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(Essay #87)  

"It was a truly brave and noble beast. Those who scorn the sleen I think do not know him. Kurii respect the sleen, and that says much for the sleen, for its courage, its ferocity and indomitable tenacity."
---Beasts of Gor, pg.13

The Gorean sleen. Tarl Cabot once referred to a sleen as a "Dark Brother of the Night." It is an animal unique to Gor though, in part, it fills in many ways a functional niche similar to the domesticated dog. Yet in other ways it is more akin to the wild wolf, especially some of the larger, more prehistoric varieties. And at least one type of sleen fills the niche of the domesticated cat. Sleen exist in nearly all parts of Gor, species adapting to the various environments. The sleen is also one of the most deadly animals on Gor. And even domestication does not blunt its lethality.


Physical Description:

Sleen are often referred to or described as furred snakes or lizards. But, despite their resemblance in some ways to these reptiles, sleen are biologically mammals, as they give live birth and suckle their young. Sleen have long, sinuous bodies that are also rather bulky. It might be difficult to encircle their body with your arms. Its thick fur is often seen as a glossy, oily fur. Sleen possess six short legs, though each leg may be as much as six inches thick. Each of those legs ends with a six-clawed paw, those claws being retractable. The front two claws are the most powerful, and are used for burrowing.

Their broad heads, sometimes as much as two feet wide, are triangular shaped, narrowing down to a pointed, whiskered snout. Some might say the head is almost viper-like in appearance. Its large eyes are widely set on its head, and they possess the ability of the feline to see well in low light situations. Its ears can lie back against the side of its head like many other predators. Its mouth commonly possesses two rows of fangs and a dark tongue. There is no evidence that their tongue is forked like a snake or lizard. Sleen commonly possess an unpleasant musky scent, like a weasel or ferret, but it is much stronger. Its urine also has an unusually potent odor. In the wild, sleen generally use their urine and feces to mark their territory.

Sleen are generally nocturnal creatures, preferring to hunt at night. They are carnivores and their favorite prey are tabuk, though they enjoy tarsks as well. But, they are also far less fastidious in their eating than almost any other Gorean animal, including the tarsk. So they will eat nearly anything and can be trained to hunt almost anything. Sleen are burrowing creatures, often sleeping underground during the day, emerging to hunt at night. Their front claws, which they use for burrowing, are capable of tearing through heavy doors. Sleen seldom engage in climbing though due to their extreme agility, a sleen can easily leap over a thirty-foot wall.

Despite their short legs, they can move quite fast when they so desire, and in a short distance can even out run many fast game animals. When they move, they commonly undulate like a snake or lizard, their head swaying back and forth as they often test the wind. This type of unusual movement contributes to the belief that sleen resemble reptiles. Sleen can also snarl, growl and hiss, the latter also contributing to its apparent resemblance to a reptile. Just remember that this resemblance is more superficial than actual.

Sleen are deadly predators, willing to attack almost any creature. In their attack frenzy, they are one of the most lethal creatures on Gor. They generally fear nothing. They are very territorial, often attacking anyone or anything intruding onto what they perceive as their land. In the wild, the critical attacking distance for a sleen is about twenty feet. But, in domesticated sleen, like a herd sleen, such a distance is much smaller. Sleen are not easily killed either, and it can sometimes take as many as ten spears to slay one, especially the larger varieties. Even Kur respect the power of the sleen. Some Kurii are capable of killing a sleen bare-handed and there is even one example of a Kur killing three sleen bare-handedly.

"Where sleen are concerned, there is always danger."  ---Witness of Gor, pg.598


Types of Sleen:

There are several varieties of sleen, adapted to a number of diverse environments. Unfortunately, the books do not provide much detail concerning the differences between all of these varieties of sleen.
Forest sleen: This variety is the largest of all the sleen, ranging up to twenty feet long and weighing as much as fifteen hundred pounds. They are darkly colored, usually brown though some are black. It is also the most common sleen used for domestication.

Gray sleen: These sleen are considered the best hunters of all sleen.

Jungle sleen: Though they are uncommon, the jungle sleen is a shorthaired variety found in some tropical areas. Tarl speculated that maybe most sleen are not comfortable in the great wetness and humidity of the tropical jungle region.

