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Lellen's Journey

Women of Markin : 1

By: Cerise Noble
Published By: Blushing Press
Copyright: © 2015 by Blushing Books and Cerise Noble
19 chapters / 92,000 words
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"And the realization hit her with all the force of a charging ketne. She, Lellen, warrior of Markin in the 5th Lorgenna tribe's Defense Sets, was now simply Lellen, disobedient slave-girl of a Rokian drifter. And she was about to be spanked."

Set far in the future, when Earth has multiple colony planets in space and an InterPlanetary Council to govern them, Lellen is a young warrior on her native planet of Markin.

Snatched from her home by illegal slave traders and sold to a man who, unfortunately for her, knows the meaning of the derogatory name she calls him, Lellen is introduced to the demanding life of a 'personal pleasure slave'.

Will she be able to free herself from slavery? Will she be able to find and kill those who stole her freedom? And if she does, can she deny the strength of the bonds – forged in her pain – that link her to her Master?

Originally released in 2013 by Eslynne Weaver. Re-released in 2015 under her other pen name, Cerise Noble.

Chapter One 

 

Arral strolled through the slavetry, distaste clear on his face. There were rows upon rows of clear plastic cubicles, stacked five high, each containing a grown slave. At least, he surmised, they did not deal in children. Still, many of these were probably kidnapped from their home worlds – it did not seem that they were happy about it, either. Arral resolved to write yet another letter to the Councilor of Rok; it was the third Earth colony and his home world. The government of Rok allowed slavery, but it was strictly regulated, and there were many circumstances in which slaves must be freed. This slavetry was not on Rok; however, it did serve many of the residents of that world, and Arral knew the Councilor did not approve of its practices. 

And yet, here I am, he mused, aware of the irony. Supporting their unethical practices by buying one of their slaves. It was very difficult to find slaves from Markin on Rok; there were, in fact, none for sale to be found the entire planet. At least, none were listed on the global slave transaction database to which he was privy. What ones were on the planet at all had fiercely protective owners who wouldn't sell them for even ten times the amount he'd offered, but he wasn't sure why. They were not an exceptionally beautiful people, like the Varies were, (though anyone who thought that having a Vari for a slave would be nice soon found out otherwise, for they had incredible tempers), nor exotic, as most slaves from worlds that differed much from Rok were considered. No, from what he could gather, Markins were strong, even-tempered, loyal to a fault and generally very obedient. That being the case made Arral wonder even more at the accuracy of his information – that a virulent group of separatists was amassing weapons on that very planet. It just somehow seemed against their nature. They weren't a very warlike people – of course they had their wars like everyone else, but there was little persistent hate or terrorist type activity. 

Arral paused to look at a spectacularly patterned Wog. The females of the species were often tattooed with multicolored designs – the number indicating wealth. This woman had obviously been of large wealth, for her scantily clad body was nearly covered with the bright pictures. She glared at him and her tail lashed angrily. They were an amphibious people, as their planet was largely covered in water, and she had the typical webbed limbs and thin flat tail. He noticed that her webbing was pierced just behind her left leg and gave a grim smile. She, at least, was not a kidnapped woman – the piercing indicated she was a criminal, and the color of the metal was pink. This meant she had committed murder and was thus confined to a life of slavery until she either died, or attempted murder again, at which time she would be put to death. And while her servitude was well merited, Arral strongly suspected she was an exception. 

"Pretty thing, isn't she?" a voice beside him put in smoothly. Arral started, having forgotten the salesman at his elbow. "She'd make a nice chamber slave, now wouldn't she?" Arral glared at him. 

"No, she wouldn't. She a murderer, any fool can see that. No one would want such an ellesse in their chamber," he said, using the Woggish insult for a useless woman. The Wog hissed at him – they had exceptional hearing – but he didn't care. He'd seen some Wog murders, and they were pretty vicious. "She deserves hard labor at best." 

"Ah, so sorry," the salesman put in easily. "So what exactly are you looking for?" He wisely left off his usual 'my friend', recognizing Arral's lack of patience. 

"A Markin. Woman." The salesman shook his head sadly. 

