Authors: John Norman
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Adventure, #Erotica, #Fantasy Fiction; American, #Gor (Imaginary Place), #Outer Space, #Slaves
Assassin of Gor
Chronicles of Counter-Earth Volume 5
1 - KUURUS
Kuurus, of the Caste of Assassins, crouched on the crest of the small hill, leaning with both hands on the shaft of his spear, looking down into the shallow valley, waiting. He would not yet be welcome.
In the distance he could see the white walls, and some of the towers of the city of Ko-ro-ba, which was being rebuilt. It is an old word in Gorean, Ko-ro-ba, meaning a village market, though few considered its archaic meaning. Kuurus looked on the city. It had once been destroyed by Priest-Kings, but now it was being rebuilt. Kuurus was not much interested in such matters. His was the Caste of Assassins. He had been called to this place. In the early part of the eighth Gorean hour the distant white walls took the sun and blazed like light in the green hills. The Towers of the Morning, thought Kuurus, the Towers of the Morning.
The Assassin shifted a bit and turned his attention again to the valley, when the men below were almost ready.
The logs had been prepared and carefully placed. There were hundreds of them, trimmed and squared, mostly of Ka-la-na wood, from the sweet-smelling wine trees of Gor. They crossed one another in the intricate traditional patterns, spaces between to permit the rush of air, forming a carefully structured, tiered, truncated pyramid.
Kuurus observed, curious, as the last log was placed by two men in the red of Warriors.
Then free women, veiled and in Robes of Concealment, each carrying a jar or canister, approached the structure. Even from where Kuurus waited he could smell the perfumed oils, the unguents and spices, which the women, climbing and moving about the pyramid slowly, as though on stairs, sprinkled about or poured over the wood.
Beyond the wood, toward the city, Kuurus could see the procession. He was surprised for, judging from the colors of the garments of those who marched, it contained men of many castes, perhaps all castes of the city, only that he did not see among them the white of the Caste of Initiates. That puzzled Kuurus, for normally men of the Initiates are prominent in such events.
These men of Ko-ro-ba, he knew, when their city had been destroyed by the Priest-Kings, had been scattered to the ends of Gor but, when permitted by the Priest-Kings, they had returned to their city to rebuild it, each bearing a stone to add to its walls. It was said, in the time of troubles, that the Home Stone had not been lost, and it had not. And even Kuurus, of the Caste of Assassins, knew that a city cannot die while its Home Stone survives. Kuurus, who would think little of men on the whole, yet could not despise such men as these, these of Ko-ro-ba.
The procession did not chant, nor sing, for this was not a time for such things, nor did it carry boughs of Ka-la-na, nor were the sounds of the sista or tambor heard in the sunlight that morning. At such a time as this Goreans do not sing nor speak. They are silent, for at such a time words mean nothing, and would demean or insult; in such a time there can be for Goreans only silence, memory and fire.
The procession was led by four Warriors, who supported on their shoulders a framework of crossed spears, lashed together, on which, wrapped in the scarlet leather of a tarnsman, lay the body.
Kuurus watched, unmoved, as the four Warriors carried their scarlet burden to the height of the huge, sweet-smelling, oil-impregnated pyre.
Averting their eyes the Warriors threw back the scarlet leather that the body might lie free on the spears, open to the wind and sun.
He was a large man, Kuurus noted, in the leather of a Warrior. The hair, he remarked, was unusual.
The procession and those who had been earlier at the pyre now stood back from it, some fifty yards or so, for the oil-impregnated wood will take the torch quickly and fiercely. There were three who stood near the pyre; one wore the brown robes of the Administrator of a City, the humblest robes in the city, and was hooded; another wore the blue of the Caste of Scribes, a small man, almost tiny, bent now with pain and grief; the last was a very large man, broad of back and shoulder, bearded and with long blond hair, a Warrior; yet even the Warrior seemed in that moment shaken.
Kuurus saw the torch lit and then, with a cry of pain, thrown by the Warrior onto the small mountain of oiled wood. The wood leaped suddenly alive with a blaze that was almost a burst of fire and the three men staggered backward, their forearms thrown across their eyes.
