Most people don’t realize that in battle you do not think.
Dear readers, Today I was looking at the Gorean Palaces site and, out of interest read some of the most gripping stories on there – this one I found appealing, it’s a short story written by Argos. Enjoy!!
Kroto, leader of the Octagons of the Fortress of Saphronicus stood there watching me as I pulled the blade from the body of a man who had fought to defend his home from our army’s march through his city. He had fought bravely and by the codes and respecting his courage I was about to deliver the killing blow to end his misery before I moved on to the next house and then on the next block, and then to the next village. I am known as Horacio Civitus of the Warriors and I have sworn allegiance to the Home Stone of the Fortress of Saphronicus and this is the day I believe I started my journey to becoming a man, a Gorean Man.
Let me start at the beginning. I was sitting here minding my own business watching my two grandsons hone their skills in the sands of our sparring pit. Both my daughters gave birth to sons, although the name of Civitus dies with me, it is good to see young men who understand better than I did when I was their age, what life is all about.
The great wars that plagued this world are now ended; the once precarious peace has now found strength once again in the tradition and the codes of the warriors, once again proving that they are the pillar of Gorean Society. But I keep getting side tracked.
The boys were taking turns in the hundred parry exercise where each takes turns trying to deflect the blows of their opponent one hundred times with each hand. This builds cunning in the attacker who must find new ways to defeat the parry and strength and patience in the mind of the parry warrior. This is one of the exercises I hated when I was a young lad in the Octagons of Kroto of Fortress of Saphronicus: he a great caste leader and of the warriors that defended and turned the battle for the small village of Saphronicus and then recaptured all the tributaries. His genius was not just the codes and strength and cunning of the warrior, he understood that which I did not at the time.
The boys covered with sweat after the four hundred blows and parries had been delivered and received came to my side and sat there watching me. “Grandpa,” the youngest said “did we do well?” He had always looked up to me and constantly wanted to know how a man growing up in the tradition of the Civitus warriors once of great Ar and then of the Fortress of Saphronicus could change caste and become one of the Builders and yet not surrender any of his old codes, only add to them the long lasting effects of one of the caste of Builders on Gorean society.
I rubbed his short cropped hair; “yes my young Kroto; I think you’ve done well: Both of you.” I smiled to them hoping to go back to my thoughts of so long ago. I pondered how one event in a man’s life can have such an impact: a true turning point where the man’s future lies in the balance and both have equal chance.
“Grandpa,” the older one looked into my eyes, I could see his mind searching as mine had done so long ago “why did you leave the warriors?” His face was sullen and knew that no one who has the calling ever leaves the warriors, and he knows that I still have the calling to this day, but now I spend my time simply building long lasting tributes to the peace the warriors fight so hard to achieve. It is true what they say you know: without the blade there is no justice or civilization.
“Tell us what happened Grandpa” asked Marcus the older of the two boys.
“Very well, I believe you two are old enough to understand and the hundred parries have worn your energy down enough that you’ll listen, and not just hear.” I laughed tossing them both towels to dry off.
I got up and went to the fire pit where I often do my best thinking and sat there cross legged looking at the wall by the sparring pit where my old long sword and shield hung. The sword was made of the finest Gorean Steals of two different types. The brittle sharp steel that makes the Saphronicus sword the sharpest in all of Gor and the tough steel that handles the impact of the blows delivered bending and absorbing the energy of the blow yet never breaking. The finest steels are made for our warriors and they themselves are honed to perfection along with their blades in the Octagons of Kroto.
“Well boys, it was in the dark days of the war when Saphronicus had been taken back and we were marching along the villages of the enemy in our famous groups of eight that made up the Octagons of Kroto.” I went on to tell them of that day when Kroto stood there looking at me. The frenzy of battle clearly in my mind: controlled only by the codes of the warrior.
Most people don’t realize that in battle you do not think. You do not have time to think. Things are happening at a speed that no plan can ever survive contact with the enemy and hand to hand combat is the worst of all. It is not the armies of Fortress of Saphronicus against the enemy. It is simply Horacio Civitus fighting an unnamed foe and only one will live to see tomorrow’s sunrise. The battles are personal and they are fought on instinct alone and the codes of a warrior become instinct as well. They are the only thing that keeps us in control when we use the frenzy of battle to empower our bodies and muscles and bring forth the adrenaline rush that slows down the world around us for a moment long enough to focus all our energy on the combat at hand.
