The infamous city of Port Kar is detailed primarily in Raiders of Gor, book #6 of the Gorean series, though several other novels also provide additional details of this coastal city. Port Kar is known by several other names such as the Tarn of the Sea, the Scourge of Thassa and the Dark Jewel of Thassa. As can be seen, most of these alternative appellations emphasize the predatory nature of Port Kar. Port Kar is known as a den of cruel pirates and their predacious fleets range over much of Thassa, as far south as the Ta-Thassa Mountains, as far north as the polar cap and as far west as Cos and Tyros.
Port Kar is located in the northern hemisphere of Gor, situated at the northwest corner of the Vosk Delta. The delta provides Port Kar with an excellent eastern defense as it is nearly impossible to march large armies or sail warships through the treacherous marshes of the delta to attack Port Kar. On the other hand, this defense works against Port Kar by not permitting it to sail to the Vosk River and avail itself of the lucrative markets that exist there. To the west of Port Kar is the Tamber Gulf, an area of strong tides but it is Port Kar's access to the waters of Thassa. The nearest solid land to Port Kar is about one hundred pasangs to the north but that land is hundreds of pasangs away from any city. Nearly the only reasonable method to attack Port Kar is from the sea.
Outside of the city limits, Port Kar claims sovereignty over the entire Vosk delta. In actuality, Port Kar is unable to effectively control this huge region. Port Kar did situate log outposts on the edges of the delta. These outposts were used primarily by Slavers and trained sleen patrols. Port Kar once sent Warriors to collect tribute and taxes from the Rencers that live in the marshes. Port Kar sought rence paper, women for slaves, and male children for slaves on their galleys. Port Kar was very brutal in its treatment of the Rencers and thus the Rencers would reciprocate that brutality if they happened to capture a resident of Port Kar. They would commonly bind their prisoner and toss them to the marsh tharlarion. But after Tarl Cabot visited the Rencers in Raiders of Gor, and proved to them the efficacy of the long bow, the Rencers decided to adopt the long bow as a weapon against their enemies. Port Kar then became much warier of the Rencers and eventually they formed more of a truce. Thus, some in Port Kar use Rencer bowman as auxiliaries.
Port Kar also claims sovereignty over several areas, called preserves, within the northern forests. This provides the city with its much needed timber such as tur wood, Ka-la-na, Tem-wood, and needle trees. This timber is especially crucial to their ship construction industry. Every time they open a new preserve, there is an elaborate ceremony held with proclamations and trumpets. The preserves are most often located near rivers to make it easier to transport the timber. Each preserve is posted with signs and surrounded by ditches to keep out cattle and unlicensed wagoners. Port Kar assigns Wardens to guard the preserves and also to maintain and forests. They ensure the signs remain posted, repair any problems with the ditches, plant new trees, trim trees and stop thieves. They must often work at aiding certain trees to grow and develop into certain shapes, needed for their ships. Wardens have a very important function. The Warden's work will be examined each year by an Inspectors. Even trees that are located outside of these preserves may be claimed by Port Kar. The tree will be marked with the sign of the Arsenal and then a record kept by the Council of Captains. In addition, Port Kar does purchase some timber from the Forest People within the northern forests.
Port Kar can be divided into two main historical periods, pre- and post- 10120 C.A. Prior to the events of 10120 C.A., Port Kar's government was a chaotic battleground of differing factions. The city was ruled by five Ubars and an oligarchy of merchant princes, known as Captains. Port Kar was not united under a single flag. In fact, each Ubar and many Captains possessed their own flags. The Ubars included Chung, Eteocles, Nigel, Sullius Maximus and Henrius Sevarius. They often fought amidst themselves and rarely worked in concert. But, though they were technically the rulers of Port Kar, it was the Council of Captains that truly controlled the city. The Ubars, ever fearful of assassination, often remained secure in their holdings and rarely attended any of the meetings of the Council of Captains. Instead, they would send a Scribe to act in their place. The Scribe would take notes of the meeting and also speak on behalf of the Ubar. The Ubars, between all of them, only controlled about four hundred ships, much less than the combined strength of the Captains.
