and gladly. Once more it is yours. Take it, and those soldiers with you, mysteriously here from Cos, and depart this night from Brundisium's walls."
"Caste brother!" cried Temenides, gratefully. Some of the men with him then freed him and put his robes about him. He hurried with them from the hall.
Belnar looked after them. He spoke words to a menial. The man, too, then left the hall. "Scormus of Ar is generous," said Belnar.
Scormus inclined his head, briefly. Though Belnar smiled, I do not think he was much pleased with the evening's outcome. He once more looked towards the great exit from the hall, through which, moments before, hurrying, Temenides and some soldiers from Cos had vanished. Clearly Belnar, the Ubar of Brundisium, had expected Temenides to best the player, taken then to be a mere low player, a troupe's player, and this had not turned out as he had anticipated. He was not too pleased with Temenides, I was certain, and, for some reason, he also seemed to find himself uncomfortable, at least at this time, with the presence of Scormus of Ar in his palace. Belnar turned graciously to Scormus. "Player," said he, "honor us by sitting at the table of Brundisium's Ubar."
"I thank you, Ubar, but, with your permission, if you see fit graciously to grant it, I would prefer to return to my quarters." He looked down at Bina, at his feet. "There, with chains and a whip, I would like to continue the education of a slave."
"Master," whispered Bina, licking softly at his ankle.
"Of course," said Belnar.
I had found what I had been looking for in a room apparently devoted to kaissa, in the midst of what were apparently merely the records of games, jotted on scraps of paper. Among those records, fitted in with them, were other papers. There was little doubt these were what I had sought. On one paper was a numbered list of names, names of well-known kaissa players. That, even, of Scormus was among them. On another paper there was what purported to be a list of tournament cities, and on another a list of names, of individuals supposedly noted for their craftsmanship in the skill and design of kaissa boards and pieces. There were also, on other papers, numbered, too, the representations of boards.
Some of the lists had small marks after some of the words, seemingly casual, meaningless marks. These, however, depending on the slants and hooks, indicating direction, would indicate variations in letter alignments, for example, "Begin diagonally in the upper-left-hand corner," and such. Those keys on which the entire board appeared usually possessed complex, or even random, alignments, of letters, and several nulls, as well as the expected multiples. A Gorean "zero" was apparently used to indicate nulls.
I had thrust these papers in my pouch. The hastily opened coffer, which had seemed so momentous, and inaccessible, before, of course, had been only a diversion. The true concealment of the papers, one assuredly calculated to deceive those individuals who might have some just notion of their value, one worthy of Belnar's brilliance, was to have them lying about, almost casually, mixed in, and seemingly belonging with, papers of no great importance. This subterfuge was, so to speak, the disguise of unexpected obviousness. In this manner, too, of course, they would tend to be safe from common thieves, whose investigations presumably would be directed more toward the breaking open of strong boxes and the search for secret hiding places. Given their relative accessibility and their apparent lack of value common thieves would not be likely to find them of interest.
If Belnar had erred here, I think it was in a very subtle matter. The pieces in the kaissa room, and the boards there, did not indicate frequent usage. The wood was not worn smooth and stained with the oil of fingers; the surface of the boards showed little sign of wear, or use, such as tiny scratches or even the subtle indications, the small rubbing marks, of polishings. Belnar, like most Goreans, was doubtless familiar with kaissa. On the other hand, it did not seem he often played. That being the case the abundance of hand-written notes and records about, seemingly related to the game, must, at least to some observers, appear something of an anomaly. It was at this point that I heard a subtle noise behind me. I had spun about.
"Hail, Teibar!" called another.
From the latter manner of greeting, I gathered this Teibar might be excellent with the staff, or sword. Such greetings are usually reserved for recognized experts, or champions, at one thing or another. For example, a skilled Kaissa player is sometimes greeted in such a manner.
The officer of Treve and the pit master were sitting at the table, playing Kaissa, which is a board game of this world. They were absorbed in the game. I think they were both skilled.
"Capture of Home Stone," said the pit master.
"It is the eleventh Ahn," said a man, looking at the clepsydra.
The leader of the black-tunicked men made a noise of disgust.
His lieutenant was sharpening his sword. Three crossbows, armed, rested on the table.
I lay down by the wall, to rest.
The pit master and the officer of Treve reset the board, for another game. They had played very evenly, as I understood it, first one winning, then the other.
"Your move," said the pit master.
I pulled a little at my bound wrists. The wonder and terror of this suddenly came to me. How was it that I should be here? I did not even know how I had come to this world! But I was here now, helpless, owned, where I must serve, and please and obey, a slave girl on an alien, exotic world. Who had first seen me, who had marked me out, who had first decided this? Who had speculated how I might look in a collar, who had conjectured my liniments, who had read my body, and my heart?
"The Turian opening?" asked the pit master.
