“No.” I said shaking my head. “No!”
“I am not asking you. I am telling you.” Thrawn said holding out the clothes he wanted me to wear.
“Then you are not hearing me.” I told him standing there with my arms folded across my chest. Battle stance my father always called it. “I am not wearing that outfit.” This was a losing fight but I was not going to let him get away with this easily.
He did not move and we were at an impasse. “I have already explained to you why it is necessary.”
“I don’t give a wamp rat's ass why you think I should run around looking like someone’s dance slave, I am not wearing that, and that’s the end of it!” I was really angry at him. I had thought that maybe he was joking when he had explained what he wanted me to do over a cup of fresh Jawa-juice, but when he had actually produced a set of exquisitely made, barely there dance clothes I knew he was deadly serious.
“Are you this argumentative with Lord Vader?” he asked with a bemused smile.
“Yes.” I told him. It was almost true.
“Then I don’t know how he puts up with you on a daily basis.” He shook his head and came at me, with one hand on my shoulder marched me to the small crew cabin, thrust the dance clothes into my arms and said. “Dress in private or I will undress you and I am certain you don’t want that.” He paused and gave me such a wolf like grin I wanted to hit him. “At least not yet.” His grin turned into a tight smile that let me know he wasn’t joking about this either and no matter how much I protested I was going to lose this battle. I had a choice, I could throw a huge tantrum and see just how far I could push him and still lose or I could comply and get it over with what little dignity I still had intact.
He knew he had won when I sighed. “Good girl.” He said and he left the room closing the door quietly behind him. I punched in the lock code to make sure he stayed out.
I changed quickly, hating the feel of the expensive silk. At least, I though ruefully, he had good taste. Dance slaves were a breed apart. Women and sometimes men prized so highly for their ability to entertain and dance that they were worth a great deal of money. There had been many such slaves at Jabba’s, bought from all over the galaxy, many of the best were Twi’lek women. The clothes for dance slaves were revealing and skimpy at the best of times, I wasn’t even certain the particular outfit Thrawn had picked out even deserved the label clothing, a tiny deep blue iridescent bikini type top and bottom along with a skirt tp match, made from such filmy, diaphanous fabric that was pretty much non existent and a pair of elegant beaded sandals to finish it all off. All that was missing was the neck collar and I had a bad feeling about that. I had worn similar outfits on a couple of occasions while working at the palace, though not nearly so well made or expensive. I had not really enjoyed the attention these clothes had brought. Seemed to me it was not so much about the dancing when you wore next to nothing but more about trying to get the dancer out of the rest of the clothes. I didn’t last long dancing at Jabba’s palace for a number of reasons and the dress code was one of them.
A knock on the door broke me out of my thoughts.
“Go away! I am not coming out!” I said angry at him, angry at myself.
“Merlyn…” there was a hint of annoyance in his voice.
He lost patience, overrode the lock code and walked in anyway.
I waited for the innuendo or sarcastic remarks but neither came. He paused mid step and for a moment his expression was unreadable to me, then he became all business like. He looked me up and down and nodded then handed me a silk robe that matched the skirt. Wordlessly, I slipped it on and followed him out back into the main part of the ship.
“You will need to do something with your hair and you should be wearing more makeup.” He said.
I turned around and went back into the crew room, using what little make up I had brought with me and did a passable job on my face then I took the Zenji sticks out and let my hair tumble down. It was very long and curled softly about my shoulders and down my back.
“Better?” I asked coldly when I came back.
He nodded. “I will be masquerading as a Dantassi Bone Trader, you will not be able to see my face and you should be mute. It would be best if everyone we encounter thinks you do not speak or understand basic. I know this will be difficult for you because I know how much you like to give your opinion but a lot is riding on this so try to keep quiet.”
“You know, you irritate the sand jiggers out of me.” I told him bluntly.
He smiled. “I can live that as opposed to how you felt twelve hours ago.” He said and then continued before I could ask what he had meant by that. “Myrkr is used, from what I have been able to discern, by smugglers and some pirates. They have a small set up in a place called Hyllyard. There we will land and look for a man named Schayll Ormante. He is a well known hunter, who apparently knows more about this planet than any another. I have arranged to speak with him about the creatures of this world because I have heard their bones possess unique properties and a naturally curious about the hunting available on the planet. He expects to be highly paid for this information unfortunately I am also certain he will double cross me.” He paused. “I happen to know that he and his people have a weakness for beautiful women and that slave dancers are highly prized by their tribe. I have told them as a sign of respect I will be bringing my favoured dance slave, Anwylydth, to dance for them. It is my hope that you will be able to distract them for a short amount of time while.”
