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The Tospit Ploy

The Tospit Ploy
A Tale of the Kataii Tribe of the Wagon Peoples
by Amanita Pavlova ©2007, may be freely distributed, please assign credit to the author

 


Prologue

The tale I tell you now is of an event that occurred in the first day of the Second Hand of En'Kara, in the The Moon of the Brown Bosk, before the Season of the Little Grass and the Return to Turia.

This time also marked the second year that the Kataii would mark the return to Turia without Ubar Hakimba. Hakim is my Free Companion, and I, therefore, am his Ubara and; thus, Ubara of the Kataii.

Hakim's military skills were legendary. His name struck fear in the hearts of the of our enemies, and many of our friends. His visage, olive dark-skinned, the corners of his eyes raised in what Tarl Cabot once described as "mongolian," his handsome, strong, sculpted face made him unmistakable even to those that had the good fortune to stand in before him in favor.

Those who had the misfortune to stand in before him in disfavor rarely lived to describe him.

 

1. The Departure of Hakimba

Over a year ago, on the day of the Winter Solstice - the first day of the new year - and the beginning of The Season of Snows, Ubar Hakimba and a small band of Kataii Warriors, left camp to pursue a six-month campaign of raiding against the trade routes and outskirts of the City of Kargash, ta'Klim from Kataii Winter Camp.

The year previous - The Year of the Bosk Plague - had seen the Bosk decimated by a strange disease. Kataii lost two-thirds of our herds before the plague exhausted itself, and we were in need of jewels and trade goods - goods that would never arrive - if Kataii was to experience a less, though certainly painful few years while the herds recovered.

But now, Hakim had neither been seen, nor heard from, since the Second Turning, the second day of the First Hand, in the month of Se'Kara, some ten months earlier.

Thus, it fell to me, Amanita Pavlova, Ubara of the Kataii, to take responsibility for leadership of the Kataii.

Women of the Plains know how to defend themselves and I am no different, except, perhaps that my father was Ubar Malik of the Kataii.

Father, in a fit of sorrow and passion upon hearing of the death of his Free Companion, sought comfort in the heat of his beautiful kajira, Celestri. My father fell deeply in love with Celestri, bestowed freedom upon her, and he carried her off over his shoulder as his Free Companion. As is the way of things, Celestri, my mother, was killed shortly after I was born, by a Tuchuk raider. 

My father, Ubar Malik, saw Celestri in me; and, thus, in his longing, in his desire which could not be fulfilled, he lavished special attention upon me.

Under his tutelage, I became an expert Kaiila rider, handling this creature as the men of my tribe did. From the saddle of this beast, I could handle a bow, quivas or bola with equal confidence, and I earned the respect of women and men of Kataii alike.

Thus, ascending to take on the work of Hakimba was neither out of character for me nor unexpected by my tribe. No-one, however, expected that my leadership would be required for as long as it has been.

 

2. The Appearance of Ardah

The driving sound of three-toed Kaiila at a gallop grew stronger. The dust appeared in the sky over the ridge before the riders became visible. When the riders did appear, it was evident that unusual news may be at hand. Those witnessing the incoming warriors became palpably tense, their attention focused, their eyes riveted. Draped across the saddle of the lead rider, Jupiter, was a girl - a kajira - bound and gagged and tied in front of him.

I stood, hands on my hips, observing the charge into camp. Jupiter and his warriors rode to within an Ah'Ral of me and reigned their mounts short. A cloud of dust arose from below their beasts.

Jupiter raised his right hand in greeting and addressed me.

"Tal, Ubara!'

"Tal, Jupiter!  What manner of chattel have you mussing your saddle?"

"Ubara, this girl - we found her wandering on the Plain - near Naivasha spring. She bears news of Ubar Hakimba."

I was startled, momentarily speechless. Then, I looked at the warrior chieftain, and said with urgency,

"Chieftain, get her before me, and let us hear what she has to say.