Raiders of Gor depicts the epic events of 10120 C.A. Some of the Ubars chose to ally with Cos and Tyros, hereditary enemies of Port Kar, in a quest for greater power within the city. As the Ubars lacked the ships and military strength to compete against the Captains on their own, they required outside assistance. Tarl Cabot and some of the other Captains of Port Kar vehemently opposed the Ubars and sought to protect their city from the invaders. A great naval battle occurred on the Twenty-Fifth of Se'Kara between Port Kar and the combined forces of Cos and Tyros. Port Kar won this great battle, in part to its use of tarns at sea. A number of tarns had been hidden aboard ships and taken to the battle. Normally, a tarn will not fly past sight of land. But when the tarns were released, with no land in sight, they acted normally and fought fiercely. The ultimate result was that all of the Ubars were ousted from their positions and the Council of Captains seized control of the government. The Port Kar calendar then changed and it now became Year One in the Sovereignty of the Council of Captains. The Ubars Chung and Nigel were permitted to remain as admirals in Port Kar. Sullius left the city and became a minor courtier in Tyros. Henrius, once his nefarious regent was ousted, was permitted to maintain a holding in Port Kar. The fate of Eteocles is not mentioned in the books.
Also prior to 10120 C.A., Port Kar did not possess a Home Stone. This may have served in part to give Port Kar some of its infamy because of the importance most Goreans place upon the Home Stone. How could they respect a city without a Home Stone? But in Se'Kara of that year, during the problems of the Ubars' treachery, Port Kar acquired a Home Stone. As the naval forces of Cos and Tyros neared Port Kar, many of the residents of Port Kar fled, worried that they would be killed or captured by the superior forces of Cos and Tyros. To unite the remaining people of Port Kar, Tarl Cabot decided to give the city a Home Stone, a rallying symbol. At this time, Tarl was known as Bosk of Port Kar and he had become a Captain of Port Kar. He sent a slave out into the streets of Port Kar to find a rock. The slave returned with a common gray rock, just larger than a fist. Tarl carved the initials of Port Kar, in block script, into this stone. It was then brought to the Council of Captains where it was eagerly accepted by the people of Port Kar as their Home Stone. The remanning men then did unite, proud that they now possessed a Home Stone. Without this Home Stone, Port Kar would most likely have been conquered by Cos and Tyros.
Port Kar had long been hereditary enemies of Cos and Tyros but there had not been open warfare between them for over a hundred years. At their last major engagement at that time, heavy storms had arisen and forced the navies of Cos and Tyros to break off their attack. Since that time, their actions were limited to small-scale warfare such as raiding and piracy. Few ships were be involved in these naval actions and thus this warfare continued with major harm to any side. In piracy actions, a ship most often is painted green. Nearly every part of the ship, from its hull and sails down to its oars and ropes, is painted green. Green is used because it provides ships with a a diminished capacity to be seen by other ships. When the sun reflects off the greenish waters of Thassa, such a painted ship be nearly invisible until the pirate ship is quite close to its intended prey. At the time of the great naval war of 10120 C.A, Port Kar possessed a combined total of about five thousands ships though only fifteen hundred were tarn ships. Cos and Tyros each had comparable numbers of ships and thus their combined force outnumbered Port Kar by two to one. At any one time, most of these ships are at sea and not always available for offense or defense. But after the major battle on the Twenty-Fifth of Se'Kara, the fleets of all three entities were severely diminished. It is logical to assume that after this war they all began massive ship building to replenish their naval forces. No numbers are given in the later books for the size of their fleets at any later date.
The Council of Captains is presently the ruling governmental body in Port Kar. Its responsibilities are myriad including such matters as managing, maintains and controlling the Arsenal, the grain fleet, the oil fleet, and the slave fleet. The Council consists of about one hundred and twenty Captains though the number fluctuates. Council meetings are held in the Hall of the Council of Captains and slaves are not permitted within the Hall. Usually only about seventy to eighty Captains are present at the Council meetings either in person or by proxy. Many of those Captains not present in the meetings are either at sea and have chosen choose not to attend. To earn a position on the Council of Captains you must meet certain prerequisites. You must own at least five medium-class ships, either merchant or war ships. Most own merchant ships. A merchant ship is considered to be of medium class if it can carry one hundred to one hundred fifty tons below its decks. A warship is considered to be of medium class if its keel length is eighty to one hundred twenty feet and its beam width is ten to fifteen feet.
A Captain is permitted to wear a crest of sleen hair on their helmets. Each Captain also has a special chair at the Council meetings. The wooden chair is marked with the symbol of a helmet with a crest of sleen fur. Fleet admirals, a higher ranking, are permitted to wear purple robes with gold trim on the sleeves and borders. They also wear a golden cap with tassels and a matching cloak. There is no mention of how many fleet admirals exist in Port Kar. The Council does honor its members that excel. The most coveted accolade is the award of the worthy captain. This award consists of a broad scarlet ribbon with a medallion of gold. The medallion bear the picture of a tarn ship and the initials of the Council of Captains are in a half curve beneath the ship. Outside of Port Kar, some of its citizens wear the city's insignia, two knotted ropes one's left shoulder. It is not clear in the books whether on Captains are permitted to wear this insignia or if all residents of Port Kar may do so.
