Excerpt from Claimings series by Lyn Gala
To help Lyn Gala celebrate the release of Assimilation, Love, and Other Human Oddities, we’ve been lucky to have the honor of hosting a wonderful scene cut from book one of the Claimings series. Those of you who’ve been reading my reviews for a long time know I’m not only a science fiction junkie but a Lyn Gala junkie as well. Possibly this excerpt made me momentarily lose my cool.
She-who-had-been-Hasha watched the humans. Ondry had forced this gathering, but she was not surprised. He was as headstrong as his mother. Both had demanded their freedom so young—too young. Rownt needed aff
ection to grow strong, and both were too stubborn to accept the love that was their right as children. Instead they rushed toward adulthood.
She sometimes wondered if there was some genetic marker for stubbornness that she could ask the one who had been Oma to identify.
Tonight Ondry wore the clothing of a petitioner, so any chance they had to back away from this path was gone. Everyone who had seen the confrontation on the road now knew that Ondry would claim the human Liam as palteia. She-who-had-been-Hasha didn’t know if humans could even breed a palteia, although the one who had been Oma insisted the difference was one of environment more than genetics, so given the right environment, humans should be able to produce one.
She hoped that was correct. While being Grandmother meant looking on all the members of the town as having come from one’s eggs, Ondry was the only surviving Rownt who shared her genetics. She looked at him, and she could see her daughter’s angled eyes and her own father’s coloring. She would not have him dishonored if it was possible to protect him, but this time he had gone too far out for her to shelter him. Tonight he would either prove his wisdom beyond all others and claim the rank of ka, or he would destroy his own reputation.
And she had no control over the outcome. She could not reshape the world to fit his hopes. When the humans appeared, Ondry further sealed his fate by introducing himself as ka-ranked. She could see the other Grandmothers look to her when he said that, but she could not affirm his claims, not when the basis of his claims still stood behind the human elder. Even if Liam was a palteia, it was unclear that Ondry could claim him.
The elder offered his own titles, which were long enough to impress some of the younger Rownt. Clearly Ondry was not impressed because he challenged the elder directly. He demanded that the chilta send Liam upstairs, and he did so with an impressive display of teeth. She-who-had-been-Hasha decided it was time to intervene before Ondry’s patience failed and his headstrong nature led to human blood on the temple floor.
She walked slowly, the eggs inside rubbing uncomfortably. She should be nesting, not guiding a youngling through this mess. Perhaps Ondry sensed her displeasure because he immediately backed down. “Our guests have arrived, Grandmother,” he offered.
“So I see,” she said. She hummed at him, a wordless promise to protect the human trader. “And will Liam be coming upstairs?”
She looked to the human elder. He remained silent so long that Ondry answered for him, an act which could have led to bloodshed had he offered the same insult to another Rownt. “The colonel doesn’t want to send his man alone,” he said.
She-who-had-been-Hasha paled in anger. Ondry might be headstrong, but he had asked her to judge this and now he stood in the temple and tried to begin a challenge. Ondry moved to a position behind Liam, still enforcing his claim. She moved closer, and the two humans quickly retreated, but Ondry didn’t. In front of everyone, he made it clear that he would challenge even a Grandmother to protect Liam. He even touched Liam. Where the human elder’s touch had caused Liam to smell of fear, Ondry’s touch made him shiver and then relax.
She suspected that Ondry had outsmarted all of them when he publicly claimed Liam, but he would not challenger her. She stared at him until he sank back into himself. She gave a huff before offering Liam a small bottle of the thothlickta liquid. The incense in the upper level of the temple would activate the stronger qualities of the drug, but even this would prevent Liam from fighting. If he was not palteia, the temple would owe him many goods to soothe the insult he was to suffer at their hands. “You shall be fine, child,” she said, promising the protection of the temple. No child ever came to harm or suffered hunger in a temple where a single Grandmother still lived to protect her or him.
“It’s safe, Liam,” Ondry said, rumbling his desire for all to see. He was so very young.
The unfamiliar human tried to intervene, but before he could say anything, the elder said loudly, “We know you would never cause us harm.”
She enjoyed the irony of that. Ondry made it very clear he would like to eviscerate the human elder. Ondry was in danger of developing a reputation, but if this Liam was a palteia and if he admitted to having turned his loyalty toward Ondry, all would understand. They said the gods feared to get between a chilta and palteia because both would fight so fiercely to return to the other’s side that they would destroy heaven if it got between them.
Not that she saw any sign of that sort of loyalty between Liam and the human chilta. That relationship appeared dangerous to the palteia, and she could sympathize with Ondry’s distress. She felt a fraction of it herself. With both Ondry and the human elder encouraging him to drink, Liam did so even though he showed signs of unease. He tried to return the bottle after a couple swallows, but she gestured for him to continue. Meanwhile the elder began to speak about human drugs. The other Grandmothers had been silent when she described that part of the conversation, and she expected that at least a few of them thought she was exaggerating, but now the man chased after her speaking of the wonders of some drug which the Grandmothers had already examined and declared unnecessarily harmful to the very body it claimed to heal.
