I had always believed that Mos Eisley was probably the biggest hell hole in the whole galaxy and since that is what pretty much everyone said who ever passed through the city it was hard not to believe it. I had been to other outer Rim planets and seen some of their so called hell holes and still always felt Mos Eisley would win that contest hands down but the moment I stepped on to Myrkr and into Hyllyard I knew that Mos Eisley had just been bumped down to second place.
The first thing that hit me was the air. It was warm and sticky, full of moisture laced with a thousand different scents none of which were familiar to me. I suppose a rainforest world holds its perfume close to its skin. The air , which is so damp you seem to drink it rather than breathe it, hugs everything tightly to itself, not letting anything dissipate. There was a dank earthy tone that was overshadowed by some sweet flowering thing and in between there was a slightly spicy tinge. I felt as though I had to gasp to get any air at all into my lungs and as sweat slowly began to bead on my skin I came to realize that perhaps Thrawn's choice of dance clothes had less to do with showing skin and more to do with the climate. I was glad it was late afternoon because I could not imagine the heat and the humidity in the middle of the day. Heat, I was used to but not all this moisture.
The second thing I noticed was how shabby it all looked, this tiny community built up in the middle of nowhere , surrounded by thousand year old forests of lush, green vegetation and goodness knew what sort of creatures. Hyllyard would not make any of the top ten tourist sites that was for certain.
We were met by two men who held enough fire power in their arms you would have thought the entire Imperial navy was visiting not an off world hunter and his pet slave. There were no nice words of welcome, in fact no one said anything at all. I could sense and see in the two men that they did not know what to make of the Dantassi Bone Trader and were scared by his presence. Me, they just wanted to undress and did so with their eyes about as openly as it could be done. I just raised my chin a notch and gave them both a cold, haughty stare. Thrawn remained as still as stone and only moved when they finally decided we were safe enough to bring into one of the larger buildings, an absolute dive of a cantina. We were led through the main room which was empty except for a very bored looking bartender and shown into a private room in the back.
Schayll Ormante was an over weight man with opulent tastes and we had just stepped into his private sanctuary. The room was large and overly decorated. The walls were covered with the heads of his trophies mounted on ornate wooden plaques, interspersed with a huge variety of strange weapons from all over the galaxy. The floors were covered in elegantly hand woven carpets and the furniture was all very expensive and made from quite rare Chak-wood. In the center of the room was a large low, round table around which plush silk cushions were placed. There were no chairs at all. Upon the table was a beautiful hand thrown bowl filled with exotic fruits, tiny hand blown glasses and a large carafe. It was filled with spice coffee which I could smell from where I stood. There was too much djyn spice in the mix.
Ormante came forward with a jolly ‘isn’t this splendid we are all going to be the best of friends’ sort of smile, behind which he also hid a fear and a loathing I could almost taste. Thrawn had been right, this man would double cross him. He bowed deeply to Thrawn and in return Thrawn acknowledged this with the barest of nods. Ormante then turned his attention to me and he went to take one of my hands but before I could even react, Thrawn moved ever so slightly and said in a voice that cut the air like a vibro blade.
“We meet well Schayll, son of Ormante. I am…” and the name he spoke was utterly unpronounceable in what ever language it was originally from. “But you may call me Honoured Za’ar.” He paused and tugged lightly on the chain that bound me to him making me step forward one step. “This is Anwylydth. She is here because her dancing is a gift I would honour you with for our agreement but as my bondling she is to not be touched by any hand other than mine. This is the only warning I shall give. To lay hands upon her is seen by me as a great insult and discourtesy. I shall kill the offender.” Thrawn’s voice was as quiet as it was hard. Ormante stepped backwards away from me and I shivered ever so slightly because I was certain that Thrawn as Honoured Za’ar had meant every single word he had just said. He was so very scary in this disguise that I could no longer think of him as Thrawn and in my mind he became the Honoured Za’ar.
