These are relevant references from the Books where Kurii are mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
It is not my intention here to provide every single reference to the Kurii.
Instead it is simply my intent to provide a description so as to gain an understanding of them.
It was an incredibly hideous, large-eyed, furred thing. It had wide, pointed ears. It stood perhaps eight or nine feet high. It may have weighed seven or eight hundred pounds. It had a wide, two-nostriled, leathery snout. Its mouth was huge, large enough to take a man's head into it, and it was rimmed with two rows of stout fangs. There were four larger fangs, long and curved, for grasping, in the position of the canines. The upper two fangs protruded at the side of the jaws when its mouth was closed. It had a long, dark tongue. Its forelegs were larger than its hind legs. I had seen it move, shambling on its hind legs, and on the knuckles of its forelegs, but now I saw that what I had taken as forelegs were not unlike arms and hands. Indeed, they had six digits, several jointed, almost like tentacles, which terminated in clawlike growths, which had been blunted and filed. It also had claws on its hind legs, or feet, which were retractable, as the mountebank demonstrated, issuing sharp voice commands to the beast. The hind legs, or feet, like the forelegs, or hands, if one may so speak, were also six-digited and multiply jointed. They were large and spreading. The claws, as I saw when they were exposed, upon the order of the mountebank, were better than four inches long, curved and sharp. I could not even determine in my mind whether to think of it as a four-footed animal, with unusual prehensile forelegs, or as something manlike, with two legs and two arms, with hands. It was tailless.
Perhaps most horrifying were the eyes. They were large and black-pupiled. For an instant I thought they rested upon me, and saw me, but not as an animal sees, but as something might see that is not an animal. Then, again, they were simple and vacant, those of a mountebank's performing beast.
The beast looked at me, and yawned. I saw the two rows of white fangs. Then, sleepily, it began to nibble at the fur of its right paw, grooming it.
It seemed incredibly huge, even more so in the small hut than earlier outside of Targo's compound. It was like a glistening, somnolent boulder of fur, alive, hundreds of pounds in weight. The eyes were large, black, round, the snout wide, two-nostriled and leathery. I shuddered at its mouth, and fangs, the upper two protruding downwards at the sides of its jaws. Its lips were wet from the saliva from its long, dark tongue, which, with its teeth, it was using to groom the fur on its right paw. The strike of those jaws could, with one wrenching twist, have torn away the shoulder of a man.
Suddenly the beast made a noise. It was a rumble, a growl. I stiffened, and turned.
It had lifted its head. Its wide, pointed ears lifted. It was listening.
The man, and I, watched the beast, I, frightened, he, alert, cautious.
His eyes seemed to meet those of the beast, and the beast seemed to look at him. Then it had lifted its lips away from its teeth, and looked away, its ears still lifted. It growled again.
"It is a sleen outside," said the man.
"When I was brought here," I said, "twice the band caught the scent of a sleen."
The man looked at me. "It was stalking you," he said, "you, and the others."
"Perhaps there were different sleen," I whispered.
"Perhaps," he said.
The beast now crouched on the straw, its nostrils wide in the leathery snout, its eyes bright and black, the ears lifted.
Then to my horror I observed the beast. It lifted its large paws to its throat. The paws were six-digited, several jointed, almost like furred tentacles, surmounted by clawlike growths, blunted, filed. It unfastened the buckled collar at its throat and cast it aside.
Then, with a cry of rage, it leapt toward the sleen. The two animals locked in combat. The sleen came through the window, scrambling through, biting and tearing. The beast seized it about the throat, its great jaws biting at the throat and vertebrae. The two animals rolled in the small hut, twisting, squealing, hissing, scattering the benches and table. Then, with a horrifying snap of bone and tearing of flesh and fur the jaws of the beast bit through the back of the sleen's neck. It stood there then, holding the body of the sleen in its claws, its mouth dropping fur and blood. The body of the sleen twisted compulsively. The beast turned to regard us.
"Do the beasts often bother you?" I asked.
"No," said Ivar. "They seldom hunt this far to the south."
"They are rational," I told him. "They have a language."
"That is known to me," said Ivar.
I did not tell Ivar that those he knew as Kurii, or the beasts, were actually specimens of an alien race, that they, or those in their ships, were locked in war with Priest-Kings for the domination of two worlds, Gor and the Earth. In these battles, unknown to most men, even of Gor, from time to time, ships of the Kurii had been shattered and fallen to the surface. It was the practice of Priest-Kings to destroy the wrecks of such ships but, usually, at least, they did not attempt to hunt and exterminate survivors. If the marooned Kurii abided by the weapon and technology laws of Priest-Kings, they, like men, another life form, were permitted to survive. The Kurii I knew were beasts of fierce, terrible instincts, who regarded humans, and other beasts, as food. Blood, as to the shark, was an agitant to their systems. They were extremely powerful, and highly intelligent, though their intellectual capacities, like those of humans, were far below those of Priest-Kings. Fond of killing, and technologically advanced, they were, in their way, worthy adversaries of Priest-Kings. Most lived in ships, the steel wolves of space, their instincts bridled, to some extent, by Ship Loyalty, Ship Law. It was thought that their own world had been destroyed. This seemed plausible, when one considered their ferocity and greed, and what might be its implementation in virtue of an advanced technology. Their own world destroyed, the Kurii now wished another.
The Kurii, of course, with which the men of Torvaldsland might have had dealings, might have been removed by as much as generations from the Kurii of the ships. It was regarded as one of the great dangers of the war, however, that the Kurii of the ships might make contact with, and utilize, the Kurii of Gor in their schemes.
Men and the Kurii, where they met, which was usually only in the north, regarded one another as mortal enemies. The Kurii not unoften fed on men, and men, of course, in consequence, attempted to hunt and slay, when they could, the beasts. Usually, however, because of the power and ferocity of the beasts, men would hunt them only to the borders of their own districts, particularly if only the loss of a bosk or thrall was involved. It was usually regarded as quite sufficient, even by the men of Torvaldsland, to drive one of the beasts out of their own district. They were especially pleased when they had managed to harry one into the district of an enemy.
We looked down at the remains of a bosk, torn apart eaten through. Even large bones had been broken, snapped apparently in mighty jaws, the marrow sucked from them. The brains, too, had been scooped, with a piece of wood, from the skull.
"Did you not know," asked Ivar Forkbeard, "of what animal this is the work?"
"No," I said.
"This has been killed by one of the Kurii," he said.
For four days we hunted the animal, but we did not find it. Though the kill was recent, we found no trace of the predator.
"We must find it," had said the Forkbeard. "It must learn it cannot with impunity hunt on the lands of Forkbeard."
But we did not find it. We did not have a feast, as we had intended, on the night on which the bosk had been found eaten, nor on the next nights. In vain we hunted. The men grew angry, sullen, apprehensive. Even the bond-maids no longer laughed and sported. There might, for all we knew, be somewhere in the lands of Ivar Forkbeard one of the Kurii.
"It must have left the district," said Ottar, on the fourth night.
"There have been no further kills," pointed out Gautrek, the smith, who had hunted with us.
"Do you think it is the one who killed the verr last month " I asked Ottar, "and similarly disappeared?"
"I do not know," said Ottar. "It could be, for those of the Kurii are quite rare this far to the south."
"It may have been driven far its own kind," said the Forkbeard, "one too vicious even to be tolerated in its own caves."
"It might, too," said Ottar, "be insane or ignorant."
"Perhaps," suggested Gorm, "it is diseased or injured, and can no longer hunt the swift deer of the north?"
In these cases, too, I supposed one of the Kurii might be driven, by teeth and claws, from its own caves. Kurii, I suspected, those of Gor as well as those of the ships, did not tolerate weakness.
It was not more than ten feet from me. It lifted its face from the half-eaten body of a man. Its eyes, large, round, blazed in the light of the torch. I heard the screaming of bond-maids, the movements of their chains. Their ankles were held by their fetters. "Weapons!" cried the Forkbeard. "Kur! Kur!" I heard men cry. The beast stood there, blinking, bent over the body. It was unwilling to surrender it. Its fur was sable, mottled with white. Its ears, large, pointed and wide, were laid back flat against its head. It was perhaps seven feet tall and weighed four or five hundred pounds. Its snout was wide, leathery. There were two nostrils, slitlike. Its tongue was dark. It had two rows of fangs, four of which were particularly prominent, those in the first row of fangs, above and below, in the position of canines; of these, the upper two were particularly long, and curved. Its arms were longer and larger than its legs; it held the body it was devouring in clawed, pawlike hands, yet six-digited, extrajointed, almost like tentacles. It hissed, and howled and, eyes blazing, fangs bared, threatened us.
"This is a small Kur," said the Forkbeard. "They are generally larger. Note the mottling of white. Those are disease marks."
"I hope," I said, "that it was not because of me that it came to the hall."
"No," said the Forkbeard. "In the dark they have excellent vision. If it had been you it sought, it would have been you it killed."
"Why did it enter the hall?" I asked.
"Kurii," said Ivar Forkbeard, "are fond of human flesh."
Humans, like other animals, I knew, are regarded by those of the Kurii as a form of food.