We trust our comrades at arms to protect our flanks and our rear as we fight the battle we’ve drawn. Eyes focus on eyes and body movements as subtle and the inner ripple of quadriceps can prove to be enough of a betrayal of movements to come that allow the observant warrior to parry off the blow and deliver the killing blow. No matter how much you practice it in the pits, and no matter how many times you’ve been told what battle will do to you, no one understands it till they are there in the moment.
That’s where I was that day: in the moment.
“Halt!” said Kroto to me. Every muscle in my body, using the well established athletic stance, set poised and ready to deliver the mercy blow to a worthy opponent. I did not lack for sword brothers. I had shed my blood upon the blades of many a warrior’s blade, as they had shed theirs upon mine. But the previous blow had gone beyond simply stopping my opponent, I had damaged his internal organs and the bleeding patterns told my trained eye that he would live for a while and die an unworthy painful death. It is unjust to allow a warrior to suffer needlessly. One does not ask another how to live, or how to die. If one has learned the codes well then you make the judgment knowing your sword brother will understand and accept the honorable death you deliver to him.
Kroto’s words were sharp in my brain; halt he had said. I froze, the blade poised over my opponent’s chest ready to take out his heart in one swift blow through his sternum and quickly severing the upper and lower chambers of his heart cutting off blood to his brain thus bring swift death. I stopped.
“Consider what you are doing to this honorable man. Has he fought you well?” Asked Kroto.
“Indeed he has!” I said, the breathing coming fast in and out of my lungs as my body sought to replenish oxygen to my limbs.
“Is he of the warriors?”
“No, I do not know his lineage. All I know is that he has not allowed us to enter his grounds and has chosen to fight. I am simply doing that which I have been ordered: take the grounds” I said, a bit incredulous as to why I had been stopped. This brave man was now suffering and I could no longer deliver a simply battle frenzied killing blow; this would now be in my mind as the nightmare’s took my sleep.
“Why has he fought you?” Kroto asked, no longer simply my superior and Captain of the Octagons, but now my mentor in full command of not only my actions, but the reasons for my actions. Kroto had developed our style from the history of another world, and had adjusted it to the needs of the Fortress of Saphronicus by knowing the people he fought with, and not just the codes of the warriors. He wanted me to see something; and my brain was not grasping it.
I knelt by the fallen foe and looked at him. He was an older man, likely had done more than fifty trips around the central fire, Lar Torvis. He was old enough to know the days prior to the great wars that ravaged on consuming an entire generation of warriors of Gor. It finally crossed my mind. This man had not fought out of fear. This man had known that likely he would die here today. This man fought with purpose and I had no idea what his purpose was. Was it a military purpose? He did not seem the type. Was it a prideful purpose? Again, I did not think so. Yet I was ready to kill the only person who understood exactly why he had fought a battle that he knew he would lose: and had fought well and with honor.
“What caste are you?” I asked my foe.
“I am of the Builders, and I am Marcus, once of a planet called earth.”
I looked at him, stunned. This man was of the builders? What in Priest-Kings name was a builder doing fighting a warrior? “Why have you fought me?” I posed to him who lay there dying by my sword. “Why did you make me kill you?” I was now angry at him and at myself but mostly I was angry at Kroto. This is more than you ever wish to know about a man you have killed; at least at the young age of twenty three; with such few trips around Lar Torvis.
I knelt there, frozen with my own anger. “Answer Me!” I commanded.
“You would not understand.” He said his voice trailing. The pain in his body was slowly driving him into shock and soon he would no longer be able to talk.
Kroto walked over and knelt beside my foe. He took out his water bag and offered him drink. The man accepted and together the two moved his body to rest against the wall of his grounds, where he took water from Kroto. I knelt there for a moment and then fell to the crossed legged position right before him. My sword now lay across my legs and the final skirmishes died down around us, as men from both sides came and sat by this honorable man who lay here about to die by the sharp blow of my steel.
“Who are you?” I asked again.
“I am a father who loves his children…” He said to me and continued “I am a Free Companion who loves his Free Woman and has loved her through the twenty five renewals of our contract. I am a builder of homes for brave men and of bridges which take peoples from one side to the other and back again safely.” He coughed and blood dripped down his lip, I had also damaged his lungs making the death even more painful.
My mind raged again at Kroto for not allowing me to kill this brave man mercifully. Now his death would be cold and hard and for no purpose worthy of taking the life of this man.
