These are relevant references from the Books where the Mercenary is mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
"You owe me a debt," said Mintar. "Can you pay the hiring price of such a sword?"
"I have no goods other than this girl," I said, "and I will not give her up."
"Then I cannot pay the debt I owe you," I said.
"I am a merchant," said Mintar, "and it is in my code to see that I am paid."
I set myself to sell my life dearly. Oddly enough, my only fear was what would happen to the girl.
"Kazrak of Port Kar," said Mintar, "do you agree to surrender the balance of your hiring price to Tarl of Bristol if he takes your place in my service?"
Kazrak, as he had promised, turned over the balance of his hiring price to me a very respectable eighty tarn disks.
"Perhaps some of them fight for their freedom, for the right to keep their own Home Stone," I said. "Surely not all of Pa-Kur's horde are adventurers, mercenaries." Noting the Ubar's interest, I went on. "Besides, few of the soldiers of Gor, barbarians though they might be, would risk the destruction of their city's Home Stone - the luck of their birthplace."
Due, I believe, partly to my arguments and the prestige of what I had done, unprecedented lenience was shown to the surrendered armies of Pa-Kur. The Home Stones of the Twelve Tributary Cities were returned, and those men who had served Pa-Kur from those cities were allowed to return to their cities rejoicing. The large contingent of mercenaries who had flocked to his banner were kept as work slaves for a period of one year, to fill in the vast ditches and siege tunnels, to repair the extensive damage to the walls of Ar, and to rebuild those of its buildings that had been injured or burned in the fighting.
I wondered if I might be able to secure a tarn in the intriguing city of Tharna. It would shorten the trip to the Sardar Mountains by weeks. I had no money with which to purchase a tarn but I reasoned my hiring price as a swordsman might be sufficient to purchase a mount. For that matter, though I did not seriously consider the possibility, being without a city, in effect an outlaw, I was entitled in the Gorean way of thinking to take the bird or its purchase price in any way I saw fit.
Since the siege of Ar, when Pa-Kur, Master Assassin, had violated the limits of his caste and had presumed, in contradiction to the traditions of Gor, to lead a horde upon the city, intending to make himself Ubar, the Caste of Assassins had lived as hated, hunted men, no longer esteemed mercenaries whose services were sought by cities, and, as often by factions within cities.
Yet I knew there would be tarnsmen in Tharna, and good ones, for her name was respected among the martial, hostile cities of Gor. Her tarnsmen might be mercenaries, or perhaps men like Thorn, Captain of Tharna, who in spite of their city thought well of themselves and maintained at least the shreds of caste pride.
"You are Tai," said she, "a tarnsman, wounded in the war with Thentis in the year before I ascended the throne of Tharna."
Yet another man took from his head the blue helmet.
"I do not know you," she said.
The men on the wall murmured.
"You could not," said the man, "for I am a mercenary of Ar who took service in Tharna only within the time of the revolt."
"It is in the wagon of Kutaituchik," Saphrar was saying. "I could send mercenary tarnsmen from the north, but I would prefer not to have war."
I was startled by the appearance of tarnsmen on the southern plains. The nearest tarn cavalries as far as I knew were to be found in distant Ar.
Surely great Ar was not at war with the Tuchuks of the southern plains.
They must be mercenaries!
The mercenary tarnsmen of Turia were most feared by the Tuchuks, for such could, with relative impunity, fire upon them from the safety of their soaring height, but even this dread weapon of Turia could not, by itself, drive the Tuchuks from the surrounding plains. In the field the Tuchuks would counter the tarnsmen by breaking open the Hundreds into scattered Tens and presenting only erratic, swiftly moving targets; it is difficult to strike a rider or beast at a distance from tarnback when he is well aware of you and ready to evade your missile; and, of course, did the tarnsman approach too closely, then he himself and his mount were exposed to the return fire of the Tuchuks, in which case of proximity, the Tuchuk could use his small bow to fierce advantage. The archery of tarnsmen, of course, is most effective against massed infantry or clusters of the ponderous tharlarion. Also, perhaps not unimportantly, many of Turia's mercenary tarnsmen found themselves engaged in the time-consuming, distasteful task of supplying the city from distant points, often bringing food and arrow wood from as far away as the valleys of the eastern Cartius. I presume that the mercenaries, being tarnsmen - a proud, headstrong breed of men made the Turians pay highly for the supplies they carried; the indignities of bearing burdens being lessened somewhat by the compensating weight of golden tarn disks.
"They are mercenaries," growled Kamchak.
"I do not understand your meaning," I said.
"We have paid them not to burn the wagons nor slay the bosk," said he.
"They are being paid by both sides?" I asked.
"Of course," said Kamchak, irritably.
"May I introduce," inquired Saphrar, "Ha-Keel of Port Kar, chief of the mercenary tarnsmen."
"What are you doing here?" asked the guard.
"Are you not Ho-bar?" inquired Harold. It was a common name in Ar, whence many of the mercenaries had come.
Tarnsmen would have little difficulty in finding a rider and mount on the open prairie near Turia. It was almost certain they would be flying within minutes after an alarm was sounded, even though they need be summoned from the baths, the Paga taverns, the gaming rooms of Turia, in which of late the siege over, they had been freely spending their mercenary gold, much to the delight of Turians. In a few days, their recreations complete, I expected Ha-Keel would weigh up his gold, marshal his men and withdraw through the clouds from the city.
The compound of the House of Saphrar, however had not fallen, protected by its numerous guardsmen and its high walls, nor had the tower elsewhere that sheltered the tarn cots and warriors of Ha-Keel, the mercenary from Port Kar.
"Ha-Keel, the mercenary," said Kamchak. "He is coming to bargain with Saphrar, but I can better whatever terms he is offered - for I have all the gold and women of Turia, and by nightfall I will have the private hordes of Saphrar himself."
"Beware," I warned, "the tarnsmen of Ha-Keel - they might yet turn the brunt of battle against you."
Kamchak did not respond.
"The thousand tarnsmen of Ha-Keel," said Harold, "left before dawn for Port Kar. Their tower is abandoned."
"But why?" I demanded.
"They were well paid," said Harold, "with Turian gold of which substance we have a great deal."
Sitting in the place of honor, cross-legged, calm, on the merchant's cushions, on his personal dais, applying a bit of oil to the blade of his sword, sat the lean, scarred Ha-Keel, once of Ar, now a mercenary tarnsman of squalid, malignant Port Kar.
I heard Harold say, "It is Tolnus."
"Of course," said Kamchak. "It had to have been the Ubar of the Paravaci - for who else could have sent their riders against the Tuchuk wagons, who else could have promised a mercenary tarnsman half the bosk and gold and women and wagons of the Paravaci?"
Kamchak nodded. "I have no quarrel with Ha-Keel, the mercenary," he said. Then Kamchak looked at me. "You, however," he said, "now that he knows of the stakes in these games, may meet him again. He draws his sword only in the name of gold, but I expect that now, Saphrar dead, those who employed the merchant may need new agents for their work - and that they will pay the price of a sword such as that of Ha-Keel."
"I shall follow her," I said, "probably as a mercenary tarnsman, and attempt to take service with the House of Cernus."
I had decided to wait until the Fourth Passage Hand, that following En'Var, and then take tarn for Ar, where I would pose as a mercenary tarnsman seeking employment in the House of Cernus, but when the Warrior from Thentis, who resembled me, was slain early in En'Var, I decided to go to Ar in the guise of an Assassin, by High Tharlarion, for Assassins are not commonly tarnsmen.
The Warriors who flanked the Administrator and High Initiate, incidentally, were Taurentians, members of the palace guard, an elite corps of swordsmen and bowmen, carefully selected, specially trained, independent of the general military organizations of the city. Their leader, or Captain, was Saphronicus, a mercenary from Tyros.
"Nor did I," I said. The reason that Elizabeth and I had been placed in the House of Cernus had been because Caprus, according to report, could not obtain the documents we believed must exist in the house. It was thought that I, as a mercenary in the house, or Elizabeth, as a staff slave, might be able to locate and seize the documents in question. This was prior to the death of the Warrior of Thentis, who resembled me, which had given me independent reason for coming to Ar, and in the guise of an Assassin.
The men of the House of Portus, who had been Slavers and mercenaries the equals of those of the House of Cernus, had now been disbanded, some leaving the city, some taking their gold from new masters, some even hiring their swords to the House of Cernus.
"Of course," said Hup. "Through the Steels we wished to have a faction that would, like Murmillius, in the Stadium of Blades, sway the imagination of men, and win the allegiance of thousands of those of Ar. It would be an independent faction, a new faction, cutting through and across the loyalties and politics of the older factions. Further, it would be the means of defeating the Yellows. As we thought, when it became clear that the Steels truly threatened the Yellows, Cernus' secret faction, his interest and allegiance would become clear. His betrayal of the Greens and his secret endorsement of the Yellows, which could only be for purposes of mercenary gain, was made clear in the events of the race of the Ubar. This secret interest and allegiance, regarded as treachery, as perfidious, by the racing crowds of Ar, alone would have served to turn men against him. His true faction interests were revealed, infuriating all those in the Stadium, and perhaps mostly those of the Greens and the Steels.
The nearest solid land, other than occasional bars in the marshes, to Port Kar lies to her north, some one hundred pasangs distant. This area, I supposed, might theoretically be used as a staging area, for the storing of supplies and the embarkation of an attacking force on barges, but the military prospects of such a venture went decidedly not promising. It lay hundreds of pasangs from the nearest Gorean city other, of course, than Port Kar. It was open territory. It was subject to attack by forces beached to the west from the tarn fleets of Port Kar through the marsh itself by the barges of Port Kar, or from the east or north, depending on the marches following the disembarkation of Port Kar forces. Further, it was open to attack from the air by means of the cavalries of mercenary tarnsmen of Port Kar, of which she has several. I knew one of these mercenary captains, Ha-Keel, murderer, once of Ar, whom I had met in Turia, in the house of Saphrar, a merchant. Ha-Keel alone commanded a thousand men, tarnsmen all. And even if an attacking force could be brought into the marsh, it was not clear that it would, days later, make its way to the walls of Port Kar. It might be destroyed in the marshes. And if it should come to the walls, there was little likelihood of its being effective. The supply lines of such a force, given the barges of Port Kar and her tarn cavalries, might be easily cut.
His name was Lysias.
He had been a captain for only four months, having acquired the fifth ship, medium class, required.
He was rather well known now in Port Kar, having lost six barges, with their slaves and cargo, and most of his crews, in the marshes. The story was that they had been attacked by more than a thousand rencers, abetted by a conjectured five hundred mercenaries, trained warriors, and had barely escaped with their lives.
He looked at me, startled. "There is only one thing to do," he said, "and that is to ready our ships, take our treasure and slaves aboard, and flee. We are strong, and may take an island for our own, one of the northern islands. There you can be Ubar and we can be your mercenaries."
"You are Terence," I asked, "mercenary captain of Treve?"
The man nodded.
Terence of Treve, mercenary captain of the tarnsmen, had refused to return to Port Kar before the return of the fleet. The environs of Port Kar might now be filled with tarnsmen, other mercenaries, but in the hire of the rebellious Ubars, and Claudius, regent of Henrius Sevarius. "We men of Treve are brave," had said he, "but we are not mad."
I looked about the room. The men were sleeping. It was dirty and littered. They were unshaven. Several of them, men of Samos, were unknown to me, but others, mine, I had cared for. Some were even slaves, who had fought with poles and hammers. Others were men who had been slaves, whom I had freed and trained with weapons. Others were seamen, and two others were mercenaries, who had refused to leave my service.
Samos survived, and I, and the boy, Fish, and the three girls, and, beyond these, other than the dancer, Sandra, who had remained below, only five men, three who had come to my holding with Samos, and two of my own, one a simple mercenary, one who had once been a slave.
"You were foolish to hire mercenaries to guard you," said Targo.
Targo's wagons, now in the number of sixteen, the additional wagons and teams purchased in Laura, were scattered about at various distances from the compound, forming, in groups of twos and threes, small, isolated camps for the guards. Besides the nine guards who had been with him when I had been captured, he had now eighteen additional men. They had been hired in Laura, known men, vouched for, not drifting mercenaries. Targo, in his way, may have been a gambler, but he was not a fool.
There must have been more than a hundred tarnsmen with Haakon. When he had come to Ko-ro-ba, he had had little more than forty men, if that many. Others, mercenaries, he must have recruited in the city.
They were in a small clearing. There were two tarns hobbled nearby. The men had made no fire. They were clad in leather, and armed. They were warriors, mercenaries. They seemed rough, cruel men. I recognized them. I had seen them as long ago as Targo's compound north of Laura. They were hirelings of Haakon of Skjern, his men.
But the men frightened me. They were rough, cruel men, mercenaries, ruthless. I could not permit Elinor Brinton, the sensitive girl of Earth, to fall into the hands of such hardened brutes. I had heard them talk of what they would do to a girl, even though she might be white silk!
He seemed broad chested, and broad shouldered. He had a large head, muchly concealed within the war helmet. He carried his head proudly. His arms were strong, muscular and bronzed. His hands were large, and rough, fit for weapons. He wore scarlet leather. His helmet, with its "Y"-like aperture, was gray. Neither his leather nor his helmet were distinguished by insignia. I supposed then, that he must be a mercenary, or an outlaw.
"I am letting it be known in the camp of Terence of Treve, a mercenary, that there is, in my house, a wench, whose name is Elinor."
Two warriors passed, proud in their red.
They were probably mercenaries. Their speech reminded me of that of Ar.
They did not wear, in silver, the medallion of the Ubar. They were not of the retinue of Marlenus, whom I now believed to be in Laura, or in the vicinity of Laura.
A man in direct fee with the Jarl is, in effect, a mercenary; the Jarl himself, from his gold, and stores, where necessary or desirable, arms the man; this expense, of course, is seldom necessary in Torvaldsland; sometimes, however, a man may break a sword or lose an ax in battle, perhaps in the body of a foe, falling from a ship; in such a case the Jarl would make good the loss; he is not responsible for similar losses, however, among free farmers.
In Kasra, descending upon my tarn, I had been a warrior. A mercenary tarnsman.
"The Kavars, even now, are hiring lances," I heard.
The man shrugged. "You serve Priest-Kings," said he. "We two have much in common, for we both are mercenaries. Only you are less wise than I, for you do not serve upon that side which will taste the salt of victory."
"I give Hassan a woman," said he, "for his audacity. I give you, too, a woman, for your manhood, and for we are two of a kind, mercenaries in higher wars."
The outcome of the battle, some twenty pasangs from the kasbah of the Salt Ubar, had never been in doubt. That Ibn Saran met us at all, with the twenty-five hundred mercenaries he could muster does him much credit.
He was swiftly enveloped. Many of his men, I believe, did not understand the nature of the forces they faced until we swept over the hills upon them. We out numbered them four or five to one. Many of the mercenaries, unable to escape, discarded their bucklers and dismounted, thrusting their lances and scimitars into the ground.
We passed only one or two men. I wore garments of the men of the Salt Ubar, taken from a prisoner. There were new mercenaries in the kasbah.
"I know you," he said, bitterly, "you are a warrior, a soldier, a mercenary, an adventurer. You fight for the exhilaration. You are frivolous. In your way you are as despicable as the Kur."
"I am in my way a mercenary," I said. "I command myself. I choose my wars. I choose my loyalties."
"Do you understand the nature of the cause in which you work?" I asked.
"Of course," she said. "I labor in the cause of Sidney Anderson."
"You are a true mercenary," I smiled.
"Yes," she said, proudly, "I am a mercenary." She looked at me. "Do you think a woman cannot be a mercenary?"
"No," I said, "I see no reason why a woman cannot be a mercenary."
"I shall be on the winning side," she said.
"The mercenary speaks," I said.
"Yes," she said.
I gave Msaliti six silver tarsks for the girl. She was then mine. In the situation, as I assessed it, either she should have been given to me, upon my expression of interest, or I should have paid something for her in increments of silver tarsks, something over the price Msaliti had paid. Things turned out much as I had expected. I did not think Msaliti, truly, whom I took to be a shrewd, clever fellow, and one concerned with matters of wealth and power, would wish to give a girl away. Too, since he had paid for her in silver tarsks he would wish to sell her in the same denomination and, presumably, at some profit. My offer of six seemed perfect. It permitted him to satisfy his sense of venality and yet not appear excessively mercenary. Had I tried to obtain her for leas than six tarsks or he tried to obtain more for her I think the situation could have become unpleasant.
"They were to defray the costs of outfitting the expedition, of hiring the men," he said.
Overheard we had seen some one hundred and twenty-five tarnsmen. They were moving generally southward. We could see their spears, mounted at the right stirrup, like needles, at the distance, and the shields, seeming small and round. The pennon of the standard bearer, long and narrow, fluttering back some twenty feet from his spear, was that of Vonda. Yet Vonda, herself, I knew, did not have tarnsmen. The men were mercenaries.
"Who is the captain of the mercenaries who fly for Vonda?" I asked. "Is it such men as Terence of Treve or Ha-Keel, once of Ar?" These were two well-known mercenary captains. Others were Oleg of Skjern, Leander of Farnacium and William of Thentis.
"Our auxiliaries then drove the tharlarion, maddened and hissing, back into the phalanx. In the skies our tarnsmen turned aside the mercenaries of Artemidorus. They then rained arrows upon the shattered phalanx. While the spearmen lifted their shields to protect themselves from the sky our squares swept down the slopes upon them."
Thandar of Ti, interestingly, had not challenged Ar in the skies, but had deployed the mercenaries of Artemidorus of Cos in actions against Ar's supply lines.
Ar's Station, incidentally, is near the site where there was a gathering, several years ago, of the horde of Pa-Kur, of the Caste of Assassins, who was leading an alliance of twelve cities, augmented by mercenaries and assassins, against the city of Ar.
The naval tradition of Cos is an ancient one, and many of the officers of Port Cos were native Cosians, mercenaries or veterans of the Cosian navy, on detached duty to the colony, that the interests of the mother island might be defended on the Vosk.
"The next town northward is Fort Haskins," I said. This lay at the foot of the Boswell Pass. Originally it had been a trading post, maintained by the Haskins Company, a company of Merchants, primarily at Thentis. A military outpost, flying the banners of Thentis, garrisoned by mercenaries, was later established at the same point.
I stepped aside, to the side of the road. It had rained early this morning. The road was still muddy. The men, some afoot, some on kaiila, with the clank of weapons and the rattle of accouterments, filed past me. I looked into the eyes of some of them. They were mercenaries. Yet they belonged to no mercenary company I recognized. Doubtless they had been hired here and there. They wore various uniforms, and parts of uniforms, and carried an assortment of weapons. Some of them, I suspected, might even be men without a Home Stone. They were moving northward, as I was. They, like I, I speculated, were bound for Kailiauk. I took it there were about a thousand of them. This was unusually large for a Gorean mercenary force. It would require a considerable amount of money to hire and sustain such a force.
In the center of the road, approaching, between, and with, the lines, drawn by two tharlarion, was an ornately carved, high, two-wheeled cart. An officer, a bearded fellow with a plumed cap, perhaps the captain of the mercenary company, rode beside this cart.
"This is the Lady Mira, of Venna," said the bearded officer. "I am Alfred, captain of this company, mercenary of Port Olni." Venna is a resort town west of the Voltai, north of Ar. Port Olni is located on the north bank of the Olni River. It is a member of the Salerian Confederation.
"Apparently you do not wish to reveal your name," said the woman.
"The name of a lowly fellow, such as myself," I said, "could surely be of no interest to so fine a lady."
"Are you a bandit?" she asked.
"No, Lady," said I.
"Can you use the blade hung at your hip?" she asked.
"After a fashion, Lady," I said.
"We are hiring swords," she said.
"My thanks, Lady," I said. "I do not wish to take fee."