The thing, its head lifted, surveyed the assembly of free men. The pupils of its eyes, in the sunlight, were extremely small and black. They were like points in the yellowish green cornea. I knew that, in darkness, they could swell, like dark moons, to fill almost the entire optic orifice, some three or four inches in width. Evolution, on some distant, perhaps vanished world, had adapted this life form for both diurnal and nocturnal hunting. Doubtless, like the cat, it hunted when hungry, and its efficient visual capacities, like those of the cats, meant that there was no time of the day or night when it might not be feared. Its head was approximately the width of the chest of a large man. It had a flat snout, with wide nostrils. Its ears were large, and pointed. They lifted from the side of its head, listening, and then lay back against the furred sides of the head. Kurii, I had been told, usually, in meeting men, laid the ears back against the sides of their heads, to increase their resemblance to humans. The ears are often laid back, also, incidentally, in hostility or anger, and, always, in its attacks. It is apparently physiologically impossible for a Kur to attack without its shoulders hunching, its claws emerging, and its ears lying back against the head. The nostrils of the beast drank in what information it wished, as they, like its eyes, surveyed the throng. The trailing capacities of the Kurii are not as superb as those of the sleen, but they were reputed to be the equal of those of larls. The hearing, similarly, is acute. Again it is equated with that of the larl, and not the sharply-sensed sleen. There was little doubt that the day vision of the Kurii was equivalent to that of men, if not superior, and the night vision, of course, was infinitely superior; their sense of smell, too, of course, was incomparably superior to that of men, and their sense of hearing as well. Moreover, they, like men, were rational. Like men, they were a single-brained organism, limited by a spinal column. Their intelligence, by Priest-Kings, though the brain was much larger, was rated as equivalent to that of men, and showed similar random distributions throughout gene pools. What made them such dreaded foes was not so much their intelligence or, on the steel worlds, their technological capacities, as their aggressiveness, their persistence their emotional commitments, their need to populate and expand, their innate savagery. The beast was approximately nine feet in height; I conjectured its weight in the neighborhood of eight or nine hundred pounds. Interestingly, Priest-Kings, who are not visually oriented organisms, find little difference between Kurii and men. To me this seems preposterous, for ones so wise as Priest-Kings, but, in spite of its obvious falsity, Priest-Kings regard the Kurii and men as rather similar, almost equivalent species. One difference they do remark between the human and the Kur, and that is that the human, commonly, has an inhibition against killing. This inhibition the Kur lacks.
The Kur has two rows of fangs. Its mouth is large enough to take into it the head of a full-grown man. Its canines, in the front row of fangs, top and bottom, are long. When it closes its mouth the upper two canines project over the lower lip and jaw. Its tongue is long and dark, the interior of its mouth reddish.
Behind the Kur, to one side, stood two other Kurii. They, like the first, were fearsome creatures. Each carried a wide, round shield, of iron, some four feet in diameter. Each, too, carried a great, double-bladed iron ax, which, from blade tip to blade tip, was some two feet in width. The handle of the ax was of carved, green needle wood, round, some four inches in diameter. The axes were some seven or eight feet in height. The speaker was not armed, save by the natural ferocity of his species. As he spoke, his claws were retracted. About his left arm, which was some seven feet in length, was a spiral golden armlet. It was his only adornment. The two Kurii behind him, each, had a golden pendant hanging from the bottom of each ear. The prehensile paws, or hands, of the Kurii are six-digited and multiple jointed. The legs are thick and short. In spite of the shortness of the legs the Kur can, when it wishes, by utilizing its upper appendages, in the manner of a prairie simian, like the baboon, move with great rapidity. It becomes, in running, what is, in effect, a four-footed animal. It has the erect posture, permitting brain development and facilitating acute binocular vision, of a biped. This posture, too, of course, greatly increases the scanning range of the visual sensors. But, too, its anatomy permits it to function, in flight and attack, much as a four-legged beast. For short distances it can outrun a full-grown tarsk. It is also said to possess great stamina, but of this I am much less certain. Few animals, which have not been trained, have, or need, stamina. An exception would be pack hunters, like the wolves or hunting dogs of Earth.
I knew that Kurii did not, for the most part, inhabit areas frequented by men. On the other hand, the Kurii on the platform, and other Kurii I had encountered, had been dark-furred, either brownish, or brownish red or black. I wondered if it were only the darker furred Kurii that roamed southward. But if these Kurii on the platform were snow-adapted, their fur did not suggest this. I wondered if they might be from the steel ships, either recently, or within too few generations for a snow-adaptation pattern to have been developed. If the Kurii were sufficiently successful, of course, there would be no particular likelihood of evolution selecting for snow adaptation. Too, it could be that, in summer, the Kurii shed white fur and developed, in effect, a summer coat. Still I regarded it unlikely that these Kurii were from as far north as his words might suggest.
The assembly broke into laughter. It filled the field. The Kur did not seem angry at the laughter. I wondered if it understood laughter. To the Kur it might be only a human noise, as meaningless to him as the cries of whales to us.
"You are amused," it said.
The Kurii, then, had some understanding of laugher. Its own lips then drew back, revealing the fangs. I then understood this clearly as a smile.
That the Kurii possessed a sense of humor did not much reassure me as to their nature. I wondered rather at what sort of situations it would take as its object. The cat, if rational, might find amusement in the twitching and trembling of the mouse which it is destroying, particle by particle. That a species laughs bespeaks its intelligence, its capacity to reason, not its goodness, not its harmlessness. Like a knife; reason is innocent; like a knife, its application is a function of the hand that grasps it, the energies and will which drive it.
The Kur stepped back with the other Kurii. They spoke together in one of the languages of the Kurii, for there are, I understood, in the steel worlds, nations and races of such beasts. I could hear little of what they said. I could detect, however, that it more resembled the snarls and growling of larls than the converse of rational creatures.
"I have here," called Svein Blue Tooth, "a bucket of Sa-Tarna grain. This, in token of hospitality, I offer to our guest."
The Kur looked into the bucket, at the yellow grain. I saw the claws on the right paw briefly expose themselves, then, swiftly, draw within the softness of the furred, multiple digited appendage.
"I thank the great Jarl," said the beast, "and fine grain it is. It will be our hope to have such good fortune with our own crops in the south. But I must decline to taste your gift for we, like men, and unlike bosk, do not feed on raw grain."
The Jarl, then, took, from the hands of Ivar Forkbeard's man, the leather-wrapped object.
It was a round, flat, six-sectioned loaf of Sa-Tarna bread.
The Kur looked at it. I could not read his expression.
"Feed," invited Svein Blue Tooth.
The Kur reached out and took the loaf. "I shall take this to my camp," it said, "as a token of the good will of the men of Torvaldsland."
"Feed," invited Svein Blue Tooth.
The two Kurii behind the speaker growled, soft, like irritated larls.
It made the hair on my neck rise to hear them, for I knew they had spoken to one another.
The Kur looked upon the loaf, as we might have looked on grass, or wood, or the shell of a turtle.
Then, slowly, he put it in his mouth. Scarcely had he swallowed it than he howled with nausea, and cast it up.
I knew then that this Kur, if not all, was carnivorous.
It threw back its head and opened its jaws, eyes blazing, and uttered the blood roar of the aroused Kur; then it bent over, regarding us, shoulders hunched, its claws leaping from its soft, furred sheaths; it then laid its ears back flat against the sides of its great head.
No one could move.
Then, other Kurii behind it, crowding about it, past it, it shrieked, lips drawn back, with a hideous sound, which, somehow, from its lips and mien, and mostly from its eyes, I took to be a sign of pleasure, of anticipation; I would learn later that this sound is instinctively uttered by Kurii when they are preparing to take blood. This cry, like a stimulus, acted upon the others, as well; almost instantly, with the velocity that the stranger signal can course through a pack of urts, this shriek was picked up by those with it; then, the hall filled with their horrid howling, eyes blazing, led by the Kur with the golden band, frenzied by the blood shriek, they leaped forward, great axes flailing.
I saw a man-at-arms lifted, back broken, in the black, furred, tentacled hand of one of the marauders. The thing roared, head back. The white fangs seemed scarlet in the light of the fires from the roof. Then it threw the man more than a hundred feet against the back of the hall. I saw another man-at-arms hanging from the jaws of a Kur. He was still alive. His eyes betrayed shock, staring blindly outward. I do not think he saw. I suspect he was in pain. He was alive, but I did not think he any longer felt. He doubtless understood what was occurring but, to him, somehow, it did not seem of concern. It was as though it were happening to someone else. Then the Kur's jaws closed. For the least instant there was a terrifying recognition in the eyes. Then he was bitten through.
Men came before them and threw themselves to their knees, that they might be spared, even were it but for the Ahn, but these, like others, no differences drawn between them, were cut down, destroyed by strokes of the swift axes. Kurii take prisoners only when it pleases them.
The blood of Kurii, like that of men, is red, and of similar chemical composition. It is another similarity adduced by Priest-Kings when they wish to argue the equivalence of the warring species. The major difference between the blood content of the Kur and of men is that the plasma of the Kur contains a greater percentage of salt, this acting in water primarily as a protein solvent. The Kur can eat and digest quantities of meat which would kill a man.
He then brushed past the Kur. I felt its fur as I moved by it. It was smooth, not unpleasant to the touch, some two inches or so in depth. Its body, beneath the fur, was hot, large.
Kurii are excellent climbers, well fitted for this activity with their multiple jointed hands and feet, their long fingers, their suddenly extendable claws, but they followed us, nonetheless, with difficulty.
