such signals, much as there is a common property to the sound of a human voice, whether it be that of an Englishman, a Bushman, a Chinese or a
Gorean, which sets it apart from, say, the growling of animals, the hiss of snakes, the cry of birds.
The Priest-Kings have eyes, which are compound and many-faceted, but they do not much rely on these organs. They are, for them, something like our
ears and nose, used as secondary sensors to be relied upon when the most pertinent information in the environment is not relayed by vision, or, in the
case of the Priest-Kings, by scent. Accordingly the two golden-haired, jointed appendages protruding from their globelike heads, above the rounded,
disk like eyes, are their primary sensory organs. I gather that these appendages are
(page 78) sensitive not only to odours but, due to modification of some of the sensory hairs, may also transform sound vibrations into something
meaningful in their experience. Thus, if one wishes, one may speak of them not only as smelling but hearing through these appendages. Apparently
hearing is not of great importance, however, to them, considering the small number of hairs modified for this purpose. Oddly enough few of the
Priest-Kings whom I questioned on this matter seemed to draw the distinction clearly between hearing and smelling. I find this incredible, but I have no
reason to believe they deceived me. They recognise that we have different sensory arrangements than they and I suspect that they are as unclear as
to the nature of our experience as we are of theirs. In fact, though I speak of hearing and smelling, I am not sure that these expressions are altogether
meaningful when applied to Priest-Kings. I speak of them smelling and hearing through the sensory appendages, but what the quality of their
experience may be I am uncertain. For example, does a Priest-King have the same qualitative experience that I do when we are confronted by the same
scent? I am inclined to doubt it, for their music, which consists of rhapsodies of odours produced by instruments constructed for this purpose, and often
played by Priest-Kings, some of whom I am told are far more skillful than others, is intolerable to my ear, or I should say, nose.
Communication by odour-signals can in certain circumstances be extremely efficient, though it can be disadvantageous in others. For example, an odour
can carry, to the sensory appendages of a Priest-King, much further than the shout or cry of a man to another man. Moreover, if not too much time is
allowed to elapse, a Priest-King may leave a message in his chamber or in a corridor for another Priest-King, and the other may arrive later and interpret
it. A disdavantage of this mode of communication, of course, is that the message may be understood by strangers or others for whom it is not intended.
One must be careful of what one says in the tunnels of Priest-Kings for one's words may linger after one, until they sufficiently dissipate to be little more
than a meaningless blur of scent.
For longer periods of time there are various devices for
(page 79) recording a message, without relying on complex mechanical devices. The simplest and one of the most fascinating is a chemically treated
rope of clothlike material which the Priest-King, beginning at an end bearing a certain scent, saturates with the odours of his message. This coiled
message-rope then retains the odours indefinitely and when another Priest-King wishes to read the message he unrolls it slowly scanning it serially with
the jointed sensory appendages.
I am told that the phonemes of the language of Priest-Kings or, better, what in their language would correspond to phonemes in ours, since their
'phonemes' have to do with scent and not sound, number seventy-three. Their number is, of course, potentially infinite, as would be the number of
possible phonemes in English, but just as we take a subset of sounds to be English sounds and form our utterances from them, so they take a subset of
odours as similarly basic to their speech. The number of English phonemes, incidentally, is in the neighbourhood of fifty.
The morphemes of the language of Priest-Kings, those smallest intelligible information bits, in particular roots and affixes, are, of course, like the
morphemes of English, extremely numerous. The normal morpheme, in their language as in ours, consists of a sequence of phonemes. For example, in
English 'bit' is one morpheme but three phonemes, as will appear clear if given some reflection. Similarly in the language of the Priest-Kings, the
seventy-three 'phonemes' or basic scents are used to form the meaning units of the language, and a single morpheme of Priest-Kings may consist of a
complex set of odours.
