This is my narrative and relevant references from the Books where Dar-Kosis is mentioned.
I make no pronouncements on these matters, but report them as I find them.
Arrive at your own conclusions.
I wish you well,
Dar-Kosis is an incurable, highly contagious, virulent, wasting disease, invariably devastating in its effect. But the name is almost never mentioned.
Dar-Kosis is also referred to as The Holy Disease or The Sacred Affliction. This is because the Caste of Initiates insist the disease is a visitation of the displeasure of Priest-Kings on its recipients.
It is also regarded as heresy to shed the blood of those suffering from Dar-Kosis. However they are warned to stay away from the habitations of men, and, if they approach too closely, they are sometimes stoned. It seems stoning the Afflicted is not regarded as a violation of the Priest-Kings' supposed injunction against shedding their blood.
Disease is almost unknown among the Gorean cities, with the exception of the dreaded Dar-Kosis. Despite the advancements of the Caste of Physicians, research on Dar-Kosis is generally frowned upon by the Caste of Initiates who, as mentioned, regard it as an instrument of the Priest-Kings, used to smite those who displease them.
Flaminius, of the Caste of Physicians studied to find an immunization against Dar-Kosis and was making progress when the Caste of Initiates instigated an attack and his work, records and scrolls were destroyed including several of his staff being slain.
The Afflicted wear yellow shrouds or cerements designating them as a sufferer of Dar-Kosis. They also alert others by clacking a wooden device which warns all within hearing to stand clear from their path.
There are places known as Dar-Kosis Pits, like great wells sunk in the earth, a thousand feet deep, where the Afflicted may voluntarily imprison themselves to be fed but once there, they are not allowed to depart.
It seemed we had little to fear, and we had passed several of the pasang stones that line the side of the highway without seeing anything more threatening than a line of peasants carrying brushwood on their backs, and a pair of hurrying Initiates. Once, however, Talena dragged me to the side of the road, and, scarcely able to conceal our horror, we watched while a sufferer from the incurable Dar-Kosis disease, bent in his yellow shrouds, hobbled by, periodically clacking that wooden device which warns all within hearing to stand clear from his path. "An Afflicted One," said Talena, gravely, using the expression common for such plagued wretches on Gor. The name of the disease itself, Dar-Kosis, is almost never mentioned. I glimpsed the face beneath the hood and felt sick. Its one bleared eye regarded us blankly for a moment, and then the thing moved on.
The figure seemed to shrink backward and grow smaller in its yellow rags. Pointing to its shadowed, concealed face, it whispered, "The Holy Disease."
That was the literal translation of Dar-Kosis the Holy Disease or, equivalently, the Sacred Affliction. The disease is named that because it is regarded as being holy to the Priest-Kings, and those who suffer from it are regarded as consecrated to the Priest-Kings. Accordingly, it is regarded as heresy to shed their blood. On the other hand, the Afflicted, as they are called, have little to fear from their fellow men. Their disease is so highly contagious, so invariably devastating in its effect, and so feared on the planet that even the boldest of outlaws gives them a wide berth. Accordingly, the Afflicted enjoy a large amount of freedom of movement on Gor. They are, of course, warned to stay away from the habitations of men, and, if they approach too closely, they are sometimes stoned. Oddly enough, casuistically, stoning the Afflicted is not regarded as a violation of the Priest-Kings' supposed injunction against shedding their blood.
As an act of charity, Initiates have arranged at various places Dar-Kosis Pits where the Afflicted may voluntarily imprison themselves, to be fed with food hurled downward from the backs of passing tarns. Once in a Dar-Kosis Pit, the Afflicted are not allowed to depart. Finding this poor fellow in the Voltai, so far from the natural routes and fertile areas of Gor, I suspected he might have escaped, if that was possible, from one of the Pits.
"What is your name?" I asked.
"I am of the Afflicted," said the weird, cringing figure. "The Afflicted are dead. The dead are nameless." The voice was little more than a hoarse whisper.
I was glad that it was night and that the hood of the man was drawn, for I had no desire to look on what pieces of flesh might still cling to his skull.
"I can't leave you here to die," I said. I shivered at the thought of taking this dread creature, this whispering corpse, with me. I feared the disease as I had not feared the larl, but I could not leave him here in the mountains to fall prey to one beast or another.
The man cackled - a thin, whining noise. "I am already dead," he laughed insanely. "I am of the Afflicted." Again the weird cackle came from the folds of the yellow shroud. Would you like the Holy Disease?" he asked, stretching out one hand in the darkness, as if trying to clutch my hand.
In what seemed like an hour, but must have been no more than three or four minutes, I was behind the camp of Pa-Kur and searching for the dreaded Dar-Kosis Pits, those prisons in which the Afflicted may freely incarcerate themselves and be fed, but from which they are not allowed to depart. There were several, easily visible from above because of their broad, circular form, much like a great well sunk in the earth. When I came to one, I would bring the tarn lower. When I had completed my search, I had found only one pit deserted. The others were dotted with what appeared, from the height, to be yellow lice the figures of the Afflicted. Boldly, giving no thought to the possible danger of lingering infection, I dropped the tarn into the deserted pit.