Below us, in the valley, we could see the coals of thousands of fires in the camp of the Kurii. They slept, curled, several in each shelter. The field shelters of the Kurii are made of skins and furs, arched over bent saplings. Each is little more than four or five feet high, with a comparable width, but is fifty or sixty feet in length, some being as long as a hundred feet in length. These shelters, too, are often curved and irregular in outline; sometimes they adjoin one another, with entrances giving mutual access. They resemble caves, sometimes networks of caves, constructed in the open. Kurii drop to all fours to enter and leave them. No Kur enjoys sleeping exposed. If in a field they will sometimes even burrow into the ground, almost like a sleen, and cover the opening with grass and sticks from the bottom. It always sleeps with its head toward the opening.
A typical Kurii foraging squad consists of six animals, called a "hand," with its "eye," or leader. Two such "hands" with their "eyes," constitutes a "Kur," or "Beast." The military Kur, in this sense a unit, is commanded by a "Blood" This seems peculiar perhaps but is explained by ancient Kurii belief, that thought is a function of the blood. One "thinks" thus with one's entire body, not just the brain. Contemporary Kurii understand, naturally, that cognitive processes brain-centered, or largely brain-centered, but the ancient terminology, in their songs, poetry, and even military lexicon, remains. Analogously, humans continue to speak of affairs of the heart, a man of good heart, that someone has a big heart, etc., which terminology perhaps lingers from the when the heart was regarded not as a chemo-mechanical pump but as the throne and home of the emotions. The commander of a military Kur, thus, might better be thought of as the "brain" or "mind," but continues, in their languages, to be spoken of as the "blood." A "blood" thus commands the two eyes and the two hands. Twelve "Kurs," the sense of military units, constitutes one "Band." This one hundred and eight animals, including subalterns leaders, and is itself commanded by a "Blood," whose rank is indicated by two rings on the left arm. Twelve of these Bands constitutes a March. A March thus consists of 2,160 animals, or, counting the commanders of each Band, 2,172 animals. A March is commanded by a Blood, whose rank is indicated by one ring on the left arm. The rings of rank are quite plain, being of some reddish alloy, and are distinguished from decorative rings, of which many Kurii are fond. Kurii, generally, like men, seem vain beasts, there appears to be an inverse correlation between height of rank and intricacy and variety of ornamentation. The higher the rank the simpler is likely to be the ornamentation. The commander, or Blood, of a March wears only a single, simple reddish ring. Whether or not this simplicity is honored off duty, so to speak, or in their privacy, I do not know. I further do not know the full significance of the rings. I do not understand how they are earned, or what is involved in moving from the "second ring" to the "first ring." I do know that rings are welded on the wrists of the beasts. The iron files of the Goreans, incidentally, will not cut the alloy. They may be obtained, of course, by the severing of the arm. Why the conjunction of bands is spoken of as a "March" is also unclear. This may refer to a military march, of course, but, I suspect, the term being apparently ancient, that it may also refer to migrations in the remote history of the Kurii, on their own world, putatively no longer existent or viable. There is some indirect evidence that this may be the case, because twelve "Marches" are referred to not as a Division or Army, or some such unit, but rather as a "People". A People would be commanded by a "Blood" of the People. Such a commander is said to stand "outside the rings." I do not fully understand the meaning of this expression. The Kurii, as I may have mentioned, consist of several "Peoples." Not all of these "Peoples" speak the same language, and, I gather, there are differences among, and within, each People. For example, differences in marking, in texture of fur, in temperament, in tooth arrangement, in ear shape, and so on. These differences, negligible from the point of view of humans, are apparently of considerable importance among the Kurii themselves. The human, pursued by such an animal, is not likely to be concerned about the width of its ears or the mottling of its fur. Kurii, in their past, at least, were apparently torn by internecine strife, disrupted by "racial" and "civil" wars among themselves. It is not impossible that the defertilization or destruction of their former home was a consequence of such altercations. No Kur, however, I am told, of whatever race or type, will eat the meat of another. This is interesting, considering the ferocity of their carnivorous dispositions. They hold the human, unfortunately, in no such regard. It will be noted that the military arrangements of the Kurii are based on the number twelve or divisors and multiples of twelve. Kurii use, I understand, a base-twelve mathematics. The prehensible, appendage of the normal Kur is six digited.
Sometimes the foraging squads of the Kurii had been accompanied by trained sleen, often four of them. Twice, in my reconnoitering, I had had to kill such beasts. The sleen have various uses; some are merely used as watch animals or guard animals; others are used as points in the advance of squads, some trained to attack putative enemies, others to return to the squad, thus alerting it to the presence of a possible enemy; others are even more highly trained, and are used to hunt humans; of the human-hunting sleen, some are trained merely to kill, and others to hurry the quarry to a Kurii holding area; one type of sleen is trained to destroy males and herd females, distinguishing between the sexes by scent. A sleen may bring a girl in, stumbling and weeping, from pasangs away, driving her, as Kurii take little notice, through their very camp, until she is entered into a herd. Four days ago I had seen a girl drive, in which several sleen, fanning out over a large area of territory, had scented out scattered, hiding slave girls and, from various points, driven them into a blind canyon, where a waiting Kur had swung shut a wooden gate on them, fastening them inside. Sleen are also used to patrol the large return marches of groups of foraging expeditions, those marches between the temporary holding areas and the main camp. The order of such a march is typically as follows; captured humans, in single file, form its center. These humans are usually thralls and bond-maids, but not always. The spoils are carried by the captured male humans, unless there are too many, and then the residue is divided among the bond-maids. Kurii burden the males heavily; they can think of little more than the weight they carry, and the next step; furthermore, their wrists are usually tied to the straps of their improvised backpacks. Kurii, unlike Goreans, do not subject bond-maids to heavy labor; it toughens their meat; the bond-maids are separated from the males, that they be deprived of leadership; furthermore, the technique of keeping prisoners in single file, separating them by some feet, and preventing speech between them, tends to make conjoint action between them unlikely. Prowling the long single-file of prisoners, male and female, in alternate groups, bond-maids thus used to separate files of men from one another, will be sleen. Should any individual, either male or female, depart by so much as a yard from the line of march, or attempt to close the gap between himself and a fellow prisoner, the sleen prevent this. Once I saw a girl stumble and two sleen, immediately, snarling and hissing, sprang toward her. She leaped, weeping, to her feet and darted to her precise place in the line, keeping it perfectly, casting terrified glances at the vicious predators. The line of prisoners and sleen is, on both sides, flanked by the Kurii foragers. There are thus five lines, the center line of prisoners and spoils, its flanking lines of sleen, and, on either side, the flanking lines of the Kur foragers. Human prisoners of Kurii, incidentally, are usually stripped; Kurii see no reason to give animals clothing.
I looked now beyond Telima. I saw now, head first, then shoulders, then body, a Kur, climbing to the surface of the Skerry. It was large, even for a Kur, some nine feet in height. Its weight, I conjectured, was some eight or nine hundred pounds. Its arms were some seven feet m length. About its left arm was a spiral band of gold. It carried, on its shoulder, a large, long, flattish object, wrapped in purple cloth, dark in the dusk.
As long as the Kurii remained behind the fifth ring, that determined by the orbit of the planet called on Earth Jupiter, on Gor, Hersius, after a legendary hero of Ar, the Priest-Kings were little concerned with them. They had no objection if such ravening wolves prowled their fences, and scratched at their very gates. "They, like men, are an interesting life form," once had said Misk to me. But now the Kurii worlds, sensing the weakness of the Sardar, following the Nest War, damages that had destroyed their basic power source and had split the very Nest open to the sky, prowled more closely. The worlds, now, or several of them, we understood, concealed, shielded, lurked well within the asteroid belt. Contact points, bases, had been established, it seemed, on the shores of Earth itself. The major probe of Kurii, the organization of native Kurii by ship Kurii, had taken place recently. It had failed. It had been stopped in Torvaldsland. Ship Kurii, still, then, did not know the extent to which the power of Priest-Kings remained crippled. This was the major advantage which we now held. Kurii, cautious, like sharks, did not wish to commit their full attack until assured of its success.
Few, if any humans, in my opinion, could long follow an adult Kur. They are agile, highly intelligent beasts. Their senses are unusually keen. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to trail, perhaps for weeks, such a keen-sensed, wary, suspicious creature. It would be almost suicidal, in my opinion, to attempt it. Sooner or later the beast would become aware of the pursuit. At that point the hunter would become the hunted. The night vision of the Kur is superb.
"Priest-Kings are formidable enemies," said I.
"Not so formidable as Kurii," said he. "The Kur," said he, "is persistent. It is tenacious. It is fierce. It will have its way. The Priest-Kings will fall. They will fail."
I thought that what he said might be true. The Kur is determined, aggressive, merciless. It is highly intelligent, it lusts for blood, it will kill for territory and meat. The Priest-King is a relatively gentle organism, delicate and stately. It has little interest in conflict; its military posture is almost invariably defensive; it asks little more than to be left alone. I did not know if Priest-Kings, with all their brilliance, and all their great stores of knowledge on their scent-tapes, had a glandular and neurological system with which the motivations and nature of Kurii could be understood. The true nature of the Kurii might elude them, almost physiologically, like a menacing color they could not see, a terrible sound to which their sensors were almost inert. A man, I felt, could know a Kur, but Priest-Kings, I suspected, could only know about a Kur. They could know about them, but they could not know them. To know a Kur one must, perhaps, in the moonlight, face it with an ax, smell the musk of its murderous rage, see the eyes, the intelligence, the sinuous, hunched might of it, the blood black at its jaws, hear the blood cry, stand against its charge. A creature who had not known hatred, lust and terror, I suspected, would be ill-fitted to understand the Kur, or men.