Miniature sleen: This variety is very small, about the size of a domestic Earth cat. They are sinuously graceful with a silken pelt. They appear to be relatively innocuous creatures and are kept as pets by some Goreans.

Mountain sleen: These sleen inhabit the mountain ranges of Gor such as the Voltai, Thentis and Ta Thassa ranges.

Prairie sleen: This tawny colored sleen is smaller than the forest sleen, only about seven to nine feet long, but it is quite as unpredictable and vicious. The Wagon Peoples commonly domesticate prairie sleen. They will generally release the sleen at night to be both shepherds and sentinels. During the days, the sleen are often kept in cages.

Sand sleen: These sleen primarily inhabit the desert regions and may be domesticated by the tribesmen of the Tahari.

Sea Sleen: There are several varieties of this aquatic sleen, a vicious marine predator, and they have not been domesticated. They are generally restricted to the northern waters but some have been seen as far south as Cos and Tyros. They are considered to be the fastest creatures in Thassa, and maybe the most dangerous as well. The Red Hunters commonly hunt sea sleen. The four main types include the black sleen, brown sleen, tusked sleen, and flat-nosed sleen. They range from eight to twenty feet long, and weigh from 300 to 1000 pounds. There is mention of another type of sleen, the broadhead, which apparently would be a five variety of sea sleen. They are rare in the polar waters during the fall and are quite large creatures, eighteen to twenty long, weighing around one thousand pounds. There heads are quite broad, maybe 18 inches wide, which is obviously where they derive their name. The primary prey of sea sleen are parsit fish and the sleen follow their migrations. Thus, there is a specific time of the year for each sleen variety dependent on the various parsit migrations. Most sea sleen migrate though some do stay around, remaining largely dormant under the ice during the winter. They will surface about four times an Ahn to breathe. In Thassa, sea sleen will warily observe potential prey and then submerge as they near their prey for the attack. Sea sleen are quick to attack anything moving in the water except for boats. For unknown reasons, they do avoid attacking such sea vessels.

Snow sleen: These white-pelted sleen primarily inhabit the polar regions, and have been domesticated by the Red Hunters.

"It is a belief of the People." Said Imnak, "that the sleen does not really die, but, after a time, will be reborn again."  ---Beasts of Gor, pg.288


Sleen Breeding:

Nearly all domestic sleen are specially bred for it is very difficult to attempt to domesticate a wild sleen. It can be accomplished on the rare occasion but the danger of such a sleen reverting back to its wild state is very high. Such reversions are most likely to occur during the spring, in the mating season, especially with male sleens. And if a sleen reverts, it may kill anyone near it, including its master. It is possible to domesticate young wild sleen if they are taken within the first two months of their life. This would be before they have tasted blood and meat in the wild, and made their own kills. But even they still might revert. It is far easier to breed your own.

The village of Tabuk's Ford, located next to the Verl River which is a tributary of the Vosk River, is well known for its sleen breeding. It is also about four hundred pasangs north and slightly west of the city of Ar. Thurnus, a Peasant and caste leader of Tabuk's Ford, is one of the best known sleen breeders on Gor.

Sleen mate once a year, in the spring. The gestation period is about six months and there are usually four young in a litter. The young are usually white-pelted when born and their fur will darken by the next spring. Interestingly enough, sleen often pair for life with their mates.

The actual mating of sleen is interesting as well. If a female sleen has never mated before, then she will try to flee or combat any male who approaches her. But, as male sleen are larger and stronger than females, the males will likely win any battle. The male will ultimately grab hold of the female's throat with his fangs, holding tight. He will then throw the female sleen onto her back so that they are facing belly to belly. With the grip on her throat, the female will become docile and allow the male sleen to do what he desires. He will then penetrate her and they will soon be locked together, by legs and teeth, rolling around in a mating frenzy. After that initial time, the female will never need to be forced again.

"I saw the coupling of sleen today," she said. "The female fought. Then the male seized her by the throat with his fangs. She became immediately docile. Soon she writhed in heat."  ---Fighting Slave of Gor, pg.201


Uses of Sleen:

Sleen are used for many different purposes but the most common include herding, tracking, guarding and patrolling. The most common animals that they herd include verr and bosk while the most common animals that they track are tabuk and slave girls. Hassan the Slave Hunter is said to have the best hunting sleen on Gor. In guarding and patrolling, sleen may be used to keep borders secure, to monitor atop walls, to meander through camps, to pad through city streets after curfews, and to patrol the halls of buildings. Sleen may deter thieves from entering locked shops or may stand sentry upon wharves and in warehouses.