Ormante led us to the table at the center and bade us sit. I waited until the Honoured Za’ar was first seated and then at his command I sat down and curled up like a Jax close to his left side. When Ormante and several of his men were also seated, Ormante clapped his hands. A pale looking woman appeared and served finger food on polishes plates, then she poured tiny glasses of spiced coffee. She glanced timidly at me but I ignored her. Make no connections. She went to pour me a glass of the spiced coffee but the Honoured Za’ar made a stop gesture with his hand and I thought she would drop the glass in his lap she was trembling so much. Only after she had left the room did Ormante raise his glass in toast. I was surprised when the Honoured Za’ar also drank but reckoned that if Ormante wanted to kill us he was more the type to engineer a hunt, poison would be no sport and that was not his style.
The first round of conversation was polite banter mainly from Ormante boasting about his hunting prowess. He wanted to impress Honoured Za’ar because he was uncertain about the Bone Trader's own hunting skill. His fear rose about him like steam from a hot bath and it was making me ill.
The Honoured Za’ar looked about the room slowly, taking in every detail and then slowly nodded. “You have achieved many kills in your time.” He said slowly. “It is a challenge to slaughter so many creatures in such a short time. Your hunting skills intrigue.”
Ormante did not pick up on the irony of that statement and I suspected that his method of hunting, despite the large display of primitive weapons on the walls, mostly consisted of using the highest powered rifle in the galaxy. The bigger then gun…. Instead he nodded and went on to tell the stories of some of the trophies that hung on the wall.
I tuned him out. I had heard hundreds of stories just like it while working at the palace. Hunters, no matter what they hunted, always wanted to talk about the catch of the day, always felt the need to display some sort of trophy. The only exception to that had been Boba Fett. I had never once heard him boast about his work.
I let my mind wander and felt the force start to focus for me. I slowed my breathing and steadied my thoughts, paying attention to my surroundings with that inner eye I had lived with my whole life. I only came back to myself when the Honoured Za’ar began to ask about the hunting grounds on this planet because the air in the room suddenly charged with a ripple of fear.
Ormante shrugged. “This planet challenges.” he said. “The creatures here have adapted to their environment well. I am still mapping their behaviour.” He said he was not lying exactly but there was something he was not saying.
The Honoured Za’ar inclined his head ever so slightly and looked at Ormante with a stare that stilled time. “Are you saying I have come here under false words? You assured me you have knowledge about good hunting grounds.”
Ormante back pedaled quickly. “Not at all, but the locals talk of ghosts and evil spirits in the forests. It is dangerous here. That is all I meant” and with a nod of his head one of the men who sat at the table produced a data pad which he handed with trembling fingers to the Honoured Za’ar. There was a thick silence in the room as they waited for the Honoured Za’ar to read the information stored on the datapad. When he was done he slipped the pad into the battered leather satchel he wore, slung over his shoulder, in the same daft motion he pulled out a small pouch and tossed it to Ormante.
“Payment as agreed.” The Honoured Za’ar said. “You may count it if you wish.” He added knowing Ormante would not do this in front of him. Then he turned to me and I looked up into the mask with its well-deep eyeholes to try and find the man I knew was behind it. If Thrawn was there I could not find him, the deep red glowing eyes that stared back at me were cold and unforgiving.
“Now, Anwylydth will dance as agreed. I wish to return to my ship before night fall is complete. It is a time of prayer and consultation to the gods before the hunt. ” He said slowly getting to his feet. I had no choice but to also stand and wait in my own silence. “I have provided the music which pleases me. I trust you will allow this small courtesy.” The Honoured Za’ar said to Ormante who was only now getting to his feet. The man nodded and accepted the music chip handed to him. Two others removed the large table and I saw that I was truly to be the center piece of the room. So much the better, I thought.
“You will do this to the best of your skills. Our lives may depend upon it.” The Honoured Za'ar said in the language only he and I understood.
