And Less Than Kind

"A little more than kin and less than kind."
-Hamlet, 1.2.65

"Mother Talzin should know of his whereabouts. One of her women took him as a mate."
-The Clone Wars, 3.14

He stood still, in the center of his room, while she moved.

The walls were bare. His possessions were few. There was an old dresser where he kept a change of tunic. There was a narrow table for eating and a narrow bed for sleeping. A spear was propped against the wall, within easy reach of the bed. His lamp was off, his window unshuttered. Red light filled the room.

He'd lost, as he knew he would lose. No matter how hard they trained, brothers always fell to sisters, sooner or later. Some said it was their sorcery. He suspected it was their ruthlessness.

This one walked easily, with the careless confidence of a warrior who could be challenged by little. Her hands were folded neatly at the small of her back, her shoulders relaxed, moving in time with the slow sway of her hips and the steps of her feet. Her face was shadowed by the dark hood she wore, but he'd seen it clearly enough last night, as the training grounds shifted around them and he tried to give her the challenge she seemed to think could not be found. She had a pale face, the white-grey of winter ice. She had blue eyes, the muted blue-grey of winter oceans.

She walked around his room, and he watched her make her circle, slowing a step near the dresser, slowing again as she stepped into the patch of window-given light. Her grey clothes were lit a crimson hue before she was passing into shadows. She paused again by his bed, and he could not see her face. She made a small sound he could not interpret, and her head rose so that her chin was in the air. A hand left its place at her back, flicking dismissively at nothing.

Some sisters were more cruel than they were kind; some sisters were more kind than they were cruel. He had seen women come into town, watched their challenges, their trials, their choices made. Some stayed for a few days before departing, leaving their chosen men behind to stand for other selections later. Others took their chosen with them, keeping them for weeks, months, years - sometimes permanently. Sometimes there would be smiles, little looks cast coyly over shoulders towards the man they favored. Sometimes there would only be the sound of fists striking flesh, and grunts of pain rather than pleasure.

This one was more cruel than she was kind; he called her sister as was tradition, but kin they were not.

It was better this way. Of his generation, he was one of the tougher ones. Passing her initial survey had not surprised him. Feral passing had; his name had always failed him. He had not the power of it. Someday that lack of power, that weakness, would be his downfall. There were few left in his family's line, and he would not see it ended. Not if he had the strength to intervene. Feral was kin, and with this sacrifice, he would live. He would not have lasted long in the field against this sister alone. He would have lasted little longer in her service.

He kept his head low and watched her from the corner of his eyes, watched her pause an extra moment to admire his spear before turning away from that, too.

She was exquisite.

Her grace was deadly, but it was beautiful too. He loathed her, resented her for her brutality on the field, for the deaths of the others, of friends, comrades, not-quite-brothers he knew and sparred with, trained with. In spite of that, could not but see the elegance of her skill. She was powerful, and he was hers.

The thought was as fascinating as it was nauseating.

He was hers because he was strong enough for her, and it was a pleasing thought even as it was an appalling one. Asajj. Savage. The taste of their names together was soft, full of round, gentle sounds. Asajj. Savage. But in the end there was no softness in either.

His wary gaze slid towards his bed.

She laughed. It was not quite the wicked cackle that sounded throughout the second of her tests. It did not ring off the walls of mountains, from every direction and no direction, serving to confuse and frighten. But it did chill him, make his skin prickle with cold, and as she stepped closer, turning her inspection to him, he froze.

Close, he could again see her eyes, set wide on her pale face. Her lips were dark red, near violet, turned up in both smile and sneer, parted slightly. She touched his face, long fingers exploring his jaw, his cheekbone, then his brow. He did not catch his breath, did not stiffen at the contact. He remained passive, watchful, keeping her from seeing his disquiet. His life was hers, but not his mind.

Her fingers tracked down to his chin. If he were more certain of her wishes, he'd have pulled her closer, showed her he was not as submissive or obedient as he appeared. He was selected to be her match; he would not be passive.

She laughed again. She did not strike him, but she shoved his face away, playfully, dismissively, roughly enough to make him step backwards to maintain his balance.

"I have no desire to mate with you."

He righted himself, schooling his face back to blankness and wary calm. Her amusement was apparent, her smile broad and light, her hands resting on her hips. He chased her words around in his mind, trying to divine their intent. I have no desire to mate with you. I have no desire to mate with you. Her laughter came again, in a short, sharp burst, and he felt his face darken in response.

The selection was for mates. Sisters selected brothers. Rejection after selection was demeaning.

"Then what do you want from me?"

The laughter in her faded and became something far harder. He braced himself, but she was looking past him, her sudden fury focused elsewhere.

"You will see," she replied quietly, turning to look at him again, slowly, the rage in her eyes fading as it turned to contempt.

She thought him weak.

Turning from him, she paused briefly at his door to say, "We leave in an hour," and then was gone.

Her departure left his room strangely empty. He had seen many sisters over the years, as he grew, coming for the selection. The boys watched in the shadows of windows and doorways and wondered when it came to be their time, who would be left on the field, victorious and triumphant and chosen. Feral whispered wishes for a woman who was more kind than cruel, who was beautiful and warm. He had whispered back his wishes for a woman who was winsome; he wished to receive a share of the older sisters' coy looks, and cared little for that unknown woman's potential appearance. He wished more for a woman who could respect and challenge him.

Now there would be none of that.

He was victorious, triumphant, chosen. And he burned with the slow anger of one who knew he had no choice in his future.

Just a little missing scene.

I was surprised by how much I liked Savage Oppress. I thought I'd do a little writing experiment with him and ended up with this. He really got such a raw deal.