"Ah, a great favorite. Truly. But so expensive." His practiced eye flickered over Arral's less than noble clothing. Arral favored him with another glare as they ambled down the wide aisle. 

"Get on with it." The man smiled and hurried his step a hair. 

"To be honest – " Arral snorted – "We're fresh out, Master – ah – what did you say your name was again?" 

"Master Jolk," he supplied, using the Rokian equivalent of the Earth 'John Doe'. The salesman cleared his throat. So many looking for pleasure slaves used false names. 

"Ah… Master Jolk. Yes. Well you see…" A young man ran up, breathless. 

"Master Daniel, Master Daniel! They brought in a Markin this time! A lively bitch if I ever saw one! Where do you want her?" Master Daniel, the salesman, favored his son with a particularly sour look while Arral fixed him with a disgusted glare. To treat women – or anyone – that way! 'A lively bitch'. Well, my boy, you'll soon have her no more. 

"I'll take her." 

"Now, Master Jolk, I'm sure…" 

"I don't give a damn what you're sure about, show me the girl and let me pay." Master Daniel gulped. He had no idea how much to charge for her – he hadn't even seen her yet, let alone assessed her skills and strengths. And with the merchants on Rok willing to pay top coin for Markin women… yet here was cash quickly, though probably much less than a merchant had. This one looked like a drifter. Finally, under Arral's sharpened glare and questing eyebrow, he decided to test his son. 

"Well, you heard the Master, Danny, my boy. How much for her?" Danny rolled his eyes nervously between the two older men. This wasn't good. Guess too high, lose the sale, and get banned from the training tents. Guess too low, lose money; get banned from the training tents. No good either way. Danny loved the training tents – there, he was Master. He and his brothers taught the new slaves how to serve in the most basic and personal ways. His father approved – a skilled slave brought a higher price than an unskilled, and some of the slaves – actually most of them – didn't mind all that much. Being a pleasure slave was an easier life than a labor slave, and Danny was good to them. He brought his favorites treats and some even wept when they were sold. Still, his father viewed it as a privilege. If he ever lost the business money, he was banned from the tents for a set number of days. He thought hard. The woman was far wilder than any other Markin woman he had seen, and she was probably unskilled. So she was at best a chamber slave, more likely a labor slave, but not a very strong one. She was fairly small. He decided her price and raised it by 50% as his father had taught him to do. 

"She's new," he said slowly to Arral, "and she's not very strong or pretty, so for you, my friend, she goes for a bargain price – 3,250 ens." Arral raised his brows. It was not a bargain price, by a long shot, but it was considerably lower than most Markin women sold for. Still, despite his 10,000 en expense account, Arral opted for haggling. 

"3,250 ens? You are a fool. Not strong and not pretty? No one would buy her for half that." Arral turned to leave but Danny caught his shoulder. 

"Ah, my friend, but you have not seen her yet. You may like her! Besides, the price is only 3,000 ens." Arral turned slowly. 

"Make it 2,750 and I'll take a look at her." Danny glanced to his father, who frowned. Shrugging, he spoke. 

"Why not? What is 250 ens to me when my friend asks, eh? Come, let's look." Arral followed him down another aisle and finally they stopped, looking up to the top cubical. A Markin woman leaned dejectedly on the clear plastic walls. Danny rang the bell in her cubicle and she jumped up, an angry and terrified look on her face. She had not long been a slave, and Arral felt his heart go out to her. 

"I'll take her," he said, letting some softness creep into his voice. Danny smiled and Master Daniel nodded approvingly. It was less than he had hoped for, but this woman was clearly unskilled, untrained, and as his son had said, not pretty or strong, but well built. It was a good price. 

Arral dug through his pockets and came up with 2,500 ens, then pretended he could find no more. He began cursing softly. When Master Daniel took note and counted the bills, he considered for a moment. 

"Get her down, Danny." 

"What?" Arral asked, still 'looking'. "I have no more. I can't buy her!" And he let out a string of Rokian curses before beginning to stuff money back into his pockets. Master Daniel stopped him, taking the money out of his hands and counting it carefully. He smiled. He could understand, and perhaps make a loyal customer in the process. 

"It is enough, Master Jolk." 

"Don't play with me, Master Daniel," Arral spat out. Master Daniel evinced gentleness. 