"There are thousands of savages in the Barrens," I said.
"These men are professionals," he said. "One such mercenary is worth a thousand half-naked savages."
"Forward!" called the officer, lifting his arm. The lady looked at me, angrily, her gloved hands now clutching the arms of the curule chair. Then she lifted her head and looked directly ahead. "Ho!" called the officer. His arm fell. The lines of mercenaries then moved forward, with the wagon in their midst, northward, toward Kailiauk.
Unable to find Grunt, I feared I must enter the Barrens alone. Already, early this morning the Lady Mira of Venna, and Alfred of Port Olni, with their mercenaries, had left Kailiauk.
The fellow leaning on the rail turned to look at me. "Why do you wish to find Grunt?" he asked.
"I wish to enter the Barrens," I said.
"It is madness to do so," said he.
"It is unfortunate you did not come to Kailiauk a month ago," he said.
"Why is that?" I asked.
"Settlers, armed, with two hundred wagons, crossed the Ihanke," he said. "Men, women, children. There must have been seven or eight hundred of them. You could have accompanied them. There is perhaps safety in such numbers."
"Perhaps," I said. Such a party, however, I knew must travel slowly. Also, it would be impossible to conceal its trails and movements.
"You are a big fellow," he said, "and seem quick, and strong. Why did you not sign articles with the troops who left this morning?"
I did not respond to him.
"It was the largest mercenary band ever to leave Kailiauk," he said. "You should have gone with them."
"Perhaps," I said.
"Are you a mercenary?" he asked.
"Of sorts," I said.
"I think I know the parties," I said. "The first left Kailiauk sometime before I reached it. They were settlers. The second must have been the mercenaries of Alfred, a captain, from Port Olni. He left Kailiauk shortly before we did."
"I must move eastward," I said. It was important for me to determine the fate of the Kurii who had been with the mercenaries.
"I am sure of it," I said. "And I think, too, that there may be several others, as well." I did not know what had been the fate of the Kurii who had been with the mercenary captain, Alfred, of Port Olni. It was possible, of course, that they had been destroyed in the attack on his column and the wagon train.
We raced ahead. We were some half pasang beyond the line of strewn, charred wagons behind us. We now approached other wagons, but scattered about. These were the wagons for which I had earlier sought in vain, the smaller, squarish wagons, which had been with the mercenary column.
"How many of these smaller, squarish wagons, such as this one, were there?" I asked, indicating the remains of the nearest wagon, one of those which had been with the mercenary column.
"I am going to leave you precisely where you are," I said, "my lovely mercenary."
"Mercenary?" she said. "I am not a mercenary! I am the Lady Mira of Venna, of the Merchants!"
She complied. Then she looked up at me. "You called me a mercenary," she said.
"I was wrong," I said. "You are only a former mercenary."
They would have no such reservations, of course, pertaining to a lone white man wandering about in the Barrens. Such might be, I supposed, even hunted down for sport. Alfred, the mercenary captain from Port Olni, I supposed, must now be making his way back to civilization, with his men.
"Too," I said, "I gather, from other aspects of your story, that you became mercenary and greedy."
"Perhaps," she said.
"How is she who was the Lady Mira, of Venna?" I asked. The Lady Mira, of Venna, had been an agent of Kurii. She had been in political command, under Kog and Sardak, of a force of approximately a thousand mercenaries, the human contingent accompanying Kog and Sardak, and their death squad, into the Barrens. The military command of these mercenaries, also under Kog and Sardak, who would have retained supreme command, had been in the hands of Alfred, a mercenary captain from Port Olni. The chain of command, then, for most practical purposes, except tactical situations, would have been Kurii, then the Lady Mira, and then Alfred, the captain from Port Olni. After the joint attack and massacre of a few weeks ago, the Lady Mira had been captured and, presumably because she had been found with soldiers, sent to a Waniyanpi compound. Alfred had managed to escape with a mounted force of perhaps some four hundred riders. He, presumably, had, by now, made his way back to the Ihanke, to civilization and safety. Small bands of warriors, the sorts which make up common war parties, would not be likely to attack a force of that size.
"You are she," I asked, "who was once the Lady Mira, of Venna?"
"Yes," she said, "yes."
"Formerly of the merchants?" I asked.
"Yes," she said. I saw her lips move under the cloth.
"Formerly a mercenary," I said, "formerly an agent in the service of Kurii?"
"Who are you?" she asked, frightened.
"You may respond to my question," I informed her. My thumbs, then, were at her throat. She felt their pressure.
"Yes," she whispered. "I was formerly a mercenary. I was formerly in the service of Kurii."
"When I was free, I was regarded as being very beautiful. Indeed, it was said by some that I was as beautiful, even, as a slave."
"A high compliment," I acknowledged. I recalled the first time I had ever seen her, on her curule chair, on her high cart, in the column of the Kurii and mercenaries. She had worn the robes of concealment, but only a wisp of diaphanous silk, presumably by intent, had feigned to hide her features. I recalled, even then, wondering what she might look like in the shimmering dancing silks of an enslaved female or, say, stripped and collared, crawling to a man's feet.
"Some weeks ago," I said, "there was a raid on a large wagon train and a mercenary column of soldiers. Do you know of this?"
"Yes," she said. "Captives were brought to the Yellow-Knife camp."
The white men were undoubtedly the mercenary soldiers of Alfred, the mercenary captain of Port Olni. With something like a thousand men he had entered the Barrens, with seventeen Kurii, an execution squad from the steel worlds, searching for Half-Ear, Zarendargar, the Kur war general who had been in command of the supply complex, and staging area, in the Gorean arctic, that which was being readied to support the projected Kur invasion of Gor.
"They are Kurii," I said. "They were with the mercenaries of Alfred, the captain from Port Olni. They were housed in the small wagons near the end of his column."
"Yes," said Cuwignaka. It was squatting in a place of great honor, at the height of the large circle, its weight resting on its feet and the knuckles of its hands. On one side of it sat Alfred, captain of the mercenaries, with certain of his lieutenants. On the other side of it sat the three war chiefs of the Yellow Knives, those who had been earlier in the camp. Doubtless they had used their time with Watonka to well scout the camp. With them were certain of their high warriors.
Never before had I seen the shield of Kahintokapa outside of its shield cover, even when I had first seen him, long ago, with Canka and the members of the All Comrades, near the site of the battle of the wagon train, near, too, where the mercenaries had fought, and Alfred had escaped with a contingent of some three to four hundred men.
She, with three others, Inez, Corinne and Priscilla, had been taken from Grunt by Yellow Knives in the vicinity of the field where the battle had taken place between a coalition of red savages and the soldiers of Alfred, the mercenary captain from Port Olni.
At this point I could see only Yellow Knives but I did not doubt but what Alfred, the mercenary captain from Port Olni, with the remnants of his command, probably some three hundred cavalrymen, or so, following the engagement at the summer camp, was not far behind.
There had been seventeen wagons with the mercenary column which I had conjectured had contained one Kur apiece, given the irritability and territoriality of such beasts.
"We rendered them no assistance," I said. "They had to make other arrangements, with mercenaries."
"May I present to you Drusus Rencius, Lady Sheila, my sovereign, he who is first sword among our guards?" Ligurious had inquired several days ago.
"The name seems not to be of Corcyrus," I said.
"Various mercenaries are within our services," said Ligurious. "We have soldiers from as far as Anango and Skjern."
In a Gorean city it was not difficult for a woman to travel incognito. By the robes of concealment this is made easy. I wore the robes of a woman of high caste, today the yellow of the Builders. Drusus Rencius wore a nondescript tunic and a swirling maroon cape. The only weaponry he carried, that I could detect, was his sword. He might have been any mercenary or armed servant, in attendance on a lady.
How far I had come! How far away, now, seemed the perfume counter in the department store on Long Island, the photographer's studio, my apartment. I remembered that pretty, mercenary, greedy little clerk at the perfume counter. She was no longer free. She had now been made a collared slave girl. She had once been Miss Tiffany Collins. She was now an animal, and nameless in her own right, but masters had seen fit to put the name "Tiffany" on her.
How far I was from my small apartment, from the perfume counter in the department store on Long Island. That mercenary little chit was now, on this natural world, a braceleted slave at the foot of a man's couch.
"On Cos, as our spies have it," said Samos, "there is much training of men, and a recruitment of mercenaries."
"How can I have betrayed their cause?" I asked. "I am not really an agent of Priest-Kings. I have never pledged a sword to them, never sworn a fidelity oath in their behalf. I am my own man, a mercenary of sorts, one who has, upon occasion, as it pleased him, labored in their behalf."
As rumor has it, Clearchus was a famous brigand of some two centuries ago who decided to legitimize and regularize his brigandage. He proclaimed his area of operations a Ubarate, proclaimed himself its Ubar, and then proceeded to impose taxes and levy tolls. Interestingly enough, in time, several cities accorded this Ubarate diplomatic recognition, generally in return for concessions on the taxes and tolls. Finally a large force of mercenaries, in the hire of the merchant caste, in a campaign that lasted several months, put an end to the spurious reign of Clearchus, driving him from the forest and scattering his men. It is generally conceded, however, that had Clearchus had more men he might have turned out to be the founder of a state.
At best I had, even in the past, served them or not, as my inclinations prompted. I was perhaps less of a pledged adherent in their wars than a free sword, a mercenary of sorts, one who accepted one cause or another, as it might please him to do so.
"The forces of Ar," I said, "are even now being mustered, to repel the invaders. The soldiers of Cos, and their mercenary contingents, no matter how numerous, will be no match for the marshaled squares of Ar."
Never before on Gor, I suspected, had such forces been marshaled. It was an invasion, it seemed, not of an army, but of armies. To be sure, many of its contingents were composed of mercenaries sworn to the temporary service of diverse fee captains, and not Cosian regulars. It is difficult to manage such men. They do not fight for Home Stones. They are often little more than armed rabbles. Many are little better than thieves and cutthroats. They must be well paid and assured of ample booty. Accordingly the tactics and movements of such groups, functions of captains who know their men well, and must be wary of them, are often less indicative of sound military considerations, strategic or otherwise, than of organized brigandage, I did not think that such men would stand well, even in their numbers, against the well-trained soldiers of Ar.
"Raymond, he of Rive-de-Bois, is recruiting," he said. "So, too, is Conrad of Hochburg, and Pietro Vacchi." These men were mercenary captains. There were dozens of such companies. If one owns one's own weapons, of course, one need not be armed at the expense of the company. Too, if one owns one's own weapons, it may usually be fairly assumed that one knows how to use them. Such men, then, may receive a certain preference in being added to the rolls. They are likely to be experienced soldiers, not eager lads just in from the farms. In many mercenary companies, incidentally, there are no uniforms and no issuance of standard equipment. Too, many such companies are, for most practical purposes, disbanded during the winter, the captain retaining then only a cadre of officers and professionals. Then, in the spring, after obtaining a war contract, sometimes obtained by competitive bidding, they begin anew, almost from the beginning, with recruiting and training.
It is quite unusual, incidentally, for such men as Raymond and Conrad to be recruiting now, in Se'Kara. It was really a time in which most soldiers on Gor would be thinking about the pleasures of winter quarters or a return to their own villages and towns. There are usually diverse explanations, depending on the situation, for the type of forced recruiting to which men in some of the villages had been subjected. Sometimes a passing army desires merely to amplify its forces, or replace losses, particularly among the lighter arms, such as bowmen, slingers and javelin men. Sometimes the recruiting is done more for the purposes of obtaining a labor force, for siegeworks and entrenching camps, than for actual combat. Sometimes the mercenary captains, whose negotiated, signed contracts call for the furnishing of certain numbers of armed men for their various employers, have little choice but to impress some reluctant fellows, that their obligatory quotas may be met. More than one fellow has sworn an oath of allegiance with a sword at his throat. Most mercenaries, of course, join their captains voluntarily. Indeed, skilled and famous captains, ones noted for their military skill and profitable campaigns, must often close down their enlisting tables early in En'Kara.
"You are sure you are not a spy," he said.
"Yes," I smiled, "I am sure." I supposed, of course, that Ar must be attempting to keep itself apprised of the movements of the enemy. Presumably there would be spies, or informers of some sort, with the troops or the wagons. It is not difficult to infiltrate spies into mercenary troops, incidentally, where the men come from different backgrounds, castes and cities, and little is asked of them other than their ability to handle weapons and obey orders.
"Many are the causes on Gor," I said, "and so, too, many are the captains."
"My first appointments," he said, "might be with anyone."
"Many captains," I said, "choose their causes on the scales of merchants, weighing their iron against gold. They fight, I fear, only for the Ubar with the deepest purse."
"I am an Alar," said Hurtha. "The cities are always at war with us. It is always the fields against the walls. No matter then which way I face, nor whom I strike, it would be a blow against enemies."
"I am a mercenary, of sorts," I said, "but I have usually selected my causes with care."
We were in the camp of the wagoners, one of those associated with the supply trains of the soldiers of Cos and the Cosian mercenaries.
"This does not look to me like the work of regular troops," I said. "Consider the wagons, the bodies."
The wagons had not merely been burned, that their cargos might be destroyed, but, clearly, had been ransacked. Wrappings, sackings and broken vessels lay strewn about. Several bodies, it seemed, had been hastily examined. Some had been stripped of articles of clothing. I had found none with their wallets intact. In some cases digits had been cut away, presumably to free rings.
"Mercenaries," said Hurtha.
"It would seem so," I said. It is difficult to control such men. Most commanders, in certain situations, will give them their head. Indeed, in certain circumstances the attempt to impose discipline upon them can be extremely dangerous. It is something like informing the hunting sleen, eager, hot from the chase, his jaws red with blood, that he should now relinquish his kill. It must be understood, of course, that the average mercenary looks upon loot as his perquisite. He regards it, so to speak, as a part of his pay. Indeed, the promise of loot is almost always one of the recruiter's major inducements.
"Cosian mercenaries?" asked Hurtha.
"Who knows?" I said. It did not seem to me impossible that some of the mercenary troops with the Cosian army might have doubled back to strike at one of their own supply columns. Surely the paucity of protection provided for such columns would not have escaped their notice.
Mercenaries, as I may have mentioned, are often mustered out in the fall, to be recruited anew in the spring.
Two of the gate guards crawled into the wagon. Mincon presented his papers to the gate captain. "Mercenaries, from the north," said Mincon to the captain, indicating Hurtha and myself.
The captain nodded.
I had realized for years, of course, that Dietrich of Tarnburg was a capable mercenary, and one of Gor's finest commanders. I had not found mention, however, in the annals, or diaries, which had been generally concerned with marches and campaigns, a sufficient appreciation of this other side of his character. He was apparently not only a military genius but perhaps also a political one.
"Recently, on the Genesian Road, north of Torcadino, there was an attack on a portion of the Cosian supply trains, a massacre. Were your men responsible for that?"
"No," he said.
"Do you know what party, or parties, were?" I asked.
"No," he said.
"But it was done by mercenaries," I said.
"Doubtless," he said.
I was troubled. I wished to go to Ar, but I had my own business there. I did not think I needed a mercenary's coins to buy my way there.
"Look at me," she said. "I have a collar on my neck. I cannot remove it. It attaches me to a chain, with others. I am naked. Men may look upon me as they please. There is a number on my breast. I am 261, among the catches of mercenaries. I will be sold. Do not tell me how I can speak. I am, like you, a woman on a chain!"
"First," he said, "you must understand that women are cheap. It has to do with the wars. Because of the many dislocations, and the famine in parts of the country, many women have had to sell themselves into slavery. Too, thousands of females from Torcadino alone, over the recent months, in virtue of one coup or another, have been put into the market. Too, mercenaries and raiders abound. Slavers grow more bold, even in larger cities. Crowding, and the influx of refugees, too, in such cities as Ar, refugees who are often beautiful and defenseless, and easily taken, have contributed to the depression of the market."
"I have come to Argentum seeking my fortune," he said. "I will seek service with some mercenary captain."
"Tomorrow," he said, "I am going out of the camp, to the Viktel Aria, and south. There is trouble with the chains. It has to do with the mercenary companies now roving the countryside. They do so with impunity. It seems, they think that whatever land the tread of their tharlarion can shake, whatever soil they choose to mark with the imprint of their beasts' claws, is theirs. Venna keeps her forces in the vicinity of the city. The patrols of Ar are irregular. The forces of Ar, almost entirely, have marched north, toward Ar's Station, on the Vosk, there to meet with an expeditionary force of Cos. It seems madness, with an army of Cosians, and mercenaries, at Torcadino, but I am not a general, not the regent of Ar. In short, as Ionicus, and others, including myself, have feared there might be, there has been trouble. It is nothing, however, happily, as we are dealing with mercenaries, that some gold, some fees for their clamorous brigades, cannot straighten out. Such things have happened before."
"I have taken fee," said Aulus.
"But with Ionicus of Cos!" cried the fellow, suddenly, angrily. The knuckles of his hand were white on the shaft of the lance.
"The fee has been taken," said Aulus, quietly.
I saw the fellow's hand relax. He leaned back. He grinned, his teeth very white in the curly, ringleted blackness of that beribboned beard.
"You are more of a mercenary than I," he laughed.
I had not heard them say anything about the female work slaves. Surely Tupita, too, for example, would have fallen into the hands of this fellow, this mercenary captain, Pietro Vacchi. As a slave, of course, I did not dare speak. What if they saw fit to have me trampled by one of the tharlarion?
I did not want to go to the mercenaries' camp. It was not merely that I feared such men but that Mirus, I knew, was from Brundisium. Indeed, he and Hendow, my former master, had grown up together there. They had known one another since childhood. On the last night I had seen him in the tavern Mirus had told me that he and Hendow would die for one another.
I rose to my feet. Only too clearly was Aulus going to accompany the captain to his camp.
"Master," I begged, pressing myself against the side of Aulus's tharlarion, looking up at him, "please do not take me to the camp of the mercenaries, please! Please!"
I followed the men, on my chain tether. So I might dance? So soldiers might draw lots for my use? So I might serve Pietro Vacchi? But what then? Would the man following not "bide his time" as Tupita had said? Would there not come a time, sooner or later, if he were patient, and I did not doubt but what he was patient, very patient, when he could find me alone? I might even be staked out, my hands and legs widely separated. I had heard mercenaries sometimes enjoyed fastening women down in such a way. But I would be scarcely less helpless if I were in a tiny slave cage, through the bars of which he might thrust with his sword, perhaps a hundred short, sharp times, or, similarly available to him, for whatever he might choose to do to me, chained with my belly to a tree, my ankles and wrists fastened about it.
I hoped that when the men were through with me, the others, and the master, Pietro Vacchi, that they would put me in a slave pen, preferably with other girls. Surely in a camp of mercenaries they would have other girls. Such should be common in such a camp. They would presumably pick them up here and there, perhaps selling some, and adding others. Perhaps some, more beautiful, or popular, might be kept more or less permanently with the troops. Perhaps some of the soldiers, officers probably, even had their own girls, taken here or there, their own property. They had spoken of a "gentlewoman," though, I suppose, if she were free, she would not be put with slaves, but might sleep chained at the feet of her captor, at least until her thigh made the acquaintance of the brand and her neck of the collar. Hopefully the bars would be sturdy, and closely set. I would want to sleep near the center of the pen. It should be safer there. Perhaps such things, the presence of other slaves, and of bars of iron, could protect me.