"Perhaps," said the officer of Treve.
I became suddenly angry. How could they play a game, now, at a time like this?
Sometimes I, and others, had served as prizes in such contests, between guards. Sometimes we must lie to one side, or even under the table, chained hand and foot, waiting to see who would be victorious, to whom we would be awarded for the evening.
I hated the game.
How often I had had to wait for contentment, even such as might be granted to a slave, because of Kaissa! How often I had been uneasy, restless, in my kennel, pressing a tear stained face against the bars, grasping them, they damp from the sweat of my palms. How I would squirm with need, and must wait! Could they not understand my small cries and moans, and then I would be warned to silence, that I not distract them from their foolish game!
"Surrender your Home Stone," said the other guard. "You are done, finished!"
"Hold, hold," said the first fellow, irritably, he who had uttered the exclamation only a moment ago.
"Your Ubar and Ubar's Builder are forked," said the other guard. "Any honorable fellow in these circumstances would hasten to resign."
"I will defend the Home Stone while yet a Spearman remains," said the other, irritably.
"Very well," said the other.
I retain two Physicians to your one," said the first.
"So it will be a lengthy endgame," said the other.
"I may even tease out a draw," said the first.
Most Gorean matches, as I understand it, consist of an odd number of games, for example eleven or twenty-one. Needless to say, the matches sometimes take days to finish. Their current match had been set at eleven games. Each had, if I had not lost count, won five games.
"If you win," said the officer to the pit master, "you may gleefully splash yourself upon the rocks at the foot of the wall, there-by bringing joy to the hearts of local wild sleen, and the slave, bound by her fear of compromising your honor, which compromise would then be in violation of our arrangements, will not seek to follow you in the path you have chosen. If I win, you will accept my concept of what is honorable in this matter, and so, too, will the slave."
"Agreed, for myself and for the slave," said the pit master.
"And no action pertinent to these matters is to be taken until the game is done?"
"Agreed, for myself and for the slave," said the pit master.
"And this is sworn?"
"It is sworn."
"By the Home Stone?"
"By the Home Stone itself!" said the pit master, angrily.
"Excellent," said the officer.
He then picked up the board, with the pieces on it, went to the wall, and threw the entire board and pieces out into space, over the wall.
"What have you done!" cried the pit master, in horror, rising up.
Fina was laughing and crying.
"I do not feel like playing now," said the officer. "Perhaps some other time."
"No, no!" cried the pit master.
"As you may recall," said the officer, "no action pertinent to these matters is to be taken until the game is done."
"Play!" demanded the pit master.
"I think not," said the officer.
"You have tricked me!" cried the pit master, in fury.
I began to cry, too. The game, I realized, would never be played.
"Sometimes," said the officer, "the best Kaissa is no Kaissa."
"Have you heard of the Prition of Clearchus of Cos?" he asked, placing the scroll on the table to his right, her left, near the glass and decanter.
"It is a reasonably well-known treatise, one of several in fact, dealing with the ownership and domination of the human female."
"There are manuals for such things?" she asked.
"Certainly," said he, "as there are manuals for agricultural practices, military tactics, cartography, navigation, kaissa and such."
"I find their choice of agents strange," he said. "You are a barbarian, more of a larl than a man. You know little of poetry, and your kaissa is commonplace."
"My kaissa is satisfactory," I said, "for one who is not a Player."
"You are not even a caste or city champion," he said.
"Are you?" I inquired.
"Games are for children," he said.
"Kaissa is not for children," I said. Life and death sometimes hung on the outcomes of a kaissa match, and war or peace. Cities had been lost in such matches, and slaves frequently changed hands.
Too, the game is beautiful.
Its fascinations, as those of art and music, exercise their spells and raptures.
Sometimes high warriors, city masters, Ubars, generals, and such, play "blind kaissa." Two boards are used, with an opaque barrier between the boards, so neither player can see the pieces of the other. An adjudicator observes both boards and informs the players whether a move is legal, whether a capture has been made, and so on. Thus, in a sense, the game is played in the dark. Gradually, however, from the adjudicator's reports, particularly if one has much experience of this version of kaissa, one begins to sense the positions and strategy of the opponent. This game is intended to intensify and heighten the intuitions of battle. In Gorean warfare, of course, as in much traditional warfare, prior to electronic sophistications, one is often uncertain of the position, strength, and plans of the enemy. Too much in war, and often much of fearful moment, is "blind kaissa."
And so, I thought, perhaps in the northern forests, I might try my hand at "blind kaissa."
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.
"Do you play kaissa?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"But you have heard of it, you have seen a board, some pieces, such things."
"Yes," I said, "in the house of Tenalion, in Ar, even here. Some men play it."
"Many men play it," he said. "Records are kept of some games. Some games are annotated, criticized, discussed, and such."