Grown men from my Octagon as well as our foes, wept at hearing his honest and humble answer. Some looked into the grounds and could see people moving inside. This was going to be my right of slave capture. I was the one who took this ground and all that was in it, by right, was to become mine if I chose to claim it. I looked up to see what he had defended. It had not been important to me; other than simply to take the grounds and move to the next house and then to the next block. We were not here for glory and acquisition, we were warriors of the Octagon’s of Fortress of Saphronicus and we simply wanted our lands back and the enemy forces driven back so that they understood the cost of retaking our lands would be great indeed.
“Who are you?” I asked again, this time my own voice betraying the pain in my own heart.
“I build things, things that will outlast my own life I hope. I am a simple man who grew up in a world that did not give us all the opportunities to achieve our god given potential who found himself here and realized that it was truly a gift to be Gorean.” He coughed long and hard as blood filled his lung and his body fought to give him more time. His limbs grew cold and pale as blood was moved to the core of his body to give his brain a chance to survive longer.
His hand reached for my arm and he grabbed it tightly and pulled me closer.
“I did not wish to kill you.” He said to me, “I just did not want you to take that which I had built with my own hands, and the blood sweat and tears of my family.” He coughed again and I put my arm around him, moving closer to him; putting his body to rest on my own, and not the hard stone of his outer wall.
“We all have responsibilities to our families, to our selves and to our makers. We have to recognize the beauty around us, the opportunities that require hard work, and the love that makes it all worth it.” He was now looking into my eyes and I could see the energy in his, the strength that once had filled his body and his mind and his soul. I looked at him, no longer angry with Kroto but understanding the need to let this man give me that which only he could.
“My free companion is a wonderful woman; she’s young and full of energy and has made it possible for me to see that I have left a legacy here on Gor. I have seen people live in the homes that I’ve built and she has always stood by my side, one submissive step behind, with all her strength and courage and determination yet never overstepping her bounds”
I looked at him wondering why he was telling me this. I knew of Free Women and the companionship contract. I was the son of a great warrior who took a contract with a free woman to have a family and they stay together to this day, simply renewing their contract year after year. It was clearly known to me that men and women have their roles to fulfill. Mine was that of the warrior just like my father and his and his father’s father clear back to the days when our family lived in glorious Ar, and spent summers on the gleaming Thassa: The sea without comparison.
I was puzzled still by my own emotions and those of the rest of my Octagon and our foes: now sword brother’s many of them.
“Warrior, “he said to me. “I leave you all that is mine, as is your right. I did not want to kill you; I just wanted you to leave my family together. Our home you can have, our grounds are meaningless, but our family and our home stone are all that matters to me, and you were going to run through and not see any of the beauty hidden from view by the frenzy of your battle need”
I looked at him and gave him some more water to clear his throat and bloody mouth. The light in his eyes was fading now and I knew the end was coming soon and the pain in his body had to be great; yet he did not complain. I looked at my fellow warriors and all understood that my very life was on the balance and I did not understand the meaning of the looks. Kroto looked at me with compassion. Yet his eyes demanded something of me and I had no idea what that was.
“There are great responsibilities in life, and those are the things that bring joy and beauty to your own heart. It is that great responsibility that I now leave behind and I wonder if I have lived up to my own code of honor and I wonder if I have done the right thing by my family?” He coughed more and refused the water, I could see that he was living now only by the force of his own considerable will. His body no longer able to sustain him simply by animal instinct; it was the will of a Man who kept his body alive.
I had seen it in battle where men in the frenzy fight on after their bodies are dead, simply on the rage of the battle. I had never seen a man’s responsibilities keep him alive before. I had never seen the power of the will of a man not in battle. This was new to me. This is nothing I had ever seen before nor talked about before. People do things because they are the right things to do. They do them for the right reasons. They do not worry so much about their personal consequence. That is what we call honor. This was an honorable man, and truly someone that I wish now I could call my sword brother. In shedding his blood upon my blade he has honored it with a great tradition. He has made my sword more worthy and challenged it to make better choices in battle. Or is it in battle?
“Why did you fight me?” I asked, embracing the emotions that now ran freely down my face.
“You are so young, you are driven by duty and codes you don’t fully understand but you respect” He said to me. I noticed Kroto nodding and gently encouraging him to speak.
“You were the only one of those approaching my grounds and my family: one whom I thought would understand what I was doing it for. I was doing it for my responsibility to my family and to the things I’ve built. And I hope in the end, I will have done it in a way for you too.” I sat there, my arms now around this man about to die and accepted his honorable salute.
