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The Courting of a Kuren

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             Clouds covered the sky, but not one drop of rain had fallen.  The whole afternoon had been surprisingly dry, something Petra didn’t take for granted as she followed the Lady like a shadow through the busy shopping district of Kaas City.  There wasn’t any kind of plan for the Lady’s chaotic store-bouncing; every time an employee approached her offering help, she’d roll her eyes and tell them that she wasn’t looking for anything in particular.  They’d apologize, bowing their heads as they warily eyed the lightsaber clipped to her belt.

            In the end, nothing was purchased.  Two long hours of window shopping with nothing to show for it.  Petra dragged her feet as they slowly made their way back to the taxi station.  Puddles of rain leftover from the morning had soaked into her shoes; a blister had begun to form at her ankle.  Her footwear had been chosen for a meeting at the Citadel, downright improper for hours of walking around.  The promise of being able to sit down for the taxi ride was the only thing making her put one foot in front of the other, the only reason why she hadn’t already collapsed.

            “Hold on a moment, Petra,” Vemora said as she slowed.  She brought a long, talon-like finger to her chin as she looked past the large, ostentatious fountain in front of them.

            “My Lady, it looks like it might rain; I didn’t bring the umbrella, we should—”

            “I said wait,” Vemora hissed as she glared over her shoulder, “I think I found what I was looking for.”

            As Vemora turned back around, Petra could hear the smile in her voice.  Across the small square, a rodian slaver in a suit raucously greeted each person who passed him, stepping into their way so they were forced to either interact or walk around.  As he blocked a woman’s path, he gestured with swooping arms to the short line-up of people standing in front of a poorly kept shuttle.  It’d been adorned with colorful banners and flags, meant to catch the eye but thrown up hastily.  From what Petra could see, they were a mix of humans and aliens, all with binders on their wrists.

            “You want another slave, my Lady?” Petra said, coming to stand beside her.

            “Someone has to watch that boy of yours.”

            “But Landris—”

            “Landris is old,” Vemora sucked on her teeth, “She can barely keep up with the house.  And the estate here is too much for just the two of you.  Why are you complaining?  This benefits you, you get less work.”

            “Yes, my Lady,” Petra bowed her head.

            The blister that’d been forming on her foot felt worse as she followed Vemora over to the slaver.  She wished she could scream, beg the Lady to come back without her another time; but the Lady never went anywhere without her anymore.  And as much as it bothered her to play the part of the woman who came before her, there wasn’t a thing she could do about it.  Just like the people on display in front of them.

            As she expected, the slaver leaped in front of them, broadly gesturing with thick arms at the stock he claimed to take such pride in.  The Lady humored him for a moment, overselling her interest with various mm’s and ah’s.  The slaver waved his hand over his head and started the same long-winded spiel that he’d done to everyone before them.  The Lady’s attention made him speak louder the longer he went on.

            “Only the best in Kaas City, my Lord,” he said.

            “I prefer Lady,” she dismissively waved her hand, “Lord sounds so stuffy.”

            “Of course, my Lady, my apologies—”

            Petra turned her head as someone came around the shuttle, struggling to hold the small pile of supply boxes.  The holder of the boxes couldn’t be seen, save for human hands and skinny human legs; boney ankles looked like they’d fracture with one wrong step.

            “Kriff—” Petra heard them hiss under their breath as the top box toppled over.

            Various citrus fruits rolled around her and the Lady’s feet as the top box fell and spilled its contents onto the sidewalk.  One of the fruits rolled right up to the toe of her shoe that peeked out from under the long skirt of her uniform.

            “Idan,” the slaver snapped over his shoulder, “Uba stupa, shulu ches ko!”

            “Tagwa, lorda,” came the voice behind the second box, the owner of the skinny legs, responding in the same language the slaver had yelled at him in.  Petra could only assume it was a dialect of Huttese, but she didn’t know the language well enough to be sure.

            “You were saying?” Vemora forced a smile, “I don’t have all day.”

            The boy carrying the boxes dropped them down by the shuttle’s door, turning his back to them.  Black curls fluffed out from his head, resembling the tufts of fur that Petra would brush off the Lady’s old cat.  Boney shoulders with arms and legs a bit too long for the rest of him, his plain black shirt had a hole by the shoulder blade and there were what looked like oil stains all over his brown cropped pants.  She couldn’t get a look at his face as he bent down and began to gather the escaped citrus. 