The city of Port Kar was constructed with little concern for order. It is a very crowded city, with residences often closely abutting each other. This problem of crowding has also meant that there are few gardens or courts in Port Kar. The space is often too valuable to spare for such luxuries. Each such residence is strongly fortified as the citizens often must worry about other residents attacking them. These buildings are not towers, the most common style of Gorean building. Like the Venice of Earth, Port Kar contains hundreds of canals which act as its roads for travel throughout the city. Some planning did go into the city through, especially on the outer perimeter. The structures that look out on this perimeter have been constructed to act as a defense to the city. These structures primarily have no windows, though they might possess arrow slits. The outer walls are commonly several feet thick to prevent someone from easily breaking them down. The roof tops often have crenellated parapets to protect bowmen and defenders on those roofs. The canals that open into the Vosk delta are also protected against invasion. Heavy iron gates have been placed into the water, partially raised out of the water so that they are visible. One of these gates is known as the Northeast Delta Gate. Another oddity about Port Kar is that it is the only Gorean city that was constructed by slaves. Slaves are generally not permitted to build anything on Gor, especially important matters such as cities.
Traveling through Port Kar is primarily done via the myriad of canals that criss cross the city. The primary and likely the largest canal in Port Kar is the Central Canal that leads directly into Thassa. Near where this Canal meets the ocean, there are a series of large, flat steps that allow people to walk down to the water and likely to the ships docked there. Few of the canals actually connect to the ocean. You must travel through a series of canals to reach Thassa. Few of the canals are named in the books though it is likely that many of the canals, especially the larger ones, do possess names. A couple of the named canals include the Rim Canal and the Ribbon Canal. The Rim Canal leads to the Pier of the Red Urt, a seedier section of the city. The Ribbon Canal is one of the more well known canals in the city. It is a narrow canal and thus certain sections of the canal are known as Ribbon's Alley. The Spice Pier is mentioned in the books but there was no mention of which canal led to it. Most of the larger canals are not spanned by bridges though a few do possess swing bridges. Swing bridges are temporary bridges that can be put into place fairly easily. They are normally put in place only from the eighth to tenth Ahns and from the fifteenth to the seventeenth Ahns. When the bridges are put into place, boat travel is not possible thus the bridges can serve a defensive purpose. They can limit and isolate an invader's traveling capabilities.
Most of the residents of Port Kar own their own small boats for travel through the city. These boats are commonly narrow, shallow-drafted vessels that can easily pass through any canal, large or small. As they are often small and require a single-oar then even children can maneuver these boats. These boats are essential for residents to reach the numerous merchants of the city. There are many small markets located on the narrow walkways bordering the canals. Sometimes these walkways are so crowded that some merchants will simply sell their wares from their own boats. The Council of Captains has authorized a single floating market, located in a lake-like area near the Arsenal. It is called the Place of the Twenty-Fifth of Se'Kara, because there is a monument there commemorating Port Kar's success in that great naval engagement. This monument rises from the midst of the waters and the market encircles it.
The Arsenal is an essential area of the city, one of its most important structures, as it is here where Port Kar's ships are constructed, refitted and repaired. The Arsenal is a large structure containing lumber sheds, dry docks, various warehouses, shops, foundries and much more. The greatest threat to the Arsenal is fire so it has been outfitted to limit this potential danger. Many of the buildings are built of stone and have slated or tinned roofs. The few wooden structures have been spread out so that if one should catch fire, the fire could not easily spread to the other wooden structures. In addition, there are numerous water basins throughout the area. Near each basin is a red, wooden box containing many folded leather buckets. These buckets are meant to carry water from the nearby basin to aid quelling any fires. These water basins can actually be quite large, some big enough to hold a ship. They were made that way on purpose. In addition, some of the basins connect to the canals to aid in the movement of heavy materials. There are essentially two types of basins: one is unroofed, used for underwater storage and the seasoning of Tur wood and the other, roofed, is used for repairs that do not need dry docking.