I had feared they might not have a pen here, but only a chain, perhaps stretched between trees, that we might be attached to, by the ankle or neck. Such a thing, though it might have its guard, might be more easily approached. The pen was some forty feet square, and some seven feet in height. It had an open roofing of bars, supported by hollow metal posts, and bars, too, covered now with sand, floored it. It could be assembled, fastened together with plates, bolts and chains, and similarly disassembled, and transported in wagons. Mercenaries, following the demands of their business, the exigencies of their trade, frequently move their camps. Though the wagons could doubtless be drawn by tharlarion, if speed were necessary, the harnesses I had seen on the covered harness racks, near the wagons, were not made for tharlarion. They were made for women. Girls, thus, and perhaps some stripped free women among them, would draw the wagons. Doubtless drovers would be with them on the road, with their whips, should they be tempted to lag in their zeal. There were only some twenty or so women penned with me now. Many, perhaps a hundred or more, were doubtless spending the night in the tents of soldiers, signed out to them for the night. There was one gate to our pen. It was secured with two locks, padlocks, and chains. It was guarded by two men.
He had then left me, and another man had come to look upon me. I had danced that night between campfires, for the mercenaries. He had not chosen to watch. It seems, once again, that he would take suitable precautions against me, that the hardness of his heart, set so against me, not be softened, that the iron of his intent be neither diminished nor imperiled, that there be no possible weakening of his terrible resolve.
I turned to my back, within the blanket. It was a very dark night. I could scarcely see the bars, it was so dark.
Also, he may have had in mind that I might dance for the mercenaries and serve some of them, and their captain. Thus I might, in my humble way, like a gift, or a token of good will, make my small contribution to the success of his visit. Perhaps a tribute, or, more carefully put, a friendship fee, might even be arranged, such that the chains of Ionicus might, at least for a given time, enjoy immunity from the depredations of the mercenaries.
"What is it?" had asked the guard, uneasily. "Nothing, Master," I had said. It had not been difficult to detect the uneasiness, or even alarm, in the guard's voice. I did not understand his apprehension. We were in the midst of the mercenaries' camp. If there had been something there, presumably it would be only another of his fellows, perhaps relieving himself in the darkness, not wanting to seek out the latrines.
"What do you mean?" I asked. "Do you think Vacchi is implicated in our abduction?"
"Certainly not," she said. "He could have put either of us in his collar, at his whim. Who is going to gainsay him with his company of mercenaries?"
One man of Tharna, it is said, is a match for ten from most cities. Whereas that is doubtless not true, it is not disputed that Tharnan warriors are among the most dangerous on Gor. It is indicative of this sort of thing that Tharnan mercenaries usually command high fees. Many mercenary companies use them as cadre and officers.
"There is no time to waste," said a man. "If the storm ceases, and the cloud cover scatters, the tarnsmen of Artemidorus may strike at the columns." Artemidorus was a Cosian, the captain of a band of flighted mercenaries.
These remarks, incidentally, pertain primarily to free criminals, and not to prisoners of war or slaves. The stripping of prisoners of war, if it is done, is generally a temporary matter, having to do with marking them out, as many Gorean soldiers, particularly mercenaries, do not have distinctive uniforms, and preventing the concealment of weapons.
Dietrich of Tarnburg, one of the best known of the mercenary captains on Gor, is legendary for his skill in such matters. He has doubtless taken more towns with gold than iron.
"I have heard there are thousands of Cosians, their auxiliaries, and their mercenaries, at Ar's Station," he said. "If that is true, they must outnumber the regulars in Ar's Station by as many as ten to one."
I had been in Torcadino several weeks ago, indeed, at the very moment when the city, housing Cosian siege engines and supplies, serving as a depot and staging area for the eastward advance of Cos, had, in a daring stratagem, been seized by Dietrich of Tarnburg with no more than a few thousand mercenaries.
It seemed to me that my chances of successfully delivering my message to Aemilianus, whatever might be its contents, might be improved if it were borne not by a tarnsman but by one afoot, one who might, say, among mercenaries, or civilians, mix inconspicuously.
"Are you thinking of redeeming me?" she asked.
"I was thinking about it," I said. I must try to gain admittance to Ar's Station. It was invested by Cosians, and mercenaries. I might have use for such as she.
I frankly doubted that the keeper would be keen to mix into such an altercation, particularly one involving an armed mercenary, a fellow of the company of Artemidorus.
It seemed he might hesitate a moment, but he took in my appearance, the blue of Cos, the insignia of the mercenaries of Artemidorus, the helmet, my weapons, indeed, two swords.
There had been no difficulty in moving through the trenches in my guise as a mercenary with one or two women to sell.
"Many of these fellows," I said, "are not of Cos, but are mercenaries in the service of Cos."
These men were front-trench fighters, most of them. Probably in defense, and in support of assaults, and in assaults themselves, they had been muchly employed and risked. The siege had been long, and bitter. Those who were not of Cos, and were mercenaries, fighting only for their fees, and some loot, perhaps a female or two, and gold, would presumably not be much moved by appeals to Cosian heritages or patriotism. Their loyalties would be less to Cos than to their captains and comrades. In some cases, they might be loyal, as well, to their word, to their oaths and pledges, and, if they understood what they were marking at the recruitment tables, their contracts. And the fellows from Cos itself, and from Tyros, and their close allies, were surely by now, if they had not been before, hardened veterans, men unlikely to be swayed by the self-serving appeals of beautiful women, men accustomed to seeing such women, of whatever city, in terms of the collar and chain.
For a wild, irrational moment I wondered if the city might have been deserted. But that would not be possible, of course. The garrison and population could not have withdrawn unnoticed. The land side was invested. The countryside swarmed with Cosians, and their mercenaries and allies. The harbor was closed with ships and rafts. What was more likely, of course, was that there were few men on the walls. What defenders there were would presumably be summoned by alarms to threatened points. I feared my position might be noticed at any moment by Cosians, and that I might be trapped against the wall.
"Dietrich, of the Silver Tarn?" he asked.
"His standard, it is true," I said, "is that of the Silver Tarn."
"He is a mercenary," said Aemilianus, bitterly.
"You, too, are a mercenary," he said, bitterly.
"I have served for fee," I said.
"Anyone's gold can purchase your steel," he said.
"Perhaps not anyone's," I said. Some mercenaries chose their causes with care.
"I do not know the location of the main body of the might of Ar," I said, "but I suspect it is exactly where this report states it is, and that this report is apprising Artemidorus of the situation. I do not know why it is not in cipher. Perhaps this information is not really that secret, at least to Cosians. After all, it is not easy to conceal the whereabouts of thousands of men from a foe with tarn scouts. I would also suggest to you that there is indeed a Cosian invasion force in the south, and one that makes the one here look like a squad. Your conjecture that Cos could not field such land forces assumes that these forces must consist of her own troops. That is not true, of course. You must realize that even here the majority of the men who face you are not Cosian regulars but allies and mercenaries."
"Because you had declared for Cos," I said. "Cosians, like those of Ar, or elsewhere, expect those whose allegiance has been freely given to serve as those who have given their allegiance freely, and not as merchants or mercenaries."
I saw more Cosians spew forth from a tower, over the bridge, and fall into tarn wire, and meet the pikes of defenders. From where I stood I could see, outside and below, hundreds of Cosians, and their mercenaries and allies. These fellows were back about a hundred yards. Many seemed at their ease, watching the walls, the ladders, the grapnel men, what they could see of the fighting.
Cosians, mercenaries mostly, broke free from their rearward ranks and ran to the wall, to claim females. So, too, then, backing away, then turning, did several in the forward ranks. The officer rallied enough regulars about himself to assure that we would not attempt to press forward.
"Draw back with me," I said, softly, backing away. The Cosians, regulars and mercenaries, responsive to the orders of their officer, advanced some yards onto the walkway. They did not follow us closely, however.
Dietrich of Tarnburg, for example, though one often thinks of him in terms of innovations such as the oblique advance and the use of siege equipment in the field, is also, in my opinion, based on my studies of his campaigns, for example, in the commentaries of Minicius and the "Diaries," which some ascribe to Carl Commenius, of Argentum, a military historian, a master of the use of reserves. Some claim, incidentally, that Commenius was himself once a mercenary. I do not know if this is true or not, but his diaries, if, indeed, they are true, suggest this, that he was not a stranger to the field. I do not think it likely that all the incidents in them, in their detail, are merely based on the reports of others.
"It is speculated that you are a mercenary," he said. "Cos has use of such. I come on behalf of Aristimines, Commander of Cos in the north. He is pleased with your work, though it has been to his own cost. I have here a purse of gold. Contract your sword to Cos and it is yours." He dropped the leather purse, drawn shut with strings, to the boards of the walk. He then stepped back. "See?" he said. "We do not cut at your neck, as you bend to take it."
He tucked the gold back in his tunic.
"You are not a mercenary, then?" he said.
"I did not say that," I said.
"Choose for Cos," he said.
"Not today," I said.
"No, Commander," she said. She knew, of course, that Lady Claudia could testify as to the presence of the gold in her purse. Indeed, interestingly, although this was not known to the girl, that very gold had been used after the fall of the gate to assist in the escape of Aemilianus and his colleagues to the piers. I had scattered it behind mercenaries, to clear a passage.
"I ask a boon then," I said.
"I am surprised that you would do so," he said.
"Think of me then as a mercenary," I said, "and I am speaking of my pay."
"We did not contract for your services," he said.
"I know," I said. "This is a matter of honor."
After the fall of Ar's Station the Cosian troops, and their allies, mercenary and otherwise, would have much more freedom.
"Ephialtes is well," she said, "and seems much taken with Liadne, as she with him. Two days after the fall of Ar's Station a mercenary, who had apparently seen much action, passed near the wagon of Ephialtes. Liomache, seeing him, startled, terrified, tried to hide amongst us but he, quick, and observant, had seen her!
'Keeper!' Ephialtes, who had been called forth by the commotion, was present. 'She is for sale, or my sword will have it so!' cried the mercenary.
There are often explicit camp rules pertaining to the sizes of fires, as there are for many other things, such as the general ordering of the camp, its defenses, its streets and layout, the location of its facilities, such as infirmaries, commissaries and smithies, the maintenance of security and watches within units, the types of tents permitted, their acceptable occupancy, their spacing and drainage, and provisions for sanitation. The observance of these rules, or ordinances, is usually supervised by, and enforced by, camp marshals. To be sure, this camp was largely one of mercenaries, and, as such, was lax in many of these particulars. It is difficult to impose order and discipline on mercenaries. Too, these men were flushed with victory, after the fall of Ar's Station, to the east. I noted a fellow relieving himself a few yards away, near the railing of the enclosure. In a camp of Ar an infraction of that sort might have earned a fine, or a scourging.
Also, of course, the Cosians were presumably moving toward either Brundisium, which had been the port of entry of their invasion fleet, or south to join Myron in the vicinity of Torcadino, where Dietrich of Tarnburg, the mercenary, lay at bay, like a larl in his den. There had been no attempt, at least as yet, for the fine forces of Ar, in all their power, to cut them off, to pin them against the Vosk, or meet them in battle. There were several thousand Cosians, and mercenaries, in our camp, but the forces of Ar, by repute, were in the neighborhood of some fifty thousand men, an incredible force for a Gorean community to maintain in the field. The common Gorean army is usually no more than four or five thousand men. Indeed, mercenary bands often number no more than one or two hundred. Dietrich of Tarnburg, in commanding something like five thousand men, is unusual. He is one of the most feared and redoubtable of the mercenary commanders on Gor.
He wore the uniform and insignia of the tarnsmen of Artemidorus, the well-known Cosian mercenary.
I then began to make my way toward the encampment and cots of Artemidorus, the Cosian mercenary.
To be sure, many of the men in this camp, both regulars and mercenaries, were skilled warriors, perhaps even trained to hunt men.
This party, except for myself, consisted of five men, mercenaries, under the command of a Cosian regular.
By now, too, it seemed likely, over the winter, that Myron would have been able to rebuild his vast stores. Too, now, the winter over, he could bring his numerous mercenaries together again, recalling their standards from a dozen winter camps.
Many mercenaries do not wear uniforms. Insignia such as armbands, scarves, ribbons and plumes, of given colors, serve to identify them, making clear their side. Needless to say, such casual devices may be swiftly changed, the colors sometimes alternating with the tides of battle. Many mercenary companies consist of little more than rabbles of armed ruffians, others, like those of Dietrich of Tarnburg, Pietro Vacchi and Raymond, of Rive-de-Bois, are crack troops, as professional as warriors of Ar or Cosian regulars. In dealing with mercenaries, it is extremely important to know the sort of mercenaries with which one is dealing. That can make a great deal of difference, both with respect to tactics and strategy. More than one regiment of regular troops has been decimated as a result of their commanders having taken a mercenary foe too lightly. With respect to switching sides, given the fortunes of the day, incidentally, the "turncoat," so to speak, to use the English expression, is not unknown on Gor. A tunic may be lined with a different color. The tunic may then, after dark, for example, be turned inside out. Such tunics, however, are seldom worn on Gor. For one thing, a fellow found wearing one is usually impaled, by either side. They have been used, of course, for infiltration purposes, much like civilian garb, false uniforms, and such.
"You are mercenaries," I observed, "in the pay of Cos."
I heard a voice behind me, from the dust. It was only when the ground had shaken near me, and I had spun half about, almost buffeted by a saddle tharlarion, and saw the running mercenary caught between the shoulder blades with the point of the lance, thrown then to the dust, rolling and bloody, and saw the tharlarion trampling the body, then turning about in a swirl of dust, the rider lifting the bloodstained lance, that I registered the voice I heard.
The best evidence that these were indeed fellows from Ar, of course, was that they had ridden down the mercenaries, unhesitantly, mercilessly, giving no quarter. They would have been identified as being of the party of Cos, of course, by their recently affixed insignia, in the one case, by the blue armband, in the other case, by the blue scarf.
"These fellows were following you?" asked the leader, indicating the fallen mercenaries.
"Yes," I said.
"Nothing can stand against Ar," he said.
"Do not underestimate the Cosians," I said.
"Mercenaries," said he scornfully.
I watched him until he had disappeared among the rence. An anger and hatred flooded over me then for the men of Ar, at whose hands I had been so cruelly treated. I hated them then, and in my heart reviled them. Let them perish in the delta then, or at its edges, under the swords of mercenaries, thought I.
To be sure, I suspected that he, or his informants, would not be likely to discriminate nicely between complete and selective surveillance, between closed patterns, such as manned perimeters, and random patrols, or even between Cosian regulars and mercenaries.
"True," I said. I recalled Phoebe, the slim young maid of Cos whom I had taken with me, at her request, from the Crooked Tarn. I had put her in a single slave strip before I had turned her over to Ephialtes, the sutler, to hold for me. He might, by now, I supposed, be in the vicinity of Brundisium. Presumably the balance of Cos' northern forces, mostly mercenaries, would have retired to that city, for mustering out, or reassignment.
"There," said Titus, pointing to the northwest. "There is a fellow running, a Cosian, and some fellows in the garb of Ar, how many I am not sure, are pursuing him."
This seemed to be surely strange, in this area. If anything, I would have expected Cosians to be pursuing some poor fugitive from Ar, one trying to escape the delta. Perhaps they were actually Cosians, or mercenaries, dressed to lure in fellows of Ar, and the fellow, himself, might be of Ar, in the uniform of a Cosian. That would make some sense, at any rate.
"Plenius," I called. He was next in authority in our small group, after Labienus.
"I heard," he said, appearing from the brush, a spear in his hand.
"They are coming this way," called Titus.
"Let us investigate," I said. To be sure, they might be all Cosians, or mercenaries, enacting some charade to put us off our guard.
By hand signals Plenius deployed our fellows. He then, they fanned out behind him, followed me.
In a few moments I caught sight of the runner, and the fellows pursuing him. Oddly, none seem armed. They were then, I gathered, not likely, any of them, really, to be Cosians or mercenaries.
"We have here another body for the marsh," I said. "These fellows, as nearly as I can tell, are not even mercenaries, but brigands of some sort."
"Liomache," he said, "I also sold near Ar's Station, even before Temione, to a Cosian mercenary, whom she had apparently, months before, at the Crooked Tarn, tricked and defrauded."
I looked about the floor, at the numerous patrons. Although most of them were doubtless fellows from Brundisium, citizens of that polity, there were many others about, as well, in particular, oarsmen from the galleys in the harbor, not far away, and soldiers from the camp outside the walls, mostly mercenaries, on which Cos depends heavily, but some, too, who were apparently regulars.
She had been overheard making disparaging remarks about a certain city. A mercenary captain from that city, learning of this, saw to it that she was brought naked and in chains into his keeping.
There had been some other slaves, too, following the slim line of mercenaries on the road, beauties serving as pack slaves, bearing burdens.
The city of which the former Lady Cara had spoken disparagingly, before being brought into the custody of the mercenary captain was Tarnburg. The city to which the former Lucilina, the former preferred slave of Myron, the Polemarkos, had been smuggled was Torcadino, then held by the same mercenary captain, Dietrich of Tarnburg, of course. This evening I had seen a line of mercenaries, perhaps a hundred in all, with some slaves, mostly pack slaves, some eight or ten of them, approaching Brundisium. The leader of the mercenaries, and several of them, astride their tharlarion, wore wind scarves, rather like those worn in the Tahari, protecting themselves from the dust of the journey. These served, as well, doubtless inadvertently, to conceal their features. I would have thought little of the passage of these mercenaries, what with so many hundreds about, here and there, coming and going, had I not recognized the slave at the leader's stirrup, and, indeed, later, one of the beauteous pack slaves. As I stood back, with others, off the road, as they passed, the leader, and the others, would not recognize me. I had made inquiries tonight in Brundisium, of course, to ascertain the whereabouts of these fellows. I learned first what quarter of the city they had entered, and, later, what inns, hotels and taverns they might be patronizing. This was not difficult for most mercenaries in the vicinity of Brundisium were not quartered in the city but in the Cosian camp. Accordingly, they would not be entering the city with their units, but rather, if they entered it at all, as individuals, or in small groups.
Various of the fellows looked around. In the group there were fellows from Brundisium, oarsmen, merchants, mercenaries, Cosian regulars, others. All seemed eager to learn what might have occurred. I did not see any Cosian officers present, or anyone who looked as though they may be interested in arresting the transmission of this matter.
"I hired mercenaries," said he. "I went to the Jeweled Whip last night and made the arrangements. Things would have gone quite smoothly if you had stayed where you were supposed to be."
"You had no gold to hire mercenaries," I said.
"This fellow did," said Marcus, jerking a thumb back at Octantius who was still standing there, his hands over his head. "So I used his gold."
"My friend," I said.
"We might never have found you," said he, "had we not heard rumors of a berserk lunatic running about the slave camp killing innocent folk. Naturally I assumed it must b
"So we hurried over here."
"How many are there?" I asked.
"A hundred, or better," said Marcus. "And I assure you these sleen do not come cheap."
I observed Octantius and his men being tied. Also I noted that their purses were being emptied.
"We will take these fellows a few pasangs from Brundisium," said the leader of the mercenaries, "strip them and set them loose."
"My thanks," said I, and my thanks were heartfelt.
"Do not thank them," said Marcus. "They are sleen for hire. It is all in the contract."
"Do you know with whom you are dealing?" I asked Marcus.
"He is dealing with Edgar, of Tarnwald," said the leader of the mercenaries.
"Of course," I said.
"The mercenary sleen does not come cheap," said Marcus. He had a regular's disdain for his mercenary counterpart. He had not yet learned to distinguish between mercenary and mercenary. That has been the downfall of several commanders of regular troops.
"Why did you not let me know you were here?" I asked.
"We weren't here," said Marcus. "We just arrived."
I swallowed, hard.
"You should have stayed in our camp," said Marcus.
"Apparently," I said.
I went to Octantius who now had his hands tied behind his back. A rope was on his neck. He and his men were to be placed in throat coffle.
"I take it," said Octantius, "that we are now to be taken out and killed."
"You are a brave man," I said.
"It is easy to be brave when one has no hope," he said.
"I am sorry I spoke to you as I did earlier."
"Your ruse was transparent," he said. "I took no offense."
"You are not to be killed," I said. "You are to be taken away from here, and released."
He looked at me, startled.