            “Petra, don’t just stand there,” Vemora said, cutting off the slaver.  She pointed a long, painted nail at the ground.

            “Of course, my Lady.”

            The fruits at her feet were gathered quickly into her arms.  They were large and oblong; she couldn’t hold more than four of them at a time.  She tried to hold the fifth one with her elbow but ended up losing three instead.  The bounced back to the ground with hollow thuds,

            “Here, I can take them,” said the boy, the slaver had called him something, but Petra was unsure if that was his name or a Huttese term.

            “Thank you,” she looked up, seeing his face for the first time.

            Curled strips of silvery gray hair sprung from the nerf-lick that sat at the right corner of his forehead, with more gray scattered throughout the black.   Clusters of acne covered his jaw and narrow, but prominent, chin.  He was overall unremarkable; an awkward looking boy who hadn’t yet grown into his long triangular nose or pole-like limbs.  As he scooped the fruits from her arms, he offered her a quick nod.

            “Lorda oressed toooh nancee bal uba gushu?” he asked.

            “I’m sorry, I don’t—” Petra shook her head.

            “Oh—sorry,” he looked over his shoulder to the slaver, who was now in the middle of explaining how his slaves had been chipped, “I was asking if you think he’s dressed up enough for the occasion.”

            Petra didn’t answer, she was squinting up at him.  His voice had cracked when he said ‘up’.  There was a small patch of black hair growing on the right side of his upper lip, barely noticeable unless you were close to him.   

            “Is there something on my face?”

            “How old are you?”

            “How old are you?” he shot back quickly, the smile that’d been slowly growing had all but disappeared.

            “I’m eighteen,” she answered proudly, straightening her shoulders.  She could only assume his eyes were a dark shade of brown as she refused to break eye contact, but in the poor lighting, and with his brows furrowed so deeply, it was impossible to tell.

            “Good for you,” he grumbled as he turned back to the shuttle.

            “What about this one?” the Lady said loudly, pointing to a middle-aged human woman wearing binders, one of the slaves lined up in front of the shuttle.  Even from where Petra stood, she could see that the woman lacked any signs of life in her eyes.

            “She doesn’t look it, but she’s strong, my Lady; very strong and quiet.  Does good work,” the slaver insisted.

            “I don’t need strength,” Vemora curled her upper lip.

            “Ah,” the slaver wrung his hands, “Very well; it must be human?”

            “Don’t be ridiculous.  It can be whatever it wants as longs as it’s good at cleaning.  This one can’t wash a dish properly even if it showed her how,” Vemora laughed, waving a limp hand toward Petra.

            There was still one fruit left at her feet, the boy must not have seen it either.  She probably shouldn’t have responded with such an abrupt question, but she didn’t have a lot of experience interacting with others her age.  If he was even around her age.  She wouldn’t have been at all surprised to learn he was fourteen, just tall for his age.

            The boy was still trying to get all the fruits back into the box, kneeling beside it.  Petra closed the space between them, standing behind him for a moment before she cleared her throat.

            “You missed one,” Petra said, handing him the fruit as he turned.

            “Thank you,” he took it from her, dropping it into the box with the others.

            “I agree with you,” she said before he finished turning back around, “I think he’s overdressed.”

            As the boy smiled, a dimple appeared on his left cheek, “He thinks he’s impressing buyers.  I told him he looks ever more like a swindler; dressed like a Sith while he keeps everyone in the same clothes for days.  I would talk to him about it, but he’s not going to listen to me.”

            They both stopped talking, turning to their masters as they continued down the line towards them, stopping again for Vemora’s inspection of a younger-looking bothan.  The boy waited for his master to begin speaking again.

            “I’m Idan,” he said after the slaver’s first few words.

            “Petra,” she whispered with a half-nod. 

            “Pleasure to meet you,” Idan offered his hand, his palms were covered in grime from the boxes he’d been moving.

            Before Petra could begin to come up with a reason on why should couldn’t shake his filthy hand, she felt Vemora at her side, towering over the both of them. 

            “And this one?” Vemora pointed her finger over Petra’s shoulder, who moved her head to the side to give the Lady more room, “Why is this one free-range?”

            “Aha,” the slaver laughed nervously once again, “This one is not for sale; just payment for a personal debt.  Was a nanny on a farm.  Worthless.”