"I saw how you looked at her, my friend. I will give her to you for what you have." Arral let himself glance at her as she crouched in a corner, arms in front of her as if waiting for an attack. He let his eyes soften. 

"Thank you," he said without looking back to the man. "Thank you." 

Danny ascended the ladder to her cubicle and with a soft word to the slave, which startled her, caught her hands tightly behind her. She began to shriek at him in Markinese, and he whispered to her. Her shrieks became uncertain, and then he led her to a platform where she huddled in the middle, terrified. Danny steadied her and let the platform descend slowly to the ground level. He caught his fingers in her collar and pressed her towards Arral, whom she eyed with a mixture of terror and disgust. 

"I am your Master," he said in Markinese, holding his arms forward, palms up. "I will not hurt you. Come to me." She shuddered, thinking this some new trick and hating the sound of her beloved language on the foreigner's tongue. While she understood her slavery intellectually, the reality of her existence had not sunk in yet. He repeated the words, softer, more persuasively. And suddenly she saw escape. 

The slim outline of a dagger, partially tucked in the waistband of his loose pants, the scabbard suspended from his belt that was wrapped twice around, as was Rokian tradition. Quietly watching the relief on Daniel's face, and Danny's – she would not call them Masters –she edged towards him slowly. Hah! He would see. He was not trying to own a tame girl, but a trained warrior. This drifter would rue the day he bought her. There – so close. She edged sideways, so it appeared that she wanted an embrace, and the drifter obliged her. Perfect! 

In a flash the dagger was in her right hand and at his throat. She had his left wrist in her left hand, screaming in Markinese for a fast ship and enough fuel to get to Markin. Pandemonium broke out. Other slaves either covered their faces, sure she would be killed, or pounded on their plastic walls in encouragement. Danny froze, speechless, and Master Daniel yelled for security. Too soon, a dozen armed men surrounded the pair shouting orders. Master Daniel called for an interpreter and Arral, the only one still calm, yelled for silence. When he got it, he spoke in Markinese again. 

"What do you want?" he asked his slave, his own dagger's edge still biting his throat. 

"A ship! To go home!" she cried, and he could hear the true anguish in her voice. 

"What if I told you I am going to Markin?" 

"You're lying!" she snarled at the guards nearest. "Tell them to back up or I'll slit your throat!" Arral did as he was bid and they took a step backward. He waved them farther, and they complied. 

"I'm not lying. I wanted a Markin slave who knew the land, knew the people, could help me." 

"I don't care! I'm not a slave!" 

"I promise I'll free you as soon as my work is done." 

"Liar!" 

"I'll sign it in my own blood." She hesitated. The most serious contracts were signed in blood on Markin, but how would he know that? He was guessing, she decided. And he probably wasn't going to Markin either. 

"So?" 

"So it will be unbreakable. I'll do it right now, if you put down the dagger." 

"No!" It had to be a trick – to get her off her guard, to lay the dagger down. His voice was firmer the second time. 

"Put the dagger down. I will not hurt you if you do." She gripped his wrist tighter. 

"No!" 

"I will remind you that you belong to me and I will punish you for disobeying me." His voice was sharp, but not mean – he could feel her fear. The guards out numbered her, and she really had no true threat. If she did slit his throat, they would kill her. If she did not, they would wait, keeping the two of them surrounded, and try to catch her off guard to disarm her. Once they did, Arral would be asked to decide her fate, as she now legally belonged to him. Either way, they really had no incentive to provide her with a ship unless Arral asked for one, something he wasn't about to do. 

"I'm not a slave, you filthy dunage!" Arral felt his temper rise as she called him the worst name for a Markin man – one that meant coward and weak and infirm all at once. His voice hardened. 

"You are now, because when a man captures the one who called him that name that one 

 becomes his slave." How did he know that? Lellen was furious with herself. Still – she had the dagger, didn't she? It was all a bluff. 

"You have not captured me!" Before responding Arral's free hand shot out, his forearm crashing into her right shoulder and his elbow jabbing her abdomen. Lellen dropped the blade, gasping for air as she doubled forward, and his other hand twisted, breaking her grip and tightening on her left wrist instead of the other way around. Too quickly he had spun and traded her wrist off so he now held it in his right hand, facing her, and his left hand closed over her throat. He forced her face up to his, and she struggled futilely, terrified again. 