The men looked from me to The Honoured Za’ar because the tone of voice he had used was sharp and commanding, even if they had not understood the language they had the idea I was being told off. I nodded submissively and bowed my head. The Honoured Za’ar raised my chin with his fingertips and moved my head to one side so that he could unfasten the chain attached to the collar. I moved slowly and jax like, well aware that all eyes were upon me as I slid the thin silk robe from off my shoulders. I needed to warm up a little before I performed, and so I ignored everyone until I had fully stretched and felt prepared for the task ahead. They all waited, my warm up had seemingly rendered them speechless. Just wait, I thought. I walked to the center of the room, where the table had once been and stood there waiting for the music to start. The Honoured Za’ar motioned for all to sit and Ormante had dimmed the lights while he had placed the music to play. I had no idea what music Thrawn had chosen and hoped I could dance to it. I closed my eyes and waited. When Ormante and The Honoured Za’ar were seated, next to each other, the music began.
I have no idea what the music was called or who it was by or even where it had originated. What I do know is that Thrawn had perhaps a better grasp on my secret soul than I could ever have given him credit for. The music was intoxicating and strange with rhythms that seemed to reach into my very core and turn me inside out. I connected with it at once. I found the thread which bound it all together and let it wind itself around me, all the while moving slowly.
The first part of the music was languid and sensual. A man’s voice sang without words while the drums and the strange wind instruments writhed about the core like snakes. It was exotic and that was how I moved. My hands and arms became serpents and I moved in a small circle with the smallest of motions creating the largest of ripples. I could feel desire and lust rise out of this small group of men like smoke from a fire. As I moved around slowly I could see into the eyes of each man and knew that with this rising energy I had now I could bend them to my will if I so chose to do so. I could feel myself slip into this power until I faced The Honoured Za’ar. Deep from within his mask, eyes I had known stared back and grounded me just enough to bring me back from drowning in what ever dark magic it was that was happening here. I was grateful for that.
When the music changed way for the next piece I could feel the tempo slowly begin to build up and the dance became more intricate and a little more primal. This was the feeling I loved when I danced, a connection to something unseen and all around. It was elemental and full of wonder. I wove stories in the air with my fingertips and spread mystery with the sway of my belly and hips. Once the heavier drums began I knew I had found the place I needed to be and that was that.
I danced for each man, and each man thought I danced solely for him. I found the force that coursed through me and connected to it. It seemed so easy when powered by a music that touched me so deeply it almost hurt. As the rhythm began its agonizingly slow journey to a crescendo I was suddenly aware that The Honoured Za’ar was no longer beside Ormante and had left the room. Now was the moment to maintain and hold the room as I had never in my life done before. The music became wilder, like a storm unleashed and I was swept along with it.
Aware only of the terrible, beautiful tie that bound me I found myself in that place where the dancer becomes locked in the dance. The music is the key, turning and opening new pathways deeper into the dance, deeper into the dancer. I could no longer focus on individual faces. I saw only their lusts and needs, their dreams and wants. I drew these things into my dance and I spat it back out to them making their hunger an ache they would never forget. As the music shifted and changed, the way sands in the desert will, so did the dance. Sometimes light and airy, sometimes heavy and powerful and not one of them took their eyes off me. It was intoxicating. There had been times in my life where I had found this place within and danced its steps but I could not ever recall having done so deliberately to enthral before. This was new, even for me, and I liked it more than I dared to say.
I do not know how long I danced like this but I was aware when the Honoured Za’ar had returned to the circle and felt the balance of power shift. I turned my focus to him and to him alone for what I instinctively knew was the last piece of music. It was erotic and sensual and curved about me like the silk that wrapped my body.