There are numerous groups that work within the Arsenal including sail-makers, rope-makers, pulley-makers, oar-makers, sawyers, carpenters, and shipwrights. In some cities, all of these professions would likely be Castes but that is not true in Port Kar. Though some may be Castes, the others are more like unions. The workers must pay union dues that go into a central fund. This fund will be used to aid and support injured men and their families, to make loans, and to provide pensions on retirement. These unions even negotiate on behalf of their members for wages and other benefits. Though slaves were permitted to build the city of Port Kar they are forbidden from the construction of ships. That is reserved solely for free persons. The wages of these workers varies widely, dependent much upon the skill levels required for the jobs. Sail-makers, one of the lowest in the hierarchy, only earn about four coppers a day while an experienced shipwright, likely a member of the Builders' Caste, may earn as much as a gold tarn a day. Within Port Kar, their monetary system breaks down as such: ten tarsk bits to a copper, one hundred coppers to a silver, and ten silver to a gold. Though Port Kar is not respected for much by other Gorean cities, the gold tarn of Port Kar is a respected form of currency throughout much of Gor.
There are two, separate law enforcement groups in the city, the Council Guard and the Arsenal Guard. They each possess distinct uniforms so they are easily recognizable. The Council Guard acts as the city police while the Arsenal Guard possesses jurisdiction only within the confines of the Arsenal. The use of the port facilities is regulated by a board of four magistrates called the Port Consortium. They and responsible to and report directly to the Council of Captains. Besides their naval force, Port Kar also possesses cavalries of mercenary tarnsmen and some now use rencer bowmen as auxiliaries.
Port Kar has the only known Caste of Thieves on Gor. In most cities, thieves are punished very severely. But in Port Kar, not only are thieves allowed to exist, but it is even considered an honorable profession and their skills are highly regarded. The thieves themselves are proud and sons and some daughters follow in the footsteps of their father who was a thief. Women may belong to this Caste and freely practice its skills. The Caste is very territorial and dole out specific territories to its members. They also will hunt down thieves who choose not to belong to the Caste. The Caste does not tolerate outside competition. Caste members wear a brand on their right cheek, the infamous Thief's Scar. It is a tiny, three-pronged brand burned into the face in back of and below the right eye, over the cheekbone. It does seem strange that a thief who relies on not being caught should advertise their affiliation so openly. Maybe it is considered more of a challenge that way, a method of culling out the weak and foolish.
Ear notching and mutilation are not punishments in Port Kar for thievery. But, there are sanctions, some quite severe, for thieves who are caught. It is legally permitted for someone to kill a thief if you can catch that thief within one Ahn of the theft. It would obviously behoove a thief to make someone else aware of the theft so that third party could attest to the proper tolling of the Ahn. Otherwise, if only the thief knew when the theft occurred, and the victim killed the thief after the Ahn had passed, there would be no one to attest to the fact that the killing was not legal. After an Ahn has passed, then if a Thief is caught he must be turned over to the police of the city arsenal. A trial will be held on the charges. If a male thief is then found guilty, he would be sentenced to hard labor in the arsenal or on the wharves, for a time period of one week to one year. If a female thief is then found guilty, she would be sentenced to serve in a penal brothel for a time period of one week to one year.
The largest public square in Port Kar is in front of the Hall of the Council of Captains and it is capable of handling at least fifteen thousand people. This square is covered by many large, colored tiles giving a festive air to the area. The annual Carnival, during the Twelfth Passage Hand, is held here. Players of Gor describes the events and sights at such a Carnival. Another important, annual event in the city is the Procession to the Sea which is held each year on the first of En'Kara. This appears to be a festival honoring the sea, the lifeblood of the city. Port Kar is one of the few northern cities of Gor that does not celebrate the slave holiday of Kajuralia.
Port Kar has many taverns including such places as the Four Chains, Veminium, Kailiauk, Slaves of Ar and the Silver of Tharna. The Four Chains, owned by Procopius Minor, is located near Pier Sixteen between two warehouses. It is a dirty place, with roughly twenty paga kajirae and an infamous reputation for brawls, cheap paga and hot slaves.
A common Gorean saying is that the slave chains are heaviest in Port Kar. It is also claimed that no slave has ever escaped from the city. This is not completely accurate though very few slaves have ever escaped. Even if they were able to flee from the city, there would be little refuge to be found in the marshes surrounding the city. The dancing girls of Port Kar are said to be the best on Gor, though that it likely mostly rhetoric. "They are slave to the core, vicious, treacherous, cunning, seductive, sensuous, dangerous, desirable, excruciatingly desirable." (Raiders of Gor, p.100). Quite a description of the typical Port Kar slave, almost as if they too possess some of the attributes of the predator. Like Cos and Tyros, Port Kar possess thousands of male slaves, most often to row their merchant ships. Slaves are not permitted to row warships. They would not be trusted in such a situation. Tarl, as Bosk, was the first Captain to experiment with using free men to row his round ships. This was so effective that other Captains began emulating Tarl's decision. This may eventually lead to there being few male slaves in Port Kar. When Port Kar ships capture slaves, they will return to the city with these new acquisitions tied to the prow of each ship. The most beautiful girl will be placed on the first ship in the group.