Ondry and Liam were now standing as chilta and palteia, with Ondry stroking Liam’s neck reassuringly. The human called Spooner appeared confused, but the elder human continued to talk about drugs.
She who had been Ustra stepped into the human’s path and looked down at him. She was one of the oldest of the Grandmothers and she dwarfed the human. “No.”
The human began to speak, and the Grandmother who had been Ustra turned her back on him and then stood still, her massive body blocking his attempts to get around her to speak to her face. Several Rownt made trills that expressed their derisive pleasure in seeing the human humiliated.
“Sir, perhaps we should leave,” the one called Spooner suggested. He hovered near Liam’s arm as though he wanted to take it, but Ondry had his arm around Liam, and Liam was listing toward him. She-who-had-been-Hasha began to hope that this son of her daughter’s egg might prove his worth tonight. And if he did, then she would not have to send Liam back to the eggless idiot who claimed to rule the human base. Clearly human issues of rank did not involve any logic.
A younger Grandmother moved to Liam’s side and urged Ondry to release his hold. He had already testified in front of the Grandmothers, now it lay in Liam’s control, although She-who-had-been-Hasha began to suspect they had given him too many drugs. Liam needed guiding, but he headed for the stairs with some urging.
“Where are you taking him?” the elder demanded sharply. “Sergeant Munson, get back down here this instant.” The elder moved forward and tried to shove past She-who-had-been-Hasha. She had shown great restraint even after multiple insults, but she would not accept such disrespect from this dalit. She swatted him, and his small frame could not withstand even that. The force spun him around and he crashed onto the ground.
“We do not wish to offend, and clearly we have,” Spooner said, moving to stand between the elder and the closest of the Grandmothers. “I will be happy to take everyone home and we can talk about this tomorrow. If you bring the sergeant back, I’ll take him and the colonel back to the base.”
“Lieutenant, you do not speak for me. That was assault. You assaulted me!” the elder was speaking in English now, but she had studied the language since Ondry had shown such an interest in a human.
“Sir, no offense, but shut the hell up.”
“Lieutenant, I will have you up on charges.” The elder got to his feel and rushed toward her.
“You have until the next ship comes to get this one off the planet,” she said.
“I’m sure we can work this out,” Spooner said.
His elder stood in front of her with his hands curled up in a way that she was almost sure signalled aggression. It was difficult to judge moods on a creature that was so drab in color and tailless. “How dare you strike me.”
“Touch me again, and I will gut you and wash the blood off my floor,” she warned before turning her back to head for the stairs. The younger Grandmothers would have to contain the humans and Ondry who looked ready to rush into battle. Youth.
When she reached the top of the stairs, two of her sister Grandmothers were urging Liam to relax onto the couch.
“The colonel ordered me back downstairs. You don’t understand. I have to go.”
Even intoxicated, he was trying to follow orders. The eldest of them, one who had been called Illie, moved to a spot right in front of Liam. He scooted back and pulled his legs up in front of him, and one of the Grandmothers started to hum comfortingly. Transferring a palteia was difficult. Even under the worst of circumstances, a palteia’s instincts demanded that they follow their chilta. But to watch one so fearful made her furious.
“Liam,” Eldest said, “you have to answer questions first.”
“And when I’m done, I can go?”
“And when you’re done, you will be safe,” Eldest said. She mimicked his words, but he did not seem as comforted by that. Usually palteia or children who had a Grandmother’s full attention calmed, but then Liam was not Rownt. He likely didn’t understand what they were doing.
She-who-had-been-Hasha moved closer. “Liam, look at me,” she said.
His gaze found her and he smiled. “You look like Ondry.” Immediately he stopped trying to squirm away from the two who held him. The one sister moved aside and She-who-had-been-Hasha moved into the open space. Liam stared at her, his pupils so wide that his eyes appeared black.
“Yes, I do,” she agreed. “You have to listen to us, young one.”
“Okay.” He rested his chin on his knee. She exchanged a concerned look with Eldest. For Ondry’s name to calm him, he must have already decided to move his loyalty, even if he would not admit it without the drug.
“Do you seek promotion?” Eldest asked.
Liam looked at her. “No.”
He laughed. “I’m not good at leading. I screw up. It’s better for me to follow.”
“How do you make errors?” she asked when Eldest seemed confused. Perhaps the human words were too slurred for the others to understand.
“I want to find someone to trust. I should stop trusting people.”
One of the Grandmothers hissed, but Liam didn’t seem to notice.
