The slaves’ quarters were open sheds forming a quadrangle in the center of which was a pool. There was no growing thing within the quadrangle, just bare earth, pounded hard by the passage of bare and sandaled feet. We slept upon mats. The pool was for bathing. Its connection with the lake was by a conduit too small to permit of escape. Fresh water was being constantly supplied it from a stream which ran down from the distant hills; so it was always clean and fresh. The entire compound was kept in immaculate condition, and the food rations of the royal slaves were far better and more generous than those I had before seen. Insofar as these matters were concerned, we had little of which to complain. It was the arrogance and brutality of the guards that made the lives of many of the slaves miserable.
My reputation and I arrived simultaneously. I could tell it by the way the guards eyed me and my pistol; and it soon spread to the slaves, with the result that I was immediately the center of attention. Kandar and Artol had to tell over and over the story of my encounters with Yron and his major domo, and so great became the laughter that the guards came among us with their whips and laid onto many a back. I called Kandar and Artol to my side; and when the guards came slashing in our vicinity I laid my hand upon the butt of my pistol, and the guards passed us by.
Among the slaves was a Myposan named Plin who was very friendly. Now, I do not like Myposans; but a friendly Myposan might some time be a handy thing to have around; so, while I did not particularly cultivate Plin, neither did I discourage his friendly advances.
He was much interested in my pistol, and asked many questions about it. He said that he was surprised that I had not been murdered while I slept; as a slave with such a weapon as mine was a very dangerous person for any master to have around. I told him that Kandar, Artol, and I took turns standing watch every night to prevent just that very thing.
“And it will really kill anybody who touches it?” he asked.
“Certainly,” I said.
He shook his head. “Maybe the other things you have told me are true, but I do not believe that anyone would be killed just by touching it. If that were true, you would be killed.”
“Would you like to touch it and prove your theory?” I asked.
“Certainly,” he said. “I am not afraid of it. Let me have it.”
I shook my head. “No,” I said. “I would not let a friend kill himself.”
He grinned. “You are a very smart man,” he said.
Well, I thought he was rather smart, too. He was the only Myposan who had had the brains to pierce my ruse. I was glad that he was my friend, and I hoped that he would keep his suspicions to himself.
In order to change the subject, which was growing distasteful to me, I asked him why he was in slavery.
“I was warrior to a noble,” he explained, “and one day this noble caught me making love with one of his concubines; so he sold me into slavery, and I was purchased by Tyros’ agent.”
“And you will have to remain a slave the rest of your life?” I asked.
“Not if I am fortunate enough to win the favor of Tyros,” he said. “Then I should be freed and probably be permitted to enter the service of Tyros as a warrior.”
“And you think that this may happen?” I asked.
“Something tells me that it may happen very soon,” he replied.
“You have been a slave in the palace of Tyros for some time?” I asked.
“Then perhaps you can give me some information that I should very much like to have.”
“I shall be glad to, if I can,” he assured me. “What is it?”
“My mate, Duare, was purchased by Tyros’ agent. Have you seen her? Do you know where she is and how she fares?”
“I have seen her,” said Plin. “She is very beautiful, and she fares quite well. She is serving the Vadjong Skabra, Tyros’ queen. That is because she is so beautiful.”
“I don’t understand,” I said.
“Well, you see Tyros has many concubines, some of which have been slaves; but none of them is very beautiful. Skabra sees to that. She is very jealous, and Tyros is much afraid of her. She has let him have a number of ill favored concubines; but when a beautiful woman like your mate comes along, Skabra takes her for herself.”
“So my mate is safe?”
“As long as she serves Skabra, she is safe,” he said.
Life in the slave compound of the jong of Mypos was monotonous. The guards took us out in shifts for odd jobs around the palace grounds. As a rule they were too bored themselves to even wield their whips on those who were too helpless or too poor to protect themselves. They left Kandar, Artol, and me alone because of my pistol; and Plin, who was able to receive money from outside, won immunity and favors by bribery. He hung around me a great deal, and was always fawning on me and flattering me. I got rather tired of him.
I chafed under the enforced inaction which offered not the slightest suggestion of a hope for escape. I wished that they would give me more work to occupy my time. “Wait until you’re sent to the ships,” said one of my fellow slaves; “you’ll get work enough there.”
The days dragged on. I longed for Duare and for freedom. I commenced to concoct fantastic and wholly impractical schemes for escape. It became an obsession with me. I didn’t discuss them with Kandar or others; because, fortunately, I realized how silly they were. It was well that I didn’t.
Then, one day, Tyros sent for me. Tyros, the great jong, had sent for a slave! The compound buzzed with excitement. I had an idea why I was being thus singly honored. The gossip of the slave compound and the guardroom had reached the ears of Tyros, and his curiosity had been aroused to see the strange slave with yellow hair who had defied nobles and warriors.
It was curiosity that killed the cat, but I feared it might work with reverse English in this instance. However, the summons offered a break in the monotony of my existence and an opportunity to see Tyros the Bloody. It would also take me into the palace proper for the first time, and I had been anxious to gain some knowledge of it against the day that I might attempt to take Duare away.
So I was escorted by a strong detachment of warriors to the palace of the jong of Mypos.