He would kill her now – death was allowed for slaves who tried to murder their Masters. But he's not my Master, I'm not a slave, and I wasn't trying to murder him! 

"Slave, get on your knees," he said, his voice soft, deep, and dangerous. It seemed to reverberate in Lellen's brain like a death knell. She knelt, but kept her eyes open, like the warrior she was. She would die here, in this wretched prison, alone. She would never see her beloved land again. 

Arral noted her eyes and was pleased. He knew that she was sure her death was imminent, and he felt her rapid heartbeat in her throat – so delicate under his hand – but she was brave. None around him spoke, or even seemed to breathe. They all knew that the slave was staring death in the face, and Arral was strong. He could snap her neck from where he held her. Still, Masters did not always choose the death sentence, and they could not understand what was being said. Most slaves either turned away or watched grimly as the scene unfolded. 

"What is your name, slave?" Why was he asking her? Did he actually plan to mark her ashes with a name? She didn't care, but was beginning to obey out of hopelessness. She had called him a dunage. 

"Lellen." 

"Lellen, you belong to me, now. Acknowledge me as your Master." Why didn't he kill her and be done?? 

"You are my Master." Her voice was flat, defeated. 

"Swear your obedience to me, Lellen." She bit her tongue to keep from screaming at him. Much as she was ready for death, a part of her hoped against it still. 

"I swear upon my very life, Master, that I will obey you in all things." She used the rote phrase most Markin slaves used, and it sounded ironic in her throat. Swearing on a life already over. Why did he want such assurances if she was to die anyway? Unless – her blood ran cold – unless he meant to torture her to death. She began to tremble. 

Arral frowned. There was no new threat to her – why the fear? Unless she was afraid of what he might order her to do, now that she had sworn. He must alleviate her fear. 

"Lellen, you are mine, and I will take care of you. I will not abuse your service, nor order you to certain harm. In time, you will learn to trust me. Until then I expect obedience, regardless of your own evaluation of the situation, because I will not purposefully neglect your safety. Do you understand?" His hand began to soften around her throat to caress her jaw. She flinched, but did not draw away. Her eyes were large and troubled. 

Why did he seem tender? Why was he reassuring her? Why did his hand not seem so hard and unyielding, but gentle, now? Why did the specter of her death seem to draw off a little ways? 

"Do you understand, slave?" his voice was harsh, and Lellen was not the only one who started at its sound. 

"Yes, Master." Hah, she knew he wasn't gentle, really. 

"Good girl, Lellen," he said, softly, his right hand caressing her wrist instead of grasping it. Lellen shivered. He was beginning to confuse her. "Can I trust you, Lellen?" Her eyes narrowed. What trick was this? Again he waited, patiently, but when she gave no answer he repeated the question as before, harshly, substituting 'slave' for her name. Lellen was starting to see the pattern. When she did as he asked, he was gentle. When she did not, he was harsh. She decided she must lull him into security by her obedience, and when the time was ripe, steal his ship and escape. Yes – it was better than dying. 

"Yes, Master, you can trust me." He allowed himself a little smile. 

"Good girl, Lellen," he said, caressing her again. "I am glad that I can place my trust in you. This pleases me very much. Do you wish to please me, Lellen?" 

"Yes, Master," she lied. 

"Good, good, very good, Lellen. I want you to understand that I will punish you when you displease me, but I will not be unduly harsh. Will you accept any and all punishments with the trust and obedience you have evinced?" Oh, how she hated him. He was locking her into a corner and Markins hated to break their word. But there was no help for it. 

"Yes, Master." 

Arral studied his new acquisition. Her legs were taunt, ready to spring up, and she swallowed often, as if to choke back less suitable replies. Her heartbeat had slowed slightly, but it could take off again – if he gave her an opportunity to fight him. Well, he would, just to see how well her words held her. 

"Lellen, I have a very small task for you. It is very easy. Just a token sign of your obedience. Will you obey?" Her hackles rose – he doubted her word? It was no matter that she planned on breaking it – and with them, her suspicions. 