"Tomorrow," I said, "recollect honor."
He looked at me, and then he was thrust several yards toward the gate, to be held there as more of his men were being added to the coffle.
The leader of the mercenaries hefted the bag of gold in his hand. He looked at Marcus. "You did not tell us that you did not have the gold when you hired us," he said.
"I had prospects of obtaining it," said Marcus.
"What if it had not been here?" asked the mercenary.
"Then," said Marcus, "I would have sold my life dearly."
"I see," said the mercenary.
I was pleased to see that Marcus had formulated a plan for that contingency.
"Well," said Marcus to the mercenary, "you have your gold. You may now be on your way."
"Marcus," I whispered, "please."
The mercenary then went to where Ina lay in the dirt, in the center of what had been the circle. She was still unconscious. "So this is the little traitress and slave," he said. He turned her to her belly with his foot. "Not bad," he said. He then, again with his foot, turned her to her back. "Good slave curves," he said.
"Yes," I said.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"Ar," I said.
"It would be dangerous to take this slave there," he said.
"I have no intention of taking her there," I smiled.
"Has she been taught anything of the collar?" he asked.
"A little," I said.
"Such as she should learn quickly and well," he said.
"I have every confidence that she will do so," I said.
"She will, or die," he said.
"Perhaps then," I said, "my camp, in an Ahn?"
"I shall send Mincon," he said.
"Good," I said.
"You will have to buy her if you want her," said Marcus.
"What a mercenary fellow," said the leader of the mercenaries. He then, with a laugh, tossed the bag of gold to Marcus.
Marcus caught the gold against his chest, and clung to it, astonished.
"I wish you well," said the mercenary captain to me.
"I wish you well, too," I said.
The mercenary captain then turned to Marcus. "I wish you well, too," said he, "my young friend."
"I do not understand," said Marcus.
"That is because you are not a mercenary," said the captain.
"I do not understand," said Marcus.
"We have already received our pay," he said.
"But this is the gold," said Marcus.
"Not all pay is gold," he said.
"My thanks," I said to the mercenary.
"It is nothing," he said.
"Ina is not here," I said. "Have you not noticed?"
"No," he said, glumly.
"I gave her to the mercenary," I said. "His man, with two others, came to pick her up."
To be sure, I did not expect that Octantius or his men would be back quickly, and, in any event, it would take them time to reorganize and secure arms. Too, as the mercenaries might still be about or be thought to be about, and the gold was gone, I did not think that we would have much to fear, at least immediately, from that quarter. On the other hand, it would be well to move out with expedition.
Marcus went to the side, to secure some of his gear.
Our first treks would be at night, and we would, at least in this vicinity, avoid roads, paths, waterways, agricultural areas, villages, communities, and such. We would move with something of the stealth and secrecy which we utilized in the delta. Later, it would presumably be safe to frequent more civilized areas. Indeed, in time I expected we could travel with impunity, as vagabonds, toward Ar, presumably even on the Viktel Aria, during daylight hours. I did not think there would be much danger of being recognized. The girl with us, of course, would neither be she who had been Ina nor remind anyone of her. Also, even if we were recognized, I did not think that anyone would find us of particular interest in ourselves. Even torturers, I supposed, might be satisfied with the information that we had given the girl to a mercenary, Edgar of Tarnwald, and he, by that time, would presumably have slipped away, unnoticed, and presumably under new names. The slave which had been delivered to him, too, presumably would by then be in some locale unbeknownst to him, and might have changed hands several times.
She loved him profoundly, helplessly, and from the first time she had seen him. He, too, had been smitten. Then he had discovered that she was from Cos, that ubarate which was his hated foe, at the hands of whose mercenary and regular forces he had seen his city destroyed.
Torcadino had been a supply depot for the forces of Cos on the continent. It had been seized by the mercenary, Dietrich of Tarnburg, to forestall the march on Ar.
The citizenry of Ar, for the most part, was trapped in the city. Indeed, there were even rumors circulating that the gates of the city would soon be closed, and even sealed, reinforced against siege weapons. There was much talk, too, of course, about defending the city. Indeed, it was with this in mind, that I had come this morning to the city, to lend my sword, a modicum of mercenary iron, to her defense.
"There were no recruiting tables," I admitted.
"The services of your sword were not accepted," he said.
"No," I said.
"Interesting," he said.
"They did ask for my permit and told me I should be out of the city by sundown."
"Cos may be hiring," said a fellow.
"They do not need any more," said another.
I saw nothing for a time but the crowd, the platform, the people on the platform, and Cosians, for several yards to the right, standard hearers, some even bearing the standards of mercenary companies, probably not in the march, such as that of Raymond Rive-de-Bois, musicians, and soldiers, both foot and cavalry.
The last time I had seen her had been in Brundisium, among the slaves belonging to various mercenaries, men of the company of a fellow who was then identifying himself as Edgar, of Tarnwald.
It would be merely that Cos would now be the dominant force on the continent. Also, geopolitically, it did not seem likely that Cos could indefinitely maintain her power. Her seat of power was overseas and her forces were largely composed of mercenaries who were difficult to control and expensive to maintain.
Too, many Cosian mercenaries were in the city, with their identifying armbands, scarves, and such. Myron, probably intelligently, however, had limited the numbers of such mercenaries who might enter the city at any one time. Some incidents had occurred nonetheless, such as the destruction of property in various taverns and the vandalization of certain buildings, for example, baths and libraries.
Too, as mentioned, there were regulars of Cos in the city, and, at any given time, various mercenaries, usually on passes. Some mercenaries, it might be mentioned, had been transferred into the auxiliary guardsmen. Some others, discharged, had enlisted in these units.
"Ho! One side, buffoons of Ar!" said a voice, that of a mercenary, one of two, with blue armbands.
We stepped to one side as they swaggered past.
They were looking about the shop, one of ceramics. There were many shards about. Shelves had been pulled down. Among the shards and wreckage, by count, there were seven bodies, all Cosian mercenaries.
"It was the same five days ago," said one of the men, "with the five brigands found slain in the Trevelyan district, and the two mercenaries cut down on Wagon Street, at the second Ahn, only the bloody delta left behind, scrawled on the wall."
"In the blood of the brigands, and of the mercenaries," said one of the men."
"I am considering my report," said the officer to the merchant. "It seems that some good fellows of Cos, esteemed mercenaries; in the service of her Ubar, with all good will and innocence, entered this shop, to purchase wares for loved ones, and were treacherously set upon by assailants, some twenty in number."
"I was taken in the suburbs," she said, "by mercenaries, collected with others. The levy was unannounced."
"Ho!" cried the mercenary. "Behold! We have captured one of the Delta Brigade!"
"Release me!" cried the bearded fellow to the two mercenaries. "I demand to be freed!"
"Silence, despicable sleen!" shouted one of the guardsmen, cuffing the prisoner, who reacted as though he might have been struck with great force.
"Sleen of a traitor to Cos!" said the other mercenary, adding a blow, to which the bearded prisoner once again reacted.
"I think I could have struck him harder than that," speculated Marcus.
"Release him!" cried a vendor of Tur-Pah, pushing through baskets of the vinelike vegetable.
"Do not interfere!" warned one of the mercenaries.
"Back, you disgusting patriots of Ar!" exclaimed the other.
"Strange," remarked Marcus, "that the prisoner has on his sleeve an armband with the delta upon it."
"Doubtless that is how the mercenaries recognized him as a member of the Delta Brigade," I said.
"The work of Seremides would be much simpler, to be sure," said Marcus, "if all the fellows in the Delta Brigade would be so obliging."
"Perhaps they could all wear a uniform," I suggested, "to make it easier to pick them out."
"There are only two of them!" cried the bearded prisoner. "Take me from them! Hide me! Glory to the Delta Brigade!"
None in the crowd, it seemed, dared echo this sentiment, but there was no mistaking its mood, one of sympathy for the fellow, and of anger toward the mercenaries, and there was a very definite possibility, one thing leading to another, that it might take action.
"Help! Help, if there be true men of Ar here!" cried the prisoner.
One of the fellows from the market pushed at a mercenary, who thrust him back, angrily.
"Make way! Make way!" cried the mercenary.
"We are taking this fellow to headquarters!" said the other.
"Let him go!" cried a man. Men surged about the two mercenaries.
"It is my only crime that I love Ar and am loyal to her!" cried the prisoner.
"Release him!" cried men. More than one fellow in the crowd had a staff, that simple weapon which can be so nimble, so lively, so punishing, in the hands of one of skill. This was only to be expected as many of the vendors in the market were peasants, come in with produce from outside the walls. Indeed, in many places they could simply enter through breaches in the wall, or climb over mounds of rubble, and enter the city. With respect to the staff, it serves of course not only as a weapon but, more usually, and more civilly, as an aid in traversing terrain of uncertain footing. Too, it is often used, yokelike, fore and aft of its bearer, to carry suspended, balanced baskets. Weaponwise, incidentally, there are men who can handle it so well that they are a match for many swordsmen. My friend Thurnock, in Port Kar, was one. Indeed, many sudden and unexpected blows had I received in lusty sport from that device in his hands. Eventually, under his tutelage, I had become proficient with the weapon, enabled at any rate to defend myself with some efficiency. But still I would not have cared to meet him, or such a fellow, in earnest, each of us armed only in such terms. I prefer the blade. Also, of course, all things being equal, the blade is a far more dangerous weapon. The truly dangerous peasant weapon is the peasant bow, or great bow. It is in virtue of that weapon that thousands of villages on Gor have their own Home Stones.
"Release him!" cried a man.
"What is to be done with him?" inquired another.
"Doubtless he will be impaled," said one of the mercenaries.
"No! No!" cried men.
"I wonder if those mercenaries realize they are in danger," said Marcus.
"I trust that they are being well paid," I said. "Otherwise they are certainly being exploited."
"Save me!" cried the bearded fellow. "Do not let them take me! Save me, if there be true men of Ar here!"
"Back, sleen of Ar!" cried the mercenary with the prisoner in hand.
"Back!" cried the other.
"Certainly they are not being very politic," said Marcus.
"Nor even courteous," I said.
"Help!" cried the prisoner, struggling. His hands were bound behind him and there were some ropes, as well, about his upper body, binding his arms to his sides.
"There is one hopeful sign here," said Marcus. "There is obviously sympathy for the Delta Brigade."
"Yes," I said.
"Help!" cried the prisoner.
"Does it seem to you that there are secret guardsmen about?" I asked Marcus. I had been trying to determine this.
He, too, surveyed the crowd, and area. "I do not think so," he said.
"Perhaps then," I said, "it is time to remove our armbands and reverse our cloaks, and adjust our wind scarves."
"Yes," said Marcus, grimly, "as the poor fellow is surely in desperate need of rescue."
In a moment then, our armbands removed, and certain adjustments effected in our garmenture, we thrust through the crowd.
"Unhand him!" I cried. It was not for nothing that I had once been granted a tryout with the troupe of Boots Tarsk-Bit. To be sure, the tryout had come to naught.
"Who are you?" cried one of the mercenaries. I did not think he was bad either. Surely he knew whom to expect, at any rate, in this situation. The prisoner's face suddenly beamed. With our wind scarves in place, and our blades drawn, there would be little doubt who we would be, at least in general.
"The Brigade!" whispered men, elated, about us.
"Unhand them!" cried one of the men about.
A fellow flourished a staff. I trusted the crowd would not now close with the mercenaries, for if it did I genuinely feared there would be little but pulp left of them. But, still, it seemed, they did not recognize that they were in actual danger. So little respect they had, it seemed, for the men of Ar. On the other hand perhaps they read the crowd better than I. But I really doubt it. I think I was much more aware, and had been earlier, from my position and perspective, and my awareness of the mood of Ar, of its tenseness, its readiness, its ugliness, like a dark sky that might suddenly, without warning, blaze and shatter with destruction and thunder. Indeed, it was the mercenaries whom Marcus and I, I believe, as it was turning out, were rescuing.
"We yield to superior force," said the first mercenary.
"We have no choice," said the second, apparently similarly resigned, the one who had the prisoner in hand.
A murmur of victory, of elation, coursed through the crowd.
"There are only two of us," I said to the mercenary who I took it was first of the two. "Let us have it out with blades."
"No, no, that is all right," he said.
"Here it seems you have many allies," said the second.
"I am sure they will be good fellows and not interfere," I said.
"Did you discern the support of the crowd for the Delta Brigade?" he asked.
"Yes," I said. "And so, too, did the mercenaries."
"Certainly not," said Boots. "After all, that will give us something to do in leisure moments, fighting off armies from all directions, fending away clouds of mercenaries, battling bands of brigands, attempting to turn back innumerable waves of eager, lustful ruffians, and such."
"What of ten thousand pieces of gold?" asked the first retainer.
"You have so much?" I asked.
"I think we can raise it, forming a company to do so," he said.
"I do not think you could raise it in Ar today," I said. "Perhaps a year ago, or two years ago."
"We have in mind contacting men in several cities," he said, "even in Tyros and Cos."
"So much money would pay the mercenaries of Cos for a year," I said.
"The might of Cos on the continent," I said, "as opposed to her naval power, is largely dependent on mercenaries."
"So?" she asked.
"Mercenaries, on the whole," I said, "saving some companies with unusual allegiance to particular leaders, such as those of Pietro Vacchi and Dietrich of Tarnburg, are seldom trustworthy, and are almost never more trustworthy than their pay."
But, too, I speculated, there would be those of Ar to whom the Home Stone was a Home Stone, and not a mere rock, not a piece of meaningless earth. And so I thought of Ar under the yoke of Cos, and of hope, and pride, and of the Delta Brigade. I thought, too, of the mercenary might that held Ar oppressed.
"Do you know any who could stand against such a man?" asked the pit master.
"One, perhaps," said Terence.
"Who?" asked the pit master.
"One I met long ago, when I was mercenary tarnsman," said Terence. "I was in Port Kar."
"There has been a great war," said he, "between Cos, and her allies, and Ar, and her allies. The victory has come to Cos, but for various reasons, having to do primarily with the volatility of mercenary forces, it is thought that the permanence of this victory is not assured. You know in what city you are?"
"But as you know," laughed the young woman in the white, off-the-shoulder gown, "I never joined you as a mercenary. I am not the sort of person who would work for mere pay. On Earth, I am quite amply provided for, independently. Your riches, marvelous as they may be, were not the lure that brought me to your endeavors."
"The female agents, who are commonly egotistical, petty, vain, self-seeking and mercenary, need not be informed of their eventual disposition. They will discover it in good time."
"What are tarnsmen?" asked Ellen.
"Those of the Warriors, or sometimes mercenaries, or outlaws, or raiders, or bandits, whoever mounts, masters and rides tarns."
Myron, the polemarkos, was the commander of the Cosian, and mercenary, forces in the city. His own camp lay outside the gates. It was said he was a cousin to Lurius of Jad, Ubar of Cos.
"You have heard of the Delta Brigade," said Portus.
"It is a myth," said Arconious.
"What do you know of it?" asked Portus.
"Little, if anything," said Arconious.
"It is an organization," said Portus, "formed largely, but not entirely, from veterans of the great disaster of the Vosk delta, where they were betrayed by treason in high places, denied supplies, abandoned, left to die, who muchly suffered in their retreat from the delta, and found themselves despised and humiliated when they returned to their city, held in contempt, and spat upon, despite their sharing of its Home Stone. Later, as you know, the gates of Ar were opened to the Cosians and their mercenary allies, again by insufferable treason in high places, under delusory pretenses of friendship and alliance."
"The forces of occupation are not all Cosian," said Portus. "Indeed, the greater portion of these forces are mercenaries in the pay of Cos. Their loyalty is not to the Home Stones of Jad or Temos but to the purse of their paymaster, gross Lurius of Jad. They have been supported largely by the routine, methodological looting of Ar, but the mercenaries are many and impatient and Ar grows poorer, and there is only so much silver, so much gold, so many women, only so much wealth which can be seized and distributed."
"So?" said Arconious.
"Cos, in consort with Tyros, she under the Ubarate of Chenbar, the Sea-Sleen, extend their hegemonies, and lay tribute on more than a dozen cities."
"Yes?" said Arconious.
"Portions of this wealth will come to Ar, to content the mercenaries," said Portus.
"Cosians themselves could hold the city," said Arconious. "They no longer need their mercenary allies. Their war is won."
"Do you think the mercenaries, and their captains, will simply submit to being dismissed?" asked Portus. "That would be like turning larls loose in the streets. Denied their pay who knows what they will do. They might turn their weapons against Cos and Tyros."
"That is a problem I am pleased to leave to Cos," said Arconious.
"A caravan of gold is on its way to Ar," said Portus. "It left Brundisium the last passage hand. It is pay for the mercenaries, and it is intended that it will be delivered to them on the feast of the accession of Lurius of Jad to the throne of Cos."
Many mercenaries, particularly of the smaller companies, are not above brigandage.
One of the tarnsman, aflight, was within fifty feet of her. She saw the insignia on the shield, but made nothing of it. It was not the sign of Cos, familiar to her from Ar. Mercenaries, she thought. Not brigands, but mercenaries! But who could hire mercenaries, she asked herself. Cos, she thought, Cos!
All of this made little sense to Ellen, for she had supposed that the confiscated, gathered wealth of a dozen cities, and hundreds of smaller communities, destined for the troops of Cos and Tyros, and the regiments of mercenaries in Ar abetting their occupation, was in this very camp, that because of the numerous guards, the tharlarion, the war tarns. She suspected that Portus Canio and Fel Doron had been under this impression as well. Indeed, she suspected, though it was scarcely a matter of which slaves might speak, that Portus Canio and Fel Doron, and, supposedly, Tersius Major, had planned to strike at this treasure, in order to weaken and worsen the occupation in Ar, to outrage the garrison posted there, to outrage both the mercenaries and regulars, and perhaps even sow discord amongst them.
The "scarlet caste" was a way of referring to the caste of Warriors, the expression being suggested by the usual color of their tunics. Ellen had seen many scarlet tunics in Ar, mostly those of mercenaries and Cosian regulars.
It was rumored that Marlenus of Ar, the Ubar of Ubars, as some thought him, had returned to Ar. Mercenary garrisons, deprived of their pay, become restless. Revolution in the city, it seemed, might be soon enkindled.
Mirus led his mount forward, the only one left to their group. His weapon was thrust in his belt. "They sought him," said he, nodding toward Selius Arconious. "He bought a slave with Cosian gold, that slave," he then indicating Ellen who, finding herself under the eyes of a free man, immediately knelt, not wishing to be punished, "gold seemingly of the trove which was diverted from the paymasters of the mercenaries in Ar."
"Even if they should make away with it, or the others to whom they impart information," said Portus Canio, "it does not much matter, really. The important thing is that it does not reach the mercenary forces in Ar."
"You claimed to be first here," said the officer. "What do you know of the robbery of the paymaster's trove, the fee to be disbursed to regulars and mercenaries in Ar?"
"Am I to return empty-handed?" asked the officer. "The purloined gold, the fees for mercenary cohorts, is presumably gone by now. Now you would have me return without even prisoners for interrogation?"
The rent sleen had given their lives to defend him, who was only a rent master. Although sleen are muchly despised on Gor, and feared, they are respected, as well. The sleen, it is said, is the ideal mercenary.
"How are things in Ar?" asked Portus Canio.
"The last we have heard," said Bosk of Port Kar, "this from those with whom we spoke at the rendezvous, the mercenaries grow increasingly restless, indeed, unpleasant. There have actually been skirmishes between them and the Cosian regulars in the city. The work of the Delta Brigade grows bolder. Rebellion may be imminent."
In Ar, times are troubled. It remains unclear as to whether Marlenus of Ar, the great Ubar, is within the city or not. One hears many things, frequently conflicting. Sporadic resistance to Cosian occupation continues. Mercenaries grow ugly. Skirmishes occur between crowds and the garrison forces, the mercenaries and the Cosian regulars, but, too, sometimes between the mercenaries themselves and the Cosians.