With one stroke of his saddle quiva, Jupiter cut the girl's bindings and she fell to the ground with grunt and a squeal. Quickly, the chieftain dismounted, took the girl by the hair, dragged her before me and pushed her to her knees. He tore the gag from her mouth, and commanded her, in no uncertain terms,

"Greet, kajira! And do so quickly before I cut your throat!"

The girl, now terrified, bruised and sweating, looked up at me and uttered, "g - greetings, Mistress."

She wore silks of a lovely sort, that are only seen in the cities. Her collar was of high-quality, inscribed steel. But for the scrapes and bruises, the girl was strikingly beautiful, her body strong, toned... her face exquisite... her skin a kind of mocca color.

"Greetings, girl..." I replied, quietly. I was filled with questions, but all in good time. First, I needed to establish where and from whom this slave girl came.

 "What are you called, girl? And what are you doing on Plains alone? Where are you from? Who owns you?

"Mistress, I am called 'Ardah'. My Master was of Turia, Mistress."

"Was?" I demanded.

"Aii, Mistress... Ardah is afraid that Master and the others of our party were killed when raiders - they called themselves 'Tuchuk' - attacked in the early hours of the morning. Mistress, my Master sent me to fetch water at the spring and when I returned... Mistress, I hid behind a rock until these men departed...  my Master and the others... they were gone, Mistress."

I nodded, repressing the urge to question her further until she was in better condition. I called to my First Girl,

"Florecita, come to me, little one!!!"

The slave girl rose from her knees and scurried toward me, dropping to her knees once more, at my thigh.

"Aii, Mistress, how can I be of service to You, my Mistress?"

"Take this one to the wagon, bathe and scent her, tend her bruises and feed her, Then, chain her to the post outside. When this is done, report to me. I wish to question her further."

"Aii, Mistress, as you wish, my Mistress!"

I turned to my chieftain. "Jupiter, did you find evidence of the slaughter? How do we know that she speaks truth?

Jupiter cast his eyes to the distance. "Nay, Ubara, we found nothing. No evidence of a struggle... nothing."

"Aii," I said "then, I'll question her further, and we'll find out what she speaks. What did she tell you about Hakimba, then?"

"Ubara..." he hesitated. "The girl claimed that she heard the Tuchuk raiders speaking of Ubar Hakimba... and that they spoke as if they had recently seen him."

I tensed, shocked at this news. I ran my fingers through my hair as I searched my mind for answers.

"By the will of the Priest-Kings, Jupiter, we MUST know if this is the truth! Chieftain, have one of the Torturers available in case I need to call for him!"

The Clan of the Torturers, unique to the Wagon Peoples, specialized in an eponymous job. If required, these men would extract information in expert fashion.

"Aii, Ubara. I shall locate the best for you and have him wait for your call!"

 

3. Questioning Ardah

One of the camp slavers brought the girl Ardah, on the end of a chain, in to the reception porch of the First Wagon. Immediately, the girl fell to her knees before me, her eyes nervously darting between Jupiter, who stood watching her from the corner, and me.

"Greetings, Mistress..." she said, and then cast her head downward to avoid my glance.

"Did the First Girl care for you properly, little one? Are you more comfortable, this moment?" I asked.

"Mistress, thanks to your kindness, I am much relieved, Mistress. How can I express my thanks to you, Mistress?" the girl asked.

"You wish to thank me, girl" I replied.

"Aii, Mistress, this one does, Mistress... how can I be of service to You, Mistress?" Ardah asked.

"You may be so, girl, by telling me the truth about that which you've heard of Ubar Hakimba Ishii." I demanded.

"Aii, Mistress, as You wish, Mistress," she replied. "Mistress, my Master instructed me to fetch water from the spring You call "Naivasha."  I did so and on the way back, I heard the sound of kaiila in the camp. Mistress, Master and his Warriors were on foot and did not ride out from Turia on the Plains" she explained.

"Girl, your Master was a fool... what did he expect to accomplish on the Plains, unmounted?" I replied.

Ardah said nothing, but kept her eyes downcast, avoiding my glance.

"Continue, girl!" I commanded.