I do not know whether there are more morphemes in the language of Priest-Kings or in English, but both are apparently rich languages, and, of course,
the strict morpheme count is not necessarily a reliable index to the complexity of the lexicon, because of combinations of morphemes wo form new
words. German, for example, tends to rely somewhat more on morpheme combination than does English or French. I was told, incidentally, that the
language of the Priest-Kings does possess more morphemes than English but I do not know if the report is truthful or not, for Priest- Kings tend to be
somewhat touchy on the matter of any
(page 80) comparisons, particularly those to their disadvantage or putative disadvantage, with organisms of what they regard as the lower orders. On
the other hand it may well be the case that, as a matter of fact, the morpheme set of the language of Priest-Kings is indeed larger than that of English. I
simply do not know. The translator tapes, incidentally, are approximately the same size, but this is no help, since the tapes represent pairings of
approximate equivelants, and there are several English morphemes not translatable into the language of Priest-Kings, and, as I learned, morphemes in
their language for which no English equivelants exist. One English expression for which no natural 'word' in their language exists is, oddly enough,
'friendship', and certain of its cognates. There is an expression in their language which translates into English as 'Nest Trust', however, and seems to
play something of the same role in their thinking. The notion of friendship, it seems to me, has to do with a reliance and affection between two or more
individuals; the notion of Nest Trust, as clearly as I can understand it, is more of a communal notion, a sense of relying on the practices and traditions of
an institution, accepting them and living in terms of them.
I followed the Priest-King for a long time through the passages.
For all its size it moved with a delicate, predatory grace. It was perhaps very light for its bulk, or very strong, perhaps both. It moved with a certain
deliberate, stalking movement; its tread was regal and yet it seemed almost dainty, almost fastidious; it was almost as if the creature did not care to
soil itself by contact with the floor of the passage.
It walked on four extremely long, slender, four-jointed stalks that were its supporting legs, and carried its far more muscular, four-jointed grasping legs,
or appendages, extremely high, almost level with its jaw, and in front of its body. Each of these grasping appendages terminated in four much smaller,
delicate hooklike prehensile appendages, the tips of which normally touched one another. I would learn later that in the ball at the end of its forelegs
from which the smaller prehensile appendages extended, there was a curved, bladed, hornlike structure that could spring forward; this happens
spontaneously when the leg's tip is inverted, a motion which
(page 81) at once exposes the hornlike blade and withdraws the four prehensile appendages into the protected area beneath it.
The Priest-King halted before what appeared to be a blind wall.
He lifted one foreleg high over his head and touched something high in the wall which I could not see.
A panel slid back and the Priest-King stepped into what seemed to be a closed room.
I followed him, and the panel closed.
The floor seemed to drop beneath me and my hand grasped my sword.
The Priest-King looked down at me and the antennae quivered as though in curiosity.
I resheathed my sword.
I was in an elevator.
After perhaps four or five minutes the elevator stopped and the Priest-King and I emerged.
The Priest-King rested back on the two posterior supporting appendages and with a small cleaning hook behind the third joint of one of his forelegs
began to comb his antennae.
'These are the tunnels of Priest-Kings,' it said.
I looked about meand found myself on a high, railed platform, overlooking a vast circular artificial canyon, lined with bridges and terraces. In the depths
of this canyon and on the terraces that mounted its sides were innumerable structrues, largely geometrical solids - cones, cylinders, lofty cubes, domes,
spheres and such - of various sizes, colours and illuminations, many of which were windowed and possessed of numerous floors, some of which even
towered to the level of the platform where I stood, some of which soared even higher into the lofty reaches of the vast dome that arched over the
canyon like a stone sky.
I stood on the platform, my hands clenched on the railing, staggered by what I saw.
The light of energy bulbs set in the walls and in the dome like stars shed a brilliant light on the entire canyon.
'This,' said the Priest-King, still grooming the golden hairs of his antennae, 'is the vestibule of our dominion.'
From my position on the platform I could see numerous
(page 82) tunnels at many levels leading out of the canyon, perhaps to other such monstrous cavities, filled with more structures.
I wondered what would be the function of the structures, probably barracks, factories, storehouses.
'Notice the energy bulbs,' said the Priest-King. 'They are for the benefit of certain species such as yourself. Priest-Kings do not need them.'
'Then there are creatures other than Priest-Kings who live here,' I said.
'Of course,' it replied.
