Thursday, November 17, 2022

A Barsoomian of Lesser Standing

 Chapter One

  My name is Hajor of Dusar.  With many others, I guard the fields that produce the plants of which rope is made.  Trained as a warrior and hunter, I command a squad of 4 other guards. I have trained in swordsmanship until I above all others in Dusar, even the best trainer in the city.  I can hit what I shoot at with my pistol.

  Unfortunately, this is a very boring job.  Mostly, we keep vermin from the fields, and chase off lovers looking for privacy.  In the years that I have led my patrol, we have run off looters twice.

  The wife of Thuraz, the owner of the fields, is named Rayza and called the greatest beauty of Dusar. She often brought us ices in the field. She would chat companionably with us, and draw me aside for instructions from Thuraz, which I would then convey to my small command.

  Little did I anticipate how my life would change when a house slave awakened me late in the night to tell me that Thuraz had been assassinated. I was to come quickly to his mansion to guard against any further violence.

  Instead of standing at the door as I expected, I was led into the inner chamber where the household was gathered.  The lady Rayza comforted the household as best as she could.  She turned to Thuraz's daughter.

  "The rope manufactury and all that it holds now belongs to you, as the blood successor to your father.  You, the child of his first wife, are the sole heir.  As befits the survivor, I believe I may journey to the river Iss, as is my duty. I will take a single guard who will protect me to the end of my journey, but not accompany me to the river itself."

  Thuraz's daughter looked at Rayza stunned. "Am I to lose both parents in a single night?" 

   "Love you though I may, I am not your blood mother, and it would be unseemly should I stay. Eventually, there would be questions, and perhaps another assassination attempt.  It will be better for all if I leave immediately."

  Turning to me, she said, "Go to your quarters. Gather your belongings. We leave immediately."

  "Milady, my belongings consist of what I stand in before you ."

  "That is well. Follow me." 

   Immediately, we went to the rear of the mansion. There I saw a small 2-man flier, loaded quite heavily with packs and goods. "Milady, we are to walk?"

  As soon as we are out of sight and sounds of the fields, she turns to me and tells me the truth.  She was a slave in a far-off, un-named city, who was bought from the slave sale by Thuraj.  His wife died when his daughter was quite young, and she was bought to care for her and his husbandly needs. He freed her, but his daughter had mixed feelings for Rayza. Therefore, Rayza feels that a quick disappearance would be wise.
  "I have never been able to love him, but he treated me as an equal and with respect. I shall mourn his passing, but only as a bought bedmate. I am trained in the use of sword and pistol, but not, I understand, to your standard. I am a free woman, and have always been treated as such, though not by Thurjaz's daughter." She paused for a moment.  "Nor were we ever married. Thurjaz wanted no question of succession. We had not been bedmates for months" She looked hard into my eyes for a moment before slowly shaking her head and turning away.

  Over the days of the journey, we came to know each other well.  She found that she has an innate ability to manage finances. She also has a natural kindness, that led her to bring the welcome cooling drinks to all of us in the fields, cementing her respect among the laborers and guards.

  Each night we spread our sleeping pads beneath our respective tents, and lay down with friendly good nights to peaceful repose, hastened by the exertions of the day's exertion.

  A scream awoke me! I sprang from my tent to see a giant green man, his back to me, swinging Rayza into the air, gripping her by one ankle! A bestial sound ripped from my throat as I grabbed my sword from my harness lying beside me. 

    At the sound, the green man dropped her to the ground and began to turn to me. I was on him in less than a second, and before he could strike, my blade found his heart! Leaving my sword in his body, I sprang to Rayza. She was trembling so I gathered her into my arms. "You saved me" was all she murmured as she clung to me.

  "Milady! You have not your harness!" as I noticed her nakedness. "Nor have you, Hajor!" "Did you not understand what I meant, telling you that I had not been Thuraz's bedmate for months?"  

  We lay beneath the stars and Barsoom's twin moons upon her sleeping pad, and saw not even the bright moons, but only each other in our lovemaking.
  As we lay in the sleeping furs in the morning, she told me of her life.
  "I do not remember my parents. My first memories are of slave quarters. As a child, I had a child's duties: fetch and carry.  But as I grew into my beauty, my duties changed. First I moved into the slave quarters of the owner's mansion."

  "Then my duties changed again, for the less savory.  I became the owner's son's bedmate. I did not like this and made it apparent, so I was sold on to another. So began my career of being sold on as bedmate after bedmate. Some were kind; some were not. The only reason for my unblemished back from the soles of my feet to the nape of my neck is the miraculous healing properties of the wonderful salve. It was better to sell an unblemished girl to the next buyer. I even escaped once and joined a troop of bandits. But because of my beauty, the women hated me, and the men came to blows over me. Luckily, I was quickly captured.

 "So, you see, I did not spring to the slave block from which Thuraz bought me full-blown from some god's head." She looked at me from a lowered head.

  "Milady, there is no shame here. Circumstances determined your life."

  "Well said. Milady is a bit ridiculous as we share sleeping furs. I am Rayza, a traveling freewoman, and you will address me as such.  You will also improve my swordsmanship."

  "Yes Mi-, I mean Rayza."

  Rayza changed from her fine harness to a much plainer one, such as a mercenary might wear. She instructed me to take a bit of metal from the harness of the green man and attach it to mine.

  "It will mark you as a slayer of a green man in single combat, and a man of skill."

  We travelled this for many days. I trained her in bettering her swordplay, though she would never be better than average.

  Rayza talked freely of her past life and her determination to regain a level of status equal to that she enjoyed in Dusar, but as a wife. I was given to understand that upon approach to a city of size, I would revert to her bodyguard and address her as "Milady" again. Understandably, I found this a bit depressing.

  "A lover is a great comfort in the wilderness, but would reduce me to your status in the city, beneath the notice of the rich and powerful. And that is the level to which I aspire. I have grown too used to respect. You may find mercenary work necessary, and that is a life I would not welcome."

  She stood. Most of her finery was gone. She wore a swordbelt with a jewel or two, fighting armlets, and nothing else but an ornate but less fine necklace. And my metal had been removed and replaced with that of the slin green man.

  Little did we suspect what lay in store for us. 


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