"Yes, Master." 

"Good. Lellen, you took my dagger without permission. You will be punished for that later but for now, you must simply know that you are not allowed to touch it at any time unless I command you to do so. Do you understand?" 

"Yes, Master." What was he leading to? 

"Good girl, Lellen. Now your task – retrieve the dagger, wipe it off, and hand it to me, hilt first." Lellen blinked. Her first test. By all the Gods and Goddesses that protect fools and children, I walked right into that one. Lady Aurora, help me choose. Aurora was the Sun Goddess, one who looked after slaves as well as all weak ones. 

Arral looked up and spoke to the security guards, still nervously watching the exchange. This time he spoke Ennish, the common language he and Master Daniel had used earlier. 

"Whatever happens, do not come closer. Master Daniel, if she happens to kill me, she is to be given safe transport to Markin." 

"You're mad!" Arral grinned. 

"She won't kill me." 

"What are you saying?" Lellen broke in, her question respectful, her tone panicky. 

"Hush, and do not interrupt your Master again," he told her, and when she lapsed into a fearful, angry silence, gave her an answer. "I told the guards to stay back and that you were to be given safe passage to Markin if I die." 

Her eyes widened in shock, both at his words and his small grin. 

"What?" 

"What do you mean, Master," he emphasized for her. 

"What do you mean, Master?" she asked, sullen. 

"I mean that I'm going to write your freedom upon my death into my will. That does not, however, release you from your sworn word to obey, nor your acknowledgment of me as your Master. And after this time, if you kill me, the will is null and void on that point, and you will be put to death. So it is now your last chance to kill me and still be safely taken home." He was unnerving, this arrogant drifter! 

"But will they honor your words, Master?" He shrugged in reply. 

"That's a chance you'll have to take, Lellen." He infuriated her! She truly was going to steal his ship at first opportunity! "Have you decided yet to obey me and be rewarded, or to take your chances?" The woman trembled in rage. He was taunting her! Oh, how she longed to ram the dagger straight though his proud heart! Her weapon ready fingers flexed in preparation. Bide your time, her mind advised her, and she forced herself to calm. 

"I will obey, Master," she said; though it nearly choked her to do so. He smiled gently then. 

"Good girl, Lellen. I'm so pleased. I hoped you'd chose correctly." He released her and Lellen rubbed her wrist, then looked around for the dagger. Ah! There it was. She crawled to it on hands and knees, unsure if she could stand yet – he'd given no order yet – and picked it up. Reflexively, her fingers tightened on it and bloodlust surged through her veins. She glanced at the drifter. He was smiling at her, encouraging, his stance relaxed. He isn't waiting for me to charge, she thought with astonishment. He's waiting for me to hand him his dagger like I said I would! He actually trusts me? She didn't know that he was ready to fight on a split moment's notice, wary of her obedience yet – but that he was also reasonably sure she'd obey him. It was just as well. Still wondering, Lellen crawled back to him, careful to keep it from scraping the floor, and knelt before him, then carefully cleaned the dagger off with the hem of her torn garment. It revealed to Arral that she had a staggering amount of weapons knowledge for a woman, because she wiped it center out, not straight down, a manner used only with this particular type of blade. She also paid attention to detail, because she was careful to get the dirt out of all the decorative ridges of the handle. Both traits he liked, and was even more proud to own her. She was a treasure! 

"Here, Master," she said, offering him the newly cleaned dagger, hilt first. Arral practically beamed at his slave as he took it, and praised her highly. 

"Wonderful, very, very good, Lellen," he said, and carefully put it away. "I'm very proud of you. You have pleased me very much." Lellen was surprised by his praise, and almost flattered, until she steeled herself to it. He saw her stiffen and resolved to work on that, but not now. 

"Are you hungry, Lellen?" he asked courteously, and she stared at him. What? 

"No, Master," she lied. It had been a while, and her adrenaline was winding down. 

"Oh well. You will accompany me to eat, then." 

"Yes, Master." 

"And you will be just as well behaved from now on as you just were, won't you, Lellen?" The words stuck in her throat. 

"Yes, Master," she finally said, mouth as dry as sand. 