Slaves who are found displeasing may face the Garbage Death. This is where a kajira is bound, naked, and hurled to the canal urts in the water. It is not uncommon for such urts to feed on people, and not just slaves. The canals are a good place to dispose of dead bodies as the urts will eat much of the evidence. Urt hunters help keep down the urt population in the canals. The books do not specifically state if this is an actual Caste or subcaste. The books only mention urt hunters in Port Kar and this might be because Port Kar is the only known port city that has numerous canals running through it. Urt hunters usually use a pronged urt spear and some type of bait, often a slave girl. The hunter rows out into the canals. A slave girl, who will be used as bait, has a long rope tied around her neck and secured to the bow ring on the boat. The kajira will jump into the water and splash around to attract urts. It is cheaper to use slave girls than a side of tarsk. Live verr are sometimes used as bait but they are not as effective. Urts usually approach their intended prey with their snout and eyes above water. You can thus detect an approaching urt and that should give the slave girl sufficient time to return to the boat before she is attacked. Not all girls are so lucky though. The hunter will then try to spear the urt. Some men will turn their own girls over to a urt hunter for discipline. A few days of being used as bait for urts will almost assuredly make them much more obedient. Eels, of which there are several carnivorous varieties, are another problem in the canals.
She-urts, also known as strays, may appear to be slaves but they are legally free women. These women live as home-less scavengers, begging or even stealing for food or money. They commonly sleep in crates or under bridges and piers. Some of them even form gangs, controlling certain territories. They were short tunics, more appropriate for slaves, but which do not interfere with their ability to flee. These women may have no families to support them or have been ousted from normal society for some other reason. They are considered generally a minor nuisance so little is often done about them. Sometimes the city guards will try to capture a group of them but that is infrequent. These type of women exist in a number of Gorean cities.
Port Kar has a number of other interesting quirks. It is one of the few cities on Gor that welcomes strangers. Port Kar will generally accept anyone into their city and does not immediately treat them as an enemy. Thus, it is a good refuge for outcasts from other cities. This may possibly change in the future due to the fact the city now possesses a Home Stone. The honor of the Home Stone may dictate that the city becomes more discriminate in who they permit entrance into their city. Port Kar also does not recognize the institution of Free Companionship. Free women in a steady relationship with a man of Port Kar are simply known as the women of their men. It is unknown if that status carries any legal ramifications within the city.
One of the laws of Port Kar states that if you defeat a man in fair combat and you permitted the man the "death of blood and sea," then all his properties become yours. The people of Port Kar love Thassa and they often wish to observe the sea before they die. The men also do not wish to die in their beds. They would rather die by the sword which is considered an honorable way to die. Tarl Cabot acquired his first ships in Port Kar when he dueled and defeated a pirate and then permitted that pirate to see Thassa before he died. The rack is a common tool used in the city for interrogation and torture, especially on slaves. Like most Gorean cities, the legal testimony of slaves is often take by torture.
The Whip Knife is weapon unique to Port Kar. It is essentially a whip but the last eighteen inches of the weapon contains a series of twenty blades. These thin cutting edges are arrayed in groups of four. The blades can thus be used to cut a man's throat from a distance. The weapon does require great skill as it could be dangerous to an untrained wielder who could injure himself. It can also be a beautiful weapon to observe if wielded by a trained individual. It is unknown if this weapon is common to all residents of Port Kar or if it is more commonly limited to certain Castes such as the Warriors or Slavers.
Port Kar is important to the future of Gor for a secretive reason. Samos of Port Kar is the First Captain in the Council of Captains and is also the First Slaver of the city. The House of Samos a secret headquarters to which numerous agents of the Priest Kings report. It is thus a gathering point for information which will eventually pass to the Priest-Kings within the Sardar. The House also coordinates and directs many of these agents. Other such headquarters exist but this one seems very important. Samos works on behalf of the Priest Kings even though he does not know their true nature. He has never met a Priest-King. He trusts that the Priest Kings have the best interests of Gor in mind. But, Samos does hold his friendship with Tarl more highly than his duty to the Priest Kings. In Players of Gor, Samos receives orders from the Sardar to arrest Tarl as a traitor. Samos warns Tarl instead, refusing to turn him over to the Priest Kings. Tarl then leaves Port Kar and that story line remains unresolved. It is unsure why the Priest-Kings want Tarl arrested or what has been happening with the Sardar over the last years.