"Aii, Mistress..." she continued. "Mistress, I sensed trouble, so I left the water bag behind, crept forward on my belly and hid behind a nearby rock and waited and listened."

"Girl, these Tuchuk... they were, no doubt, mounted on Kaiila, were they not?" I asked.

"Oh, aii, Mistress, they were! Their creatures looked as fierce as they, Mistress!"

"And what did you hear, girl? I asked with interest.

"Well, Mistress, this girl could not hear all of what the raiders were saying, for the wind blew their voices away from her..." she recounted.

"The wind came from behind you, girl?  Toward the raiders?" I asked with interest.

"Aii, Mistress, the wind carried their voices away!"

"Go on..." I said.  "What did you hear?"

"Mistress, the raiders spoke of a man that they had in chains in their camp... a prisoner.  They said his name... Mistress, may this girl speak it?"

"Aii, girl, speak it!" I commanded.

The girl raised her head, looked at me briefly, then averted her eyes.

"The name, Mistress, they spoke was..." she hesitated, "...was 'Hakimba Ishii'," she said, then cast her eyes downward once more.

I looked at Jupiter, who listened, as I had to the entire story. We exchanged taciturn, though knowing glances.

"Look at me, girl!" I commanded.

Ardah, clearly upset, looked up, caught my glaring eyes, looked away, and back again, over and over.

"Girl, you LIE!!!" I exclaimed.

Ardah, now on the verge of tears, became distraught. Her lower lip began to quiver as she searched for a way to sustain the lie.

"Mistress, please, this one does not lie, MIstress. She speaks truth..." the girl, voice raised and trembling, spat forth.

You LIE!!!" I exclaimed once more, this time with angry ferocity in my voice.

"Mistress, please, Ardah begs You to see that she does not lie, MIstress," She pleaded.

"You do not, lie, girl? Do you take me for FOOL??" I spat. "There is no rock for you, or anyone else, to hide behind anywhere near the spring of Naivasha!"  I scowled.

She shuddered with fear, her breathing heavy as she sought a way to satisfy me. I grabbed her by the hair, and lifted her head. I stared directly in to her eyes.

"Look at me, girl!!" I admonished. "Do you expect me to believe that the Tuchuk's Kaiila didn't pick up your scent? You claimed to be hiding UPWIND of them!" I whispered sternly.

Now caught in the lie she tried once again to wiggle free of the deception.

"Mistress, please, this one was surely mistaken, Mistress," she suggested. Now frantic, she blurted out, "Mistress, Ardah does not lie! She promises you!"

I released my grip on her hair, and backed away. The distraught kajira had begun to weep pitifully, tears dripping down her face.

"Ardah, let me explain you choices," I said, quietly. Either you tell, me the truth... ," I looked up and nodded to Jupiter, or this man will will wring the truth from your flesh."

Out of the shadows, behind Jupiter, appeared a man, clad in black leather, his head and face covered with a fearsome-looking hood. He was of the Clan of the Torturers.

At the sight of this man - the name of whom would not be spoken openly - even by the free, the girl lost complete control, screaming and crying, protesting "NO!!!!!   Mistress, nooooooooooo...." she wailed.

"Girl... you have 5 Ihn to decide to whom you shall speak the truth," I declared, and departed for the inner quarters.

 

4. The Tospit Ploy

It took no more than an Ihn or two for the girl to divulge all she and she knew plenty. It is often said in Gor that
the free now many things, but kajirae know all things," and this is a wise saying indeed.

As Ardah told it, she was meant to be discovered wandering on the Plains; and,  Her Master was a Turian, aii... but a Turian mercenary... a Bounty Hunter, to be precise. Her Master and twenty of his henchmen were waiting on the ridge above Naivasha, convinced that I would believe the girl's story and, in my agitation, ride out to find them for further news of Hakimba.

"Jupiter," i called out. Compact, lean, and strongly-built, the ebony-skinned chieftain appeared as if out of nowhere.

"Aii, Ubara?" he answered.

"You and Amrotime stay with our camp and prepare..." I ordered.