"Go on now. I'm leaving with my slave," he said in Ennish. "Move along, I said. I have a ship to catch!" Daniel stared in disbelief as Arral strode through the ring of guards, the Markin woman crawling at his heels as if she were some ten years owned slave and not the wild woman who had snatched a dagger to threaten her new Master with! 

Lellen hated to crawl after him, like some animal, but he seemed content with it. Lellen did not think that salvaging her pride was worth her death for disobedience, as he seemed inclined to let her live a little longer, probably until she displeased him. Bide your time, she told herself. Pretend. Still, she could appreciate his practicality in leaving her on her knees. She couldn't very well attack him from this position, and it was very, very humbling. Lellen sighed. 

"Are you all right, Lellen?" Startled, she paused to look up at the drifter. He was inquiring after her? What sort of man was this? She couldn't quite figure him out. 

"Yes, Master." He reached down to caress her tangled hair. 

"Is this hard on your knees, Lellen?" It was, but she wasn't about to admit that. 

"No, Master," she lied. Arral caressed her again. 

"Good. Let me know if it gets painful or uncomfortable. I don't want to wear you out too soon, lovely one." Lellen stopped and frowned. Why was he speaking endearments to her? Why did he touch her with tenderness? And why did his gentle voice make her desire to trust him, to admit; yes, Master, I'm hungry, yes, Master, my knees hurt? 

Arral walked to the outside of the building and down an enclosed walkway. Lellen wondered just where they were going – she had not been outside the slavetry until now, and as uncertain as she was for her future, she was glad to be rid of that hated place. They had been cruel to her, binding her and prodding her and speaking in strange tongues she did not understand. Only one was gentle sometimes, but he only knew a few words of Markinese, not enough for her to understand all he wished her to do. And so she would not miss it. 

Meanwhile, her Master was studying her. Her movements were graceful, and Arral decided that contrary to the Masters Daniel and Danny, his slave was very pretty. Or, she would be when cleaned up properly. He knew this station well enough to know where a small eating establishment was, but he couldn't recall if they had bathing rooms or not. No matter. They'd soon be aboard the huge passenger ship going to Bler, a near enough planet to Markin that they'd be able to rent a small ship for two to finish the trip. Too bad his own was too well known in that area for him to use it. But that was all right. He'd enjoy the time on the passenger ship by training and getting to know his newest acquisition. 

Too soon the tantalizing aromas of Rokian food filled Lellen's nostrils. She'd had it a few times on Markin, in the cities, but didn't particularly like it. Right now, however, she was sure she could eat twice her portion. As they got closer Lellen could make out a babble of languages, but strain as she might, she heard no voices in Markinese. Just as well, she thought. Wouldn't want anyone else of my people to be an unhappy slave too. 

Arral paused in the doorway and looked around. Good – lots of proud new owners, lots of noise and confusion. No one would notice them. A Wog couple brushed past him, leading a male human slave and chattering in a mix of Ennish and Wogish. The slave looked content enough, if slightly bored. Arral glanced down to see Lellen staring after him with incomprehension. 

"Speak to me, Lellen." 

"About what, Master?" she asked, not disrespectful. 

"What you're thinking. Ask me whatever you need to know." That seemed strange to Lellen, but she took the opportunity. 

"Why does he have a collar?" 

"He's a slave, lovely one, just like you." Lellen flushed angrily at the reminder, but curiosity got the better of her. 

"But he's from Rok!" 

"Yes?" Arral smiled down at her patiently. 

"But – how is that so?" Arral shrugged. 

"Maybe he committed a crime. Maybe he got into debt. Maybe he got bored and wanted to see the galaxy." 

"Bored? And chose a Wog as a Master?" Her own Master grinned. 

"No, you're probably right, Lellen. He probably got into debt." 

"But –" 

"Lellen, lovely one, I'm famished. Ask while I eat, all right?" Lellen nodded and fell silent, stung by his gentle admonition. Yes, I must always put my "Master's" needs above my own, she reminded herself harshly. He went through the line – it was a cafeteria style eatery – and ordered a number of things like roasted meat, corn bread and greens, then a few specialty items for Lellen like fowl, prepared "Markin-style". 