“Why did you fight me? You knew that there was not point in it!” I shouted into the air around him. Why had he not let me do what I needed to do? Was it so important to give up his life this way? He was a builder, not a warrior. He was not expected to take on my charge. Was he so righteous that he had no other choice but to waste his life this way?
I sat there, praying to the Priest-Kings for the clarity that was not coming. I sat there responsible for the death of a foe. I had killed many and rendered many others incapable of battle with me in the process. I was there when we took back Saphronicus and so many people died around me. I was no stranger to death’s misery in my short life. I was incapable of understanding what he had done and why.
Time dragged on, as the labored breathing of a dying man struggled to stay alive for just a moment longer. Time is truly the great equalizer. We are all given the same amount of time between ticks of the clock. Whether we are rich or poor, Warrior, Builder, Physician, Scribe or Initiate, we are all allowed the same distance of every ihn we live. The difference, I sat there and contemplated, is what we do with that unstoppable ihn of time granted to us. I looked at my foe, now in my arms as he willed himself to live long enough to tell me what he had to say. I sat there wondering how Kroto had known that there was so much to this man.
“I fought you because you were not going to understand what you took from me. I fought you because you were worthy of the fight that is before you and not just for the fight I gave to you. I fought you because my free companion deserved better than it was going to be. I fought because my children deserved better, and I fought you because I had hope.” He said struggling between each word; blood running down his mouth now.
These were deep things he was telling me. What about the prizes of war? I had the right of slave capture. I had the right to all that was there, it was my battle, and it was my personal victory. Yet there seemed to be more. Yes, he was righteous, but he was humble and kept his council well. He knew who he truly was Master of, and it was him that he mastered and well. He, my foe, had chosen to use his precious ihns the way that he chose, and did not waste them on telling others how to live, and he did not waste them in judging others. He chose to do the best he could and filled ever ehn with the full measure of ihns all controlled by his nature.
“Is there something you want me to do for you?” I asked him quietly, knowing that his time was quickly running out.
“No warrior, there is nothing I wish for you to do. I only have a simple request.” He looked over at the building behind him across the grounds. His look seemed far away now. I leaned in to listen.
“You have many choices before you, I only ask that you do what is right and that you do it for the right reasons. You can take all that I have, for that is your right as a warrior and well within your codes. I only ask that you consider the options and do the right thing as you see it.” The last words came through the gurgle of blood in his throat and I knew he was drowning in his blood.
I held him as he passed into the afterlife and then held him a long moment more. I finally stood and walked to Kroto. I looked into the wise old eyes and realized that I had been given a gift by a dying foe. One who’s name would live on in my mind.
Years passed and the wars in our area ended. One day Kroto and I walked back to the city to see what had happened since we pushed the invaders back and returned their home stone to freedom. We walked as though drawn by an invisible force to the grounds where a simple battle had taken place. We looked around the grounds and the buildings were still there. We walked on the bridges that Marcus, he of the builders, had designed and built. We stood there among all the things that had outlasted the mere mortal life of one man and as I looked at the woman that had been his free companion and the man that was his son work the ground, I realized that I had made one right decision and had not taken slave rights over them. They were part of the tapestry of the city and they were still not as permanent as the towers, the bridges and the homes built by Markus so long ago.
“Kroto,” I said “thank you!”
“Thank you for slowing me down and making me realize that life is more than just battles and codes and honor to your family name.” I said to him as we walked down the plaza that commemorated the history of the city. There were trees and flowers and women and children all around. A simple plaque commemorated a war more than four hundred years ago when the plaza had been built.
“I think I know what I must do with my life now.” I said to Kroto. “I want to learn to build things. I know how to bring people to the justice of the blade, it is time I learn how to do things that will outlast the battles and the glory they bring to men of honor. I want to do things that are not possible to me now.”
Kroto looked at me with eyes that had forgotten more than I actually had learned to this day. His smile was gentle and he spoke something that I had not expected, “I have put in to the council of Saphronicus and to the Fortress of Saphronicus for your ascension to the caste of builders. My loss will be Saphronicus’ gain”
I said nothing, just started to walk out towards the edge of town to the Peasant road that goes by Fortress of Saphronicus and then over to Saphronicus proper. We walked in silence and I thought of that foe so long ago that had literally given his life to change mine. I walked quietly as the future began to open before me. Not being of the Builders I was going to have to become an apprentice all over again and hope to be accepted so that I can help build a strong future for our Home Stone.
We walked on.
Fortress of Saphronicus