This was what a dance slave truly did and I understood that while in life, the master held the chain, in the dance the slave held the power. I used every skill I had ever learned to make certain he knew that I now understood this. Through hands and hips, through glance and sway, with every motion I made and every step I placed I told him that here, in this space and time for this moment, I owned him. I pulled all the desire and longing that was in the room to me and I showered him with it. Making him want and yearn for something he could not ever touch. I never once took my eyes off his and just when I felt a flash of anger coupled with something else far more hungry and primal rise from him, I moved away to focus again on the others. They had not, it seemed really noticed the very dangerous game I was just playing. The dance ended with a crescendo that left everyone breathless and me falling to the floor in a whirling spiral death drop. I lay there, arched in the back bend for a moment while the last vestiges of power writhed away and the room slowly returned to normal. The silence after the music almost as captivating as the music had been. Only when The Honoured Za’ar made a slow growl did I get to my knees and kowtow before him.
“It is done.” He said in the language only we knew.
I nodded and bowed my submission once more.
When he stood up so did everyone else. I remained kneeling with my head bowed because he had not given me permission to stand. There was small talk and some awed praise for the skill of his dancer along with one joking remark about how much it would cost to buy me. The look that The Honoured Za’ar must have given the man cut short any laughter that might have arisen. Dantassi bone traders it seemed took the bonding to their slaves seriously.
“I will take my leave now. I have much to think on. I trust you are satisfied with the arrangement we have come to this day?” The Honoured Za’ar said.
Ormante nodded and agreed whole heartedly. His cheeks still flushed and his eyes still a little glazed. “It has been a true pleasure, most Honoured Za’ar. I hope that we will meet again, perhaps on the hunt. I should very much like to see your skills with that weapon of yours.” He nodded to the culling staff in the Bone Trader’s hand.
The Honoured Za’ar said nothing but merely nodded. He made a sound and I knew that meant get up. He moved my head and fastened the chain to the collar once more, letting the rest of it fall to the ground, holding only the hand loop. With an elegant bow, The Honoured Za’ar swept out of the room, the talismans and amulets about his neck tinkled like the wind chimes at Jabba’s palace. I began to follow him before the chain became taut but just before I could get to the door a hand grabbed me by the arm. I wanted to react and fight but I was caught in playing this role and could do nothing. I froze with fright and stared the way a creature caught in the lights of a speeder will, as one of Ormante's men decided his desire was stronger than the Bone Trader's threat. He backed me quickly into the wall by the doorway and flashes of an earlier moment in my life smashed through my brain. I could smell the stench of unclean teeth and the sour rest of cheap brandy on his breath as he moved his face closer to try and kiss me. My heart raced with a fear that was almost irrational. I moved my head to one side to get as far away from him as possible and closed my eyes.
I neither heard the Bone Trader come back into the room nor did I see him twist the man’s head with an easy grace that would have terrified me. But I both felt and heard the short sharp crack as the man's neck snapped and it made me sick. The man’s body slid in a graceless huddle to the floor in front of me and I had to fight the urge to throw up. The Honoured Za’ar lifted my face upward, gentle fingertips under my chin and moved my head from one side to the other, checking for damage and then with an anger that was palpable he strode up to where Ormante was standing slack jawed and whiter than a ghost.
“This is how you honour your guest?” hissed the Bone Trader leaning into Ormante’s face. “You wish my wrath?”
Ormante shook his head.
The Honoured Za’ar drew a deep breath. “I do not forget such slights but as he has paid with his life I shall not mark it against you.”
“I am most grateful, Honoured Za’ar, he was a fool anyway.” Ormante stumbled.
The Honoured Za’ar stared at Ormante a moment longer than was necessary and then, with me firmly in tow, swept out of the building, across the now dark town square to the landing pad where our ship was. We walked on board and I waited until the door closed.
“Get this thing off me now!” I hissed at him. Panic suddenly swept through me like a sand storm. I felt as though I could not breathe and I wanted the collar off my neck. Wordlessly, efficiently he removed it and I stepped away from him, watching as he shed the bone face mask. The world seemed to shift slightly and the roles we had taken on slipped away. We stared at each other for a moment and a thousand things that could have been said remained silent. I shook my head at him and went to the ‘fresher. I needed to wash the grime off my body and get out of these clothes. I needed to find myself again and judging from the look in Thrawn's eyes so did he.