Still with that grin, Aleric placed a foot opn the body and pulled out his sword. The brigand shrieked, the sound dwindling to a gurgle and a gasp as Aleric drew a dagger from his belt and slit his throat. While he was bwent over the body, Aleric used the dagger to cut off the brigand's sleeve so he could use it to wipe the blood from his sword. That task done, he took a fast look around.
A girl sat surrounded by the bodies of four men. One looked to be her father, the others, they could have been any one. Regardless of who they were they were not fighters. No trained fighters could have been so easily slaughtered by two brigands. Both dead he thought. He kicked the body of the first brigand, the one he had killed by surprise when he first arrived on this scene. To find them finishing up with the girl amid the bodies of those that were trusted to care for her.
Aleric Kerthaw examined the packs that were strewn around. In them he found provisions and water, as well as other belongings and a few coins. He gathered them up and put them into one pack, which he threw down beside the girl.
"Enderby is but a few miles in that direction." Aleric pointed over in the direction of a few rolling hills. "If you start now, and walk steadily you should make it by morning." That said, he strode over to his horse and mounted.
"You would leave me here?"
Aleric looked back at the girl who had stood and was glaring up at him.
"You would really shirk your responsibilities?"
"You are not kith or kin," Aleric told her. "I have no responsibilities towards you. "
"You have the responsibilities of a Master towards his Slave." The girl's lower jaw jutted out at him belligerently.
"I have no slave."
"I am your slave, and under the law..."
"I have not claimed you as slave," snapped Aleric. "I need none and have claimed none."
"That man you killed, the one that was barely more than a boy. After they killed my father and his friends, he claimed me slave. Under the law, a slave becomes the property of the man who kills her Master. As you killed mine."
"As I have no wish for a slave, I release you from that obligation." Clearly thinking the conversation over, Aleric prodded his horse forward. A hand caught at his leg.
"A girl may be taken slave in secret but needs official sanction to be considered free. " The girl glared through coal black eyes. "I can not force you, my Master, to take me with you. But I can go to this Enderby and speak of a swords man who will not care for his property."
"I care for what is mine," Aleric snapped. "My horse is rather skittish and will not bear the weight of two. You would be hard pressed to keep pace."
"My previous Master was leading a mule," the girl told him. "I can ride that if it hasn't wandered far."
"Then find it," Aleric ground out. "While I see what else your father and his men were carrying."
The sun had moved in the sky when they set out again. The girl followed on her mule, and every time he slowed to ride beside her she slowed her mule so that she rode behind him. "A slave does not go before or beside her Master," was what she said when asked about it. Aleric sighed and quickened the pace.
"What is your name," Aleric asked after they rode in silence for an indeterminate amount of time."
"My name is what ever you wish it to be."
Aleric rolled his eyes. "And if I wish it to be nothing?"
"Then my name is nothing."
"What did your father call you?"
"He called me Delrayna. Delrayna Ap Nud."
"AP? You are a witch?" Aleric crossed himself.
"Not yet. I was to be taken to Vernon where I would be apprenticed to the Priest at the Temple of Amun"
"Perhaps you still can be."
"I am travelling further down south to Kelowna. I can, if you wish, drop you off in Vernon. No one need know of what happened."
"Do you think they would not look," Delrayna said with a bite of anger.
"To see that I have been untouched."
Aleric felt something thump off his shouder.
"Do you think," Delrayna cried bitterly, "that they would leave me untouched? What man would have given up a first if he had the chance. Would you have?"
Delrayna Ap Nud could not cook to save a lfe. To take a life maybe, Aleric thought as he poked at the crispy whatever it was that she served him, but not to save a life. He threw it into the fire and reached into his bag for some bread.
"You do not like it," came the harsh whisper.
"Tomorrow you learn to cook."
Delrayna stormed off to sit on a rock, staring out at the rippling waves. Soon the sound of her voice reached him. She was reciting something his grandmother had told him as a child.
"The Lord Amun returned to the world he had created and saw that the people he had placed upon it had strayed from the path of his desires and his anger was great.
So fearful was the world that it shook and hid itself under layers of ice. greater than any man had seen in the times before, and lasting longer than a hundred generations.
When the Lord Amun had finished with his speaking to Osiris and to Anubis, he commanded Horus to stretch out his hand over all the world, so that the ice be driven off and the world revealed for his anger.
Horus did as he was commanded and the layers of ice were melted. The earth dried and and the water was driven underground and high up in the mountains. Horus' work is not yet complete and it is in the days of his wrath that we must live. Until the Lord Amun takes pity upon us and commands Horus to withdraw, allowing the world to once again hide it's shame under ice and snow."
Aleric rolled over in his blankets.
The next morning they rode into Vernon. They were really just passing through for Aleric was still intent on moving further south but Delrayna had begged him to allow her to stop at the Temple of Amun. Delrayna had an older sister already apprenticed there and wished to relate to her sister what had happened. That she would be safe and would hope to see her if ever the chance arose. Aleric had agreed but if jher sister wished to speak to him she would have to come outside. He had no intention of going inside.
The Temple of Amun was a red brick tower, topped with a green metal dome that had a cock and arrow on top. One that moved freely under the breeze. That is it would if there had been a breeze, but the Days of Horus' Wrath was nigh upon them and the morning's heat was already unbearable. Made even worse by the stench of bodies, some still alive, in cages.
Each cage bore a sign stating that the occupants were waterstealers. The sign also warned of the penalties that went with giving water to the occupants. Those that hoarded water for themselves must learn what it is to do without.
