I decided to jump to this character after reading some recent reviews which noted that Scimina is the most two-dimensional character in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. I agree with this characterization wholeheartedly. Cut for spoilers:
See, the way I see it — others’ mileage may vary — one of the staples of epic fantasy is clearly-delineated good and evil. Those goods and evils might be relative, as we see increasingly in modern epic fantasies (e.g., Brandon Sanderson’s Lord Ruler, Jacqueline Carey’s Satoris). But the heroine, at least, always thinks she’s on the side of the angels, and there’s always someone that she thinks of as the devil incarnate. And frequently there is a devil incarnate, quite literally. The Wheel of Time has its Dark One; The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant had Lord Foul. Sauron got fleshed out in The Silmarillon, but throughout the War of the Ring, Frodo never knew why the Big S was so bad. (Aragorn probably knew, but I’m not sure it mattered.) Guy Gavriel Kay’s Fionavar Tapestry had Rakoth Maugrim, who pretty much committed terrorism and rape and so forth Just Because, as far as I could tell. All the protagonists ever really know about these guys is that they’re evil and they have to die.
Thing was, in a novel chock full by dark gods (Nahadoth, and in a less-obviously-symbolic sense, Itempas), evil overlords (Dekarta), and sinister wizards (Viraine), I had a problem: all of them would have been the Usual Suspects for epic fantasy bad guy under ordinary circumstances. Nahadoth was the worst of these; quite literally a Dark Lord, he does things that should have made him absolute evil in the eyes of readers. Most of the world certainly regards him as such, given that he sank a continent and killed millions, Just Because. But much of my story hinged on none of these characters being truly evil, in the absolute moral sense of things. They all had reasons for the ugly things they did. Dekarta and Viraine were driven by their love/mourning for Kinneth. Nahadoth was driven by rage at his enslavement, and mourning for Enefa; Itempas by his love for and loss of Nahadoth. It’s hard, at least for me, to depict someone as evil if they’re capable of sorrow and regret.
So I needed there to be one absolute, unadulterated ratbastard in the story, and Scimina was it.
And to keep her absolutely evil, I needed to keep her relatively unknown. I don’t know her back story. Why she takes such pleasure in tormenting Naha, why she doesn’t love her twin brother, what’s her thing for leashes and torture — no clue. I suppose she must have loved Relad at some point; he certainly shows some remnants of love for her. But I don’t know what broke them apart. As for her relationship with the Nahadoth/Naha… I imagine all Arameri children are taught carefully how to command the Enefadeh, and they’re told why this care is necessary, complete with examples. So although they grow up privileged and powerful, they also grow up under the shadow of constant fear. My vague guess is that a person accustomed to power isn’t going to like experiencing fear, even in small measure. She’s going to find some way to prove to herself, symbolically or otherwise, that she is in control of that fear-object. I imagine she and Nahadoth have jousted before, and she knows how far she can push him — there’s a hint of this in the torture scene, when he says to her, “We had an agreement.” I have no idea what this agreement may have involved. But it seems to me that two such powerful people, even if one theoretically has power over the other, would have no choice but to establish boundaries and rules for their relationship, or neither would be able to function for constant fear of the other’s interference.
But this is all I know about her. It’s all Yeine needed to know. And it’s all either Yeine or I wanted to know, because it’s hard to plot another person’s death if you know them and understand them. (I don’t even think about what happened to her when the book ended, when Nahadoth took her away with him to the gods’ realm. I don’t like making my mind go into terrible places. I do it when I have to, but in this case I don’t. So I won’t.)
So, Scimina: evil Just Because.