I walked about the Kur, which closed its eyes. Its fur was coated with sand.
I crouched down near it. It opened its eyes, and regarded me.
On its left forepaw, or hand, on one of the six digits, was a heavy ring, seemingly of gold.
I had not seen such an ornament on a Kur before. I had seen rings of the sort worn on arms and wrists, and earrings, but no ring of the sort which might encircle a digit. Many Kurii are vain beasts.
I supposed men had few enemies as terrible as the fearsome Kur, unless it be other men. Such beasts and Priest-Kings were locked in relentless war, two worlds, two planets, Gor and Earth lying at the stake. Men seemed puny allies to either species. Before me lay my enemy, helpless.
I lifted the shaggy head, more than a foot wide. Between the rows of fangs, the bag over my shoulder, I thrust the spike of the water bag.
We know little about that species of animal called the Kur. We do know it is blood-thirsty, that it feeds on human flesh and that it is concerned with glory.
"It is not unlike men," had once said Misk to me, a Priest-King.
This story, in its way, has no clear beginning. It began, I suppose, some thousands of years ago when Kurii, in internecine wars, destroyed the viability of a native world. Their state at that time was sufficiently advanced technologically to construct small steel worlds in orbit, each some pasangs in diameter. The remnants of a shattered species then, as a world burned below them, turned hunting to the plains of the stars.
We do not know how long their hunt took. But we do know the worlds, long ago, entered the system of a slow-revolving, medium-sized yellow star occupying a peripheral position in one of nature's bounteous, gleaming, strewn spiral universes.
They had found their quarry, a world.
They had found two worlds, one spoken of as Earth, the other as Gor.
One of these worlds was a world poisoning itself, a pathological world insane and short-sighted, greed-driven and self-destructive. The other was a pristine world, virginal in its beauty and fertility, one not permitted by its masters, called the Sardar, or Priest-Kings, to follow the example of its tragic sister. Priest-Kings would not permit men to destroy Gor. They are not permissive; they are intolerant of genocide. Perhaps it is hard to understand why they do not permit men to destroy Gor. Are they not harsh and cruel, to deny to men this pleasure? Perhaps. But, too, they are rational. And one may be rational, perhaps, without being weak. Indeed, is not weakness the ultimate irrationality? Gor, too, it must be remembered, is also the habitat of the Sardar, or Priest-Kings. They have not chosen to be weak. This choice may be horrifying to those of Earth, so obsessed with their individualism, their proclaimed rights and liberties, but it is one they have chosen to make. I do not defend it. I only report it. Dispute it with them who will.
"Half-Ear is now among us," Samos had said.
I stared at the ceiling, watching the shifting shadows and reflections from the small, perforated lamp.
The Priest-kings, for thousands of years, had defended the system of the yellow star against the depredations of the prowling Kurii. Fortunes had shifted perhaps dozens of times, but never had the Kurii managed to establish a beachhead on the shores of this beautiful world. But some years ago, in the time of the Nest War, the power of the Priest-Kings was considerably reduced. I do not think the Kurii are certain of this, or of the extent of the reduction.
I think if they knew the truth in these matters the code-words would flash between the steel worlds, the ports would open, and the ships would nose forth, turning toward Gor.
But the Kur, like the shark and sleen, is a cautious beast.
He prowls, he tests the wind, and then, when he is certain, he makes his strike.
Samos was much disturbed that the high Kur, it referred to as Half-Ear, was now upon the surface of this world. We had discovered this from an enciphered message, fallen into our hands, hidden in the beads of a necklace.
That Half-Ear had come to Gor was taken by Samos and Priest-Kings as evidence that the invasion was imminent.
Perhaps even now the ships of Kurii flamed toward Gor, as purposeful and silent as sharks in the waters of space's night.
But I did not think so.
I did not think the invasion was imminent.
It was my surmise that the Kur, it called Half-Ear, had come to prepare the way for the invasion.
He had come to make smooth the path, to ready the sands of Gor for the keels of the steel ships.
He must be stopped.
Should he discover the weakness of the Priest-Kings, or construct a depot adequate to fuel, to shield and supply the beaching ships, there seemed little reason to suppose the invasion would not prove successful.
Kurii, like Priest-Kings, often work through men, concealing themselves from those who would serve them. Samos, for example, had little inkling of the nature of Priest-Kings.
"An ice beast!" cried Akko.
The other figure was that, clearly, shambling, long-armed, of a white-pelted Kur.
White-pelted Kurii are called ice beasts by the red hunters. These animals usually hunt from ice floes in the summer, generally far out at sea. Unlike most Kurii, they have an affinity for water, and are fond of it. In the winter, when the sea freezes, they occasionally rove inland. There are different races of Kur.
"The beasts," she said, "move mostly at night. I sometimes hear their claws on the plates outside my kennel. There must be some light for them. But it is too dark for the human eye to see."
I nodded, understanding. The Kur, though its activities are not limited to the darkness, tends, on the whole, in most of its varieties, to be a predominantly nocturnal animal. Its hunt, and its day, commonly begins with the fall of darkness.
The beast was then silent.
"Are you hungry?" I heard. The sounds, separate, had been emitted from the dark, flattish, boxlike object on the table. It was, then, a translator.
"Not particularly," I said.
After a moment a set of sounds, brief, like a growl, came from the translator. I smiled.
The beast shrugged. It shambled to the side of the room, and there pressed a switch.
A metal panel slid up. I heard a squeal and a small animal, a lart, fled from within toward the opening. It happened quickly. The large six-digited paw of the beast closed about the lart, hideously squealing, and lifted it to its mouth, where it bit through the back of its neck, spitting out vertebrae. The lart, dead, but spasmodically trembling, was then held in the beast's mouth. It then, with its claws freed, opened its furs and, by feel, delicately, regarding me, fingered out various organs which it laid on the floor before it. In moments it had removed the animal from its mouth. Absently, removing meat from the carcass, it fed.
"You do not cook your meat?" I asked.
The translator, turned on, accepted the human phonemes, processed them, and, momentarily, produced audible, correspondent phonemes in one of the languages of the Kur.
The beast responded. I waited.
"We sometimes do," he said. It looked at me. "Cooked meat weakens the jaws," it said.
"We have three, or, if you prefer, four sexes," it said. "There is the dominant, which would, I suppose, correspond most closely to the human male. It is the instinct of the dominant to enter the killings and mate. There is then a form of Kur which closely resembles the dominant but does not join in the killings or mate. You may, or may not, regard this as two sexes. There is then the egg-carrier who is impregnated. This form of Kur is smaller than the dominant or the non-dominant, speaking thusly of the non-reproducing form of Kur."
"The egg-carrier is the female," I said.
"If you like," said the beast, "but, shortly after impregnation, within a moon, the egg-carrier deposits the fertilized seed in the third form of Kur, which is mouthed, but sluggish and immobile. These fasten themselves to hard surfaces, rather like dark, globular anemones. The egg develops inside the body of the blood-nurser and, some months later, it tears its way free."
"It has no mother," I said.
"Not in the human sense," it said. "It will, however, usually follow, unless it itself is a blood-nurser, which is drawn out, the first Kur it sees, providing it is either an egg-carrier or a nondominant."
"What if it sees a dominant?" I asked.
"If it is itself an egg-carrier or a nondominant, it will shun the dominant," it said. "This is not unwise, for the dominant may kill it."
"What if it itself is potentially a dominant?" I asked.
The lips of the beast drew back. "That is what all hope," it said. "If it is a dominant and it encounters a dominant, it will bare its tiny fangs and expose its claws."
"Will the dominant not kill it then?" I asked.
"Perhaps later in the killings, when it is large and strong," he said, "but certainly not when it is small. It is on such that the continuance of the species depends. You see, it must be tested in the killings."
"Are you a dominant?" I asked.
"Of course," it said. Then it added, "I shall not kill you for the question."
"I meant no harm," I said.
Its lips drew back.
"Are most Kurii dominants?" I asked.
"Most are born dominants," it said, "but most do not survive the killings."
"It seems surprising that there are many Kurii," I said.
"Not at all," he said. "The egg-carriers can be frequently impregnated and frequently deposit the fertilized egg in a blood-nurser. There are large numbers of blood-nursers. In the human species it takes several months for a female to carry and deliver an offspring. In the same amount of time a Kur egg-carrier will develop seven to eight eggs, each of which may be fertilized and deposited in a blood-nurser."
"Do Kur young not drink milk?" I asked.
"The young receive blood in the nurser," he said. "When it is born it does not need milk, but water and common protein."
"It is born fanged?" I asked.
"Of course," it said. "And it is capable of stalking and killing small animals shortly after it leaves the nurser."
"Are the nursers rational?" I asked.
"We do not think so," it said.
"Can they feel anything?" I asked.
"They doubtless have some form of sensation," it said. "They recoil when struck or burned."
"But there are native Kurii on Gor," I said, "or, at any rate, Kurii who have reproduced themselves on this world."