Kuurus bent down and picked up a stalk of grass and chewed on it, watching. The reflection of the fire, even in the sunlight, could be seen on his face. His forehead began to sweat. He blinked his eyes against the heat.
The men and women of Ko-ro-ba stood circled about the pyre, neither moving nor speaking, for better than two Ahn. After about half an Ahn the pyre, still fearful with heat and light, had collapsed with a roar, forming a great, fiercely burning mound of oil-soaked wood. At last, when the wood burned only here and there, and what had been the pyre was mostly ashes and glowing wood, the men of a dozen castes, each carrying a jar of chilled wine, moved about, pouring the wine over the fire, quenching it. Other men sought in the ashes for what might be found of the Warrior. Some bones and some whitish ash they gathered in white linen and placed in an urn of red and yellow glass. Kuurus knew that such an urn would be decorated, probably, since the man had been a Warrior, with scenes of the hunt and war. The urn was given to him who wore the robes of the Administrator of the City, who took it and slowly, on foot, withdrew toward Ko-ro-ba, followed by the large blond Warrior and the small Scribe. The ashes, Kuurus judged, since the body had been wrapped in the scarlet leather of a tarnsman, would be scattered from tarnback, perhaps over distant Thassa, the sea.
Kuurus stood up and stretched. He picked up his short sword in its scabbard, his helmet and his shield. These he slung over his left shoulder. Then he picked up his spear, and stood there, against the sky, on the crest of the hill, in the black tunic.
Those who had come to the pyre had now withdrawn slowly toward the city. Only one man remained near the smoking wood. He wore a black robe with a stripe of white down the front and back. Kuurus knew that it would be this man, who wore the black, but not the full black, of the Assassin, who would deal with him. Kuurus smiled bitterly to himself. He laughed at the stripe of white. Their tunic, said Kuurus to himself, is as black as mine.
When the man near the smoking wood turned to face him, Kuurus descended the hill. He was now welcome. Kuurus smiled to himself.
The man did not greet him, nor did Kuurus lift his hand to the man, palm inward, saying "Tal."
The man was a strange man, thought Kuurus. His head was totally devoid of hair, even to the lack of eyebrows. Perhaps he is some sort of Initiate, thought Kuurus.
Without speaking, the man took twenty pieces of gold, tarn disks of Ar, of double weight, and gave them to Kuurus, who placed them in the pockets of his belt. The Assassins, unlike most castes, do not carry pouches.
Kuurus looked curiously down at the remains of the pyre. Only a bit of wood now, here and there, missed by the chilled wine, clung to flame; some of the logs, however, still smoked, and the others held as though within themselves the redness of the fire they remembered; but most were simply charred, now dead, stained with the oil, wet from the wine.
"Justice must be done," said the man.
Kuurus said nothing, but only looked at the man. Often, though not always, they spoke of justice. It pleases them to speak of justice, he said to himself. And of right. It eases them and gives them peace. There is no such thing as justice, said Kuurus, to himself. There is only gold and steel.
"Whom am I to kill?" asked Kuurus.
"I do not know," said the man.
Kuurus looked at him angrily. Yet he had in the pockets of his belt twenty gold tarn disks, and of double weight. There must be more.
"All we know is this," said the man, handing him a greenish patch.
Kuurus studied the patch. "It is a faction patch," said he. "It speaks to me of the tarn races of Ar."
"It is true," said the man.
The faction patches are worn in Ar by those who favor a given faction in the racing. There are several such factions, who control the racing and compete among themselves, the greens, the reds, the golds, the yellows, the silvers.
"I shall go to Ar," said Kuurus.
"If you are successful," said the man, "return and you will receive a hundred such pieces of gold."
Kuurus looked at him. "If it is not true," he said, "you will die."
"It is true," said the man.
"Who is it," asked Kuurus, "that was slain? Who is it that I am to avenge?"
"A Warrior," said the man.
"His name?" asked Kuurus.
"Tarl Cabot," said the man.
2 - AR
Kuurus, of the Caste of Assassins, entered the great gate of Ar.