At that moment to my horror a large, perhaps eight feet long and a yard high, multilegged, segmented arthropod scuttled near, its eyes weaving on
'It's harmless,' said the Priest-King.
The arthropod stopped and the eyes leaned toward us and then its pincers clicked twice.
I reached for my sword.
Without turning it scuttled backwards away, its body plates rustling like plastic armour.
'See what you have done,' said the Priest-King. 'You have frightened it.'
My hand left the sword hilt and I wiped the sweat from my palm on my tunic.
'They are timid creatures,' said the Priest-King, 'and I am afraid they have never been able to accustom themselves to the sight of your kind.'
The Priest-King's antennae shuddered a bit as they regarded me.
'Your kind is terribly ugly,' it said.
I laughed, not so much because I supposed what it said was absurd, but because I supposed that, from the viewpoint of a Priest-King, what it said
might well be true.
'It is interesting,' said the Priest-King. 'What you have just said does not translate.'
'It was a laugh,' I said.
'What is a laugh?' asked the Priest-King.
'It is something men sometimes do when they are amused,' I said.
The creature seemed puzzled.
I wondered to myself. Perhaps men did not much laugh in
(page 83) the tunnels of the Priest-Kings and it was not accustomed to this human practice. Or perhaps a Priest-King simply could not understand the
notion of amusement, it being perhaps genetically removed from his comprehension. Yet I said to myself the Priest-Kings are intelligent and I found it
difficult to believe there could exist an intelligent race without humour.
'I think I understand,' said the Priest-King. 'It is like shaking and curling your antennae?'
'Perhaps,' I said, now more puzzled than the Priest-King.
'How stupid I am,' said the Priest-King.
And then to my amazement the creature, resting back on its posterior appendages, began to shake, beginning at its abdomen and continuing upward
through its trunk to its thorax and head and at last its antennae began to tremble and, curling, they wrapped about one another.
Then the Priest-King ceased to rock and its antennae uncurled, almost reluctantly I thought, and it once again rested quietly back on its posterior
appendages and regarded me.
Once again it addressed itself to the patient, meticulous combing of its antennae hairs.
Somehow I imagined it was thinking.
Suddenly it stopped grooming its antennae and the antennae looked down at me.
'Thank you,' it said, 'for not attacking me in the elevator.'
I was dumbfounded.
'You're welcome,' I said.
'I did not think anaesthesia would be necessary,' it said.
'It would have been foolish to attack you,' I said.
'Irrational, yes,' agreed the Priest-King, 'but the lower orders are often irrational.
'Now,' it said, 'I may still look forward someday to the Pleasures of the Golden Beetle.'
I said nothing.
'Sarm thought the anaesthesia would be necessary,' it said.
'Is Sarm a Priest-King?' I asked.
'Yes,' I said.
'Then a Priest-King may be mistaken,' I said. This seemed
(page 84) to me significant, far more significant than the mere fact that a Priest-King might not understand a human laugh.
'Of course,' said the creature.
'Could I have slain you?' I asked.
'Possibly,' said the creature.
I looked over the rail at the marvellous complexity which confronted me.
'But it would not have mattered,' said the Priest-King.
'No?' I asked.
'No,' it said. 'Only the Nest matters.'
My eyes still did not leave the dominion which lay below me. Its diameter might have been ten pasangs in width.
'This is the Nest?' I asked.
'It is the beginning of the Nest,' said the Priest-King.
'What is your name?' I asked.
'Misk,' it said.
In this excerpt from the books, Tarl meets Misk the Priest-King and explains
what Priest-Kings are and how they function. Taken from Priest-Kings of Gor.
The Priest-Kings have little or no scent of their own which is detectable by
the human nostrils, though one gathers there is a nest odour by which they
may identify one another, and that the variations in this nest odour permit
identifications of individuals.
What in the passageways I had taken to be the scent of Priest-Kings had
actually been the residue of odour-signals which Priest-Kings, like certain
social insects of our world, use in communicating with one another.
The slightly acrid odour I had noticed tends to be a common property of all
|This research is done on the series of books written by John Norman, the comments in italics are mine and my point of view.
Woman of Gor