"Certain ships, some of them originally intended for colonization, carried representatives of our various sexes, with the exception of the nondominants," it said. "We have also, where we knew of Kurii groups, sometimes managed to bring in egg-carriers and blood-nursers."
"It is to your advantage that there be native Kurii," I said. "Of course," he said, "yet they are seldom useful allies. They lapse too swiftly into barbarism." He lowered the bone with which he was picking his teeth and threw it, and the remains of the lart, to the side of the room. He then took a soft, white cloth from a drawer in the table on which the translator reposed, and wiped his paws. "Civilization is fragile," he said.
"Is there an order among your sexes?" I asked.
"Of course there is a biological order," he said. "Structure is a function of nature. How could it be otherwise?
"There is first the dominant, and then the egg-carrier, and then the nondominant, and then, if one considers such things Kur, the blood-nurser."
"The female, or egg-carrier, is dominant over the non-dominant?" I asked.
"Of course," he said. "They are despicable."
"Suppose a dominant is victorious in the killings," I said. "Then what occurs?"
"Many things could occur," he said, "but he then, generally, with a club, would indicate what egg-carriers he desires. He then ties them together and drives them to his cave. In the cave he impregnates them and makes them serve him."
"Do they attempt to run away?" I asked.
"No," he said. "He would hunt them down and kill them. But after he has impregnated them they tend to remain, even when untied, for he is then their dominant."
"What of the nondominants?" I asked.
"They remain outside the cave until the dominant is finished, fearing him muchly. When he has left the cave they creep within, bringing meat and gifts to the females, that they may be permitted to remain within the cave, as part of the dominant's household. They serve under the females and take their orders from them. Most work, including the care of the young, is performed by nondominants."
"I do not think I would care to be a nondominant," I said.
"They are totally despicable," he said, "but yet, oddly, sometimes a nondominant becomes a dominant. This is a hard thing to understand. Sometimes it happens when there is no dominant in the vicinity. Sometimes it seems to happen for no obvious reason; sometimes it happens when a nondominant is humiliated and worked beyond his level of tolerance. It is interesting. This occasional, almost inexplicable transformation of a nondominant into a dominant is the reason our biologists differ as to whether our species has three, or four sexes."
"Perhaps the nondominant is only a latent dominant," I said.
"Perhaps," he said. "It is hard to tell."
"The restriction of mating to the dominants," I said, "plus the selections in the killings, must tend to produce a species unusually aggressive and savage."
"It tends also to produce one that is extremely intelligent," said the animal.
"The Kur invasion then, using this staging area, is imminent."
"We did not wish to risk the great fleet," it said. "With this depot we need bring in, in the fierce strike, little more than the hibernated marches." A march is a Kur military expression. It refers to twelve bands and their officers. It consists of between twenty-one hundred and twenty-two hundred animals.
"What would you think if a Kur betrayed his own kind?" I asked.
He looked at me, startled. "It could not happen," he said.
"Surely Kurii, in their own wars, have occasionally demonstrated treachery."
"Never to men, never to another species," said the beast. "That is unthinkable."
"Kurii, then," I said, "are in this regard nobler than men."
My major fear had been that the beast would have swallowed the meat into its storage stomach, in which it would not be digested until, at the beast's will, it was disgorged into the true stomach, or chemical stomach. I did not think, however, he had swallowed the meat into the storage stomach. First, there was sufficient food at the complex, and Kurii usually do not carry excess food and water in their body except when anticipating periods of scarcity. The additional food, of course, is a weight burden and impairs performance. Secondly, the beast seemed sleepy and content, which suggested to me that it had fed, and pleasantly, to its satisfaction. The metabolism of the Kur, however, does tend to be more under its control than it is with many organisms. Even in the true, or chemical, stomach, it can, by regulating the flow of digestive juices, hasten or protract the process of digestion. For example, it commonly digests at its leisure, but, if it anticipates proximate exertions, it can hurry the process. A Kur, thus, requires a smaller time interval than many species between eating heavily and engaging in demanding physical behaviors. This trait, doubtless, has been selected for in Kur evolution. I was not particularly worried, however, for, even at a slow rate of digestion, I was confident there would be time for the meat to accomplish its dark work. The sack which had been filled with meat was empty. It must have contained fifteen or twenty pieces of meat.
"Let me speak to you of the five rings," said Samos. "This is information which I have received but recently from the Sardar, but it is based on an intelligence thousands of years old, obtained then from a delirious Kur commander, and confirmed by documents obtained in various wreckages, the most recent of which dates from some four hundred years ago. Long ago, perhaps as long as forty thousand years ago, the Kurii possessed a technology far beyond what they now maintain. The technology which now makes them so dangerous, and so advanced, is but the remnants of a technology mostly destroyed in their internecine struggles, those which culminated in the destruction of their world. The invisibility rings were the product of a great Kur scientist, one we may refer to in human phonemes, for our convenience, as Prasdak of the Cliff of Karrash. He was a secretive craftsman and, before he died, he destroyed his plans and papers. He left behind him, however, five rings. In the sacking of his city, which took place some two years after his death, the rings were found."
"What became of the rings?" I asked.
"Two were destroyed in the course of Kur history," said Samos. "One was temporarily lost upon the planet Earth some three to four thousand years ago, it being taken from a slain Kur commander by a man named Gyges, a herdsman, who used its power to usurp the throne of a country called Lydia, a country which then existed on Earth."
I nodded. Lydia, I recalled, had fallen to the Persians in the Sixth Century B.C., to utilize one of the Earth chronologies. That would, of course, have been long after the time of Gyges.
"One is reminded of the name of the fiver port at the mouth of the Laurius," said Samos.
"Yes," I said. The name of that port was Lydius.
"Perhaps there is some connection," speculated Samos.
"Perhaps," I said. "Perhaps not." It was often difficult to know whether isolated phonetic similarities indicated a historical relationship or not. In this ease I thought it unlikely, given the latitude and style of life of Lydius. On the other hand, men of Lydia might possibly have been involved in its founding. The Voyages of Acquisition, of Priest-Kings, I knew, had been of great antiquity. These voyages now, as I understood it, following the Nest War, had been discontinued.
"Kurii came later for the ring," said Samos. "Gyges was slain. The ring itself, somehow, was shortly thereafter destroyed in an explosion."
"Interesting," I said.
"That left two rings," said Samos.
"One of them was doubtless the Tahari ring," I said.
"Doubtless," said Samos.
I looked at the ring on the table. "Do you think this is the fifth ring?" I asked.
"No," said Samos. "I think the fifth ring would be too precious to be taken from the steel world on which it resides. I do not think it would be risked on Gor."
"Perhaps they have now learned how to duplicate the rings," I ventured.
"That seems to me unlikely for two reasons," said Samos. "First, if the ring could be duplicated, surely in the course of Kur history, particularly before the substantial loss of their technology and their retreat to the steel worlds, it would have been. Secondly, given the secretive nature of the rings' inventor, Prasdak of the Cliff of Karrash, I suspect there is an additional reason which mitigates against the dismantlement of the ring and its consequent reproduction."
"The secret, doubtless, could be unraveled by those of the Sardar," I said. "What progress have they made with the ring from the Tahari?"
I did not speak. I sat behind the table, stunned.
"To whom," I then asked, "did you entrust the delivery of the ring to the Sardar."
"To one of our most trusted agents," said Samos.
"Who?" I asked.
"Shaba, the geographer of Anango, the explorer of Lake Ushindi, the discoverer of Lake Ngao and the Ua River," said Samos.
"Doubtless he met with foul play," I said.
"I do not think so," said Samos.
"I do not understand," I said.
"This ring," said Samos, indicating the ring on the table, "was found among the belongings of the girl in the tharlarion cell below. It was with her when her ship was captured by Bejar."
The creatures seemed to continue to grow before us. Then they stood erect before us. Their hind legs, some eight to ten inches in width, are proportionately shorter than their arms, which tend to be some eight inches in width at the biceps and some five inches, or so, in width at the wrist. Standing as they were, upright, the larger of the two creatures was some nine feet tall, and the smaller some eight and a half feet tall. I conjecture the larger weighed about nine hundred pounds and the smaller about eight hundred and fifty pounds. These are approximately average heights and weights for this type of creature. Their hands and feet are six digited, tentaclelike and multiply jointed. The nails, or claws, on the hands, are usually filed, presumably to facilitate the manipulation of tools and instrumentation. The claws, retractable, on the feet are commonly left unfiled. A common killing method for the creature is to seize the victim about the head or shoulders, usually with the teeth, and, raking, to disembowel it with the tearing of the clawed hind feet. Other common methods are to hold the victim and tear away the throat from between the head and body, or to bite away the head itself.
"Tal," repeated Samos, uneasily.
I looked across the table at the creatures. I saw intelligence in their eyes.
"Tal," repeated Samos.
Their heads were better than a foot in width. Their snouts were two-nostriled; flattish and leathery. Their ears were large, wide and pointed. They were now erected and oriented towards us. This pleased me, as it indicated they had no immediate intention of attacking. When such a creature attacks the ears flatten against the sides of the head, this having the apparent function of reducing their susceptibility to injury.
"One is a Blood," I said.
"What is that?" asked Samos.
