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althea's Bench

Ai Gorean, you assume correctly, althea was indeed a slave. And ai again; kajirae are not supposed to own anything. But when the Weaver says ‘althea’s bench’ He does so because this particular seat will forevermore be synonymous with the slave-girl belonging to Kinsella of Marn… 

Each evening, for seventeen years, althea sat on that tiny bench, fashioned by her Master’s hand from driftwood when He was a young man. Until daybreak each morning, the girl would remain there motionless, holding aloft an oil lantern, pointing its delicate flame towards the ocean exactly as Kinsella had commanded. her hopeful, sad eyes scanning the seas for the merest sign of her Owner’s return. 

“My girl, Master will be setting sail on His voyage of exploration at noon tomorrow. When I leave, you will use your education and intelligence to keep My HomeStone. Each day, you will handle My affairs. Each night, you will sit on My bench on the Western cliff top, shining a lamp to the seas, so that one day your Master can find His way safely Home.” 

He had kissed her long and slow that morning, knowing that His journey was a dangerous and a long one. Strong, calloused hands held the girl close as His lips feathered softly across her mouth, His warm breath caressing her skin as He whispered words of love and re-assurance into her ear. “Remember, My darling althea, keep the lantern lifted high and burning bright, and your dreams and wishes will return to you safely.” 

By noon He was gone, the bright, billowing sails of ‘Marn Voyager’ disappearing over the horizon and into the unexplored seas to the extreme North Western reaches of Gor. 

The house, and indeed the small island itself seemed completely barren after He had cast off. Marn usually had a population of just seven people; Master Kinsella, the bravest seafarer in all of Gor, the highly skilled kajirus - puc, dan, ebb, aral and rory, and of course, althea. The male slaves had all sailed with their owner, leaving the kajira alone on the small rocky islet, 50 passangs West of the nearest inhabited island, Asperiche. 

Once every eighteen days a supply boat would arrive from Asperiche with life’s essentials, ordered and paid for by althea from the ample coffers entrusted to the slave. The old boat handler, Purdon, was the only living soul she would see during her Master’s absence. 

For the first two years althea was happy enough. Diligently making the difficult walk up the uneven, rocky pathway that led to the Western cliff top. Lantern in hand, freshly filled with oil, she would wait for the sun to disappear beneath the horizon in a symphony of awe inspiring colours, before lighting the wick, taking her position on the crude roughly hewn bench and holding the light high into the air with her left hand. Despite its weight and the discomfort, the slave never once lowered her arm – so sure was she that to fail in this simple task might result in her Master failing to navigate back home safely. 

Ahn after ahn she would sit there in a trance-like state, her mind wandering aimlessly just to pass the time. All that was important to the slave was her task. Once in a while, the girl would set eyes upon a distant object on the horizon. Her soul would dance with joy, her stomach churning with excitement as the prospect of her Master’s return appeared imminent. Each time, however, she would feel the immense disappointment of learning that the vessel was just another trading ship, forging an unconventional route across the oceans.

althea so loved her Master. It had not always been that way. She had once been a FreeWoman, living a frugal but happy life as the Free Companion to the farmer, Nihan. She had loved Him too until the day He died in a horrible, unfortunate accident in His smallholding just outside Thentis.

As althea sat there, arm aloft, she would think back to the old days. The happiness of the Free Companion ceremony. The joy of the humble harvest each year, the overwhelming sense of completion when she provided Nihan with a fine, healthy son… 

Often, the slave would think of her child. Her emerald green eyes would dance joyously in the flickering light of the oil lamp as she re-called his childhood years. How the boy grew bigger and stronger by the day – nourished with good food and undying love. Then, silhouetted against the moons, her delicate frame could be seen slumped sadly forward as althea relived that fateful period in her life when everything changed. 

The boy Najahl was only nine when His father was taken from them, far too young to tend the small farm on His own. Poverty followed quickly after Nihan’s untimely demise, and with poverty came starvation. 

As althea’s memories haunted her, so the task set by her Master became harder and harder. The pathway to the bench was becoming more even and less treacherous, so often had the journey been made. The route becoming easier with regular use, the jagged stones made smooth by the slave’s bare feet. 

In the ensuing years, the girl found herself recounting a single moment in history over and over again. As her heart wailed a cacophony of despair her solitude became excruciating, but not once did the oil lamp descend below the height of her slender shoulder. 

Isolation is a savage beast; it attacks the mind with debilitating voracity. Nine years after Kinsella had set sail, and exactly 8 years, 10 months and three days after He, His crew and His ship had smashed against the treacherous edges of a huge uncharted rock to their violent deaths, althea’s mind was reduced to three basic thoughts. 

Had you walked up that pathway on Marn one evening all those years ago, you would have seen a slave – her body grotesquely contorted, her back hunched against the pain of her deformed left shoulder – mumbling incoherently to herself. Her words would have been simple, “althea should not have stolen that black bread. No, No, she should not have. Then althea would not have been enslaved and Son would not have been taken … althea should NOT have taken that black bread …” 

The girl would wail and cry, the lamp swinging as her body jerked to combat the tears, “but girl will not fail Master. althea will not let the Free down ever again … No, althea will NOT fail Master.” 

The kajira’s face; hardened by bitter winds, mangled hideously by extreme cold, driving rain, and all the ferocity that the elements could contrive to throw at her to weaken her resolve; would crumple into desolation as she pictured the moment when she was face-stripped and her son was dragged away by the childless, well respected merchant Galdur. “Najahl! What has become of you? althea is SO sorry, SOOOOOOOO sorry!” 