            “If it’s worthless, why do you keep it?” Vemora’s velvet-covered voice drawled as she took a step forward, pushing Petra out of the way with her hip, “A nanny…” her finger traced under Idan’s chin, “Is that true?”

            “Yes, it—” the slaver began, stepping closer.  Both of them now hovered over Idan, who was doing his best to keep his eyes on the ground.

            “My question wasn’t for you,” Vemora snapped, “Don’t interrupt.”

            “Most humble of apologies, my Lady, I—”

            “Stop.  Talking.”

            “Yes, of course, again my apology—” he choked on the rest of the word as his hands flew to his throat and scratched at an unseen hand.

            “There are no third warnings.”

            The slaver gasped and stumbled back, arms fell back to his sides as he tried to catch his breath.

            “Well?” she shouted as her attention snapped back to Idan.

            If he was afraid of the Lady, his face didn’t show it.  His expression was oddly sullen, and the most he did as the Lady shouted was blink. 

            “It’s true,” he nodded gently, “I watched after four children for about… three years.”

            “And then you were lost to repay a debt?  To this man?”

            “That’s correct.”

            Petra cleared her throat and made sure to check that she had only Idan’s attention before she mouthed ‘my Lady’ with great exaggeration.

            “My Lady,” Idan added quickly, looking back to Vemora.

            Petra’s nose twitched as she briefly wondered why she felt relief when the Lady smiled and leaned back, retracting her claw from Idan’s chin. 

            “I want this one,” she said, “How much to repay his old Masters debt?”

            Only silence followed until Vemora turned to the slaver and growled, “Now I am talking to you.”

            “Oh! Uh—Yes, about 60,000 credits, my Lady, far more expensive than what I have over here—”

            “I’ve inspected your stock and they left me disappointed.  Petra, give me my wallet.  60,000 credits more than doable.  My son’s speeder cost twice that.”

            Both Idan and the slaver looked on in what could only be assumed was shock as Petra reached into the pouch hidden in the long sleeve of her uniform.  Idan’s face began to contort as if a bug had landed on his nose and he couldn’t use his hands to shoo it away.  She couldn’t imagine how he must have been feeling, being told that his life was worth less than a new speeder.  It was obvious that he wasn’t sure how he felt about it either.

            “My Lady is far too generous—"

            “Quiet.  Do you have a name?” Vemora asked, impatiently plucking the wallet from Petra’s hands the second it appeared.

            “Idan, my Lady,” he said, straightening his shoulders as he tried to regain control of his face.

            “Just Idan?”

            “Idan Lumielle.”

            The Lady didn’t react as she returned her attention to the slaver, holding out a credit chip and wordlessly waving it in front of his face.

            “Right over here, my Lady,” the slaver swept his arms towards the back of the shuttle.

            “If you have anything you want to take with you, grab it now,” Petra said under her breath once she was confident that the Lady was out of earshot.  The sound of the busy square behind them helped, it seemed many were taking advantage of the dry weather.

            “I—” Idan began, his mouth hanging open as he reached into his pocket with one hand, “I don’t have anything, just me.”

            “Petra!” Vemora called as the slaver scanned her credit chip, “Take him home and get him cleaned up.  I have more things I need to do.”

            “Of course, my Lady,” Petra responded loudly.

            “You do know the way home?  Or do I need to remind you?  Again.”

            “I know the way, my Lady,” Petra said, doing all she could to keep any hints of anger out of her voice.

            It wasn’t unheard of for the Lady to let her off-leash, but it had been growing rare.  The tracker embedded somewhere on her body prevented her from trying to do anything the Lady would disapprove of or from trying to run off.  Not that the Lady had to worry about any of that.  There was no place for Petra to run to, and nothing scared her more than the idea of being alone.  Even worse, alone in an unfamiliar place.  Her shoulders touched her ears as she shook the thought from her head.

            Idan still appeared to be confused, or in shock from the quick turn of events that had left him with a completely unknown future ahead of him.  His eyes had widened to the size of small saucers; his mouth opened and closed repeatedly as he looked around the square as if someone was about to pop out and tell him it’d all been a joke.

            “Are you alright?” Petra asked.

            Idan gritted his teeth, baring them through an opened mouth frown, “I don’t know… what do I do?”

            “You follow me,” Petra said, popping up on the balls of her feet as she rocked forward, “Before the Lady has to remind us again.”

            “Right,” Idan whispered, running a hand down his face, “Lead the—lead the way.”