To be fair to Cabot, however, rumors had it, at least, that he might have had some connection with that Venetian John Cabot, or Giovanni Caboto, a Fifteenth-Century (Earth Chronology) mercenary sea captain who sailed for England, in the time of Henry VII, and was the first European after several Viking explorers, mariners, pirates, or such, to make landfall on the coast of North America, which is a portion of Earth's northern hemisphere. But this connection appears dubious, for a number of reasons, primarily having to do with the lack of evidence.
The last thing Port Kar, or these other powers, needs is a land war, which would have to be primarily conducted by mercenaries.
"You asked earlier, if I were 'one of them.' Who are they?"
"Brigands, assassins, mercenaries," he said. "I think they are from the wars, from the south, even from Ar. Hundreds have come, in many ships."
"Who are these men?" I asked. They seemed a nondescript, but dangerous lot. There were some fifty men.
"Bandits, mercenaries, assassins, outcasts, men without captains, strangers, all strangers," he said.
"You could be a mercenary," he said.
"Yes," I said.
"You may be unfamiliar with the sound," I said, "but I am not. That was the passage of several tarns, perhaps a tarn cavalry."
"No," he said, "not a cavalry."
"Not one disciplined, at any rate," I said.
In a tarn cavalry the wing beats are synchronized, much as in the pace of marching men. Normally this is facilitated, unless surprise is intended, by the beating of a tarn drum, which sets the cadence. One of the glorious sights of Gor is the wheeling, the maneuvering and flight, of such cavalries in the sky, a lovely sight, in its way not unlike that of a fleet of lateen-rigged galleys abroad on gleaming Thassa, the sea.
"A very large band of mercenary brigands?" I suggested.
"They are not mounted," said Pertinax.
"I do not understand," I said.
"Let me go!" she said.
"You are a mercenary, of sorts," I said.
"I am a mere, worthless slave," she said, humbly, "only a Gorean slave girl."
"They are mariners," said the fellow who had first returned my greeting. "Most here are fee fighters, mercenaries."
"Mercenaries, and mercenary bands, were recruited from dozens of states, even from brigand bands, from outlaw leagues, eager for loot."
"What of Myron," I asked, "his troops?"
"He was drunk in his tent," said another, bitterly.
"Many of his troops," said another, "those of the mercenary captains, given the emptying of Ar, and the lessening of loot, had deserted."
Slavers, for example, will seldom sell a woman in what was once her own city. I was not surprised then that the three paga slaves, former free women of Ar, would accompany the mercenaries willingly, even eagerly.
"Ten days later we accompanied the march to Brundisium," said a man. "The regulars of Tyros and Cos, and their officers and slaves, were soon embarked, and gladly, with songs of joy, for their home islands, but it fared differently with many of us, the gathered mercenaries who had served the island ubarates."
It was the afternoon of the day following the encounters on the beach, first with Sullius Maximus, and later with Torgus, the fee fighter, or mercenary, and his cohorts.
Those brought to Tarncamp were, I had gathered from Pertinax, mercenaries, bandits, brigands, thieves, murderers, wanderers, low men, cast-off men, men lost from Home Stones, and such. Many, I understood, had come from the occupational forces now expelled from Ar. The word of such men might be as the rustle of the wind amidst leech plants. Their loyalties would on the whole be to their own hides and purses. They would on the whole be as much for hire as the Assassins, save that the Assassin, once the dagger has been painted on his forehead, signaling he is hunting, is loyal to a fee.
Torgus, the mercenary leader whom I had met on the beach earlier, had rented some of these, former high women of Ar, to the house.
Sometimes slaves were brought in, to dance for us, though probably, in particular, for the men, officers of Tyros and Cos, mercenary captains, bankers, such as the Serisii, high merchants, well-known traders, and such.
"What then," I asked, "was the fate of the Ubara?"
"I do not know," said the slave. "The rising came suddenly, and there was terror in the streets for many. I and some others were taken in hand by mercenaries and, stripped, and self-pronounced as slaves, and neck-roped, were used by them as a ruse to approach the walls, they pretending to be citizens of Ar conducting us to impaling stakes. At the wall they managed to fight their way free to the outer country, and join Cosians in retreat.
"He is ronen," said Tajima. "A fellow of the waves, as it is said, one with no home, one carried by the current, one with no master, no captain. There are many such."
"A mercenary?" I suggested.
"Ah, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman," said Tajima, "how little you know of these things."
Scarves are often used in Gorean warfare, particularly by mercenaries, because uniforms are by no means universal. One advantage of the scarf, it seems, is that it might be removed, or changed, depending on the fortunes of war. One expects the mercenary to fight for coin, not a Home Stone. To be sure, some mercenaries will die for a given commander. Some command such loyalty, such as Dietrich of Tarnburg, Pietro Vachi, Raymond Rive-de-Bois, and certain others.
None broke ranks. Some twenty percent were Pani, and their discipline was as iron and they steadied the mercenaries about them. In a moment I dispatched Tajima and Pertinax, whom I had had train with Tajima, to pursue the fugitive, whom they had not even seen. I doubted they could overtake him. His name I would learn later. I also put Ichiro, my signalman, whose ritual suicide I had forbidden weeks ago, into the air, fearing that more might be on the wing than a single fugitive. I then placed Torgus in command of the cavalry, with orders to remain on alert, and designated Lysander, a mercenary, once of Market of Semris, to second him. Torgus commanded the first century, and Lysander the second. I had first encountered Lysander on the beach with Torgus, and his other men. It was he whom I had thought bore himself as one once of the Warriors. This proved correct, and he was, as well, a tarnsman, who had turned mercenary. I did not think it meet to inquire into his past. In such cases there is not unoften a killing, and sometimes a woman, most often a slave, sometimes a seductive, manipulative, conniving slave who would, for her perceived advantage, or sense of power, set masters against one another. There is a saying that a man conquers with the sword, the slave with a kiss. As Lysander had been subordinate to Torgus in his mercenary troop, I thought it best to keep him second here. As the leader of a century, of course, he was equivalent.
On the ground, of course, the tarnsman was a common infantryman, and I had no doubt their incursion, despite their superiority in numbers, would be fiercely met by the Ashigaru of the Pani and several of our mercenaries. The Pani, I was sure, would be loyal to their lord, their daimyo, Lord Nishida, for that seemed to be their way, and a cornered mercenary, one with no hope of a higher fee or escape, much like the cornered seventy-pound canal urt of Port Kar, is a most desperate and dangerous foe. The mercenary who fights for his life is more to be feared, surely, than one who fights merely for his pay.
I called to my side Tajima and Pertinax, and some dozen or so mercenaries, who well knew the sword.
"I suspect there is work to be done," I said.
"I think so," said Tajima.
"You are learning the blade," I said to Pertinax. "Are you ready to use it?"
"Yes," he said.
"Truly?" I asked, regarding him closely.
"I think so," he said.
"Bucklers and blades," I said to the mercenaries.
I secured my own buckler from the saddle.
"You, too, buckler and blade," I said to Tajima and Pertinax. It is true the blade may be used for both offense and defense, but I would not trust it against a flighted quarrel.
I then, with some dozen or so men, mercenaries, together with Tajima and Pertinax, addressed myself to the path which led to the housing area. We had not been on the track for more than a handful of Ihn, however, moving rapidly but circumspectly, lest crossbowmen be about, when we heard shouts before us, and we saw some dozen or so of the Pani Ashigaru, with their glaives, approaching.
An interesting exception to this sort of thing is that a prisoner, or one on the verge of capture, may be accorded the right to accept a new daimyo or shogun. Once he does this he is then honor bound to serve the new leader, as he did the old, and, it seems, he may be depended on to do so. He is not a mercenary, but he is a loyal follower, whomsoever he follows.
Tajima and I then, following Pertinax, hurried toward the stable. We were followed by some mercenaries, and glaive-bearing Ashigaru.
Lord Nishida had remained in the centrality of Tarncamp, directing officers and men. He spoke directly to Pani. He communicated with mercenaries through their officers.
I turned to two of my fellows at hand, mercenaries. I indicated Pertinax. "Bind him," I said, "hand and foot."
"Free him," I said to a nearby mercenary, indicating Pertinax.
"The mercenary, Licinius Lysias of Turmus," said Tajima.
"Yes," I said.
As I had hoped, his cohorts, mercenaries, as well, would be more willing to act on my offer than Licinius himself. What had they to lose, in their situation, and they might have much to gain.
There was a sudden vibration of a bow cable within and I heard a man scream with pain.
"Back, away, away, sleen!" screamed Licinius. There was then the clash of blades, briefly, fiercely, and I entered the stable, rushing within, followed closely by Tajima and Pertinax.
It took only a moment to see that Licinius Lysias was well worth his fee, which had doubtless been considerable. I wondered from what purse it had been drawn.
Given the number of Gorean mercenaries in the camp I had not doubted that Tassa powder would be available in the camp, and it had been. I had then had it introduced into the bota, where its presence could not be detected.
In the distance the feast was still in progress. I heard strains of a song, an anthem of Cos. Interesting, I thought, how mercenaries, outlaws, renegades, even those who have betrayed and repudiated their Home Stones, remember such things.
Ashigaru prowled the edges of the road, lest any of Lord Nishida's minions, primarily mercenaries, be tempted to avail themselves of an unobstructed highway to another prince, one with perhaps a deeper purse.
I put my back under the wagon, facing backward, and, straightening a little, managed to lift it from the mud, and thrust it forward a foot or two. "Ai!" said a mercenary, nearby.
I hoped we would soon halt for the night. Tenting would be set up for the men, the Pani, the craftsmen, the teamsters, mercenaries, and others.
Had it not been for the female slaves I do not think the discipline at Tarncamp, particularly with the mercenaries present, could have been maintained.
Occasionally, in passing a wagon, I would hear a gasping and moaning, and a rolling and thrashing in the mud where, it seemed, some fellow, presumably a mercenary, had pulled a slave from under a wagon, to the end of her tether, and was in the midst of reminding her of her bondage.
In the light of the lanterns I looked down on the shape at my feet. The edged buckler had caught it under the chin, and taken the head half from the body. From the trees there was a hideous wailing and four Pani, glaives ready, slipped amongst the trees. In moments they drew forth from the darkness, dragging it, a sobbing, mauled figure, the left arm missing. It was trying to stanch the flooding stream bursting from its body with its free hand, and then it was thrown to the mud amongst us, several mercenaries and Pani now having hurried forward.
"We caught the scent of a sleen in the vicinity earlier," said a mercenary, one of the guards.
"Apparently the bowman did not," said a fellow.
"Nor would he," I said.
"Double the guard," said Lord Nishida.
"Behold," said one of the Pani, indicating with the shaft of his long glaive the figure brought recently to the road. "This man is dead."
"He bled to death," said a mercenary.
Orders were being given, behind us, by various wagon masters, and drovers, Pani, mercenaries, and all, began to withdraw to the wagons. In a few Ehn the tharlarion would again grunt and bellow, and the wagons would again trundle forward, and now downward.
"They will have to be killed," he said.
"I think not," I said.
"Do not fear," he said, "tarnsmen, tarnsters, and such are precious. They are safe. And Lord Nishida will not consent to the decimation of his men. Therefore it is mercenaries, preferably those less skilled, who will have to be thinned."
"No," I said.
"Most are renegades, outlaws, sword hirelings, killers," he said.
"No matter," I said.
"Berths are limited," he said.
"I have fought with these men," I said. "They are sword brothers."
"Do not fear," he said. "All this will be done of their own free will. Gold will set them upon one another. They are such. Too, in this way the most skilled will survive."
"They are mercenaries," said Lord Nishida, "and the dregs of such, chosen for skill and venality, brought from a hundred cities, from the ruins and rubble of Ar, from the alleys of Besnit and Harfax, from the wharves of Brundisium and Schendi, men without Home Stones, thieves, outlaws, murderers, outcasts, ronen, men carried by the currents, men whose word is worthless, men of no lords, save a stater or tarn disk of gold."
"They have fought for you," I said.
"No one needs fight who does not wish it," said Lord Nishida. "The matter is simple, pairs will be matched, and a golden tarn disk to the survivor, and a berth on the great ship."
"Perhaps, with a tarn disk of gold in his purse, a fellow may decline such a berth."
"That would be unfortunate," said Lord Nishida.
"How many do you expect to die?" I asked.
"Some five hundred," said Lord Nishida.
"What if some choose not to fight?" I asked.
"They are mercenaries," said Lord Nishida. "They will cut their brother's throat for a silver tarsk, so why not that of a stranger for a disk of gold?"
Matters had been explained by crier to hundreds of mercenaries.
In response to this signal a long column of men, in rows of ten, mercenaries, armed and accoutered, came about the platform, made its way to the beach, spread itself along the water's edge, in five rows of pairs, and then turned, so that these rows of pairs, of which there was a large number, faced the platform.
Between the mercenaries and the platform, some yards between the first row of mercenaries and the platform, there was a table of sorts, formed of planks mounted on two trestles. On this table, by two men, there was placed a small, apparently quite heavy, iron-bound coffer. A fellow of the Pani opened the lid, let it fall back, and, with two hands, lifted tarn disks above the coffer, better than a foot or so, and then opened his hands and let them spill back into the container. He did this several times. The sun caught the falling, showering metal, again and again, and it was as a rainfall of gold. One could easily hear the weight of the falling metal, even yards away. I had little doubt that there was not one fellow there at the river's edge who might not kill for even one of those prizes. There were many markets in which even one of those coins might purchase a tarn, five kaiila, ten lovely slaves. Many Goreans had never touched such a coin, let alone owned one.
"Begin!" called the herald.
Aëtius was standing near me.
No man moved.
"Fight!" cried the herald. "Begin! Fight! The gold, the gold!"
Then a thousand blades were drawn forth, as though with a single flash of sound, from a thousand sheaths. The hair on the back of my neck rose.
"Fight!" called the herald.
Then each of the thousand, in their ranks, their back to the river, faced the platform.
"Good!" I said, aloud.
Hundreds of Pani stirred, looked to the platform, uneasy. Glaives, the long-shafted, curved-bladed naginata, were grasped.
From behind the platform, Pani archers rushed forth, standing between the platform and the mercenaries. Arrows were set to the strings of the Pani longbow, arrows which are released at the bow's lower third, muchly different from the release point of either the peasant or saddle bow.
"They do not fight!" called the herald, in consternation.
I thrust my two Pani attendants to one side and went to stand before the platform, facing the seated Lord Okimoto. Lord Nishida rose to his feet. I became aware then, suddenly, that Tajima, Pertinax, Ichiro, and others, stood with me.
complained the herald to the platform.
Pani, both wielders of the glaive and graspers of the bow, looked to the platform.
"No," I said to Lord Okimoto, "they will not fight. They are sword brothers."
"They are mercenaries," cried the herald.
"And sword brothers," I said.
Lord Okimoto said something to Lord Nishida, which I could not hear, and then, slowly, ponderously, assisted by servitors, he rose to his feet and retired from the platform.
"What did he say?" I asked Lord Nishida, who had remained on the platform, standing.
"He said," said Lord Nishida, "'these are the men I would have with me.'"
"I do not understand," I said.
"It has been a test, Tarl Cabot, tarnsman," he said. "Many men will kill for gold, selling their sword to one for a silver tarsk, to a higher bidder for two, and so on. Of such men we have no need. We have need of men who will place steel before gold, honor before advancement, whose service, once pledged, is inalterable, men whose loyalty is not for sale, men who cannot be divided, and cannot be bought. Many men can, you see, but these are not amongst them. They are the sort of men we need. Our cause deserves them."
Lord Nishida smiled. "There is much room," he said. "Of such men we could use an additional thousand."
I watched the mercenaries filing past the coffer, each receiving his coin.
We stood yards back. The flames burned fiercely. Though it was night, one could scarcely look upon them. One could see them reflected redly on the countenances of the stolid, or grieving, men gathered about. Tears streamed from the eyes of some of them, hardened men, yet weeping. Pani, too, were with us, and a number of mariners, and mercenaries. The wrapped form in the canvas, sail canvas, was consumed in a torrent of flame.
As we were speaking, numerous Pani, and mercenaries, were ascending the ramp, boarding.
Most of the men, artisans, storesmen, smiths, tarnsters, Pani, mercenaries, and others, marshaled and hastened by Aëtius, had now boarded.
He was presumably less a warrior than a mercenary, and less a mercenary than a brigand.
"He entered the camp, and slew two mercenaries, guards, before the tent of Lord Okimoto, as proof of prowess, and demanded to be presented to his Excellency. This was done. He proved his sword was of great value, for he then slew four, who were set against him."
"Many of our mercenaries," said Lord Nishida, "have chosen names for convenience, to distance themselves from records of crime and blood, to elude pursuers, to escape justice, to begin new lives, such things."
The Sea Sleen was not one of the higher, larger taverns in the great port of Brundisium, such as that of the Diamond Collar, the Joys of Turia, the Dina, the tavern of Chang, that of Hendow, or such. Her patronage was mostly that of ruffians, mariners between voyages, their coins now mostly spent, left in the higher taverns, drifters, wanderers, peddlers, exiles, some mercenaries, willing to unsheathe their blades for a bit of silver, or a fight.
"Where will he go? What will he do?" asked a fellow, a Scribe from his robes, of shoddy, faded blue.
"Thassa," said a man, I think a mercenary. "Dark, cold Thassa."
"One's relationship to collar meat, of any sort," said a fellow, he I took to be a mercenary, "is uncomplicated."
It was rare as a slave name until after the fall of Ar, and the rise of Talena of Ar to the throne of Ar, placed on the throne as a puppet Ubara by the occupying forces of victorious Cos and Tyros, the major maritime Ubarates of Gor, abetted by numerous mercenary companies.
The eventual outcome of these machinations, hailing policies of concession, appeasement, and surrender as victories of beneficent statecraft, as demands of an overdue justice, was the conquest of Ar, and her occupation by Cosians, those of Tyros, and large numbers of mercenaries.
The allocation of privileges and favors, franchises and monopolies, proved lucrative. Bribery and theft became ways of life, even amongst the most modest of offices. Mercenaries exacted "taxes" with impunity amongst Merchants. Gangs of youths, flaunting Cosian fashions, roamed the city, looting and vandalizing. Shortages of goods and food became common in the city, except amongst those favored by the state. Fortunes were made in black markets. Some flourished, of course, those with access to the throne, or with access to those who might have such access. The intertwined strands of interest and influence were subtle and widely spread.
One of the greatest fortunes amassed in the city was that of a mysterious, shadowy individual supposedly named "Ludmilla," who owned, and, through subordinates, managed, a series of large, ornate slave brothels in the city. These were amongst the few establishments in Ar, in those times, which seemed prosperous and, despite general shortages, were well and reliably supplied, not only with lovely brothel slaves, but even with the choicest of viands and wines. It was later discovered that there was no "Ludmilla," but, rather, that this enterprise was merely one of several instituted and emplaced by the Ubara herself. Further, as a part of the conspiracy mentioned hitherto, it had been deemed necessary to reduce, even decimate, the military power of Ar. Ar must be made weak, vulnerable. Accordingly, much of the might of Ar had been dispatched to the vicinity of the Vosk river, supposedly to counter a massive invasion of Cos and Tyros in this area. Informed that the invasion force had withdrawn into the delta, the forces of Ar, under the orders of conspirators, entered the extensive, treacherous wastes and swamps of the vast delta in pursuit. That was not, of course, as is well understood now, the locus of the invasion. Rather the troops of Cos and Tyros, borne by their lateen-rigged fleets, would be welcomed here in Brundisium, where, in league with hundreds of mercenary companies, joined here in prearranged rendezvous, they began their march on Ar.
