Daughters of Man: Prize Match [MultiFormat]
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eBook by Brenna Lyons
eBook Category: Erotica/Erotic Fantasy/Romance
eBook Description: Sabine has come to Sakk, a winged female, a prize match. Her mate will be an older male, a general or master general. She has no choice in that. The only power she has is to refuse an abusive mate. Sahtahn has no intention of fighting to approach the prize match, but when Sabine is attacked on her way to the riser, he changes his mind. She's not the cold woman he'd believed her. She's a frightened young woman in need of a gentle hand. If she accepts his advances, he will have the greatest prize imaginable.
eBook Publisher: Phaze, Published: 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: March 2011
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34 Reader Ratings:
Sabine pressed her cheek to the bulkhead and listened to the speaker on the other side. An amplified voice blared orders for offloading of the matches.
Of me. Of all those like me. Her heart pounded in apprehension.
Despite what the priests on her home world had said, it was hard to anticipate being claimed as mate to a male she'd never met. What if they were wrong? What if the male wasn't kind? What if she felt no attraction to him?
"Sabine!" Anlu shouted, rushing to over to take her hands. "Isn't it wonderful? Sakk, at last."
She managed a strained smile in return. "Yes, I know."
How old will he be? How needing of a female?
"They're beautiful, you know."
Sabine stared at her, darkening in the realization that Anlu was gazing longingly at the tips of her miniature wings.
The wings had been both a blessing and a curse to Sabine.
Because of them, Sabine hadn't been required to bear a child to the priests before becoming mate to a Sakk male. It also meant that she'd been granted freedom until her twenty-second yan instead of being bred at eighteen. The rare winged matches, no matter how small or malformed the wings might be, were revered; as such, they went to claim uneducated in the touch of another male.
Because of the wings, males would fight to claim her. Only the strongest and highest-ranking would have the chance to become her mate. Where Anlu might be claimed by an older commander as a level-two match, only a general or master general was in Sabine's future. He would be a man twice her age.
At the least. Sabine prayed he would not be much older than that. A man twice her age was still prime, but she'd heard that some matches were given to men nearly three times her age, men so late in prime it was unlikely the match would produce her required heirs to him before he died. Such a match would be forced to take another male not of her choosing. The idea of enduring the choosing twice terrified Sabine.
Anlu sighed. "I wish I had wings."
I wish you had them instead of me. Sabine bit back the unkind thought before it could take the shape of words. Instead, she nodded and grasped Anlu in a hug.
"Sabine!" Their nest mother waved her over, then fussed with Sabine's clothing and hair-feathers as soon as she was within arm's distance. Finally, Cholla smoothed the unruly feathers on Sabine's wings.
As a second-generation Sakk-born, Cholla's wings were full and majestic. One wrapped around Sabine in a show of motherly protection.
"Your mother would be so proud," she cooed.
Sabine nodded, words sticking in her throat.
She could barely remember her mother. Because of her wings, Jollee had been permitted to nurse Sabine for five yans instead of the usual two for temple-born children.
Had Sabine's wings been full-sized or near to it, she would have traveled to Sakk with her mother at two yans of age and been raised as the child of whatever male became Jollee's mate. But Sabine was a short-flight, so she'd been left on the seed planet when her mother came to Sakk to be mated. Sabine had often wondered if it wasn't kinder to lose their mothers at two, as the wingless young did. Surely, having no memories of her had to be better than being taunted with them.
All her life, Sabine had been told how Jollee had walked the carpet, dressed in purple as Sabine now was. Her mother had stood on the dais proudly, the dame of a winged young one to an unwinged male...strong, healthy stock. In the end, a general had taken her to mate. According to the tales, Jollee had produced three young for her general, one a fully-winged female.
Could her general not have loved me, too? There was no purpose in asking it, of course. The law was the law.
The door opened, and Cholla's mate slipped in. He wound an arm around Cholla's waist and closed Sabine in with a mirrored wing. "The word has spread," he informed her. "The males know a winged female is up for claim."
Sabine tried to force her breathing to even.
