Aleric jerked out of his bed his sword coming out of it's sheathe almost of its own accord. The shrieks sliced through him as he stared around wildly, but he saw nothing. Nothing human or otherwise to pose a threat. It was early morning, the sun was up high enough to dispel the night's shadows, at least enough for him to see. Three steps took him to the fire, where Delrayna lay, naked, writhing upon the ground. She was holding something to her right thigh.
Aleric tore her hands aweay, and the cloth she was using to protect her fingers. He saw the strip of metal, saw the glyphs, felt the heat. Delrayna Ap Nud had branded herself. Red rage filled his eyes and without thinking about what he was doing, Aleric flipped the metal away. Delrayna's shriek assaulted his ears.
"Aleric son of Aleric" was clearly branded on her right thigh.
His eyes found hers. "What have you done," he snarled.
"What you should have done." Delrayna glared at him through pain and fury filled eyes. "Marked me as your slave."
Aleric's knuckles whitened against the hilt of his sword. It took almost a physical effort to keep the tip of it's blade resting in the ground. "I should kill you for what you have done."
"I did only what you should have done."
"You marked something that was mine."
"I touched nothing that was yours."
"My slave. My property! Mine!."
Aleric stalked over to his pack and returned with a knife. Delrayna's eyes widened, and Aleric thought he saw a hint of fear, that was gone almost before he tossed the knife to the ground.
"Put some salve on it," he commanded. "Then go and cut me a switch. I have some questions and if I do not like the answers you will have some more marks to contemplate while riding your mule."
Delrayna returned just as Aleric was finishing his breakfast. Her arms and legs bore the marks of moving through thick brush, and she carried a three foot stick, which was about as thick as her middle finger. Aleric took it from her and whipped it through the air.
"You have questions?" The bite of anger was quite clear in her voice.
"Why did you mark my slave?"
"Because you did not, and I had no belonging. A belonging I would not have until I was marked."
"You had belonging. You gave yourself to me as my slave. You knew that and I knew that. Marking was not necessary."
"It was necessary. To me. To anyone that found me. It was important that I be marked as yours."
"A man marks what is his. What he values. I could not bear to have less value than your horse."
Aleric's eyes bulged, and he forced his fingers to open, letting the switch fall to the ground. His arm itched to use it for its intended purpose. Delrayna kneeled down to lift it up from the dirt.
"Why did you become my slave?"
"Because I had no choice." Delrayna's voice was firm and emotionless. She offered him the switch. Aleric refused to take it. "I was sent from home to be an apprentice at the Temple in Vernon. My father and my Brothers were killed on the way. So were the guards that accompanied us. I was raped, no longer qualified to be an apprentice. No man would have me for a wife. The only thing left to me was to be a slave or to be a prostitute. A two-bit whore, offering my services to the scum of the earth, for a stale crust and a lice ridden mat. Even slavery is better than that." Delrayna took a deep ragged breath before continuing. "I chose slavery and I chose the man that would own me."
"Why did you choose me?"
"Because you did not take me, when you had the chance, and then discard me ." Delrayna glared at him. "Because you could have left me behind and you did not."
Aleric stared at the girl. He was still angry. Too angry to take up the switch and do what his right arm still ached to do. She would take the beating. He knew that. He also knew that it would solve nothing and waste the day while she recovered.
"Get on your mule," he ordered, kicking dirt onto the fire. "We're leaving."
"How about some breakfast?"
"I've already eaten."
"Can I at least cover myself?"
Aleric paused. He had forgotten that Delrayna was still unclothed.