And yet the slave girl continued to obey Master Kinsella. He had purchased her for a bronze tarsk bit on a rare visit to the mainland. Back then of course she had been quite beautiful. Her red hair and striking green eyes had captivated Him from the first moment. He had taken the naked woman back to His ship and had beaten the insolence and self-pity from her face. A ship’s captain was well used to delivering a skilful whipping and in that first hour in His cabin, the former farmer’s partner had truly become slave. Over the next two years His love for the beast was returned willingly, her past largely forgotten as her belly began to burn with greater intensity. Love and obedience are as powerful as they are beguiling to behold and she possessed both in monumental proportions for this great Man. 

In the seventeenth year of her vigil, althea was a macabre curiosity to behold. The old boatman Purdon would wince painfully each time he laid eyes on the creature. her haggard, buckled body only recognisable by virtue of those mesmeric eyes. She barely spoke to him during His visits now. More likely He would catch the odd word that meant nothing to Him. “…not fail. Najahl. So sorry. Black bread …”. She would hand over the money and scuttle unevenly back into the immaculately clean house, leaving the old man to carry the provisions into the kitchens. Purdon would shake His head sadly, having long ago given up trying to talk althea out of her assignment. One evening, shortly after Purdon had left for Asperiche, althea filled the old oil lamp and replaced the wick. This was no simple task for the woman, as her left arm was now almost completely useless to her. The crooked limb jutting at an impossible angle from her destroyed shoulder. As the day drew to a close, the winds started their baleful song, gathering momentum ominously as the rains started to fall. As althea set out on the familiar journey up the well trodden path to the driftwood bench, she could hear the savage power of the storm as the gale slammed into the cliff face, causing the small island to howl its fear in a chilling concerto of fearsome noise. 

Well used to such displays of the power of the elements, althea hobbled her weary way up to the highest point on the island, seemingly oblivious to the driving rain and the biting cold winds, which collided with her face. Slowly lowering to the bench, the slave’s left arm rose automatically into the air, her drenched body assuming it’s usual state of trance as the huge red sun disappeared for the six thousandth time beneath the horizon and in doing so, capitulating to the insistent storm which was rapidly becoming one of the worst for a hundred years. 

Weak, cold, saturated and feverish, the slave closed her eyes. The nightly play which took place in her mind opened once more and the girl was a FreeWoman again, creeping up to that window ledge where the freshly baked loaf of black bread had been left to cool. And now she was being hauled up in front of the magistrate, His pitiless eyes staring unblinkingly down on the thief as he grabs for her veils and rips them roughly from her face. The tears falling from her son as He is hauled away in misery. Suddenly she is in the grand main cabin of a large clipper. The man she would know as Master looming high above her, arm raised, wielding the five-bladed leather whip. The slave cowering as the first blows rained down on her back, making the entire ship seem to sway as Kinsella claimed his wench. Deep in her mind, althea could even hear the ship’s bell ringing a doleful beat as the whip licked into her flesh over and over again. 

Usually, the play would change scene once more, and althea would be in her Master’s arms. He would be stroking her and kissing her hot flesh as the last tremors of sweet, intoxicating orgasm rippled through her stomach. His fingers tenderly combing her hair as His deep soft voice murmured His satisfaction. But tonight, the scene did not change. The toll of the large brass ship’s bell just kept on sounding, indefatigable. 

The slave had never before noticed how vivid that sound had become in her dreams, and she was strangely comforted by it. Its steady, clear resonance even managing to drown out the noise of the howling winds in her ears. Even the spiteful assault on her weather beaten face seemed less severe at that moment and the girl finally found the sanctuary of sleep. 

Treacherously close to the ragged, sharp rocks below, a Merchant ship was turning hard about. The exhausted Captain fighting against the storm, praying to the Priest Kings for help and guidance as His vessel was thrown about the sea. His keen eye spotting the strange, eerie glow of a faint, flickering light, high off of His Portside bow. The ship’s bell clanging noisily as ‘Thentalia’ rolled and dipped in the swell of the mountainous waves. The ship’s crew working for their very lives, scrambling to raise a small sail on the after-most mast, aiding the ship to turn more quickly and thereby avoiding the crushing rocks… 

althea woke with a start. The pain in her left shoulder a familiar dull ache, the lamp’s flame burning low now. The morning was a glorious one, the sun having banished the night storm to history. The slave struggled to her feet and looked back down the pathway to her Master’s home. How she did not notice the grand Merchant Clipper moored in the small bay would be the stuff of legend. The woman’s mind clearly in automatic as her naked toes picked a careful route down the hillside. 

It was the voice she heard first. Strong, authoritative, clear. The young merchant commanding His crew efficiently as they unloaded all manner of riches from the damaged ship’s hold onto the dockside. As he stood orchestrating events from the pier, the smart man ran slender long fingers through a shock of flaming red hair, matted and damp from the night before. 

The slave’s mind was returning to her in a violent rush of coherence, causing the woman to lose balance and stumble, her limbs becoming instantaneously weak as the oil lamp collided with the ground and the kajira fell to her knees. 

The ship’s captain turned round, His large emerald green eyes widening in surprise at the sight before Him. The crumpled body shaking as the slave struggled for breath. Countless years suddenly became lucid in a tormented mind as the woman’s gaze locked to His. she could feel consciousness slipping from her as her addled brain struggled to take in the scene. Before she fainted, althea managed to say just one, breathless, beseeching word. 

“……… Najahl?



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