When she'd boarded the warship, she'd done so wrapped in a cloak, her nest parents' wings at her back and their bodies pressing in close around her. Of course, the warriors knew what that signified. In moments, their numbers had doubled...tripled...then more and more, all whispering and peering at her. She'd bolted into the nest compartment the moment they reached the doors and had collapsed into a bed far from the doors, shivering, listening for sounds of pursuit that hadn't come. Cholla had stroked calming hands down her back and face.
These males will be older...more starved. And I won't be permitted a cloak or guards.
Cholla and Lut each took one of her hands, offering silent comfort. Then they separated and motioned the two dozen matches into the presentation line.
As the only level-one purple-clad match, Sabine would lead the line. Women who wore purple were those that had caught pregnant with winged female young within a yan of sexual congress with the priests and those that were winged themselves.
The level-two red matches like Anlu--those that had produced wingless female young or a male in a reasonable period of time--would come next.
The level-three blue matches--those that had taken more than a yan to catch pregnant, even if the result was a winged female--would end the procession. With the need for females, even the blues were guaranteed to be chosen.
If a match caught later than the norm, she would likely be claimed by a man of rank, but a younger male not as concerned with time to produce his two or more young on her. The more young any woman produced, the more likely that there would be two or more females of her line, which was good for all of Sakk.
The only matches that did not travel to Sakk to be mated were the ones who had not produced young. The Sakk males were assured of strong stock for mating. If the match never caught, she remained with the priests as a concubine, worker in the temple, or even a nest mother and mate to a temple-born male without the urge to be a warrior priest.
The doors opened fully, and the mated pair stepped aside. Taking a deep breath, Sabine led the way down the purple carpet laid out for them.
She paused at the door to the claim stadium. There were so many males, it made her head spin. Though an accurate count was impossible, it seemed there were at least two hundred males for each female disembarking. It hardly seemed possible that there could be so many males in need of a mate, but she knew there were more...hundreds of thousands more of mating age, perhaps millions.
Matches were brought in every five turnings, alternating from seventeen seed worlds. A small group might have only five matches in it; this one was among the largest.
Males were ordered, she knew. The highest-ranking and those who'd waited the longest had priority. They were closest to the carpet and the dais. The younger men, those with less rank, and those who hadn't tried for a mate before were further removed.
Mine will be one of the closest. She had no choice in that.
Still, the females were not at the mercy of fate. They were told they could refuse a male who gave them cause to do it. Sabine suspected most females accepted their first out of fear or awe or the belief that males so deprived would have no self-control.
She had no such intentions; her male would be kind or be refused. Sabine may have no choice in whether or not he attracted her, but she had the right to demand a kind touch.
That in mind, Sabine straightened and stepped out onto the carpet between the parted crowd. A series of gasps and prayers went up from their ranks at the sight of her. She kept walking, focusing on the dais. The males knew their boundaries; there was nothing to fear.
That self-assurance lasted only until the rush of movement caught the corner of her vision. Sabine side-stepped, turning to face the male in question. A hand closed on the edge of her wing, and she struck for his face in a panic, turning and scampering the opposite direction the moment she connected with flesh. She stumbled, landed against a wall of muscle, and grasped fabric to catch herself.
The sound of screams from her scattering nest sisters had her heart pounding hard in her ears. The uproar from the males overlapped with it. They piled on the one who'd touched her. Angry shouts overpowered screams of pain.
Sabine squeezed her eyes shut, pleading for it to end. She'd heard males killed each other for females sometimes. A particularly gruesome scream had her hunching her shoulders. She pried one shaking hand out of the cuzta she'd fisted and pressed it to her ear, turning her head to mute sounds to the other in the chest she'd claimed.
Soothing sounds surrounded her, working their way to her shielded ears, muting the sounds of waning battle. Her grip loosened in response. She was protected; even her skin seemed to warm again.
Silence fell, and Sabine released her grip on the cloth beneath her cheek. The wings surrounding her eased back, and she straightened, trying to regain her composure. Sabine looked up, intent on thanking the male who'd shielded her, but the words lodged in her throat.
His hands were fisted at his sides. He hadn't touched her, which was a good thing for him. Battle-pumped as the other males were, they might have turned on this male next. His body was rigid, his expression tense. He stared down at her as if in shock that she'd run to him...or anger that she'd touched him.