"Alert Philjohnuk, Akira, and Joel. Tell them that we ride to Naivasha spring when the third moon is setting. Tell them... that we make use of... " -  I paused for a moment - "the Tospit Ploy."

"Aii, Ubara," Jupiter grinned, "the Tospit Ploy it shall be!"

The Tospit Ploy was not a new battle tactic. In point of fact, it was quite old, though time had proven it still quite effective as a guerilla maneuver. The strategy mimicked the configuration of the a small, wrinkled, yellowish-white fruit known to all of us, which, when cut in two, yields about ten seeds on both halves.

Looking at the now-opened side of the halves of the cut fruit, the ploy is easily explained: once the enemy is targeted, the tactic places them at the stem of the Tospit, while Kataii Camp is at the opposite end - the pointy, bottom end of the fruit. Ten warriors each ride left and right (along the perimeter of the Tospit), ultimately coming from behind the enemy. A small party - decoys - ride directly up the middle of the Tospit, toward the enemy position, drawing them away from their camp.

The enemy gives chase - hopefully, the decoys outrun them - and as the decoys lead them closer to Kataii camp, the ten warriors close in behind them. As the enemy approaches Kataii camp, it becomes clear that overwhelming force - in this case, led by Jupiter, Amrotime and Telemachus, await them, and they break off the chase, turning to retreat. As they do, they are faced with ten warriors to their left and right, and the decoys, who have now turned to engage the enemy from behind.

The Tospit Ploy is great sport - something the Kataii crave - and a simple and effective battle strategy against a moderate force of up to fifty enemy warriors. If reinforcements are needed, they'll ride out of Kataii camp and, in short order, engage the enemy.

This tactic, this blood sport of the Kataii was... once again... about to see the light of day.

 

5. In the Camp of the Bounty Hunters

At first light on first day of the Second Hand of En'Kara, something was in the predawn air. You could sense it. It was palpable. The only question: "What is it?"

The Bounty Hunters were cautious, as well they should be. They were encamped on the Plains, in the territory of the Wagon Peoples, who are know to kill strangers on sight. But, they assumed this risk for one thing and one thing only: the bounty sum of 80 Gold Tarns to him that brought Amanita Pavlova, Ubara of the Kataii, in chains and collar to Turia.  The sum was too great to be ignored and the adventure too tempting to avoid.

The leader of this band of Bounty Hunters was one Craz Hartounian. Formerly a Captain of the Turian Guard, Craz had fallen from grace when he was found drunk and consorting with a kajira on the chain of the Ubar of the city. If Craz could not have position, at least he could have money, and he was determined to obtain it. Hartounian's band of 35 outlaws - Bounty Hunters - had come for the prize, and they were not about to leave the Plains until they had her.

A guard was posted throughout the night. All was quiet, but now, in the still, quiet air of pre-sunrise, something... someone... was slowly approaching the camp. One of the guards was sent to inform Craz, and he roused the entire group.

"Brothers!!" he shouted. "Rise and arm yourselves!  Trouble!!"

Suddenly the camp was in disarray as men scrambled for their clothing, armor and weapons. Two of the camp kajirus' were sent to saddle the war Tharlarion for their riders. By the time the danger was identified, most of the men were saddled up and ready to ride.

Craz Hartounian sat upon his beast, his tharlarion boots tight to the sides of his creature, protecting his legs against being flailed by the animal's hide as he rode into battle.

Gazing into the distance, shielding his eyes from the morning light, he counted five riders, on Kaiila, approaching his camp.

Hartounian's face broke out into a grin, then a laugh.

"Ha!!!" he exclaimed. "The silly slut has taken the bait!  Brothers, the money is as good as ours!!!

The crowd of outlaws howled with delight as the riders approached.

 

7. The Decoys Set the Trap

The five riders of Kataii - Kofi, Imani, Jumaane, Kwame and Ubara Amanita Pavlova - rode to within 50 Ah-Ral of the troop of Bounty Hunters and stopped. Amanita was in the middle and she raised her right hand in greeting.

