The larl is a predator, clawed and fanged, quite large, often standing seven feet at the shoulder. I think it would be fair to say that it is substantially feline; at any rate its grace and sinuous power remind me of the smaller but similarly fearsome jungle cats of my old world.
The resemblance is, I suppose, due to the mechanics of convergent evolution, both animals having been shaped by the exigencies of the chase, the stealth of the approach and the sudden charge, and by the requirement of the swift and devastating kill. If there is an optimum configuration for a land predator, I suppose on my old world the palm must go to the Bengal tiger; but on Gor the prize belongs indisputably to the mountain larl; and I cannot but believe that the structural similarities between the two animals, though of different worlds, are more than a matter of accident.
The larl's head is broad, sometimes more than two feet across, and shaped roughly like a triangle, giving its skull something of the cast of a viper's save that of course it is furred and the pupils of the eyes like the cat's and unlike the viper's, can range from knifelike slits in the broad daylight to dark, inquisitive moons in the night.
The pelt of the larl
is normally a tawny red or a sable black. The black larl, which is
predominantly nocturnal, is maned, both male and female. The red larl, which
hunts whenever hungry, regardless of the hour, and is the more common variety,
possesses no mane. Females of both varieties tend generally to be slightly smaller
than the males, but are quite as aggressive and sometimes even more dangerous, particularly in the
late fall and winter of the year when they are likely to be hunting for their
cubs. I had once killed a male red larl in the
In spite of my hatred of Priest-Kings I could not help but admire them. None of the men below the mountains, the mortals, had ever succeeded in taming a larl. Even larl cubs when found and raised by men would, on reaching their majority, on some night, in a sudden burst of atavistic fury slay their masters and under the three hurtling moons of Gor lope from the dwellings of men, driven by what instincts I know not, to seek the mountains where they were born. A case is known of a larl who traveled more then twenty-five hundred pasangs to seek a certain shallow crevice in the Voltai in which he had been whelped. He was slain at its mouth. Hunters had followed him. One among them, an old man who had originally been one of the party that had captured the animal, identified the place. Priest-Kings of Gor page 19
advanced, my spear ready for its cast, my shield ready to be thrown over my body to protect it from the death throes of the thrashing beast should the cast be successful. My life was in my own hands and I was content that this should be so. I would have it no other way.
I smiled to myself. I was First Spear, for there were no others.
The most significant reason, however, becomes clear when the role of the last man on the file, who is spoken of as Last Spear, is understood. Once Last Spear casts his weapon he may not throw himself to the ground. If he should, and any of his comrades survive, they will slay him. But this seldom occurs for the Gorean hunters fear cowardice more than the claws and fangs of larls. Last Spear must remain standing, and if the beast still lives, receive its charge with only his drawn sword. He does not hurl himself to the ground in order that he will remain conspicuously in the larl's field of vision and thus be the object of its wounded, maddened onslaught. It is thus that, should the spears miss their mark, he sacrifices his life for his companions who will, while the larl attacks him, make good their escape. This may seem cruel but in the long run it tends to be conservative of human life; it is better, as the Goreans say, fro one man to die than many.
First Spear is normally the best of the spearmen because if the larl is not slain or seriously wounded with the first strike, the lives of all, and not simply that of Last Spear, stand in considerable jeopardy. Paradoxically, perhaps, Last Spear is normally the weakest of the spearmen, the least skilled. Whether this is because Gorean hunting tradition favours the weak, protecting him with the stronger spears, or tradition scorns the weak, regarding him as the most expendable member of the party, I do not know. The origin of this hunting practice is lost in antiquity, being as old perhaps as men and weapons and larls.
I once asked a Gorean hunter whom I met in Ar why the larl was hunted at all. I have never forgotten his reply. 'Because it is beautiful,' he said, 'and dangerous, and because we are Goreans.' Priest-Kings of Gor page 19-20
The path was steep but its ascent, here and there, was lightened by high steps. I have never cared to have an enemy above me, nor did I now, but I told myself that my spear might more easily find a vulnerable spot if the larl leapt downwards toward me than if I were above and had only the base of its neck as my best target. From above I would try to sever the vertebrae. The larl's skull is an even more difficult cast, for its head is almost continually in motion. Moreover, it possesses an unobtrusive bony ridge which runs from its four nasal slits to the beginnings of the backbone. This ridge can be penetrated by the spear but anything less than a perfect cast will result in the weapon's being deflected through the cheek of the animal, inflicting a cruel but unimportant wound. On the other hand if I were under the larl I would have a brief but clean strike at the great, pounding, eight-valved heart that lies in the centre of its breast.
My heart sank for I heard another growl, that of a second beast.
I had but one spear.
I might kill one larl, but then I should almost certainly die under the jaws of its mate.
For some reason I did not fear death but felt only anger that these beasts might prevent me from keeping my rendezvous with the Priest-Kings of Gor.
I wondered how many men might have turned back at this point, and I remembered the innumerable white, frozen bones on the cliff below. It occurred to me that I might retreat, and return when the beasts had gone. It seemed possible that they might not yet have discovered me. I smiled as I thought of the foolishness of this, for these beasts before me must be the larls of Priest-Kings, guardians of the stronghold of Gor's gods.
I loosened my sword in its sheath and continued upwards.
At last I came to the bend in the path and braced myself for the sudden bolt about that corner in which I must cry aloud to startle them and in the same instant cast my spear at the nearest larl and set upon the other with my drawn sword.
I hesitated for a moment and then the fierce war cry of Ko-ro-ba burst from my lips in the clear, chill air of the Sardar and I threw myself into the open, my spear arm back, my shield high. Priest-Kings of Gor page 21-22
Even past me there thundered a lumbering herd of startled, short-bunked kailiauk, a stocky, awkward ruminant of the plains, tawny, wild, heavy, their haunches marked in red and brown bars, their wide heads bristling with a trident of horns; they had not stood and formed their circle, she's and young within the circle of tridents; they, too, had fled; farther to one side I saw a pair of prairie sleen, smaller than the forest sleen but quite as unpredictable and vicious, each about seven feet in length, furred, six-legged, mammalian, moving in their undulating gait with their viper's heads moving from side to side, continually testing the wind; beyond them I saw one of the tumits, a large, flightless bird whose hooked beak, as long as my forearm, attested only too clearly to its gustatory habits; I lifted my shield and grasped the long spear, but it did not turn in my direction; it passed, unaware; beyond the bird, to my surprise, I saw even a black larl, a huge catlike predator more commonly found in mountainous regions; it was stalking away, retreating unhurried like a king; before what, I asked myself, would even the black larl flee; and I asked myself how far it had been driven; perhaps even from the mountains of Ta-Thassa, that loomed in this hemisphere, Gor's southern, at the shore of Thassa, the sea, said to be in the myths without a farther shore. Nomads of Gor, page 2