Sabine pulled her hands back, breaking the connection with him. She took an unsteady step away from his body. Her shoulders bunched and released, her wings fluttering nervously.
Then Cholla and Lut were there, guiding Sabine to the center of the carpet. Cholla cupped her cheek, wiping away the sheen of tears from beneath one eye. She smoothed Sabine's hair-feathers and whispered assurances that she was safe.
Lut stood to the side her attacker had come from, his wings spread wide. Sabine glanced down, her stomach lurching at the stains that could only mean blood spilled.
Great quantities of blood. Surely, he's dead.
Cholla drew her face up again. "Another won't dare," she breathed. "Can you continue?"
Sabine started to answer in the negative. She wanted nothing more than to return to bed.
In the distance, she could vaguely hear Anlu's panicked cries. "I can't. I cannot go out again."
Angry grumbles from the males made Sabine shiver in awareness of their violent natures. They were emotionally charged and in need. If Sabine begged off, which they would allow after such an attack on her person, most of the others would do the same. Even if the claim-maker rescheduled the claiming for a day out, there might be additional violence, as a result of her refusal.
She nodded, and Cholla took her arm, turning toward the dais. The nest mother raised her free hand and motioned the claim-maker that there would indeed be a ceremony. The grumbling of the males died off abruptly at the move.
There was a moment of silent expectation; then more of her nest sisters came forward and took their places at her back. A few might choose to wait for the next claim day, but the majority would not, if Sabine continued.
Cholla took the first two steps with her, then released Sabine's arm and let her continue on alone. Her breathing hitched at the loss of support, but she raised her head and focused on the dais again.
Two steps up from the floor, she turned, hoping for one last look at Cholla to bolster her waning courage. Instead, she met the gaze of the male who'd shielded her. Her heart tripped, and she turned away, hurrying to the far end of the dais as instructed.
* * * *
Sahtahn ambled toward the dais, his gaze locked on the prize match, the winged female. His skin was oddly sensitized in memory of her touch, and her scent echoed in his mouth and lungs.
He'd initially dismissed her as cold, a female who knew the lengths males would go to in order to claim her, and smug in the knowledge. That determination had lasted until the attack and not a moment longer.
Her panic had been no act. She'd trembled, clung to him, whispered prayers...not for her own safety but for peace. Her nesting pair had soothed the worst of her fears, but they hadn't been able to calm her completely. He was amazed she'd chosen the carpet when so many of the lesser matches had abandoned it for the day. All told, only sixteen of the twenty-four had made the walk to the dais.
Even now, she fidgeted, her gaze darting back and forth. As the males closed on the dais, she backed away on bare feet that didn't stay still.
Sahtahn hadn't intended to try for the prize match, but something in her frightened eyes said she was more than that. Those eyes said she was worth whatever fight it took to approach her for a claim.
The claim-maker motioned for silence. At his nod, the winged match took a single step forward, not as close as she was meant to be, but in consideration of the attack on her person, no male alive would dare press the issue. If one did, he'd likely find himself as dead as the attacker now was.
"A winged female," the claim-maker announced.
He didn't need to state that she was short-flight. Any fully-winged female born on a seed world came to Sakk with her mother and was presented at private claim. The only type of winged female that came from seed worlds as adults to general claim were short flight.
"A winged female," he repeated. "Born of a wingless female and a short-flight male. Twenty-two yans old, untouched and uneducated. She is first born of four, all winged, half female yield...one a fully-winged female. One a fully-winged male. In excellent health. Her interests are in poetry and music."
All of that made the young one even more of a prize. She came from strong stock, which meant her young would likely all be fully-winged. She was healthy, which meant a mate might get three or more young from her. And what home would not welcome sweet female music and poetry to soothe the body and mind?
Of course, few males paid attention to the interests of the female before a claim. It was the duty of the male to accommodate her pursuits. Considering the ease a female brought to him, it was the least comfort a man could offer, beyond her care and well-being. To have a woman in his bed and beneath his wing and roof, any man worth his wings would cater to the little things...and the large...that would make a mate's smile shine.
Had he been the only man of his station present, there would be no question that Sahtahn would have the right to approach her, but others would vie for her, and he would have to fight. There was little question of that.