"Marlenus of Ar," said the mercenary, "has put a reward of ten thousand tarns of gold on her head."
"I have seen Talena," said the stranger.
For a moment the group was silent.
"Of course," said the mercenary. "Thousands, hundreds of thousands, have seen her."
I was thus, I supposed, the captive of pirates, for pirate crews are often diversely origined, often recruited from a medley of cast-offs, fugitives, ruffians, murderers, brigands, and such. This surmise, as it turned out, was substantially correct, but was inexact, and over simple. Better put, they were lost men, scattered men, hunted men, men with few resources, outlaws, vagabonds, wanderers, many without a Home Stone, perhaps even having dishonored or betrayed it, rude men, rough men, dangerous men, mercenaries, of a sort, recruited by mysterious leaders, in an obscure cause, which few understood.
But then, suddenly, one of the fellows cried out, alarmed. 'Corso, Corso, mercenaries!' Corso, I gathered, was the fellow to whom I had first presented myself, he whom I took to be in command at this point of the perimeter. It seems that a group of mercenaries, perhaps fifteen or twenty, with some women in tow, roped together by the neck, had determined to take advantage of the distraction my presence had brought about at the perimeter. They were already within fifty yards of the perimeter. I heard the ringing of an alarm bar, the sounding of battle horns. The fellows about me abandoned me, rushing to interpose themselves between the fugitives and the cleared ground outside the perimeter. They were not professional soldiers and I did not think they could stand before well-armed, desperate mercenaries, though they might hold them long enough for more effective troops, summoned by the bar and the horns, to arrive, even tarnsmen flighted from the city. I heard the clash of weapons, and cries of pain. I fought the knots binding my ankles together. In moving a female captive across open country, it is common, when stopping for a repast, or such, to bind her ankles. In this fashion she cannot run and her hands are free to feed herself. One can see, of course, if she tries to untie her ankles. When the repast is done, one can untie her ankles and put her back on a leash or neck rope, her hands perhaps bound behind her. At night, naturally, she may be put to the side, bound hand and foot. Looking up, frenziedly, I saw some other mercenaries, several, rushing toward the perimeter, and, some hundreds of yards away, guardsmen of Ar, regulars, hastening to the perimeter. This was, it seems, a serious attempt to break out of the city, one now involving perhaps more than a hundred men, accompanied by women, mostly stripped, and on ropes. I did not know if the women were free women or slaves. I suspected that many were proscribed free women who had stripped, knelt, and embonded themselves before mercenaries, perhaps only shortly before, that they might be saved, that they might be taken from the city, if only as nude slaves. Fighting was then about me. I could not undo the knots. I took the key to the collar, which I had hidden in my tunic, and, using it as a wedge, and then as a tiny saw, attacked the knots first, and then the cord itself. The cord was not the ropage which might be used to bind a man, but much smaller, and weaker. A strong man might have snapped it in two, but it was quite sufficient, as might have been a lace, to bind a woman, and with perfection. I wept with misery that we could find ourselves so easily, and so helplessly, in the power of men. We belong to them, I thought. Nature has made us theirs! But we have our beauty, our wit, our sensitivity, our intelligence! Have not more men been conquered with a kiss than steel? It is no wonder, I thought, that they make us their slaves! The key's teeth cut, frayed, and severed a bit of the cord, and I whipped it away from my ankles. I crawled away from the city, sometimes covering my head, as men fought about me. More than once I saw the wild, terrified eyes of women, pulling at the ropes on their neck. I concealed myself behind them, and then I rose to my feet, and ran toward the open country. I was not alone, as neck-roped women, and warriors, singly, and in prides, fled the city. There were tarns in the sky and their shadows seemed to race across the grass. More than one mercenary had a crossbow bolt half through his brass-bound shield, formed of layers of bosk hide. The crossbow, even the stirrup variety, loads slowly, and there is little danger from the quarrel if one need only defend oneself from a single direction. Should the tarnsman dismount he fights evenly with his foe, and the more skilled warrior is most likely to survive. I soon realized that the bolts flighted from the crossbows had the mercenaries as targets, and not the women. I realized, again, a difference between ourselves and men. We could be left for later, to be rounded up, like verr or kaiila, and roped at a victor's leisure. We were not contestants; we were loot, prizes.
"'Here, kajira, here!' called a mercenary. I fled gratefully to his side. At last I had a man to defend me. I had a champion. I realized then, as I had never before, when I had been sheltered within the arrangements, laws, and customs of a civil order, which I had taken so much for granted, how thin, and possibly transitory, such things were, and what might lie at their elbow, or nigh, on the other side of that lovely curtain, separating comfort and security from the cruelties and hazards of a perilous nature.
"Some think the jungle is faraway, that it is east of Schendi, as distant as the valley of the Ua, but it is not. It is here. It is with us, patient, and waiting. It is as close as the hearts of men.
"'Stop!' I heard, and spun about. A fellow, from Ar, I supposed, had called out. He had not been at the perimeter. I doubt that he thought me free. I think, merely, he wanted to pick up a slave. How fearful, I thought, to be a slave, to be an object, a property, a possession, an animal, something which might be bought and sold, or given away, or, as here, something which might be simply gathered in, simply acquired. Put a rope on her neck and she is yours! But I must not be brought back to Ar! As soon as I was stripped, as I would be, as a slave, my lack of a brand would be obvious, and then there would be inquiries, and the proscription lists would be certain to be examined. I must not be returned to Ar!
"'Begone,' said the mercenary, stepping between me and the fellow. The fellow looked at the mercenary, in his helmet, with his shield, and a spear whose reddened blade had recently drunk the blood of a foe, and then backed away. In a few moments he had disappeared."
I said nothing, but I supposed that the mercenary, before approaching the fellow, would have examined the sky behind him. The woman would not have been aware of this, as she would have been facing her pursuer. Occasionally a warrior on foot and a tarnsman collaborate on a kill. The warrior on foot engages the target, and the tarnsman, unseen, glides in, silently, placing a bolt in the adversary's unprotected back. This act is scorned in the codes, of course, but it is not without precedent in the field. It is common amongst outlaws and rogue tarnsmen.
Brundisium, as many merchant ports, large and small, was in theory neutral. To be sure, it had been the port at which the invasion fleets of Cos and Tyros, unopposed, even welcomed, had made their landfall on the continent, thence to rendezvous with numerous companies of mercenaries, for the march to Ar.
"Several from Cos are numbered amongst our mercenaries," said Lord Nishida.
"Fortunately for yourself," he said, "you were picked up by a second galley, the port-amidships galley, captained by the mercenary, Torgus."
I would conjecture there were some five hundred of the unusual men, the Pani, on board, divided amongst the commands of Lords Nishida and Okimoto, some two hundred and fifty each. And of others, mariners, soldiers, artisans, and such, perhaps two thousand, these recruited variously, many, particularly the mercenaries, in Brundisium, often fugitives from the restoration in Ar.
The Pani seemed to have no shortage of resources, given their financing of the ship of Tersites, the hiring of hundreds of mercenaries, the purchasing of slaves, and such.
Many had been recruited in Brundisium, and, over months, in larger and smaller numbers, in larger and smaller ships, had coasted north, thence at one rendezvous or another, to move overland, east to Tarn Camp. They were a motley lot, mostly mercenaries, several from the free companies, many once of the occupation forces in Ar. But amongst them as well were landless men, younger sons, men without Home Stones, bandits, pirates, adventurers, soldiers of fortune, thieves, fugitives, wanted men, cutthroats, fugitives from Ar, such as Seremides, and others.
There were, facing the enemy, some seven or eight lines of our men, strung across an arc of the beach, some seventy yards in width, defending frontally and on the flanks. Behind this wall of steel, its interwoven columns seething forward and backward, giving way, and pressing back, the men at the beach were seeking flight. Had these lines of skilled, hardened men, selected with care by the Pani, veterans, mercenaries, killers, bandits, brigands, and pirates, from enlisted crews, rural gangs, disbanded cohorts, and scattered free companies, not checked the enemy, few if any of our forces would have escaped death. To be sure, these particular men were not so different from the others.
"Most rational men," I said, "will be reluctant to commit themselves to a lost cause, to expend themselves in such a cause, particularly if the cause is not their own. Our men, who are mercenaries, and hired as such, save for the Pani, prefer to choose their wars intelligently, to weigh odds, to balance gold carefully against blood, to fight for a presumed victory, with loot and pay in the offing, not for defeat, not for the chains of a slave, not for a likely death in a strange land, amongst an alien folk."
I had no doubt that our mercenaries were formidable, but they were no more so, or less so, one supposed, than the forces likely to be arrayed against them.
A robust exploratory force of some five hundred men, a hundred Pani warriors of the men of Lord Temmu, and four hundred of our mercenaries, our armsmen, had been sent forth eight days ago.
Does she truly wish to bargain with the promise of her beauty, dangling it before her like a closed purse, whispering its hints from behind an opaque screen? Are not such mercenary ones better put on the slave block, in chains?
The men were mostly mercenaries, fee fighters, and they had already riches. What more could they hope for here, at the World's End, in a war amongst strangers for strangers, a war from which they had little to expect and, presumably, a good deal to fear.
Usually, of course, the girl, after a bit of time at the slave ring, does her best to be pleasing not to avoid the whip or switch, which is a rather prudential, mercenary motivation, after all, but, rather, because she wants to be pleasing to her master.
"You, and your sisters, are shallow, petty, vain, spoiled, mercenary, meaningless, little bitches," he said. "You are worthless."
Still, it is commonly to one's advantage, as noted, to present oneself well on the block, hoping thereby to obtain a richer master, a better house, lighter duties, and such. Yet, at times, how meaningless are these prudential, mercenary considerations!
Men sometimes became embroiled, as mercenaries, in the disputes between the laundering houses, but the routine policing of territories was generally entrusted to slaves.
Lykos was a spare fellow, dark-haired, familiar with the wicked blade called the gladius, who had been hired by Astrinax in one of the camps between Ar and Venna. He was, as far as I knew, a mercenary, with a possible background in the Scarlet Caste.
"We are hiring," said Astrinax.
"You are far from Turia," said Lykos.
Turia I knew, was far to the south, even beyond the equator.
"What brings you this far north?" asked Lykos.
"Sword pleasure," said the stranger.
I gathered then he was a soldier of fortune, a mercenary, or perhaps a fugitive.
With the wagons were three slaves, Jang Eve, and Allison, the latter not permitted to speak, not even to request permission to speak. One free woman was with the wagons, the Lady Bina. There were five free men with the wagons, Astrinax, who was much as our caravan master; Desmond, thought to be a Metal Worker, in whose care I was; Lykos, whom I supposed a mercenary; fierce, bearded Trachinos, clearly skilled with the gladius, at whose background I could scarcely guess; and his fellow, thin, reticent Akesinos, who spoke little, but watched much. And somewhere there were perhaps two beasts, though as far as I could tell, they were not now with the wagons.
"There are humans here," I said.
"Mercenaries who know nothing, who do not look beyond their fee," he said, "or fools who believe they would be enriched by a Kur victory, in a world to be shared."
Many nights I made contact with Astrinax, during the night watch. In the mountains I discovered an outlaw band of nine men, and warned Astrinax. It turned out that he had hired, in Venna, two outlaws, in league with that band. In the night, at their camps, it was easy to overhear their speech. I warned Astrinax, and I think he warned two of his hires, Lykos, a mercenary, and Desmond, a Metal Worker."
I supposed it was unlikely that large quantities of gold or silver, for obtaining goods, would be carried in the wagons, as such an indiscretion, difficult to conceal, would be likely to attract the attention not only of outlaw bands but of some of the less savory "free companies," assemblages of mercenaries, usually under a captain, who fought for fee, whose services were usually available to the highest bidder. Sometimes sides were changed in the midst of a single war. Who knew what clandestine gold might now have found its home in a new purse? Might the fellow beside you suddenly turn on you? Accordingly, much of the financing involved in such matters would doubtless be accomplished by means of drafts, notes, letters, and such, things mysterious, even unreal, to many Goreans, but familiar to the Merchants of the coin streets, pieces of paper which, like birds of the air, might only occasionally light upon a silver branch or rock of gold.
I did know there was much dissatisfaction in the Cave. No men entered. I supposed mercenaries, even if armed, if they knew at all of this small war, would not regard it as their affair. It would be a matter, rather, betwixt possible paymasters.
It might also be noted in passing, that considerable wealth had been amassed by Kurii and their agents in the Cave, by means of which mercenaries were to be paid and subversion purchased in various cities.
They had attracted attention, for their apparent wealth, for buying slaves and hiring ships, and taking men into fee, many of them refugees, armed mercenaries, escaped from Ar, given the sudden, devastating, bloody restoration of Marlenus, Ubar of Ar, sometimes spoken of as the Ubar of Ubars.
Some weeks before, as I had been given to understand, the forces of Cos, Tyros, and their allies, and hirelings, most in mercenary bands, had withdrawn from Ar.
Bands of mercenaries not quartered outside the city often had to fight their way to the countryside. Even in the open fields they were pursued and hunted, sometimes from the sky by tarnsmen of Ar, no longer enrolled in the sorry task of protecting uniformed looters and policing a sullen, resentful citizenry with which they shared a Home Stone.
They were not reluctant, it seems, to recruit vagabonds, likely bandits, rogue mercenaries, cutthroats, boasters, liars, gamblers, and thieves. Such men could be kept in line, I was sure, only by paga, gold, the promise of women, and an uncompromised discipline as swift and merciless as the strike of an ost. Accordingly, many who were approached, even when starving, refused to be wooed even by the golden staters of Brundisium when it became clear to them the likely nature of many of their companions. One does not wish to have a foe at one's back or side.
Their agents seemed well supplied with gold, gold at a time when even copper would go far. Ships were being hired, and men recruited, not merely shipsmen, pilots, helmsmen, oarsmen, and such, but men-at-arms, as well, hundreds, mercenaries, many lacking Home Stones, many perhaps indistinguishable from ruffians, vagabonds, brigands, thieves, and cutthroats.
Some small groups of armsmen, probably mercenaries, drifted past us. There was no discipline, no formation. Some carried spears on their shoulders, and others crossbows.
All seemed wary, dangerous men.
Several men, mercenaries, docksmen, and others, had gathered in the vicinity of the coffle.
"We all know of defeat and flight," he said, "the sorry fate of the occupational forces, of the rising of the men of Ar, of screaming crowds, diversely armed, of fires, of the decimation and disruption of troops, the desertion of officers, the stranding of units, of frequent withdrawals under fire, the confused retreats of mercenary prides, the breaking apart and scattering of free companies, of men, hungry and disorganized, hunted down and slaughtered like urts in the field."
This account ignited protest, and an angry muttering, amongst some of the men, perhaps mercenaries, and perhaps some regulars, lost from their units, unable to rejoin them. Tears coursed down the cheeks of more than one man.
The Pani seldom touch us, for we are inferior. I am not even sure that they respect their mercenaries, and laborers.
Lord Okimoto was a lord, or daimyo, of the Pani, whose headquarters were at Shipcamp. At Tarncamp, the lord, or daimyo was a Lord Nishida. I had seen Lord Nishida about, commonly on tours of inspection. He was usually accompanied by Pani warriors, in their short robes, with the two swords, their hair pulled back and knotted behind the head. In his retinue, as well, were some fellows of the sort who had been recruited in Brundisium. It was by means of some of these that he usually communicated with the common mercenaries. There seemed to be formalities involved here with which I was unfamiliar, and even amongst the Pani themselves.
"Yes," I said. I knew the camp was tense. The men brought here were mostly mercenaries, strong, rough men, many of whom were fugitives from the forces which had garrisoned and exploited Ar. They expected, and were hungry for, the prizes of war. Among them, too, were thieves, brigands, and cutthroats, some of whose names and descriptions adorned the public boards in more than one city. Some of the higher sort had been collaborators in Ar, who had fled the city to avoid impalement. Several had mocked and forsworn Home Stones. Such men were dangerous. They had not come to the wilderness to weary themselves with prolonged, arduous tasks. In almost every case, it had been supposed that the silver stater which had brought them north was the harbinger of others to follow. But none had followed. There was much discontent in the camp. A weapon unsheathed by silver, when the silver is gone, remains unsheathed, and dangerous. Squabbles were frequent, over gambling, and slaves. Some had attacked Pani warriors, and had fared badly. I had heard of several desertions. Perhaps some were successful, but the remains of bodies had been frequently dragged to the camp. The jaws of more than one larl, returning to its housing in the morning, had been stained, dark with matted, dried blood. Some days ago there had been a failed attempt on the life of Lord Nishida, which attempt had been shortly followed by a presumably coordinated, large-scale attack on the camp, one beaten away, on the ground, by Pani and mercenaries, and in the air, by Lord Nishida's tarn cavalry, commanded by the tarnsman, Tarl Cabot.
In passing, one might mention that the offerings in the slave house were often flavored with former free women of Ar, often once of high caste, importance, power, and wealth. These were frequently fugitives from Ar, traitors, profiteers, collaborators, and such, many escaped from the proscription lists. Many had fallen slave following their flight from the city, females alone and defenseless in the fields, and many had purchased their conduct from the city from escaping mercenaries, at the cost of the collar itself, mercenaries unwilling to be burdened by free women.
Shipcamp, though garrisoned with its mercenaries, was less a training and housing facility than a shipyard.
I was pleased to leave Tarncamp and so, too, were the men. Some even sang, wading in the mud. This sometimes came to the axles of the wagons, to the bellies of the smaller tharlarion. Logs and planks bridged many holes. Their packs seemed light. They were moving. Things were changing. Few of us were woodsmen. Most of us were mercenaries, some mariners, many ne'er-do-wells, some landless men, and some fugitives. Most, I supposed, were veterans of the forces which had garrisoned Ar.
I looked about myself, at the men about, the workers, several of them, a mercenary or two, a mariner in his brimless cap. These were Gorean men. Such men wanted women as slaves, and so they had them so. Such men were scions of a culture founded on nature and its fulfillment, not its denial. I wondered if such men knew we yearned for their collars.
Rumors had it that she would seek the World's End. It was easy to see why even sturdy men, harsh fellows, callous fellows, mercenaries, even seasoned mariners, might flee.
"Should you not be accompanied, by mercenaries, by several men, by Pani?" I asked.
"The beast heard you yesterday evening," said the leader of the newcomers, who was the second in command, it seems, of one of the coastal ships, of the sort which had brought men to Tarncamp earlier. In his group, counting himself as one, there were ten mariners, and five mercenaries. The larl had been turned over to them by Pani, with two trainers, who had accompanied them. It may be recalled that this arrangement had been put in place by either Tyrtaios, or Lord Okimoto, to support Axel, and take action, if he were fortunate enough to make contact with the Panther Women. "We followed the beast," he said, "but it was slow going in the night and we did not anticipate fifteen men here. We expected a small group of Panther Girls, and perhaps one or two mercenaries."
The mariners and their five mercenaries rummaged through the packs, and relieved the bound prisoners of their wallets and whatever paraphernalia they deemed worth gathering in.
"Strange," said the mariners, "the leader's pouch is the least heavy."
"That is interesting," said Axel.
A few javelins, and blades, harnessing, goods, and such, apparently of little interest were removed from the camp, and, following Axel's instructions, left by the shore of the river, in the mud, some one hundred paces away.
"I wish you well," said the leader of the mariners.
"And I, you," said Axel.
We then watched the leader of the mariners, with his men, and attending mercenaries, and four neck-roped slaves, leave the camp.
Too, of course, she is not permitted to touch a weapon. This can be a capital offense. I supposed she would be unlikely to move east on the Alexandra for, in that direction lay Shipcamp and if she moved west that would put her in the wake of the mariners and mercenaries who hid surprised Genserich's camp.