Guardsman did not detain him, for he wore on his forehead the mark of the black dagger.
Not for many years had the black tunic of the Assassins been seen within the walls of Ar, not since the siege of that city in 10,110 from its founding, in the days of Marlenus, who had been Ubar; of Pa-Kur, who had been Master of the Assassins; and of the Ko-ro-ban Warrior, in the songs called Tarl of Bristol.
For years the black of the Assassins had been outlawed in the city. Pa-Kur, who had been Master of the Assassins, had led a league of tributary cities to attack Imperial Ar in the time when its Home Stone had been stolen and its Ubar forced to flee. The city had fallen and Pa-Kur, though of low caste, had aspired to inherit the imperial mantle of Marlenus, had dared to lift his eyes to the throne of Empire and place about his neck the golden medallion of a Ubar, a thing forbidden to such as he in the myths of the Counter-Earth. Pa-Kur's horde had been defeated by an alliance of free cities, led by Ko-ro-ba and Thentis, under the command of Matthew Cabot of Ko-ro-ba, the father of Tarl of Bristol, and Kazrak of Port Kar, sword brother of the same Warrior. Tarl of Bristol himself on the windy height of Ar's Cylinder of Justice had defeated Pa-Kur, Master of the Assassins. From that time the black of the Assassins had not been seen in the streets of Glorious Ar.
Yet none would stand in the way of Kuurus for he wore on his forehead, small and fine, the sign of the black dagger.
When he of the Caste of Assassins has been paid his gold and has received his charge he affixes on his forehead that sign, that he may enter whatever city he pleases, that none may interfere with his work.
There are few men who have done great wrong or who have powerful, rich enemies who do not tremble upon learning that one has been brought to their city who wears the dagger.
Kuurus stepped between the great gates and looked about himself.
A woman carrying a market basket moved to one side, watching him, that she might not touch him, holding a child to her.
A peasant moved away that the shadow of the Assassin might not fall across his own.
Kuurus pointed to a fruit on a flat-topped wagon with wooden wheels, drawn by a small four-legged, horned tharlarion.
The peddler pressed the fruit into his hands and hurried on, not meeting his eyes.
Her back against the bricks of a tower near the gate, a slender, slim-ankled slave girl stood, watching him. Her eyes were frightened. Kuurus was apparently the first of the Caste of Assassins she had seen. Her hair was dark, and fell to the small of her back; her eyes were dark; she wore the briefly skirted, sleeveless slave livery common in the northern cities of Gor; the livery was yellow and split to the cord that served her as belt; about her throat she wore a matching collar, yellow enameled over steel.
Biting into the fruit, the juice running at the side of his mouth, Kuurus studied the girl. It seemed she would turn to leave but his eyes held her where she stood. He spit some seeds to the dust of the street within the gate. When he had finished he threw the core of the fruit to her feet and she looked down at it with horror. When she looked up, frightened, she felt his hand on her left arm.
He turned her about and thrust her down a side street, making her walk in front of him.
At a Paga Tavern, one near the great gate, cheap and crowded, dingy and smelling, a place frequented by strangers and small Merchants, the Assassin took the girl by the arm and thrust her within. Those in the tavern looked up from the low tables. There were three Musicians against one wall. They stopped playing. The slave girls in Pleasure Silk turned and stood stock still, the Paga flasks cradled over their right forearms. Not even the bells locked to their left ankles made a sound. Not a paga bowl was lifted nor a hand moved. The men looked at the Assassin, who regarded them, one by one. Men turned white under that gaze. Some fled from the tables, lest, unknown to themselves, it be they for whom this man wore the mark of the black dagger.
The Assassin turned to the man in a black apron, a fat, grimy man, who wore a soiled tunic of white and gold, stained with sweat and spilled paga.
"Collar," said the Assassin.
The man took a key from a line of hooks on the wall behind him.
"Seven," he said, throwing the Assassin the key.
The Assassin caught the key and taking the girl by the arm led her to a dark wall, in a low-ceilinged corner of the sloping room. She moved woodenly, as though numb. Her eyes seemed frightened.