"Let us go." Delrayna Ap Nud stormed out of the Temple of Amun mounted her horse. She looked angrily at Aleric. "Well what are you waiting for?"
Aleric lifted an eyebrow, as if to ask who is the master and who is the slave around here but said nothing, just mounted his horse and started up there, hill. "I take it the visit did not go well."
"My sister wishes I were dead." Delrayna spoke with a voice that barely reached Aleric's ears over the pounding thud of hoofs on flat hard road. "She has cursed me."
"Surely you are mistaken. Is she not your loving sister?"
I am also a slave and thus I am an embarrassment to her. One that she will not suffer to live. She has cursed me and Apep will come for me before this day is done."
"How do you know that she has cursed you?"
"Because she ordered me to make the wax Apep. To give it a hair from my head, breath from my mouth, skin from my body. I watched as she said the ritual and burned it in fire."
Aleric just stared at her. "You did all this? Why?"
"A slave does not refuse the commands of the free."
"Gods above and below," breathed Aleric. This girl was going to get him killed along with herself. Not having anything to say, he prodded his horse to a faster pace. Delrayna followed in silence. At least for a little while.
"You do not seem concerned over the fate of your slave," she said after some little time.
"My slave participated fully in her own fate." Aleric responded. "Who am I to stand in the way of such foolishness when I did not want her in the first place."
"Some Master you are."
"A slave owes obedience to her Master. Not to anyone who comes along who is free and not a slave. Even if that person is your sister."
Delrayna AP Nud sulked form the next little while and Aleric took pleasure in the silence. Truth to tell he really didn't know what to do about the situation. Apep was the crocodile god, the original evil and chaos. Crocodiles did not live here, but snakes did and Apep has been known to come as a snake, most commonly a cobra, but cobras did not live here either. Rattlesnake, they did live here aplenty and should he, a mere mortal man, try to slaughter them all because of a foolish slave? Logic dictated that the old god would use some local method, and as long as he and Delrayna stayed on the rock road and away from the thick grasses tjhey should be able to avoid the local snakes. Therefore the assault would come in a more mindane way.His reverie was broken by a stifled cry.
"It is Apep," Delrayna cried, looking at a dust cloud heading up the road. "He has found me."
"It is a man," Aleric said, studying the cloud of dust. "It is not an elder god."
"And if Apep took the form of a man?" Delrayna looked desperate. "Ride Master. Leave me. I am the one that is cursed. Not you."
"Slave," thundered Aleric, sweeping a leg over his horse and sliding to the ground. "Do not think to command me." Moving steadily to stand in the middle of the rock road, making sure that he was between Delrayna and the oncoming rider. "I go nowhere."
The rider stop[p[ed a good twenty feet awauy from Aleric and dismounted. He was the size of a man. He had thick muscled arms. He had the green scaly head and maw of a crocodile. He was not human.
"I am Apep. I come for the girl. Stand aside."
"If I do not."
"Then you share her fate."
Aleric unsheathed his sword and held it in the nebun position. He had no hope that Apep would be fooled by the same tactic he had used against the brigand. With his sword at a forty five degree angle pointed downwards and to his left rear, he hoped that he could counter whatever stance Apaep, who had drawn his own sword and had raised it to the roof guard position. He waited.
"You know something of what you do?" Apep did not look impressed. "Do you really think that you have the skill to defeat me?"
"My blade is made of the same iron and steel as the swords and spears that Horus defeated you with," Aleric answered.
"You are not Horus."
Aleric did not answer the crocodile man. What could he say. He was not Horus and he could not hope to defeat a god. What he was was stubborn and he did not back down. Not ever.
Apep was the forst to move. He brought his sword down in a cut that would have split Aleric's skull had he not brought his own blade up and around, ending with it in the roof guard. He did not hestitate in sweeping it down and around to the ox position. He stabbed forward and if Apep had been an ordinary man then Aleric might have done some damage.
But Apep was not an ordinary man and was easily able to duck his head under the thrusting blade while bringing his own to the plow. Aleric danced back, and brought his own blade down to the hanging door and batted Apep's blade to the side.
Bodies spun and feet shifted as both Aleric and Apep transitioned from stance to stance. The blades clanging as they made contact with each other.
The fight was short and brutal and ended the way it began. Apep held his blade up in roof guard, while Aleric had his down in Nabun. Both were breathing heavy and Aleric's arms and shoulders burned from the stress he had placed on them.
This time it was Aleric that made the first moove, swinging his sword up and to the right. Apep brought his blade down to counter, but at the last moment Aleric twisted his blade into an upper cut that caught Apep by surprise and sliced through his elongated maw. Apep roared in pain and blood flew everywhere, burning where it touched Aleric's skin. Aleric jumped back and stared. Apep howled his pain and dropped his sword. His body faded, its form losing it's firmness.
"Of course," Delrayna Ap Nud said from where she stood, beside Aleric her eyes wide in fascination and horror. "When your blade passed through his mouth, it lost cohesion. Apep lost focus and could not maintain it. You've won."
Aleric was not under the illusion that he had managed to kill a god. He bent down to retrieve the gods sword and hefted it. A good blade. "Get his horse," he commanded Delrayna as he turned to see where the mule and his own mount had strayed to.
Soon Aleric was continuing on his journey south. Delrayna, who was now riding the horse that Apep had left behind, and had the sword Apep had used, tied to it's saddle, followed, leading the mule which had been relegated to pack animal status. Delrayna held her silence. At least for a while.
"Why," she asked. "Why would you risk your life for a slave."
"You are more than a slave," Aleric told her.
"Oh? And what else am I?"
"You are my slave."