"I do not think they will kill you," I said. "They bought a large number of women and, I think, not primarily for the use of mariners and mercenaries, but for sale, or use as trade goods, somewhere, where I am not sure, presumably wherever the great ship makes its eventual landfall, doubtless one of the farther islands, for who would dare venture beyond them?"
I did not know his status at Shipcamp. I did not think he was a high officer, as there were few such, and most such posts were held by Pani. I did not think him a common member of the mercenary infantry, nor of the tarn cavalry.
But near the foot of the stairway there were several men, mostly mercenaries. Some were entering boats, long boats, six- or eight-oared, and small boats, two-oared, thrusting oars outboard, and some were partly in the water, preparing to launch the boats, and several were about, with weapons, supervising the beach.
"Hold!" said a mercenary, a large fellow, bearded, with a helmet crested with sleen hair.
"Yes, Captain?" said my captor.
"We have received the signal from the dock," he said. "The first whistle has been blown."
"I see," said my captor. "Then we must hurry to our boat."
"Take your place there," said the mercenary, indicating an eight-oared craft.
Both Genserich and Master Axel had independently sought the Panther Women, Genserich from the south, from the vicinity of the Laurius, to preclude their reporting to forces gathered at the mouth of the Alexandra, and Master Axel, from the north, to locate them as spies and summon assistance, were he successful, and it needful, from mariners and mercenaries come from the coast, placed there by those of Shipcamp, should the occasion arise, to cut off the escape of possible spies.
Following the defeat of the exploratory force Lords Nishida and Okimoto had retained some three hundred and fifty Pani warriors, and some eleven hundred mercenaries and mariners, the latter most recruited in, or in the vicinity of, the great port, Brundisium.
"Our people," said Lord Okimoto, "may unsheathe ritual blades."
"Our mercenaries," said Lord Nishida, "do not know our ways nor share them."
I ranked high amongst the mercenaries, and certainly, as least as I understood it, in the cavalry, regarded as so crucial to the strategic intentions of the shogun.
"You are a hired sword, a mercenary," it said.
"Yes," I said.
"Hired beasts," he said, "sellers of swords to the highest bidder."
"You are a mercenary," he said. "Things have become other than they were. Be wise. Change your banner."
Might they not, too, perhaps by the recruitment of mercenaries, assuming the requisite voyage could be made, manage to achieve a military balance with the numerically larger forces of Lord Yamada?
Tyrtaios, who had served as mercenary liaison to Lord Okimoto, and a guard, on the ship and in the holding, prior to his desertion, similarly, understood him without difficulty.
They removed the silken covers and we noted the hampers were heaped with fruits, vegetables, cakes of rice, smoked fish, layers of dried, salted meat, and stoppered vessels which I supposed might contain sake, and perhaps, considering the continental mercenaries in the camp, none of whom had been permitted, save myself, to attend these proceedings, paga and ka-la-na.
I feared there was much in what Tyrtaios had said. It seemed likely to me that the garrison, both Pani and mercenary, must soon succumb, if not to the enemy, then to hunger.
"No insult was intended, great lord," said Tyrtaios. "Recall that I served you faithfully and well, both as guard and as liaison to mercenaries."
Not only might their presence be distractive, for who does not fail to note the flanks and figures of slaves, their glances, and the turns of their heads, but, too, it was feared that, if they were about, openly, rather like tabuk amongst starving larls, the mercenaries might seize them and fight amongst themselves for their use.
"You are not of our people," said Lord Nishida. "Deceit, treason, treachery, and such are more to be expected amongst others."
"Amongst hirelings, fighters for fee, mercenaries?" I said.
"Should Lord Temmu suggest the ritual knife," he said, "the garrison will unhesitantly comply."
"The mercenaries would not," I said.
"They might be independently slain," said Lord Nishida.
At the same time more than a thousand mercenaries streamed forth from the barracks, sheds, ancillary buildings, and the castle itself, crying out a hundred war cries from a hundred cities.
"They will not return to him," said Tajima. "They will be ronin, men of the waves, men with no lord, mercenaries, free swords."
"An emissary from the palace of Lord Yamada, Tyrtaios, the mercenary, has come again to the dais," said Tajima. "He begs us to surrender."
Whereas I had been willing, under the force of circumstances, recognizing treachery in high places, and the lack of practical alternatives, to conduct the cavalry as a rogue arm, aflight on behalf of Lord Temmu, I was unwilling to transform it into what would be in effect a brigade of bandits under an independent mercenary captain. It had been formed and trained as, and had been intended as, a component in a unified force, engaged in a particular mission.
"This is the prisoner, the rebel, Tarl Cabot, enemy to the rightful house of Yamada, Shogun of the Islands, delivered to us by the noble Tyrtaios, devoted, trusted mercenary?"
"But your coloring," I said, "the blond hair, the blue eyes, the fair skin, would make you an unusual gift on the islands. Would you not be exotica in the markets? Too, you had come to the attention of slavers. Perhaps other women had not. Too, your character, your mercenary nature, your pettiness, your ambition, your shallowness, your greed, fitted you well for the projected employment. Too, I suspect more than one executive, or client, with suitable connections, relished the prospect of you on Gor, thought you might look quite well, stripped on a slave block."
"The men are yours, the cavalry is yours," he said. "Lord Temmu did not understand this, nor, apparently, do you. It has been so since the place called Tarncamp, far away. You gave men the sky, and the broad-winged tarn. You took soldiers and mercenaries and forged tarnsmen. You formed these men into an arm of war, a cavalry, trained it, and led it, even in a great sky battle across the sea. You brought it across Thassa, nurtured, sheltered, and protected it. You have flown with it, enduring the same hardships and risks, the same hunger, fatigue, cold, and danger as those you led. The men will follow no other."
"The fellow had little interest in you," said Tajima. "It is well known there are several barbarians, mercenaries, amplifying the forces of Lord Temmu. He will presumably take you for a deserter, one wise enough to recognize that the cause of Lord Temmu is a lost cause."
"Two wayfarers," said he whom I had taken to be the innkeeper. "One is clearly foreign, as may be seen from the eyes and skin, and the firelike hair. I take him to be a deserter, a mercenary fled from the holding of Temmu, one forsaking a doomed cause."
"Then at least one man here is wise," said Arashi. "Mercenaries have no loyalty, save only to gold or rice."
"Do not fear too much," said Pertinax. "We are not all that conspicuous. There are several deserters in the camp, barbarian mercenaries, fled from the holding of Temmu. I have been in the camp for five days, unquestioned."
"To balance the matter," I said, "foreign mercenaries, and, more importantly, tarns, hitherto unknown in the islands, were to be supplied to Temmu."
It was estimated, given the hardships of the early spring, the rigors of the first siege, the threat of the second siege, the overwhelming superiority in numbers enjoyed by Lord Yamada and the fearful advent of the iron dragon in the skies over the holding of Temmu, that better than two hundred mercenaries had defected to the banners of Yamada. These were employed variously, as traitors have their uses, particularly in missions Yamada did not care to entrust to Pani, whose primary loyalty might be to their daimyo and not to the shogun.
"So, too," I said, "will be the senior officers of the cavalry."
"The mercenaries, Torgus and Lysander," he said.
"Perhaps," I said.
"Margaret Wentworth," he said, "was mercenary, shallow, cheap arrogant, dishonest, and untrustworthy."
Lords Nishida and Okimoto had at their disposal, from the continent, something like three hundred and fifty Pani warriors, and some eleven hundred barbarian mercenaries and mariners.
There was much bustle on the wharf, I was jostled. A long string of stripped, neck-chained, back-braceleted slaves, mostly barbarians, but some Pani, was being boarded. Some mercenaries, intent on returning to the continent, were boarding, as well, packs on their back. Few, despite the protestations of recruiters, long ago on the continent, were returning richer than they came. wealth can be earned by the sword, but blood and misery, weariness and cold, want and danger, are more common pay.
Eventually he was freed of his chains and, during the traumas and exigencies of the ensuing months, particularly once the islands had been reached, and the need for armed men became more desperate he had been allowed to serve with our mercenary contingents, rather as though he had been originally recruited in Brundisium. In this capacity, grateful and dedicated, he had served faithfully, and well.
"I am Tarl Cabot," I said, "and a tarnsman. I no longer command the cavalry. The commander of the cavalry is now a Pani tarnsman, the warrior, Tajima." Both Torgus and Lysander had elected to return to the continent, with many other mercenaries, on the River Dragon.
But then she, mercenary, greedy, and corrupt, was approached by agents of Gor. It seemed an easy fortune might be had from obscure employers.
At that moment the third gong rang out.
Some mercenaries rushed past me, hurrying to the gangplank.
I have spoken of Lysander as a tyrant, though he referred to himself genially, as an Administrator, a humble servant of the people. He was, in effect, a strong man, of considerable economic power, who, by means of a coalition of personal supporters, mercenaries, and the military, controlled the city.
There seems little doubt that over the years the black courts became less scrupulous in the commissions they accepted. The original image of the elite mercenary, hired to do good and carry right into otherwise inaccessible precincts, supplying a needed service not otherwise available, became transformed into that of the contemporary black caste, an order of skilled, dangerous men particular about little else but their fees.
Amongst applicants might be found the dishonored and failed, the disappointed and abandoned, the despised and hated, the hopeless and resigned, the mocked and ridiculed, ones who have fled from Home Stones, who have repudiated codes, perhaps fugitives who seek a sanctuary behind dark walls, possibly seekers of thrills, possibly mercenaries intent on bartering steel for gold, without compunction, perhaps those seeking approval for their pathological instincts that, suitably exercised, will be condoned, even celebrated.
"She is then a mercenary, of sorts," I said.
"Doubtless," said Kurik. "A lovely free woman, with all the powers of a free woman, and those of a lovely free woman, can be of great use in a thousand enterprises."
"They are not," said Drusus Andronicus. "These are members of the entourage of Decius Albus, armed retainers, consider their livery, contingents within a small, personal army, a private army, that of the trade advisor to the Ubar."
"They are then," she said, "mercenaries."
"Yes," said Drusus Andronicus.
I did not think the raiders would be common brigands. I suspected, from the number of ships involved, that they were not only numerous, but well equipped, well organized, and well led. Perhaps, even, they might be mercenaries, professional soldiers.
We stopped speaking, for three palanquins, one after the other, with drawn curtains, moved past. They were borne, I noted, not by slaves, but free men who had more the look of mercenaries than bearers. Swords were at their belts. These palanquins, too, were accompanied by armed guards, two to a palanquin.
"That," said Sakim, "is where the Brigand Island, as we have spoken of it, becomes relevant. Consider the corsair fleet, in its full strength, seven ships with crews, supplemented with mercenaries, accompanied by the Brigand Island, itself not only a transport for additional mercenaries, but conveying an arsenal of supplies and siege equipment."
Following the withdrawal of the corsair fleet from Daphna, after the Daphna incident, many mercenaries left the corsair fleet, and few enlisted to take their places. Indeed, the attention of the raiders seemed then to depart from the land and turn to the sea, far from the arrows of a watchful Peasantry. On the other hand, of late, recruitment has begun again. Mercenaries are again taking fee for participating in dark enterprises.
"If these mercenaries are not mariners and are not intended to be risked against villages, one wonders as to the purpose of their recruitment," I said.
I had gathered that a raid on Mytilene had been considered, even from long before the fair. The remark about breaching walls suggested the use of siege equipment. This sort of thing meshed with Sakim's speculations. It seemed reasonably clear that an attack on Mytilene was in the offing. And, I suspected, given the currently limited success of the unified corsair fleet, which could no more scour the seas for victims than could a single ship, and the risks of now attacking villages, that it might be soon. That mercenaries were now being recruited afresh in Sybaris also suggested the likely prospect of such an action.
"Well," said Thurnock, "I do not think that many of these fellows about, even the rough, coarse fellows who may be corsairs or mercenaries, are likely to tell you what you want to know, whether, or when, Mytilene is to be attacked."
"I suspect that there are few corsairs or mercenaries on the piers," I said.
"And if there are," said Clitus, "they might know no more about it than we. Detailed plans are seldom shared with minions."
"For all we know," said Thurnock, "the mercenaries are already at the rendezvous point."
"These are not the corsairs of villages," I said. "This is a formidable force of perhaps two thousand men, mercenaries, supported by seven ships. This force has siege equipment and plenitudes of ammunition. It will be capable of investing a town like Mytilene and breaking through its walls."
Cos and Tyros are essentially naval powers, and, traditionally, rely on continental mercenaries when faced with warfare in the field. Thus, I suspect that the machinery put together by the corsairs was muscular but unsubtle. It was certainly capable of lofting great weights but perhaps it was less capable, less precise, when it came to meeting certain challenges of adjustment, those pertaining, for example, to distance and targeting. Secondly, catapult engineers, "gunners," and such, are rare and highly paid. If one is looking for the best representatives of that profession, one would not be well advised to go to Thera, Daphna, or Chios, but to Ar or Turia. Lastly, the enemy were hastily recruited mercenaries, not intensively trained troops, not disciplined troops, perhaps having the same Home Stone, troops familiar to one another, troops having confidence in themselves and their officers. In short, after several mishaps or mistakes, such as great stones falling short, falling amidst advancing mercenaries, or mercenaries arriving too early at the wall and being afflicted with their own fire, or mercenary contingents lagging or holding back to avoid such fates, thus subverting the whole point of the supposedly coordinated attack, the enemy generalship apparently decided to leave the tactic in question in the manuals, where its peril was considerably minimized.
One also supposes that the enemy, which largely consisted of mercenaries, knew enough of the facts of warfare to be disinclined to participate in so perilous an endeavor.
On what we might call the first day of the siege, the seven ships of the corsair fleet closed the harbor at Mytilene. On the same day, several hundred mercenaries, who had been landed earlier somewhere north of the harbor, moving overland, invested Mytilene.
Shortly thereafter they were shackled and put to work, with mercenaries, on the first and, later, the second, of two siege ditches, by which the town was then twice encircled.
We were looking toward the many tents of the main encampment of the mercenaries, some two hundred yards behind the second of the two siege ditches.
"Then you think we need not fear so general an assault?" said Thrasymedes.
"I think not," I said. "Too, we are dealing with mercenaries, not disciplined troops, used to labor, as in building ditched and palisaded fortress camps, as well as fighting. Just consider the nature of the enemy's tenting. There is no serious suggestion there of organization, discipline, or control. I cannot conceive of our friends on the other side of the wall delighting in the arduous, unpleasant, and dangerous work of digging several tunnels."
Even before the lamps were lit, and dangling on their cords, the men of Mytilene, with cries of rage, rushed toward the gate, brandishing their miscellany of weapons, including those taken from the fallen mercenaries slain in our earlier action, stabbing and striking.
Outside the gate I could hear, too, cries of consternation, as our men on the wall, those above the gate, hurled heavy stones down upon the startled mercenaries, crowded together outside the gate.
What occurred within the gate was much what had occurred before. It was a butchery of men crowded together, who could scarcely lift their weapons to defend themselves.
Three mercenaries had been trapped between the leaves of the great gate. One arm was thrust through from the outside. There was a scream from the other side as Thrasymedes, with a single blow of his double-edged ax, cut it off. "No! No!" cried another mercenary, on his belly, looking up, much of whose body lay within the gate, his foot caught between the leaves. "Yes," said Thrasymedes. "Yes, for Mytilene." He then struck the foot off. He then stood there with the bloody ax, looking down, breathing heavily, watching, watching. "It is enough," I said to him. "Let your weapon rest. It has done its work." "He is not yet dead," said Thrasymedes. "He is," I said. "Look, he is still. He does not move." "How can he be dead?" asked Thrasymedes. "He has bled to death," I said.
"I suspect," I said, moving ahead, "very little. Their informants will be confused, distraught mercenaries, fled back in the darkness from the closed gate of Mytilene. What they know will be little more than the fact that something, as they see it, had gone terribly wrong."
I had expected him to run, which would have been his best option, in which case I would pursue him for a pace or two and launch my sword with an overhand hilt cast, hoping, if all went well, to penetrate his back below the left shoulder blade, after which one would hope to draw out the sword, turn the body, and plunge it in again. As it was, my blade, so lightly engaged in my earlier stroke, leapt up and easily parried the savage downward stroke of the mercenary blade, a fierce, heavy, frenzied stroke which might have cut away the head of a saddle tharlarion.
The three catapults, mighty war engines, were aligned several yards behind the inner ditch, between the ditch and the camp of the mercenaries, a hundred or so yards beyond.
The area about was illuminated. I could hear men crying out near the mercenary camp. Four tents there were already, visibly, afire.
Mercenaries, it seemed, as I had expected, were more interested in preserving their goods than in rushing off, possibly at the risk of their lives, to investigate what might be amiss with ponderous siege equipment.
I stood, for a time, looking back across the field, at the many burning tents.
I hoped my stratagem would prove fruitful, that of bringing about a scaling attack on Mytilene, which presumably would be unsuccessful and inflict heavy losses on the enemy, losses which mercenaries would be unlikely to accept with equanimity. Their leadership's recourse to siege engines, that walls might be demolished, and mining, that the town might be taken from within, both suggested that scaling, which in many cases, at least where larger numbers were involved, would have been a commander's first choice, was here an undesired alternative, something more in the nature of a last resort.
Thus, the advantages of what might prove to be overwhelming numbers in the field are likely to be nullified at the wall. Indeed, if one had two defenders to one attacker hoping to scale the wall, at one time, the defenders would at that point, the point of military interest, outnumber the attackers two to one. These simple facts were lost on no one, particularly mercenaries. It is no wonder that towns and cities are seldom overcome, save by treachery, subornation, or subterfuge.
The trident of Clitus darted forth, one prong entering a throat. His target, arterial blood bursting forth, tried to hold to the ladder, but, a moment later lost its grip, and fell, forcing two others, looking up, then half blinded with blood, from the ladder.
Arrows, too, might be fired, largely with impunity, given the crenellations of the parapet, picking targets as they might present themselves, often mercenaries trying to advance ladders to the walls. In this way many ladders never reached the walls, sometimes because enough of their bearers were killed or wounded, or, more often, because many men, after a time, declined to bear the ladders forward. Twice, from the wall, we saw a mercenary slain by an officer, presumably in connection with some such reluctance or noncompliance, and twice we saw the officer die; in one case, men gathered about him, closer and closer, despite his protests, and, later, when the men dispersed, the officer's bloodied body lay behind, crumpled and inert; in the other case, the officer was simply cut down from behind by one man, while others looked on.
I suspect that the ruses of 'pretended traitors' and 'seeming weaknesses' had done much to dishearten the mercenaries.
"This morning, in the Builder's Glass," I said, "we saw a large number of mercenaries congregated about the high tents in the distance. The large number suggests unrest."
"Clearly," I said, "a mutiny was feared. Thus, supplies and transport, removed from the harbor, could not be seized by the mercenaries. Moreover, should a mutiny be mounted, the corsair ships need only withdraw, leaving the mercenaries stranded on Chios."
"And some of their own officers," said Thurnock.
"I do not think that would be of great concern to Archelaos," I said.
"But surely the minions of Archelaos are unwilling to return to Sybaris empty handed," said Thurnock.
"I would not envy them, did they dare to do so," I said.
"I would we had a spy in the enemy camp," said Thrasymedes.
"But we do not," said Thurnock.
"In a sense, we do," I said, "the glass of the Builders. We noted that violence did not ensue upon the visit to the tents of the corsairs' land command. Thus, mutiny is not in the immediate offing. Second, the meeting did not take long. That suggests that some sort of obvious compromise was reached. The most obvious compromise would be one in which the command would manage to save face, seeming to have preserved power and surrendered nothing, while the mercenaries would, in effect, achieve their own aim, the aim of the most loot with the least possible risk."
Many of the mercenaries who had passed the outer ditch remained in its vicinity, crouched down, covering themselves with their large, round shields of leather, rimmed and bossed with bronze.