The claim-maker gave the males in the crowd time to weigh the facts for themselves, and the rising musk in the air attested they'd come to the same determination Sahtahn had.
The young female took a calming breath and raised her head, turning her gray gaze on the crowd. She paled a notch, one small foot shifting back, hesitating, then forward again. Several men close to Sahtahn tensed at the move.
"Who would claim her?"
The invitation to begin the process sent a ripple through the crowd. Hands shot up. Some lowered when faced with the competition. When it was down to three, Sahtahn added his intent. One of the others bowed out.
"I see three," the claim-maker shouted. "Any additions?"
Sahtahn glared at the younger of the two vying for the female's favor, daring him to the foolishness of challenging his better. His hand shook, then retreated.
"Two. Any who wish to bow out?"
He met the challenger's gaze. It was clear that they were both intent.
"Two it is. Retire to decision."
Sahtahn looked to the young match in question, tipping his head reverently. Sakkan willing, she'd be sharing his bed shortly.
She swallowed hard and tipped her head in reply. Then she was gone, led away by the nesting pair who'd prepared and transported her. The warrior priests would handle the lesser matches. The prize match was always handled by the nesting pair.
"General Sahtahn, if you would."
He turned toward the claim-maker's steward, noting that his competition was already at the young male's side. Sahtahn waved him on, falling into step in the procession, as the claim-maker moved on to the first of the red matches. They strode through the crowd and into a training room.
Without comment, Sahtahn started stripping off his weapons.
"There are formalities, Sahtahn," his competitor barked.
Ah. So, my reputation precedes me. "I will not yield. By your colors, I can gauge we are of rank and wait. Unless you mean to yield, this can only be decided one way."
"The claim-makers will decide that."
Sahtahn nodded, but he finished removing his weapons.
His competitor did no such thing. He stood, feigning nonchalance, though every muscle was strung tight.
There was nothing to say. They both knew what the stakes were. They were both willing to fight to win the right to approach her.
At last, one of the claim-makers entered the room. It wasn't the one who'd stood on the dais. That wasn't unexpected. Leaving males waiting to fight for a prize match while lesser matches were arranged was a sure way to return to find one or more of them dead in dishonorable, armed matches. If the wait looked to be extended, another of the priests entrusted with deciding claims was sent to handle the decisions.
The priest in question scanned his gaze over the pile of weapons, his eyes widening. "General Sahtahn? You have something you wish to say with this move?"
It was time to make himself clear. "I believe this one is worth fighting for. All other factors being equal, I am prepared to win the right to approach her."
He considered that. "Then you realize I could make no other decision."
Sahtahn tipped his head in acknowledgement.
The claim-maker turned to the other. "General Aghen? Are you prepared to do the same?"
Aghen strode to the far end of the counter without a word and started shedding his weapons onto the surface. Sahtahn ambled into the fight ring, making a show of waiting for his opponent.
He didn't have long to wait. Aghen turned and entered the ring. He assessed Sahtahn for a moment. "You will not yield?" he asked simply.
Aghen attacked, going for Sahtahn's midsection. Sahtahn swung away, driving his elbow into his competitor's spine. Aghen staggered but didn't go down.
He turned back, bringing his fist around in an arc to take Sahtahn's temple. Ten yans of training young warriors wasn't wasted. Sahtahn leaned out of the arc, then swept Aghen's feet.
Sahtahn didn't waste a moment. He landed astride Aghen and delivered well-placed blow after blow. He didn't stop until his opponent was unconscious beneath him.
That unpleasant task accomplished, he rose and strode to the claim-maker. The offered steaming towel stung against his abraded knuckles.
The priest bowed his head in formal acknowledgement that Sahtahn had won the chance to approach the young female. "I assume you wish to freshen--"
"I wish to see her."
The claim-maker cleared his throat. "General--"
"Deliver my weapons to my aide."
"But you are--"
He smiled. "Full of adrenaline and testosterone but still in control of myself. The young one was attacked. One male has already died for her. She will worry herself ill if I do not go to her quickly."
The claim-maker hesitated, then waved the way to the far door. The two warrior priests guarding it moved aside to let them pass.