“Why?” Eldest asked him. She crouched down and knelt on the floor in front of him so her head was on the same level.
“I always trust the wrong people. They hurt me.”
Every Grandmother in the room paled. This was far worse than they’d suspected. Liam was clearly palteia and he had been harmed more than once. “Has the elder who brought you hurt you?” Eldest asked gently.
“I haven’t given him a chance. I would let him hurt me if it meant I could stay, but he doesn’t like me. He’s going to send me away and I’m going to die on the front.” Liam made the statement and then closed his eyes.
She-who-had-been-Hasha looked to Eldest. “He has no protection. He already asks to stay here.”
“I would stay here,” Liam said, but his voice was muffled because he had put his arm over his face, “but the colonel won’t let me. He doesn’t like me. He’s going to take me away from here and away from Ondry.”
Eldest jumped on that statement. “Do you want to stay with Ondry?”
Liam nodded his head even as he said, “I shouldn’t want to. It’s wrong. They ordered me to not like Ondry.”
So the humans did suspect that their trader was palteia who could change loyalties, or at least something close enough to palteia that he ached for a chilta to shelter under.
“What did the humans tell you?” Eldest asked.
“That I shouldn’t talk to Rownt about psychology,” he said, but he slurred the last word enough that She-who-had-been-Hasha had to translate his mutterings. “They said Rownt don’t actually like people. They lie and take advantage of traders, and if I’m stupid enough to think Ondry likes me, he’ll take advantage of me.”
“Clearly he hasn’t,” one of the Grandmothers commented. She-who-had-been-Hasha had to agree. Ondry had been uncharacteristically kind to this human, treating him almost as one would treat a child, allowing him to steal a little meat off the table so he could learn the skill for himself. However, if Ondry had been wise enough to recognize not only a palteia, but a palteia in distress, his reactions were understandable. It was the rest of them that should feel shame for allowing the abuse.
Eldest touched Liam on the hand, and he lowered his arm and looked at her. “Ondry would give his life to protect you. He does not take advantage of you.”
“I want to believe that.” Liam’s eyes began to leak. “I want someone to not take advantage of me.”
“A Grandmother would never take advantage of you,” She-who-had-been-Hasha stated. She was first to offer him the protection of a temple to a palteia, but she doubted any of her sisters would question her now. Eldest rested her hand on the side of Liam’s neck to comfort him, and he did not jerk away as an adult might.
“Grandmothers are the smartest of them all. They can take advantage of anyone,” Liam said with a smile.
“Yes, but we do not take advantage of children and palteia,” Eldest said.
“Palteia… palteia.” Liam sounded out the word.
“A palteia is someone who would always serve, someone who wishes to make another happy and gives their life to please another.”
Liam frowned. “But no one is supposed to know I’m a sub. If they know, they do things… I can’t tell anyone.” Liam’s voice trailed off, but not even the drugs could dull whatever pain he felt now. The stink of it filled the room.
“You’re safe,” Eldest promised.
Liam shook his head. “Have to go face the colonel sometime.”
So it was fear of humans that caused him such pain.
Eldest showed her tooth. “The colonel is leaving the planet, and if the other humans show such a lack of manners, they will follow, but you will stay with us, Liam.”
He blinked at her. “But I’m human.”
“And now you are Rownt, too,” she said. “Ondry would take you as his palteia. You would share his home, his pillows and his status.”
Liam started blinking faster. He reached up and rubbed one eye, but the motion seemed to make him lose his balance.
“The drug is too strong for him,” someone said, but there were too many Grandmothers in the room to be sure of who said it.
“You will stay here,” Eldest repeated.
“Forever,” Eldest promised. “Even if you want to go back to humans, we will not allow it. We will protect you, Liam.”
“No one protects me.”
More than one sharp trill of distress filled the air. The mood was shifting quickly, and if the humans downstairs wished to live, they had best be behind their walls before the questioning ended and these angry Grandmothers went downstairs.
Eldest spent some time stroking Liam’s neck the way one might soothe a child. He let his eyes fall closed, so perhaps there was a similar instinct there. Humans and Rownt were far more similar than any other two species known to She-who-had-been-Hasha.
“Eldest,” she said gently, “it is time to turn to custody. I would know he feels safe before we give him to another.” She-who-had-been-Hasha felt a special loyalty to Ondry, but that loyalty would not override her obligation to this human palteia. If he did not feel safe, he could live for a time with the Grandmothers, and Ondry could haunt the downstairs as he waited for his Liam to be healed enough to go home.
“I agree.” Eldest moved her hand so that her palm rested against Liam’s cheek. “Do you trust Ondry?”
At Ondry’s name, Liam smiled. “He beats me in trades. He is good enough to steal meat from a kawt. Traders should not trust him.” While highly complementary toward Ondry, his statements didn’t reveal his feelings about his own safety.