"In their military organizations," I said, "six such beasts constitute a Hand, and its leader is called an Eye. Two hands and two eyes constitute a larger unit, called a "Kur" or, "Beast," which is commanded by a leader, or Blood. Twelve such units constitute a Band, commanded again by a Blood, though of higher rank. Twelve bands, again commanded by a Blood, of yet higher rank, constitute a March. Twelve Marches is said to constitute a People. These divisors and multiples have to do with, it seems, a base-twelve mathematics, itself perhaps indexed historically to the six digits of one of the creature's prehensile appendages."
"Why is the leader spoken of as a Blood?" asked Samos.
"It seems to have been an ancient belief among such creatures," I said, "that thought was a function of the blood, rather than of the brain, a terminology which has apparently lingered in their common speech. Similar anachronisms occur in many languages, including Gorean."
"Who commands a People?" asked Samos.
"One who is said to be a 'Blood' of the People, as I understand it," I said.
"How do you know that one of these is a 'Blood,'" asked Samos.
"The left wrist of the larger animal bears two rings, rings of reddish alloy," I said. "They are welded on the wrist. No Gorean file can cut them."
"He is then of high rank?" asked Samos.
"Of lower rank than if he wore one," I said. "Two such rings designate the leader of a Band. He would have a ranking, thusly, of the sort normally accorded to one who commanded one hundred and eighty of his fellows."
"He is analogous to a captain," said Samos.
"Yes," I said.
"But not a high captain," said Samos.
"No," I said.
"If he is a Blood, then he is almost certainly of the steel ships," said Samos.
"Yes," I said.
"The other," said Samos, "wears two golden rings in its ears."
"It is a vain beast," I said. "Such rings serve only as ornaments. It is possible he is a diplomat."
The smaller of the two creatures turned to the larger. It said something to him. The speech of such creatures resembles a succession of snarls, growls, rasps and throaty vibrations. The noises emitted are clearly animal noises, and, indeed, such as might naturally be associated with a large and powerful, predatory carnivore; yet, on the other hand, there is a liquidity, and a precision and subtlety about them which is unmistakable; one realizes, often uneasily, that what one is listening to is a language.
"To be sure," I said, "it is extremely difficult for them to speak Gorean, or another human language." It was difficult for them, of course, given the nature of their oral cavity, throat, tongue, lips and teeth, to produce human phonemes. They can, however, sometimes in a horrifying way, approximate them. I shuddered. I had, once or twice, heard such creatures speaking Gorean. It had been disconcerting to hear human speech, or something resembling human speech, emanating from such a source. I was just as pleased that we had a translator at our disposal.
Such creatures, I gathered, had no clear idea of the nature of Priest-Kings. They had not directly experienced Priest-Kings, only the power of Priest-Kings. Like burned animals they were wary of them. Priest-Kings, wisely, did not choose to directly confront such creatures. Not a little of the hesitancy and tentativeness of the militaristic incursions of such creatures was, I suspected, a function of their ignorance of, and fear of, the true nature and power of the remote and mysterious denizens of the Sardar. If such creatures should come to clearly understand the nature of the Priest-Kings, and the current restrictions on their power, in virtue of the catastrophic Nest War, I had little doubt but what the attack signals would be almost immediately transmitted to the steel worlds. In weeks the silver ships would beach on the shores of Gor.
Kog and Sardak came forward, followed by the others. The barricade was empty. The trail was silent.
Then the barricade was no longer empty. Atop it, on the logs and stakes, the wind moving in its fur, stood a gigantic Kur.
Yellow Knives crowded back against one another, uneasily. They looked to Kog and Sardak, but these beasts, standing as though stunned, or electrified, on the stony trail, were oblivious of them.
The Kur on the barricade distended its nostrils, drinking scent.
Sardak stepped forward. He reared upright, increasing his scanning, range. He moved his tentaclelike fingers on his chest, which gesture, I think, is a displacement activity. Some claim it has the function of cleaning the claws.
The ears of the beast on the barricade, one half torn away, flattened themselves against the side of the head.
Sardak's ears, too, lay back.
I saw that the claws of the rear appendages, or feet, of the monster on the barricade, had emerged. So, too, I noted, had those of Sardak.
The beasts did not speak to one another. Words were not necessary.
Swiftly, moving with incredible grace and lightness for its bulk, the beast on the barricade descended to the trail.
Sardak, the two rings of reddish alloy on his left wrist, advanced to meet it.
They stopped, some ten feet from one another, alone, facing one another on the trail, between the barricade and the other beasts and Yellow Knives.
They then began, keeping very low, on all fours, to circle one another.
Occasionally one would reach out, or snarl, or make a sudden movement, but not charging, to see the response of the other. Fangs were bared.
The hair on the back of my neck rose. Was it like this, I wondered, in the ancient days of the Kurii, long before the steel worlds, long before, even, the development of their technology. Is it like this, I wondered, even today, in the steel ships, in the "killings."
Then the two beasts, as though they had satisfied themselves, squatted down, their hind legs under them, facing one another. To a superficial observer, they might have seemed somnolent. But I could sense the ripple of muscle, the tingle of nerve, beneath the fur in those mighty bodies. They were somnolent as a gun is somnolent, one with a finger tensed, poised, upon its trigger.
Suddenly, as one, both beasts leapt at one another, and seemed, grappling, biting and tearing, claws raking, almost as if they were a single, blurred animal cutting and tearing at its own body. There was a scratching of claws on the stony trail. They rolled and tore at one another and blood, from drenched fur, marked the stone, leaving the pattern of the fur.
They then backed away from one another again, and again began to circle.
It had been no more than a passage at arms.
Again they sprang towards one another and again, some times, their movements were so rapid, turning and grappling, biting and tearing, that I could not even follow them. The energy and speed of such beasts is awesome.
Then they had again separated.
The medicine men of the Yellow Knives looked at one another, frightened. There was blood on the rock. Such things, then, could bleed.
Zarendargar, Half-Bar, my friend, had then, I suspected, made his determinations. I do not think Sardak understood this, at the time.
I fitted an arrow to the string of my bow.
Once more the beasts charged and met with fierce impact. Then Zarendargar was behind Sardak. Sardak flung his head back, to close the space between the skull and the vertebrae, his eyes like wild moons, but it was too late. The massive jaws of Zarendargar, inch by inch, Sardak held in his arms, forced the head forward. Then with a sound of tearing muscle and skin, and crushed bone, Zarendargar's jaws closed. Men watched, horrified, as Zarendargar, holding it by the neck, it half bitten through, in his jaws, shook the body, fiercely. He then flung it from him and leaped up and down, scratching at his chest. He flung his head up to the sun and howled his victory. For a moment or two the body on the rock still bled, the movements of the heart marked in the gouts of fluid that surged over the fur. The head lay askew, to one side, held by vessels and skin. Zarendargar screamed and leaped on the stone, and, scratching, climbed a bit up the rock face from the trail, and then fell back, and leaped again. The sun and sky were again saluted by the victory cry of the Kur. There was blood and fur at his mouth. I could see the double row of fangs, streaked with red, the long, dark tongue emergent like a serpent from the spittle and blood, the foam, of the kill. Kurii, I reminded myself, are not men.
Yellow Knives shrank back.
Zarendargar then lifted the body of Sardak in his hands and held it over his head. The arm of Sardak, with its two rings of reddish alloy, hung limp. The head hung a foot from the body. Then Zarendargar flung the body from the trail, down, down, onto the rocks below.
The three sleen in the pit, snarling, tails lashing, their hunched shoulders scarcely a foot from the ground moved in a menacing, savage, twisting, eager circle about the center of their interest. This object, alert, every nerve seemingly tensely alive, was chained in the center of the pit.
There was a wild scream of a charging sleen below and its sudden, frightened squeal, and I saw it flung, half bitten apart, to the side. The two other sleen charged, too, fastening themselves like eels on the chained creature. The crowd roared. I saw blood in torrents run down the legs and arms of the attacked creature. It rolled in the scattered, bloody sand, twisting and fighting, the sleen hanging to it. I heard the chain, the screams of the crowd, the howls of the beasts.
"Pretty! Pretty! Bet! Bet!" cried the creature next to me, clinging to the bars.
Kurii, it now seemed clear to me, no more than Priest-Kings, held any special privileges of influence or power in Brundisium.
The attacked creature seized the sleen clinging to its leg and, from behind, with one paw, broke its neck. It then tore the other sleen from its arm and thrust its jaws open and thrust its great clawed paw deep into the creature's throat, down through its throat, forcing its way into its body, clawing and grasping and tore forth, up through the creature's own mouth, part of its lungs. It then flung the creature down at its feet, threw back its head, its fangs and tongue bright with fresh blood, and howled its defiance to the hot noonday sun, to the towers of Brundisium, and the crowd.
"You are unarmed," I said. "Flee. Do not die here, in this empty place, in this moonlight, on this foreign sand. Who will know, or care?"
"It does not matter," it said.
"Flee," I said. "There is no one here to recognize your glory."
"You are mistaken," it said.
"Who is here, then?" I asked.
"I am here," it said.
"Approach warily, men," said a man, one on the tiers, descending with others.
"I never thought to perish, back to back, with one such as you," I said.
"I was cast out of my own country, a steel country, faraway," it said, "as a weakling."
"I find that hard to believe," I said.
"Nonetheless, it is true," it said. "Many of my compeers, many of whom are honestly little better than barbarians, found it difficult to appreciate my taste for the niceties of life, for the tiny refinements that can so redeem the drabness of existence."