The giant landed on the rock floor of the circular pit, and I looked upward, my glance climbing the sheer, artificially smoothed sides of the pit, which stretched perhaps a thousand feet above me on all sides. In spite of the breadth of the pit, perhaps two hundred feet, it was cold at the bottom, and as I looked up, I was startled to note that, in the blue sky, I could see the dim pinpricks of light which, after dark, would become the blazing stars above Gor. In the center of the pit a crude cistern had been carved from the living rock and was half filled with cold but foul water. As nearly as I could determine, there was no way in and out of the pit except on tarnback. I did know that sometimes the pathetic inmates of Dar-Kosis Pits, repenting their decision to be incarcerated, had managed to cut footholds in the walls and escape, but the labor involved a matter of years the death penalty for being discovered, and the very risk of the climb made such attempts rare. If there was some secret way in and out of this particular pit, assuming it was the one prepared by Marlenus, I did not see what it was and had no time to conduct a thorough investigation.
Looking about, I saw several of the caves dug into the walls of the pit, which, at least in most pits, house the inmates. In desperate, frustrated haste, I examined several of them; some were shallow, little more than scooped out depressions in the wall, but others were more extensive, containing two or three chambers connected by passageways. Some contained worn sleeping mats of cold, moldy straw, some contained a few rusted metal utensils, suck as kettles and pails, but most were completely empty, revealing no signs of life or use at all.
At any rate, disease is now almost unknown among the Gorean cities, with the exception of the dreaded Dar-Kosis disease, or the Holy Disease, research on which is generally frowned upon by the Caste of Initiates, who insist the disease is a visitation of the displeasure of Priest-Kings on its recipients. The fact that the disease tends to strike those who have maintained the observances recommended by the Caste of Initiates, and who regularly attend their numerous ceremonies, as well as those who do not, is seldom explained, though, when pressed, the Initiates speak of possible secret failures to maintain the observances or the inscrutable will of Priest-Kings.
"No," said Flaminius, smiling. "No." He took another swallow. "I thought to find," said he, "an immunization against Dar-Kosis."
"Dar-Kosis is incurable," I said.
"At one time," said he, "centuries ago, men of my caste claimed age was incurable. Others did not accept this and continued to work. The result was the Stabilization Serums."
Dar-Kosis, or the Holy Disease, or Sacred Affliction, is a virulent, wasting disease of Gor. Those afflicted with it, commonly spoken of simply as the Afflicted Ones, may not enter into normal society. They wander the countryside in shroudlike yellow rags, beating a wooden clapping device to warn men from their path; some of them volunteer to be placed in Dar-Kosis pits, several of which lay within the vicinity of Ar, where they are fed and given drink, and are, of course, isolated; the disease is extremely contagious. Those who contract the disease are regarded by taw as dead.
"Dar-Kosis," I said, "is thought to be holy to the Priest-Kings, and those afflicted with it to be consecrated to Priest-Kings."
"A teaching of Initiates," said Flaminius bitterly. "There is nothing holy about disease, about pain, about death." He took another drink.
"Dar-Kosis," I said, "is regarded as an instrument of Priest-Kings, used to smite those who displease them."
"Another myth of Initiates," said Flaminius, unpleasantly.
"But how do you know that?" I queried.
"I do not care," said Flaminius, "if it is true or not. I am a Physician."
"What happened?" I asked.
"For many years," said Flaminius, "and this was even before 10,110, the year of Pa-Kur and his horde, I and others worked secretly in the Cylinder of Physicians. We devoted our time, those Ahn in the day in which we could work, to study, research, test and experiment. Unfortunately, for spite and for gold, word of our work was brought to the High Initiate, by a minor Physician discharged from our staff for incompetence. The Cylinder of Initiates demanded that the High Council of the Caste of Physicians put an end to our work, not only that it be discontinued but that our results to that date be destroyed. The Physicians, I am pleased to say, stood with us. There is little love lost between Physicians and Initiates, even as is the case between Scribes and Initiates. The Cylinder of the High Initiate then petitioned the High Council of the City to stop our work, but they, on the recommendation of Marlenus, who was then Ubar, permitted our work to continue." Flaminius laughed. "I remember Marlenus speaking to the High Initiate. Marlenus told him that either the Priest-Kings approved of our work or they did not; that if they approved, it should continue; if they did not approve, they themselves, as the Masters of Gor, would be quite powerful enough to put an end to it."
Flaminius looked at me, curiously. "It is seldom," he said, "that those of the black caste laugh."
"What happened then?" I asked.
Flaminius took another drink, and then he looked at me, bitterly. "Before the next passage hand," said he, "armed men broke into the Cylinder of Physicians; the floors we worked on were burned; the Cylinder itself was seriously damaged; our work, our records, the animals we used were all destroyed; several of my staff were slain, others driven away." He drew his tunic over his head. I saw that half of his body was scarred. "These I had from the flames," said he, "as I tried to rescue our work. But I was beaten away and our scrolls destroyed." He slipped the tunic back over his head.
"I am sorry," I said.
Flaminius looked at me. He was drunk, and perhaps that is why he was willing to speak to me, only of the black caste. There were tears in his eyes.
"I had," he said, "shortly before the fire developed a strain of urts resistant to the Dar-Kosis organism; a serum cultured from their blood was injected in other animals, which subsequently we were unable to infect. It was tentative, only a beginning, but I had hoped I had hoped very much."
"At the games on the second of En'Kara, in the Stadium of Blades," said he, "I saw the High Initiate, Complicius Serenus."
"So?" said I.
"He does not know it," said Flaminius, "nor will he learn for perhaps a year."
"Learn what?" I asked.
Flaminius laughed and poured himself another drink. "That he is dying of Dar-Kosis," he said.
One of the figures done was that of a girl, a slave, who encounters one who is afflicted with plague. She, a slave, knows that if she should contract the disease she would, in all probability, be summarily slain. She dances her terror at this. This was followed by the figure of obedience, and that by the figure of joy.