"Tal, Free!!" she greeted in a loud voice.

"Tal, Woman!" one of the men replied. She assumed him to be the leader of this motley band.

"I am Amanita Pavlova, Ubara of the Kataii."

The leader nodded his head and replied "Greetings, Ubara. I am Craz Hartounian, a man of Turia. These are my... colleagues. We hunt prarie sleen.

"More than thirty of you to hunt prarie sleen, sir?" she asked.  "The beast has no chance!" she joked.

"Aii, precisely, Ubara.... precisely!" Craz Hartounian replied, a crass grin on his scarred face.

"I seek those who have information about my Ubar, Hakimba Ishii... his whereabouts and well-being. Would you be one of those, sir?"

"Nay, Ubara, I would not be. But there is one here, who may be of help. Dismount, if you please, woman, and enter my camp, " Hartounian replied.

"Thank you for your hospitality, sir, but I prefer the saddle of my kaiila to the ground beneath strangers," she replied.

Craz Hartounian was not fond of games and his patience ran thin. At the motion of a hand-signal, the outlaw band began to move forward, threatening the five Kataii.

"Sir," shouted Ubara, "do you mean us harm?"

Hartounian rode a few Ah-Ral forward, mounted guards on either side of him, as if to negotiate.

"Amanita Pavlova, listen to what I have to say, woman. You are an anomaly of Gor. A woman who has dared to assume the duties of a man. A woman who allows other women to bear arms. A woman whom the High Councillors of Turia has determined should be - WILL be - in collar and remain there."

Amanita Pavlova drew her kailla sideways, and listened, teeth clenched, eyes narrowed as she leaned back on her saddle with her right hand.

"My advice to you is this. You see the force we have assembled to collect you. You and your four warriors stand no chance against us," Craz Hartounian continued smugly.

"So, put down your arms, dismount like a good little girl, and submit on your knees... where you, and all women like you... belong, and will eventually end up," he grinned. "What do you say, kajira?"

The men to either side of Hartounian drew their swords. Craz looked directly at Ubara and grinned.

"Kajira, you call me, Craz Hartounian? I am Ubara of the Kataii, and I intend to stay as such. You wish me to give you an answer?" she spoke, returning his gaze.

Amanita's right hand appeared to be resting behind her, helping her to keep her balance on the saddle. Instead, she had her hand on her saddle quivas. Undetected, she withdrew one of the throwing knives from its sheath, and in one, nearly invisible motion, she threw it with lightning speed and precision, at the outlaw to the left of Craz.

The quiva, perfectly balanced and deadly sharp, whisked through the air, covering the distance between the Ubara and her target in the blink of an eye.

The thud of the quiva was sudden and unexpected. The knife drove deep into the man's throat, slicing through his windpipe and striking the spine. As blade deflected off bone, it cut sideways, and sliced through the victim's jugular vein. Gagging in his own blood, unable to breathe, the man fell from his saddle, slowly bleeding to death on the Plain.

"You have my answer, Craz Hartounian!" said Ubara, and she kicked and turned her kaiila into a gallop. The five bolted off from the direction they came, whooping a Kataii battle cry.

Stunned that he had underestimated this woman, Hartounian could not believe his eyes. When he regained his senses, he shouted "After them!!" and he prodded his Tharlarion forward.

The once thirty-five, now thirty-four, band of outlaws galloped in hot pursuit of the five Kataii. As they rode, they unslung their bows and and prepared to hunt down their prey.

"It won't be long now, woman!" Craz Hartounian thought as his mob pursued their targets.

 

8. The Run Down the Core of the Tospit

The five Kataii kailla riders drove hard before the leaping war tharlarion of the Bounty Hunters. The Kataii were not knew to this and they understood that each type of beast had inherent advantages and disadvantages. The tharlarion lept and made great speed, but the kaiila, was both fast AND maneuverable.

Arrows had begun to slip past their heads. In a hail of arrows, Kofi's mount was struck in the hindquarters, and the huge, magnificent beast stumbled, casting his rider over his saddle, head-first onto the ground in front of him. Kofi's neck snapped instantly and mercifully, the great kaiila rolled over his body, finishing the job instantly.