"Such as cooking your meat?" I asked.
"Precisely," it said. "Accordingly I was put into exile, cast weaponless, not even with combs and brushes, without even adornments, upon this world. How could I be expected to groom myself? How could I be expected to keep up my appearance?"
"I do not know," I admitted.
"It was dreadful," it said.
"I suppose so," I said.
"Surely one can be both brave and a gentleman," it said.
"I suppose so," I said. I thought of many of the Goreans I knew, with their chains and whips, and their naked, collared slaves kneeling apprehensively before them. Those fellows, I thought, would probably not count as gentlemen. On the other hand, I knew Goreans, too, who would surely count as gentlemen and their slaves were treated in much the same way, if not more so. Their gentlemanliness tended to be manifested in the exquisite and exacting refinements expected of their females, for example, in costume, appearance, behavior, deportment and service, not in any weakness exhibited towards them. Indeed, many Gorean slave girls fear terribly that they might be purchased by a "gentleman." Such can be very difficult to please.
"Do you think I am a weakling?" it asked.
"No," I said.
"Good," it said.
"Indeed," I said. "I would deem it an honor to die in your company."
"I hope you will not be offended," it said, "but I would not deem it an honor to die in yours."
"What?" I asked.
"To some extent your presence here diminishes the splendor of the occasion," it said. "Too, you are not of the people. You are a human being."
"I was born that way," I said.
"Do not misunderstand me," it said. "Similarly, do not be offended. I am not blaming you. I know it is nothing you can help."
"But still -" I said.
"Precisely," it said.
"You are unduly fastidious," I said.
"Do not be angry," it said. "Also, I am sorry. It is just that there are standards."
"I see," I said.
"Besides," it said, "being fastidious is a necessary condition for being a gentleman."
"What do you suggest?" I asked. "Should I walk over there, perhaps to some inconspicuous corner, and there engage in desperate swordplay, in order not to obviously share the field with you?"
"That will not be necessary," it said.
"I thought you might like me," I said.
"I do," it said. "Surely you have noted that you have not been eaten."
"That is true," I granted him, noting it. I had not really thought of that before.
Then suddenly one of his men screamed weirdly, lifted up, his legs jerking wildly. We screamed. The thing must have been eight feet tall. We had seen it lift its head, in the tall grass, some seven or eight yards behind the five men, and to their left. It had perhaps been hidden in a pit, or burrow, its ears had been upright. It bit through the back of the neck of the man and cast the body down, with the quarter of the dried tarsk which they had brought.
Almost instantly another of the men had begun to draw his sword, but the beast, before the blade was half from the sheath, on all fours, scrambling, tearing the grass behind it, moving with incredible swiftness, not like anything on two legs, seized him and tore open his throat with a single slash of those terrible fangs.
At this point the beast rose from behind the bodies. It was some eight feet, or so, in height. It must have weighed eight or nine hundred pounds. Fangs protruded from the sides of its jaw.
It had a double ring of teeth. Its mouth, jaws, now, were red with blood. It wiped them with the back of one of its long arms.
"They are not alone," said Portus Canio, slowly. "There is something else, something with them."
"What?" asked one of the men.
"I do not know," said Portus Canio. "I truly do not know. They are large, lumbering things, yet they move swiftly, they are ungainly and yet graceful, they are huge, and dark. By the Priest-Kings they move swiftly. There are five of them, I think. Yes, five. I do not know what they are. I have never seen anything like them! I have never seen anything move like that. I do not know if they have two feet or four feet. Truly, I do not know! It is not clear, as they move. Ho! One is stopped! It is standing, upright! Upright! It is pointing. By the Priest-Kings, it is huge. It is pointing this way! Now it is again on all fours. These things are coming this way, the men, too. The men are on tharlarion, the things with them are not. They run beside the tharlarion, easily, in their strange gait, as tireless beasts of some sort!"
Kardok stood up, his height expanding upward, almost as though he were slowly, somehow unnaturally enlarging, to something like nine feet. He looked about. His head was enormous. The eyes were huge, rounded. His massive body was perhaps a yard in width, viewed frontally. It could not have been encircled by the arms of large man. "He was not necessary," it said.
Some of you, naturally enough, might suppose that the Kurii themselves were monsters, but that is distinctly unfair. That would be similar to regarding, say, leopards, or lions, as monsters. They are merely another life form. There is no symmetry involved here, incidentally. Kurii, for example, do not, at least on the whole, regard human beings, in their varieties and configurations, as monsters, no more than human beings would regard sheep, rabbits, squirrels, goats, and such, as monsters. The human being regards such life forms as simply inferior forms of life. And so, too, do the Kurii, on the whole, regard human beings, such small, fragile, weak, vulnerable, slow, fangless, clawless, hairless life forms, as merely an inferior form of life. And, one must admit, a case might be made along those lines, though it might pain one somewhat to recognize or acknowledge it. In some respects, attempting to assume a posture of objectivity in the matter, however briefly, this typical Kur view has much to be said for it. It is doubtless substantially justified, if not in all respects correct. The Kur does recognize, of course, that the human being has certain features worth noting, for example its two prehensile appendages, its upright stature, increasing scanning range, its binocular vision, its occasionally exercised cunning, and such, but these features are not unprecedented, and, indeed, characterize a number of rational and semirational species. The Kur itself, for example, possesses similar features, though perhaps with a keenness and ferocity which constitutes a dimension less of degree than of kind. The human being does possess languages, and cultures and traditions, the latter often alien and inimical to one another, and numerous devices and tools, and even technologies, of an incipient type. These are, however, the latter in particular, inferior to those available to the Kur, when it chooses to make use of such things. The Kur, in many respects, retains, celebrates and cultivates, as a matter of tradition and choice, a number of rituals, habits, responses, and practices which one might, if one did not understand them as the Kur does, be regarded as excessively cruel and barbaric, such as the contests of the rings, and such. But the Kur, which is often eight to ten feet in height, if it should straighten its body, which it seldom does, and several hundred pounds in weight, and is clawed, and fanged, and long armed, and agile, and swift, often moving on all fours when it wishes to move most rapidly, and that is far faster than a man can run, prizes such things as its strength, and its speed, and its sensitivity, that is, in this case, its capacity to be easily aroused to rage. It does not apologize for its strength, its speed, its formidableness, such things. Nor does it attempt to conceal them. The Kurii, as humans, have produced several civilizations, some of which, as those of humans, have survived. But they have taken care to see that what we might tendentiously call their bestiality, or animality, or such, should not have been lost in these civilizations, at least in the surviving ones, to the frictions and abrasions of socialization. If there were Kur civilizations of a passive or benign nature, their historical records have not survived. Whereas the human being is commonly trained to suspect, regret, denounce, and officially repudiate his animal nature, sometimes even to the point of pretending it does not exist, and that he is a mere societal artifact, of whatever sort is currently recommended, the Kur has not cared to avail himself of such extreme and dubious stratagems. To be sure, the animal nature of the human being, driven underground, despising the facades of an acculturated hypocrisy, continues to prowl within, and, by means of a thousand twistings and subterfuges, will have its say. Surely it would be difficult to explain human history without some attention devoted to slaughter, envy, passion, greed, deceit, hypocrisy, ambition, lies, theft, corruption, assassination, murder, contempt, hatred, betrayal, and a large number of such attributes.
The Kur, in a variety of ways, you see, for better or for worse, openly acknowledges and expresses, and fulfills, his animal nature.
The Kur, then, is not a tame animal. It prides itself on its nature, its strength, its agility, its terribleness. It understands itself as a predator and would have it no other way. Daintiness of sensibility does not bring a species to the summit of a food chain.
Like many aggressive, dangerous animals, the Kur, interestingly, has its sense of propriety, and even honor. To be sure these things are normally limited to intraspecific relations. Men, for example, seldom include insects, vermin, cattle, and such, within the community of, say, honor. And the Kur seldom includes the human being within its community of honor. It would be absurd for it to do so.
One thing about the Priest-Kings puzzles the Kurii, and that is why this mysterious life form seldom behaves otherwise than defensively. They will react sharply if not inevitably to border crossings, but they will not pursue the rebuffed invaders; they will not seek them out, and destroy them in their lairs.
Indeed, Priest-Kings are tolerant of the presence of Kurii on Gor itself, provided they respect their technology and weapon laws.
One supposes the Priest-Kings have a different sense of civilization than, say, humans, or Kurii, who will commonly pursue and exterminate an enemy.
Perhaps the Priest-Kings recognize the Kurii as a life form, rather as the human, and, as such, as something of interest, perhaps of value, if only scientifically.