"Had we hundreds of spare arrows to flight," said Thurnock, "they would soon rush back, seeking the cover of the ditch."
"I have never seen warriors so reluctant to engage the enemy," I said.
"They are not warriors," said Thurnock. "They are the dregs of hirelings. They came to feast with impunity, and found a lean, inhospitable table. They came to seize gold and found iron. They came to slaughter verr and encountered men."
"The men of Mytilene," I said.
Clearly the mercenaries did not fear decimation. Decimation is a harsh military punishment, one usually inflicted on troops which have failed to follow orders, have exhibited cowardice in the face of the enemy, and such. It can be imposed in a variety of ways. The troops deemed guilty of insubordination, cowardice, or such are divided into groups, commonly of ten, but sometimes less or more. Most commonly a gambling takes place, with cards, marked stones, a drawing of straws, and such. The man who loses in the gambling is then put to death by his fellows. Commonly this is done with stones or clubs, so that the observing troops, better armed, can enforce the killing, and kill the entire group, should the 'guilty group' be recalcitrant or reluctant to carry out the decimation, which reluctance, incidentally, seldom occurs.
The mercenaries, obviously, given the nature of their last 'attack', did not fear decimation. I suspect that their commanders, their paymasters, feared that the attempt to impose so terrifying a stringency on such troops, hireling troops, might have provoked a mutiny.
The first act was the surprise of, and murder of, the tunnel guard whom Thrasymedes and I had posted at our end of the tunnel, that tunnel which had been opened in the house of Tarchon, that through which mercenaries had sought to steal into the camp and overcome the gate guard, opening the gate to their waiting cohorts, and through which, shortly afterward, I and others had managed to reach the enemy camp and destroy his three monstrous catapults.
The rising of the Peasants rendered the issuing forth of the men of Mytilene and their allies unnecessary. Within two days, the mercenaries, surrounded and beleaguered, harassed, shut off from the countryside, and sustaining dreadful losses, had withdrawn to the seven ships of the corsair fleet. Initially, in alarm and consternation, surprised by the swarming of peasants, their far camp burned, they had fled to the ground within the inner and outer ditch, taking what refuge they could within a circular shield wall. The hostile Peasantry, naturally, would not, nor would they ever intend to, attack ready infantry in such a position, descending into a steep ditch and trying to fight their way upward and out of such a ditch in the face of ensconced, armored resistance. The mercenaries, on the other hand, in such a position, were effectively pinned in place, denied access to supplies which might otherwise have been seized in the countryside. When contingents of mercenaries would leave their ditched fortress to attack the peasants, they found they could not close with them, for the peasants would withdraw before them, leading them farther from their fellows and isolating them from support, where, soon, ambushed and wearied, surrounded and outnumbered, picked off one by one, few of the would-be attackers could manage to do as little as make their way back to their fellows. Exacerbating the predicament of the mercenaries was that the range of the peasant bow exceeded that of the crossbow, allowing the peasants to, in effect, remain out of range of the shorter, heavier, quarrels while being able to discharge their own weapons with comparative impunity, and the almost indefinite quantity of ammunition at their disposal, arrows borne less in quivers than bundled into carts. This plenitude of striking force was applied both singly and randomly and, occasionally, in thick volleys, falling like a dark, torrential rain of death. I, and others, my men and the fighters of Mytilene, from the town walls, watched the mercenaries' harried retreat to the sea, through a corridor flanked by lifted shields. The corsair ships did not risk coming within range of the peasant archery but sent forth a small fleet of longboats to ferry their mercenaries to the safety of the ships. These boats were few and overcrowded, and largely exposed to arrow fire. We saw two swamped and overturned. Men killed one another for a place on the thwarts. Several cast aside helmets, weapons, and shields and tried to swim to the waiting ships. Several may have drowned but others were clearly drawn under the water, the churning and frenzy in the water apparently having attracted marine predators, presumably sharks or the snakelike sea tharlarion. Many others, hundreds, backs to the sea, shields lifted, must stay indefinitely in place, trusting to the return of the crews of the longboats, few of which, it seemed, cared, for their fees, to hazard a second trip. Some four Ahn after the beginning of the evacuation, the beach was empty save for bodies and equipment. The last survivors, say some two or three hundred men, crowded together, abandoned by the longboats, were set upon by irate peasants, armed with staves and axes. At that point I had turned away.
Three days later a small party, of which I was one, examined the battleground about Mytilene. One could still smell smoke from the burned tents of the enemy. The bodies of the dead mercenaries, gathered together by men wearing scarves about their faces, had been, or would be, stripped, placed in small boats, and carried out to sea, to be disposed of in locales soon to teem with welcoming sea life. In this way, they need not be burned in gigantic pyres, costly of valuable timber, or, with a sorry expenditure of time and effort, buried in nearby, perhaps revered, land, certainly not within the pomerium of Mytilene.
"Why would Tarchon have been killed by the mercenaries?" I asked. "He served them well, by obtaining access to Mytilene by means of the tunnel, and doubtless, too, by providing them with information as to the straits to which we were subjected."
"One may speculate," said Thrasymedes. "The affair of the tunnel turned out badly for the mercenaries, costing them men and, soon, by means of the same tunnel, in your attack, the loss of the great catapults. On whose side was Tarchon? How could the mercenaries know? Might he not be a patriot of Mytilene? He doubtless told them of our shortage of supplies, but their scouts doubtless, too, reported the sounds of singing and feasting from within the walls. Too, the same night, the Peasants closed in, merciless and determined. Had Tarchon known of the gathering and rising of the Peasants? Was he trying to falsely inspirit the mercenaries, lulling them into patience and quiescence, holding them in place to be slaughtered?"
"Too," said Thrasymedes, "who, mercenary or not, blames themselves for anything? What is more common than to blame others for one's own faults, failures, and lacks? Why assign blame to oneself when it is so easy to ascribe it to others?"
"Mercenaries, in their vengeance, in their haste and fury," said Thrasymedes, "did this dreadful thing."
I did not doubt that mercenaries had been guilty of destroying the instrument, probably before Tarchon's very eyes, before his impalement.
"Mercenaries suffered grievous losses," said Clitus, "and soon, as they could, under fire, those who could, sought to avail themselves of the hospitality of the corsair fleet."
"Longboats were sent forth to ferry them aboard," said Aktis, "but few such boats, given clouds of arrows, hazarded a second trip."
Almost at the same time as the impact the early morning fog parted and, briefly, I glimpsed several tents, many men, some seizing up weapons, some great heaps of stone blocks, of the sort which had been used in the great catapults of the mercenaries near Mytilene, and a flare of fire to the right.
"Living islands, as sluggish as they may seem," said Sakim, "are alive and in some respects very aware and sensitive, that having to do with detecting fish, locating desirable feeding grounds, and such. Too, the behavior of living islands, like that of other forms of life, those of a sufficient degree of sensitivity, is susceptible of modification, even training of a sort. I would guess that the mercenaries associated ships with feedings, an easy enough thing to do. In this way, the island would tend to seek out ships, this behavior, when successful, being rewarded by the mercenaries."
"The mercenaries are heartless and cruel," said Sakim. "You saw the fire. They do not respect the island or care for it. They goad it. They spur it to do their bidding; they exploit it, pitilessly, mercilessly, by sharp instruments and blazing irons."
"Do not underestimate the effects of jabbing, pointed metal poles, serrated blades, and white-hot irons affecting the Brigand Island," said Sakim, "nor the willingness of the mercenaries to kill it in their attempt to overtake us."
"The fog will lift," said Thurnock.
"By that time," said Clitus, "we will have disappeared."
"You forget one thing, my friend," said Sakim. "should the mercenaries lose touch with us, they need only give the Brigand Island a temporary surcease of its pain, and, soon, it will seek us of its own accord."
I had hoped to lead the corsair fleet, all seven fifty-oared ships, away from the Dorna. Clearly this stratagem had been unsuccessful. I had no doubt that the other four corsair ships, possibly in communication by means of message vulos, were in pursuit of the Dorna. If the Dorna had been detected, possibly in virtue of the activity of the Brigand Island, I did not think it could long elude its pursuers, given the numbers of rested oarsmen on which they could draw, heavily crewed as they were with large numbers of draftable, evacuated mercenaries. There was the possibility, of course, that the Dorna had somehow escaped and was now bound for the Cove of Harpalos.
Shortly, the first of the three ships was within forty yards of us. We could see files of helmeted men, mercenary warriors, not mariners, doubtless mercenaries embarked from the beach near Mytilene. Sunlight was reflected from helmets, from the metal bosses of rounded shields, from the blades of spears. We heard the rustling of looped chains terminating with short, thick metal rods, each of which, as though exfoliating, seemed to blossom into three metal hooks.
I guessed that there might be two hundred and fifty to three hundred men in the water, as the corsair ships were crowded with evacuated mercenaries.
I saw one fellow trying to crawl onto a narrow plank. It could not support his weight. I saw a helmeted figure slip beneath the water, seemingly drawn under the surface, one hand raised, as though it might be grasped by someone. I recalled that it was not far from this point that, in clearing the battlefield, bodies of dead mercenaries, as that of Tarchon, had been disposed of at sea.
The second longboat was now amongst the floating debris, but four mercenaries, with spears, were thrusting at those trying to clamber aboard. The boat seemed to float on a scarlet sea. Several dorsal fins began to cut toward the boat. We watched a few men drawn aboard, while others were repelled at the point of bloody spears.
Ctesippus was now apparently issuing orders to the crew of the longboat. It turned about and, the mercenaries with spears continuing to fend off desperate swimmers, began to make its way back toward the two unharmed corsair ships, waiting closer to shore.
"They are mercenaries, killers," said Sakim.
"Some are caste brothers," I said.
"You would save a fellow whom in battle you would think nothing of driving a sword into his heart?" said Sakim.
"Yes," I said.
"Codes?" said Sakim.
"Yes, codes," I said.
"It is done by means of a living island," said Sakim, "that island we speak of as the Brigand Island, a pathetic, enormous aquatic beast under the control of corsairs and mercenaries. It is that which has followed you. As a sleen, tenacious and swift, can follow scent on land, tenacious and swift, a living island can follow sounds, disturbances, stirrings, in the water, schooling fish, the wake of a passing vessel, and such. The enemy has taught the island to associate feeding with ships, so it seeks ships."
"It seemed they were tireless," said Tab.
"They were doubtless heavily crewed," I said, "and had the services of transported mercenaries, making possible frequent shifts of rowers."
The Dorna was between us and the onrushing behemoth, the living island. On its present trajectory it would make contact with the Dorna full on her starboard side. The mercenaries on the island, swarming forward, were intent to bring their ladders into play a moment after the island's impact on the Dorna's hull, perhaps then stove in. But Tab, by oars and rudders, was already struggling to bring the prow of the Dorna toward the island, which maneuver would minimize the width of the expected impact.
"Good Tab!" I cried.
The iron-shod ram, mounted in such a way as to withstand the grievous shock of tearing through reinforced planking, cut a short, sharp, linear, bloody furrow in the hide of the living island and then, as it was riding over the beast, the beast, reflexively, reared upward, like a hill of muscles, as though to dislodge some predator, which caused the Dorna, given its inertia, to ride over the crest of this hill, pause for a moment, and then plunge downward, slicing through the massed mercenaries, dividing and disrupting their formation, and crushing several. There was much screaming, much confusion, a splintering of ladders, a tumbling of rectangular blocks of stone, intended originally to be ammunition for the great catapults, the tearing loose of tent pegs which had been pounded into the flesh of the island, and a scattering of tents rising from the back of the island like startled birds. At the same time the island, with a great roaring noise, exhaled a towering, violent spume of warm air and water. This rose a hundred feet into the air, and droplets fell like warm rain, drenching the island.
The flesh of the island then began reacting to the trauma of its wound, to shudder and ripple, contracting and expanding, its edges, or coasts, disappearing on one side or the other for a moment and then rising again, shining and dripping. Some parts of the island, more central parts, remained dry, but elsewhere, like tides, water washed its surface to a man's knees and then his waist.
"The island is sinking!" screamed a man.
The faces of many of the mercenaries were pale with horror.
Given the unexpected action of the Dorna, its inadvertent plunging into the ranks of the mercenaries, scattering all and crushing many, and the ensuing behavior of the injured, perhaps maddened, beast, war was far from the minds of most of the mercenaries, that despite the urgings and howling of certain officers, some of whom were knee deep in water.
Nature herself, it seemed, had declared a truce.
The hill-like mound of flesh which had risen under the Dorna, reacting to its inadvertent, bloody intrusion, had shrunk down, considerably, almost immediately, a moment after the Dorna's plunge amongst the mercenaries. The ship was now rocking, its planking holding, the ship responsive to the continuing agitation of the surface beneath it. The few serviceable oars of the Dorna were out from the thole ports, almost like narrow wooden legs to keep the tormented craft from pitching on its side. Several oarsmen had leapt over the gunwales and were trying to force the Dorna back into the churning water, that it might once more find itself in its proper element. At the same time I had had the Tesephone brought to a position where it would be abeam of the Dorna should that craft manage to extricate itself from its current position and require assistance, and if it could not do so, we would be close enough to take swimmers aboard. Many Gorean vessels, when not in port, beach, or half-beach, themselves at night, where a camp is made, one sometimes rudely fortified. I mention this lest it seem surprising, or improbable, that portions of the Dorna's crew were outboard, attempting to free their ship from the shore of the living island. Their travail was brief, however for the shore of the island drew back under them, and inclined downward, as though, water rushing in, it would so rid itself of an unwelcome visitor. Men clambered back aboard the Dorna.
Tab had the Dorna backoared from the Brigand Island, whose tremors had now subsided, and whose pilots were already struggling to rekindle fires in which irons might be heated, enabling them to control the course and speed of their vast mount. Mercenaries, outraged but no longer discomfited, shouted, brandished their weapons, and shook their fists. Thurnock brushed them a kiss from his fingertips as we withdrew, which gesture doubtless incensed them further. As I knew Thurnock, the massive, wily peasant, this was no idle, childish gratification but a movement designed with war in mind. It is a foolish and often short-lived enemy whose steel is subject to hatred and blinding emotion; beware more the blade subject to the wary mind, the blade whose lightning is patient and cunning. The thought of Pa-Kur, Master of the Black Caste, the Assassins, briefly crossed my mind. Soon I had come about in such a way that the Dorna was between the Brigand Island and the Tesephone. In this way I hoped to shield her from the two corsair vessels to port and the three to starboard.
"The three corsair vessels to starboard are, for the moment, inert," I said. "I do not think they realize what has occurred here. Their strategy, I suspect, was to take the Dorna, either by further damaging her or beaching her on the Brigand Island. Clearly the mercenaries, given their ladders and formation, were intending, if possible, to board her in one way or another, either from the Brigand Island or the beach."
Consider the maneuvering required to draw alongside, the employment of fending oars, the closure with the enemy, facilitating the use of missiles at close range, the shifting gap between hulls, the uncertainty of footing, the sea destabilizing the two platforms involved, the temporary exposure of attackers, the resolution and desperation of defenders.
"I do not think the enemy will mind expending his mercenaries in that endeavor," said Sakim.
"Do not fear the Brigand Island," said Sakim. "It was wounded, torn, and burned. It was abandoned near Chios. It was left there. You saw it left behind. The mercenaries fear it. They want nothing more to do with it. Could it follow us, it would have done so. It may be dead."
"They will bring the Brigand Island alongside, and we shall find our floating citadel besieged," said Sakim.
"I expect they will be lavish in expending their mercenaries," I said.
"I want it closer," I said, "and I want the mercenaries to mass together, crowded, shield to shield, intent on naught but war, each hoping for his place on a ladder, each eager for a kill."
We surveyed the ship approaching our starboard side.
"The decks are crowded with mercenaries!" said a man.
"How can we resist such steel?" asked a man.
"Take heart," called another, stringing his bow. "How could you miss, even you, firing into that throng."
"Pick your targets," I said.
Some of the corsair mercenaries had leapt between the ships at the moment of contact, but these, isolated from their fellows who could not follow them, were cut down or forced back over the rail, some of whom were being crushed between the vessels in our battle to force the hulls apart.
I also heard screams from the water between the vessels. The oars of the enemy, to which the mercenaries had clung, had been withdrawn, forcing them from the oars, into the water. It was more than apparent to these brave fellows that their position, as the ships' hulls began to approach one another, was not an enviable one. Some swam desperately to make their way to and about the prow or stern of the corsair vessel. Some dove under its hull, and would hope to be reboarded on its starboard side. Others were crushed.
Mercenaries were trying to clamber over the corsair ship's railings, to force themselves to the muchly leveled deck of the Dorna.
Almost at the same time dozens of mercenaries, unopposed, uttering war cries, leapt over the rail of the corsair ship on our starboard side, and landed on the smooth, glistening deck, only to cry out in dismay and alarm, as they slipped, skidded, and lost their footing.
At the same time our men, bearing swords, axes, knives, and even clubs, rushed out from behind the screens, sure footed from the bits of nails fastened in their sandals and boots, and fell, like butchers on verr, on the numerous discomforted and often helpless foes, most unable to regain or maintain their footing.
Other mercenaries, dozens on the corsair ship, milled behind its railing, unwilling to follow their fellows, much aware of the hazard of placing themselves on so treacherous a surface.
Without grappling holding the ships together it was difficult for the corsair ship, given the sea, to retain its position, and soon, pitching and rocking, it was no longer at the side of the Tesephone but lay abeam of her by some seven or eight feet.
"Victory is ours!" cried a man.
"Cover!" I cried.
A volley of quarrels struck screens, penetrated the raised mast, skidded or tumbled across the deck, even to the Dorna.
"They will come again," said Thurnock.
"And the deck, next time, will be no surprise to them," said Clitus.
"Perhaps it will be," I said.
"Perhaps they will not come again," said a man.
"I think they will," said Thurnock. "They cannot be unaware that, on this side, we are still grossly undermanned."
"Mercenaries can take only so much," said Clitus, folding his net. "They fight for gold, not death."
"What mercenary shrinks from a fight he deems easily and profitably won," asked
Thurnock, "a fight in which he risks little and is likely to gain much?"
"No!" I heard, a long scream from the water, presumably from one of the mercenaries forced from our deck, or one of those who had earlier preferred the risk of Thassa to that of our crew.
I brought my arm down, swiftly, and Thurnock dashed the flaming lamp onto the oiled deck before the screens. Instantly spreading fire, like a striking, scarlet snake, raged about the ankles and legs of the mercenaries.
"Now!" I cried, and I, and my men, some thrusting screens before them, rushed forward. We knew, as the mercenaries presumably would not, that on a flat deck coated with a layer of oil, that the flames, after their initial flaring, would provide little impedance to the business of war. One might fight amongst them, as they subsided, even with them about one's ankles. The primary effect of the flames would be psychological, disconcerting and alarming. Despite this, several of my men had soaked their footgear with water and wrapped their lower legs with water-soaked rags. I did not object to this. It allayed fear in some of my men and the sight of them being presumably so protected against fire would most likely further alarm mercenaries, realizing they lacked such putative protection.
"Back, back," cried a mercenary officer on our deck, looking behind him, and men began, sustaining our determined, fierce attack, to back away. Some lost their balance and fell backwards into the sea. Others threw away their shields and weapons and leapt from the Tesephone to the water now separating us from the corsair ship.
Ropes were cast down from the corsair ship, which were grasped by struggling men. One man, screaming, was pulled away from a rope by a shark. This was surprising as sharks are not normally found in deep, open water, far from the shallower water housing the banks of flora fed upon by smaller fish. The shark in question was presumably one the few who will follow a ship in open water, sometimes for days, feeding off garbage cast overboard.
We watched the corsair ship take aboard her mercenaries, one by one. Not long afterward, she drew farther away, and was joined by the ship which had attacked the Dorna. Both then lay to.