The remaining four riders kicked their mounts frantically, now dodging as they cris-crossed each others track, randomly changing direction to avoid being predictable targets.

Jumaane had drawn his bow and had already sent two arrows precisely to their targets. Now, one of the outlaws had him in his sights and he let the deadly shaft fly, striking Jumaane between the ribs in the upper chest, and lodging in his heart. Jumaane, proud, black Kataii warrior, fell as had lived and fought... hard and long.

Three riders remained... Kwame, Imani and Ubara Amanita. The creatures were beginning to wear down. This pace could not be kept up much longer.

Suddenly, Kwame was hit, and he and his kaiila fell under claw.

"Where is Kataii Camp???" Amanita's mind screamed, adrenalin coursing through her body, a sweet sensation of abject  terror and the exhilaration of escape filling her being.

As if out of nowhere, the front line of Kataii Camp appeared in the distance. The outlaws, in angry pursuit, had not yet noticed what they were galloping toward.

The two remaining Kataii riders broke left.... and right..... in a large, sweeping arc as they approached the Kataii lines. Just then, four riders stormed out of the Kataii phalanx, kaiila in full gallop.

As the riders, heading for Ubara, quickly pulled up along side her, bows drawn, ready for action. The riders, Kohana, Divina, Aeriel and Misty were Kataii Defenders, women of "Ubara's sort," and they meant business.

"You're in danger, sisters!!!" Amanita shouted. "What are you doing out here!!  Head for camp!!

"Not a chance," shouted Kohana.

"If you are in danger, we are in danger, Ubara!"  shouted Divina, and whipped her Kaiila into the formation.

A broad smile crossed the face of Ubara, as the five rode forth to re-engage the outlaws.

At about the sam moment, Craz Hartounian came to a numbing realization.

 

9. The Trap is Sprung
 
Craz Hartounian raised his for the pursuit to stop. The tharlarion came to a halt as did those of the others, sending clouds of dust skyward.

"Retreat!!!!" shouted Hartounian, and the pursuers became the pursued.

The five Kataii women were now joined by Imani, who had picked up ten men from the Kataii front lines. All now joined as they galloped after the outlaw Bounty Hunter band.

Meanwhile, Philjohnuk, Akira and Joel's combined band of eighty warriors, now galloping full-force toward the outlaws, were about to close the trap.

As Amanita, Imani, the Kataii Defenders and Warriors rode at a trot to the battle scene, it was all but ended. The remaining outlaws were all dead, save for one, the leader, Craz Hartounian. He lay on the ground, an arrow through his right, bow string arm, bleeding and exhausted.

Philjohnuk stood over him, lance at his throat.

"Ubara, say the word... and he is dead!" said the Warrior Commander, angrily.

"Nay, Commander... I have a better idea," smirked Amanita. She looked at the hapless Bounty Hunter and asked, to anyone in earshot,

"What is it that the wild women - the Taluna - of the jungles of Anango do??? Do they not shave a mark down the middle of the heads of their captives? A mark of shame???" she laughed.

"Commander, have his wound dressed, but make sure he is UN-dressed. Collar him, chain his hands behind his back. Shave a mark of shame down his scalp, give him a skin of water and set him walking to Turia.  If the Tuchuk or the Kassars don't get him first, he can explain his misfortune to the High Council of Turia," she chuckled.

The victorious Kataii laughed at the man's fate.

If you get to Turia, Craz Hartounian, tell them they will need to send warriors equipped with intellect beyond yours to take me in collar.

Craz Hartounian was unapologetic.

"You miserable slut!" shouted Hartounian. 

Philjohnuk promptly came down across the man's cheek with his fist. Hartounian spit blood and teeth on the ground.

"This is not over!!!" he shouted.

Amanita looked at Hartounian directly in the eyes.

"Bounty Hunter..." she hissed, "you speak more profoundly than you know!!"

"This is Gor!!  It is NEVER over!!

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