There are a variety of ways in which this might be done, and much depends on the individual beast. Sometimes the head is bitten free and the spurting neck is covered with the predator's mouth, which is then drenched with the imbibed, flighted blood; another way is shared by certain other forms of predator, such as the larl or forest panther, in which the prey is seized, say, at the shoulder, and then, as in a frenzy, disemboweled with the hind legs; sometimes the victim is merely held and, after a few moments, as it struggles, the throat is torn open; a clean fashion is simply to bite through the base of the neck; perhaps the least attractive Kur feeding is to torment the quarry, biting and licking here and there, perhaps a finger, a hand, a foot, and so on. The victim's pain is supposed to improve the taste of the meat. When the victim is dead, some of its choice parts, the organ meat, usually, is eaten first by some of the Kurii, particularly if others are about, but others of the Kurii, usually when alone, will save it for the last, finishing their meal with the most savory morsels. Lest we be led to think the less of the Kurii in these matters, it is only fair to point out that most of the meat eaten in the Steel Worlds is not human. It takes a long time to raise a human for meat, even a child. Even to produce a human, we note, takes most of a year. Accordingly, most of the meat raised in the Steel Worlds is verr, tarsk, vulos, and such. It might also be mentioned that many Kurii do not even enjoy human meat. It is, it seems, a matter of taste. Too, it should be noted that much of the meat available in the Steel Worlds is not obtained in the hunt or live kill, but is processed from slaughtered animals, the meat of which is then dried, salted, or frozen, for future consumption. Too, although the Kurii are well thought of, in your presumed vocabulary, as carnivores, there are a number of processed food stuffs which have been engineered to be compatible with their digestion and fit for their nourishment. This will not be surprising to anyone familiar with the same sort of thing elsewhere, say, on Earth, where, for example, natural predators, and carnivores, such as the dog and the cat are often supplied with such alternative forms of nourishment.
I think I have made clear the difficulties of replicating in a human tongue the phonemes of Kur, as we shall refer to the language of this particular habitat, one, actually, of several in the worlds, and, correspondingly, naturally, the difficulty of reproducing in Kur the phonemes of typical human languages. These difficulties index almost entirely to anatomical dissimilarities. To be sure, it is somewhat easier for a Kur to utter noises which, allowing for considerable distortions, or, shall we say, accent, better approximate human phonemes than the reverse. It is possible, of course, for a Kur to recognize certain sounds in, say, Gorean, and for a human to recognize certain sounds in Kur. I think I mentioned, for example, that the blonde pet from the container could recognize her name in Kur, certain commands, and such. It is one thing, naturally, to recognize a sound and another to replicate it. Consequently, most communication between humans and Kurii is accomplished by means of translators. This note is largely to remind any reader unfamiliar with Kur that in the interests of intelligibility we must either devise names for individual Kurii, or have recourse to descriptions, or such. It would be difficult or impossible to replicate the actual phonemes. The reader is familiar with this already in the case of Zarendargar. Accordingly, various Kurii will be herein referred to in terms hopefully intelligible to, or at least pronounceable by, readers unfamiliar with Kur. I think we have no practical alternative to this procedure, and, accordingly, we beg the reader's indulgence with respect to this liberty, accompanied as it must be by its concomitant distortions.
A hairy, large, paw-like thing had come from under the cloak and brushed back the hood, revealing a broad, furred head, perhaps a foot in width, with large eyes. The ears, large and pointed, moved back, gently, against the sides of the head. The mouth opened, enough to see the movement of a large, restless tongue, and afford a glimpse of thick, spike-like, moist, curved fangs.
I had the sense that those massive jaws might have been capable of biting through a beam, and could easily, like tearing paper, snap away a man's head, or woman's.
I was scarcely aware of its movements so swift it was, and I felt myself seized up lifted, in mighty paws, and I sensed nails within them, and heard a roar of rage and I was flung a dozen feet across the room, striking into a wall. Then I was pulled back, by one foot, to the center of the room.
I was on my belly.
The beast, with its size and weight, knelt across my body.
I was pinned to the floor.
It leaned forward.
"Do not! Do not!" I heard the Lady Bina scream.
It was my first experience of the sudden rage of that form of life, a rage easily aroused, swift, unexpected, unpredictable, terrible and overwhelming, a rage almost impossible to subdue.
I would learn later that it was the rage of the Kur.
Whatever might be the nature of that body in it coursed the blood of the Kur.
I felt massive jaws close about my head. I felt the tongue, and saliva of the beast, its hot breath.
"No, no!" screamed the Lady Bina.
The jaws seemed to tremble. They tightened, relaxed, then tightened again. Had they closed my head would have been bitten away.
Doubtless there were some humans of the "Cave," too, so to speak, lesser allies of the Kurii, who were also absent.
One of the guards lifted a haunch of tarsk and tore at it with his teeth. I saw a fang sunk deep into the meat, anchoring it and then a huge piece was wrenched free, and the long, dark tongue wrapped itself about this, and thrust it back, into the toothed darkness, and, in a moment I witnessed its passage, sliding downward, under the fur of the throat. Kurii were no more likely to chew food than a larl or sleen. It looked at me, while it was disposing of this gorge of meat. I supposed that a carnivore, in the wild, is likely to eat quickly, to eat while it can. Time might be lost in careful chewing. There appear to be compensations involved in this sort of thing. Such a piece of meat, even one much smaller, would choke a human, on the other hand, the structure of the human throat is such that it is capable of assisting in the utterance of a subtle and theoretically infinite variety of sounds. It seems thus that in nature an organ which may constitute a danger or increased hazard in one respect may in another respect confer a significant advantage.
In any event, several Kurii hurried to interpose themselves between the newcomers and the dais. Snarling, unarmed, they confronted the newcomers. Their own bodies would be the shield of Agamemnon. The common Kur is fanatically loyal to his lord, unless his lord is thought to have failed him, in which case the bond of allegiance is regarded as dissolved. This behavior, the loyalty to a chieftain, so to speak, had doubtless been selected for in millennia of Kur warfare, even prior to the development of sophisticated weapons, which, as I understand it, exists on the steel worlds. In seeing these Kurii, unarmed, interposing their own bodies between weapon assailants and a leader, I learned more of what a Kur might be, and often was.
I regarded the beast behind me. It was crouched over, grasping the enormous ax. A man would have found it difficult to have lifted, let alone wield, that mighty tool, or weapon. In its grasp it seemed little more than a stick. One blow from that huge, long-handled, broad-bladed, double-bladed device might have felled a small tree. I did not doubt it could cut a man in two. In the beast there was no sign of agitation, but, rather, of attention, of vigilance. What storm of force, I wondered, might be unleashed in such a mighty frame? Surely it was there, beneath that surface. Could lightning, waiting, conceal itself within a pelt, lie in ambush; it might seem so. I had the sense of a crossbow with its bolt loaded, the slight pressure of a finger on the trigger, that of a mountain containing fire, a seething, churning lake of molten stone, easily agitated, which might erupt. I regarded the beast. I could not well sense its mien. I could read no expression, nor intent, on its face, or muzzle; there was no wrinkled snout no bared fangs. There was no sound, no snarl, no growl. The nostrils were slightly distended. The ears were back, against the side of the head.
"What is behind this door?" said Tajima.
"A Kur," I said. "I fear more than one."
"What is a Kur?" said Pertinax.
"I shall not attempt to describe it," I said. "Unarmed, it can dismember an adult sleen."
"It is a fearsome thing," said Tajima.
"It is not likely to survive the attack of a larl," I said.
"It is mortal," said Tajima.
"Of course," I said.
"Then we can kill it " he said.
"It has been done," I said.
"Frequently? " he asked.
"By others of its kind," I said. "They are much like men."
"Is it easy to kill?" he asked.
"No," I said.
"Is it frequently killed by men?" he asked.
"No," I said, "not frequently. Be ready."
I then stepped forward and, lightly, struck three times on the heavy iron door.
We heard something move within. We heard a shuffling sound, and a scratching, as of claws on a metal surface.
"I think it is large," said Pertinax.
"It is," I said.
"Few Kurii, on Gor," said Lord Grendel, "will risk the bearing of a forbidden weapon. The laws of the Priest-Kings are strict. Their enforcement is merciless. Doubtless their surveillance, limited as to resources and interest, is incomplete and sporadic, but it exists. There have been several well-documented instances of the Flame Death. No, Kurii on Gor are very much aware, even more so than humans I suspect, of the Weapon and Technology laws of the Priest-Kings and the hazards of contravening them. Many humans do not believe in the existence of Priest-Kings, supposing them to be no more than an invention of Initiates, to deprive the simple and trusting of their coins, but no Kur doubts their existence. Their evidence is irrefutable, destroyed fleets and devastated landing forces."
The Kur, at its best, is a form of life that tends to be impatient, dangerous, unpredictable, and violent. Its restraints of rationality and prudence are tenuous in the best of times. It was fearful to contemplate what its behavior might be in the absence of such restraints, as modest and precarious as they might be.
Although I was unsure at the moment, I deemed it likely, following the surmise of my master, that Decius Albus, wisely or not, by design or in ignorance, eager to appease and impress the Kurii, would have been generous in the distribution of paga. How could he have given it to some, and not others? And what Kur, unacquainted with the beverage, curious, jubilant, in holiday mood, would refuse to accept a gift made so freely available, by so trustworthy and generous a host and ally? And so, in many cases, the amber swirl of liquid fire, for the first time, would course through new countries, new bodies, large, dark, dangerous bodies, hitherto untouched by such flames, racing where it had never burned before. Who, knowingly, would give paga to a larl? Who, knowingly, would break through the thin crust concealing a seething volcano? Lord Grendel had spoken of ancient gates, behind which lurk ancient things, things best shut away, things best left unstirred. Who knows, I wondered, what waits, restless, behind those gates? Do not such gates make possible civilization, intelligence, and thought? Perhaps, in the case of the Kur, those gates had not been opened for a thousand years. Paga, I feared, as had Lord Grendel, opens such gates.