There are other uses for sleen as well, though they are less common. For example, in Thentis sleen are used to smell out contraband, to deter those who try to smuggle out the beans used for make black wine. Though it is against the caste codes of Assassins, some Assassins do use sleen to make their kills. Some sleen are used as bodyguards, some as war sleen while others are trained to kill in the arena. Still others perform in exhibitions and carnivals, possibly dancing or performing tricks.

Even the Kurii use trained sleen for a variety of purposes. They use some sleen as watch or guard animals while others are used for hunting. Some take up points in front of Kurii squads to watch for any enemies. If enemies are sighted, some of the sleen are trained to attack them while others simply return to the squad to warn them of the enemy's presence. In a similar respect, some sleen are trained to hunt humans, some to kill and some just to herd them. Some sleen are even trained only to kill men and to herd women. They are able to differentiate between men and women by scent.

"It is common also on Gor to take troublesome or disobedient slaves, or recalcitrant slaves, or slaves who have not been fully pleasing, perhaps even in a quite minor way, either male or female slaves, and feed them to sleen. Indeed, sometimes slaves are fed to sleen simply for the amusement of the masters."  ---Fighting Slave of Gor, pg.56


Sleen Training:

The Caste of Sleen Trainers is responsible for training sleen in a wide variety of tasks. Their caste colors are brown and black. Bertram of Lydius is a well known sleen trainer, known even in the southern reaches of Gor.

"The five most common trainings are those of the war sleen, which may also be utilized as a bodyguard; the watch sleen, to guard given precincts; the herding sleen, which will kill only if the quarry refuses to be herded rapidly and efficiently to a given destination, usually a pen or slave cage; the trailing sleen, which is used, in leash, to follow a scent; and the hunter, which is trained to hunt and kill. It is next to impossible to use a hunter as a trailer, because, when the quarry is near, and the killing fever is on it, it will even turn and attack its leash holder, to free itself for the strike on the quarry. A trailer is usually a smaller beast, and one more easily managed, but it is, when all is said and done, a sleen, and trailers not unoften, at the hunt's end, their instincts preponderating, break loose for the kill. When they begin to become unmanageable, they must sometimes be killed. The hunters are used generally, of course, in the pursuit of fugitives, free or slave. Unleashed, they are not retarded in their hunt by the lagging of their keepers."  ---Witness of Gor, pg.575

A sleen will be trained to obey a common series of commands such as Attack, Hunt, Stop and Back. There will be specific signals between the master and sleen to indicate the particular command. These signals are most commonly verbal as well as private. Verbal signals are needed, as many times the sleen, intent upon a scent, will not be looking at its master. Or the sleen may otherwise not be facing its master. Without a verbal signal, the master would be at a significant disadvantage in his control of the sleen. Privacy is important so that not just anyone can command the sleen. Obviously it would be dangerous if a sleen could be given orders by just anyone. Though they are private, the signal is often written down in case that master is no longer around for whatever reason. That way, the sleen does not need to be killed and can be used by another.

Interestingly enough, the Wagon People use verbal signals to control their prairie sleen. But the sleen will only respond to the voice of their master. And when the master dies, the sleen will be killed and then eaten. They do not transfer sleen to other masters.

"It was a precisely trained beast, but no training is perfect. It is a balancing of instincts and conditioning. It is never perfect."  ---Slave Girl of Gor, pg.184


Tracking Ability:

The sleen is the paramount tracker on Gor and the gray sleen is the best tracker of all varieties of sleen. The sleen is superior in its tracking abilities to even a larl or Kur. It is tireless, extremely tenacious, and single-minded while on a hunt. Almost nothing can divert it from a hunt. They can follow a scent that is days old with ease, and a scent that is weeks old with some minor difficulty. They could get a scent off a mere scrap of clothing, a bit of bedding or even the scent of a footprint. They might range for hundreds of pasangs, and many days, tracking down a scent. Sleen though generally follow the strongest traces of a scent. It is also believed that their hunting frenzy is a function in part of the secretions of certain glands. Hassan the Slave Hunter is said to have the best hunting sleen on Gor.