“The less you know about that the better.” he said tartly.
I gave him a look that pretty much said 'right now I hate you', he ignored it. “How do you know that my dancing will distract them?”
“I have felt what happens when you embrace the music and let your...how I shall put it… unique talents fly. Trust me, they will be enthralled.” He said calmly. I raised an eyebrow but said nothing and he continued. “I hope that we can get through this quickly. Once I have a good idea where to start the hunting so to speak, you and I will go and explore.”
“You make it sounds so simple.” I said.
“It should be simple. I have made a point of learning all I can about Ormante and his people, what sort of art he likes and what sort of men they are.” He said.
I made a face. “And if you are wrong?”
“There are always alternatives, Miss Gabriel.” He told me in that cool manner of his. “I am not so inflexible that I do not see the possibilities for things to go wrong.”
I sat back and folded my arms.
“Oh and one other thing.” He said, reaching behind his chair into the satchel that sat on the floor pulling out a very ornate slave’s collar and placing it on the table. “You will need to wear this.”
I just stared at him and then raised my chin and pulled my hair out of the way. “Let’s get this over with then.”
His hands were gentle and he slipped the collar around my neck without comment or caress. This was business only and for that I was grateful. I had never had to wear one of these dreadful things before and although he had obviously thought about it and managed to find one that was made from some lightweight metal and designed so that it didn’t cut into my skin it was never the less extraordinarily uncomfortable. I loathed anything around my neck and for a few seconds fought the surge of panic. I concentrated on breathing and nothing else.
“It will be for a short time only, I promise.” He said softly but I didn’t look at him. He left wordlessly then left to finish getting his own disguise ready. When he came back I did not recognize him at all.
Dantassi Bone Traders were rare. In fact, they were mostly a thing of stories that parents told their children to scare them into being good. They were creepy, shadowy figures of myth and urban legend. No one knew who or even what they were, where they had originated from or what exactly it was that they even hunted, although it was whispered that they would hunt anything and anyone for the right price. Even their name was a mystery because no one knew what Dantassi meant or if they actually did trade in the bones of their prey.
I knew they were real because I had seen one once when I had been quite young. The Dantassi had booked passage on a small transport my father and I were piloting one time and had been silent and scary the entire trip. Alien in his weird hunter’s get up and bone armour, decorated in talismans that only he knew the secret to with the mask that hid his face, but I could still seem in my mind the way his weird, deep set, glowing eyes followed my every move. They were nomadic, reclusive, solo predators with a reputation for being absolutely ruthless while on the hunt. What they did in their spare time was anyone’s guess. All I really remember from that particular job was that I had been so grateful when the Bone Trader on our transport had left I had burst into tears.
Now Thrawn stood in front of me dressed much the same way. It gave me a chill to see him and even more to get a sense of the presence he pulled into himself. Already a fairly tall man, he seemed somehow taller in the disguise. The long, dark robes and over sized hooded cloak only served to accentuate that. The face mask was an ornate piece of art carved from the skull of some creature that had once been, perhaps, vaguely humanoid and it hid his own face completely. The soot black markings that had been etched into it were all ritualistic and they all had a meaning. I was betting anything Thrawn knew how to decipher all of it, In fact, I was fairly certain he knew more about the Dantassi than anyone else, especially if he was masquerading as one. Around his neck hung various talismans and objects that looked a whole lot like finger bones among other things. In one gloved hand he held an evil looking culling staff and in the other he held a delicate silver chain that I knew I would soon learn the strength of. I could barely see his eyes from behind the mask and under the cowl of his hood but what I could see scared the sand jiggers out of me. They held that same weirding ghost like quality that I remembered from my first encounter with such a creature.
When he spoke I jumped in fright because the voice augmentation he had some how managed to implement made his already deep, velvety voice dark and gravelly as if he had lived his whole life in the confines of a smoke filled hut in some remote part of what ever world the Dantassi Bone Traders came from. He motioned for me to come to him and I did without question. I stood very still while deft fingers fastened the chain to the collar. He said nothing else and I dared not break the silence. We had begun to play our roles and already I was losing myself to it. Silence was a powerful thing. If he had wanted a better way to scare me into submission he could not have found it. I had had nightmares for many, many months after seeing the Bone Trader on that flight with my father.
Thrawn took over control of the ship while I sat in silence and watched as this mysterious planet, which was covered mainly in green lush rain forests, loomed closer and closer. I was grateful when the ship landed on the small docking pad and we disembarked. The sooner this was over with the better.