She-who-had-been-Hasha rested her hand against Liam’s neck. “If Ondry showed his teeth, would you be afraid of him?”
He turned to her slowly. “Of course not.”
“If Ondry stood between you and the colonel and refused to let you leave with the humans, how would you feel?”
He smiled. “Happy. Relieved.”
Eldest spoke again. “Do you believe he would hurt you in the future?”
The smile vanished. “Everyone hurts me eventually.” He looked over toward She-who-had-been-Hasha. “You look like Ondry,” he said, and then he moved closer to her and put his head down on her chest. She felt a burst of protective instinct so strong that she had to fight an urge to claim him as her own palteia. Instead she rested a hand on his back and looked around at her sisters. Clearly some of them would be more comfortable if she did keep him, but she had eggs to lay and duties to perform. She suspected this young one needed more tending than she had time for.
And if she kept him, Ondry would be inconsolable. Even if the claim had not been confirmed, he had the instincts of a chilta.
“He knows me only as someone who looks like Ondry. In his drugged state, I think he seeks his chilta and I am the closest he can find.”
“Could Ye-Ondry have tempted him from his human chilta already?” one Grandmother asked.
Eldest slowly stood. “Ondry saw what we failed to see. I think he has earned the right to be called Ka-Ondry, even if he is too young for the burdens that come with that honor.”
“He is too headstrong for it,” She-who-had-been-Hasha agreed. It would be kinder to allow him to keep his ye-status where he could make mistakes and have them forgotten more easily.
Eldest seemed to think on that. “Sometimes youth can be overcome when one has a purpose in overcoming it. I am inclined to see if Liam reacts to Ondry as his chilta. If so, I recommend that we recognize the transfer of custody.”
And that was the end of the matter. No one would challenge Eldest on something like this where there were no experts to bring facts to the table and debate. She-who-had-been-Hasha stood, and urged Liam to his feet. “Do I have to go back to base now?” he asked and sadness filled his scent.
“No, we go to Ondry,” she said.
“Oh.” Liam looked around, but she wasn’t sure how much he could actually see. She kept her arm around him as they went down a set of stairs into the main waiting area. She was not surprised to see Ondry there. His tail was twitching with aggravation, but he kept still as she came down the stairs with Liam tucked close.
“Grandmother,” he said.
“Ka-Ondry,” she replied. He darkened in pleasure, and she would have attributed it to his status pride, only his gaze remained on Liam. Liam had closed his eyes again, and he had his face buried in her chest. Knowing he had been hurt, she ached to keep him, but she knew another who would tend him better.
“Liam,” she said, “I am a Grandmother and all the Grandmothers here agree. You will stay with Ondry forever. You never have to go back to your people.”
Liam looked up slowly. His movements were uncoordinated. “But humans will come. It will make problems.”
She smiled and ran her hand over his hair as Ondry trilled his distress. It was like a palteia to offer to endure rather than put others in a difficult situation. “It doesn’t matter,” she said. “The Grandmothers’ word is final, and you will stay with Ondry. Look. He has come for you.”
She gently turned Liam toward Ondry. She knew the second he spotted Ondry because he took a stumbling step away from her. Ondry sprang forward and caught Liam before he could fall. “I can stay with you?” Liam asked.
“I’ll never let you leave or let the humans take you,” Ondry promised. Liam moved right into Ondry’s space, putting his head on his chest and wrapping his arms around Ondry’s waist.
She-who-had-been-Hasha remembered what it was like when a child first looked at you, first clung to you. She remembered Ondry’s mother coming out of the shell, and the bright burst of emotion that came when one’s child embraced one for the first time. Ondry looked down at Liam with the same utter awe. To have a creature adore you completely, to trust you more than they trusted themselves, it was a sacred gift from the gods. From the expression on Ondry’s face, she believed he understood that. Ondry closed his arms around Liam and began to offer soft comforts.
“Don’t let them take me. I’ll do anything, but please, don’t let them take me away,” Liam said and his breathing grew rapid.
“I promise I will not. I will defend you,” Ondry promised. He looked up at the gathered Grandmothers, and She-who-had-been-Hasha saw the truth in her grandson’s face. He would fight Grandmothers or gods or humans to protect his Liam. This was the way it should be. And if this brought Ondry too much status too young, he would have to prove himself strong enough to carry that burden. Hopefully Liam would help him with that task. She turned and headed back up the stairs.
She first cut her teeth on fanfic: gen, slash, het, and femslash. She prefers to focus on plot: mysteries and monsters and disasters, oh my, but sex can and does happen. Some of her stories focus on power exchange, bondage or bdsm. In her worlds, tops and bottoms are all mature, consenting adults. In fact, stories where they aren’t squick her badly, so don’t expect to find abuse stories in her journal