I looked at him.
"In order to do that," he said, "obviously the pieces, which have rules for movements, and commonly accepted values, must have names, and there must be a way of designating the areas to which they might be moved. The squares of the board are numbered, and named for the initial placement of certain pieces, those on the first row. Each player has twenty-three pieces, but only ten are placed on the first row; the squares take their designations from the initial placement of these ten pieces. For example, from left to right, on the first row one would have the Ubara's Initiate, the Ubara's Builder, the Ubara's Scribe the Ubara's Tarnsman, and then the Ubara. Next comes the Ubar, and then, in order, the Ubar's Tarnsman, the Ubar's Scribe, the Ubar's Builder, and the Ubar's Initiate."
"This sounds complex," I said.
"It is not really complex," he said. "It is only that it is unfamiliar to you. For example, the fifth square in the Ubara's Initiate's column would be Ubara's Initiate Five, the seventh square in the column of the Ubar's Builder, would be Ubar's Builder seven, and so on."
"Yes, Master," I said.
"Now," he said, holding the small sheet removed from the leather envelope before me, "this resembles a game's annotation. Indeed, the first entries might occur in a game, for example one beginning with the opening called the Ubar's Tarnsman's Flight. On the other hand, if one examines the sheet carefully, most of the later entries would be impractical, even illegitimate, in an actual game. Accordingly, the first level of concealment is that the sheet is not what it initially appears to be, and might not attract particular attention, certainly not from those unfamiliar with kaissa and probably not from your average player, who would not be likely to inquire into the annotation of a game in which he would not be likely to have much interest. It is not as though it was a game from the records of Centius of Cos, Scormus of Ar, Corydon of Thentis, Olaf of Tabuk's Ford, or such. And even if he looked at the sheet he would presumably soon cast it away as some sort of hoax or joke, perhaps even a jibe from some critic of kaissa who thinks too much time and attention is devoted to the game. The second level of concealment, of course, is that these seemingly meaningless signs are mostly related to the alphabet."
"Surely the alphabet does not contain a hundred letters," I said. My own alphabet incidentally, in my own native language contains twenty-six letters. A typical Gorean alphabet, as I understand it, though this seems to differ a bit in one place or another, contains twenty-eight letters.
"Of course not," he said. "Certain letters occur in Gorean more often than others, for example, Eta Al-ka Tau, and so on. Thus, there may be several variants for those letters."
"Chloe can read," I said, "and she did not understand some of the signs on the scraps of paper."
"Those are meaningless," he said. "The kaissa squares in which they are inserted thus constitute no intelligible part of the message. Thus, those who are attempting to unravel the message by means of considering the relative frequency of signs will have a difficult task, as some letters are represented by more than one sign and some signs represent no letter."
"And the way to compose a message, or to understand a message, has to do with the large sheets of squares which Chloe and I filled in."
"Precisely," said Desmond of Harfax. "It is only necessary that the sender and the receiver of the message use a corresponding sheet of squares, of which there could be an indefinite number, but which, to date seems to consist of one hundred sheets."
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.
There is a game called Blind Kaissa.
It is played in the training of high officers, in Ar, in Treve, in Kasra, and Jad, even in far Turia.
It is played much like ordinary Kaissa save that there are two boards, separated by a vertical screen, precluding each player from seeing the moves of the other. An arbiter is at hand who can see both boards. It is his role to warn against illegal moves, and to announce captures, threats to the Home Stone, and such. In this manner, as neither player can see either his opponent or his opponent's moves, a premium is placed on intuition, sensitivity, reading the character and nature of the opponent and probable conjecture. Such situations are not unprecedented in war, where one may not know the position of the enemy, the forces at his disposal, his plans, where he might strike, and so on. One gambles. On the board one may lose pieces; in the field one may lose cities.
One of the most interesting castes is that of the Players, who live by means of a board game called 'Kaissa'. In most cases, they will sell a game for a tarsk-bit, but, in certain cases, certain Players, such as Scormus, of Ar, or Centius, of Cos, may receive as much as a golden tarn for a single game. The best players are entitled to set their boards on the highest bridges. Membership in the caste is not determined by birth, but, as with the Warriors, by skill. Most Players do not make much of a living, but they have seen, I gather, as many have not, the beauty of the game. Important matches are often wagered on, and, sometimes, take place at the Sardar Fairs. The Sardar Fairs, so to speak, are treaty grounds, where lethal enemies may sit side by side, observing the great boards, where the match movements are posted. At the times of important matches, even the roads to the Fairs, within a circuit of a hundred pasangs, are deemed treaty grounds.
Two men on board were Players, members of the checkered caste. They were playing "speech kaissa," or "boardless kaissa," announcing to one another their moves and countermoves.
"He may be of the scarlet caste," said Ina. "It is said he is adept in the kaissa of the sword."