Each evening, when a sleen emerges from its burrow, it commonly will hunt the first scent that it locates. When a sleen finally locates its prey on a hunt, it may commonly be cautious before making its killing strike. It will take its time, watching, wary, to ensure there is no trap. And then it will suddenly burst out of the darkness, out of the shadows, making its killing charge. This will often be a silent strike. Young sleen on the other hand, often lacking the patience of an adult animal, are more likely to make a noisy attack, charging forward in a whistling and squealing rush.

Slave owners with sleen will usually have their sleen take the scent of their slaves, in case the sleen are needed to later hunt down any of them. When the sleen is taking that scent, the name of each slave will be repeated so that the sleen will associate that name with that particular scent. Later, if the slave tried to escape, the sleen could be given a command to Hunt with the name of the slave included in the command, such as Hunt Tika. The sleen will then recall the scent of Tika and follow her scent.

Sleen can recognize scents but are unaware, in a formal or legal sense, whose scent they are following. For example, a sleen can certainly recognize the scent of its master but it obviously has no idea whether its master is a peasant, a Ubar or an outlaw. Many sleen will even respond to their own names but do not know the names of their masters. Thus, there is a certain neutrality in what they do, simply connecting a particular scent with a particular person. Thus, the burden is on the master to determine whether a specific scent belongs to a particular person or not.

When simply tracking and held back on a leash, and not free on a hunt, a sleen may make a wild, hissing, excited squeal. This often is made when the sleen is avid upon a scent and wants to race off rather than be held back by their master. These sounds also signal their master of the strength of the scent, and may even serve to ventilate the frustrations of the restrained sleen.

"The sleen is Gor's most perfect hunter."  ---Hunters of Gor, pg.156


Collars:

Commonly, sleen wear leather collars, often rather large. These collars can vary from four to twelve inches wide, and an inch or two thick. Much will depend upon the size of the sleen. Obviously forest sleen tend to have the largest collars. There will usually be a ring on the collars so that a leash can be attached. Some collars also bear spikes or plates, often for war sleen or guard sleen. These collars provide some protection for the creature's throat, a vulnerable area.

It is common to remove the collar of a hunting sleen when they are set on a hunt. This is one of the few instances where a sleen collar is commonly removed. And there are a couple reasons why this is so. First, it is thought that the collar might hinder the hunt, that it could possibly get caught on some obstacle or be used otherwise to restrain the creature. Second, it is believed that by removing the collar, you are also removing some of the sleen's inhibitions, reverting it back to a more savage state. This might be true as it is very difficult to recollar a hunting sleen until after it has killed its prey.


Superstitions:

Besides breeding and training sleen, some Goreans choose to hunt wild sleen. Such sleen may be caught alive, often with sleen nets, or they might be killed. Sleen also figure into two superstitions often held by these sleen hunters.
First, when a sleen is killed the hunters will eat its heart as the heart is considered to give them luck. Only the heart of the mountain larl is said to bring more luck than a sleen heart.

Second, sleen hunters attempt to divine their future in the blood of the sleen. One first drinks a mouthful of blood. Then, cupping more blood in one's hands, you examine that blood to see your image. What you see will tell your fate.

"It is said that if one sees one's visage black and wasted one will die of disease, if one sees oneself torn and scarlet one will die in battle, if one sees oneself old and white haired, one will die in peace and leave children."  ---Outlaw of Gor, pg.38


Cost of Sleen:

Sleen are expensive creatures to either purchase or rent. Not just anyone can afford to purchase and maintain a sleen. A trained sleen will often bring a higher price than a beautiful slave. It is said that a seasoned hunting sleen might bring as much as one hundred times the cost of a slave. If rented, sleen are usually rented by the Ahn where a slave would be rented by the day or week. Even the pelt of sleen may sell for as much as a silver tarsk. It seems then that the price of a trained sleen would be calculated in gold tarns rather than silver or copper tarsks. And it certainly would not be outrageous to see sleen prices range over 100 gold tarns.

"You cannot always depend upon sleen," said the pit master."  ---Witness of Gor, pg.598


                        

 

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