Being on her knees Lellen had no idea what the drifter was getting, and only moved when he did, humiliated to kneel between two standing men, neither of which paid the least attention to where she was. At least the drifter didn't step on her like the guy behind him did. Lellen hissed at him until her new "Master" looked down to see what was wrong. 

Quickly he led her to a corner table and plunked the tray down. He waved her into a seat, which Lellen accepted with surprise. It felt odd to sit before him. 

"Ah," he said, eyeing the food. "Splendid. Now, Lellen, ask away." She tried to ignore her aching belly and the truly tempting dish that smelled like it had used Markin spices, but on what sort of animal she could not fathom. 

"I thought that Rokians did not ever become slaves, that they just took them." Arral looked up curiously. 

"What gave you that idea, Lellen? Most slaves on our planet are Rokians. And we have a half decent trade in them, but there are very strict laws regulating it." 

"Oh…" Lellen frowned. Perhaps her cousin knew less about the slave trade than he claimed. 

"Would you like some chicken?" he asked, and she looked askance at the Rokian word. Arral grinned at her confusion. He held up a piece of the fowl that had been imported to Rok from Earth many years ago and was still something of a specialty food. "Imported from Rok," he told her. "'Markin-style'," he added, laughing at the appalled look on her face. "I know it doesn't compare to what you're used to," he said softly, apologetically, "but you'll have to make do for the moment." Lellen couldn't stand his turns of mood! One moment he laughs at me after showing me a miserable excuse for Markin food, and then he pushes the plate towards me with apology in his eyes. What does he want? And yet, her belly rumbled. She grated the words past her lips. 

"No, thank you, Master." Arral lifted his eyebrows in surprise, fork part way to his mouth. 

"Are you ill, Lellen? Allergic to something? Why aren't you eating?" His voice was very firm. 

"I'm not hungry, Master," she lied again, and her rebellious stomach took that moment to growl. 

"Are you lying to me, Lellen?" he asked softly. Immediately the tension thickened and pressed on Lellen's mind. He is, she thought drearily, actually trying to be nice. "Is there some food custom on Markin of which I am ignorantly in gross violation?" Lellen looked up perplexed. He really did want her to eat, didn't he. Slowly she shook her head. 

"I would like to wash my hands, first, Master, but you are not." Not really, anyway. This was outside of her range of experience, and none of the etiquette rules she knew could really be applied. 

"So you lied." His voice was cold. He was not angry, merely matter of fact. Finally, Lellen answered, eyes on her empty plate. 

"Yes, Master." 

"I see. Come here." Lellen stood on trembling legs and approached his chair. Had she failed another test? Would he kill her now? Now, after being so kind? And Lellen was surprised at her thoughts. "Lellen, I thought I would wait to punish you when we were on the ship, to give us some privacy. But you have been lying to me, and that is such a grave offense that I feel I must punish you now. If you do not want to suffer that humiliation, I will permit it to be delayed on the condition that you obey me in all things until then. One slip and I will triple it, do you understand me, Lellen?” Terrified, she nodded. How would he punish her? She as heard many tales of the brutality of slave owners. "Well?" he snapped. "Now or later, slave?" 

"Now, please, Master," she said. Better to know than to wonder. And yet even as she said the words her insides froze in fear. Would she ever get back to Markin? And if she did would she bear scars she couldn't hide, proof that she, a warrior, had been taken as a slave and punished? And the realization hit her with all the force of a charging ketneker. She, Lellen, warrior of Markin in the 5th Lorgenna tribe's Defense Sets, was no more now than Lellen, disobedient slave-girl of a Rokian drifter. 

Unbidden, the tears sprang to her eyes and Lellen tried to force them down again but she just couldn't. She was tired, hungry, hurting, scared and lonely. They spilled down her cheeks and she bit her lip until she drew blood to keep from sobbing aloud, but her body shook with the effort. 

Arral was startled. What could have made her cry like that? Did he seem so cruel that she was that scared of him? Or was it just nerves, after all that had happened? Whatever it was, he resolved not to punish her here – it would exacerbate whatever was wrong. She did need to be punished – she must learn up front that disobedience and lying were things he would not tolerate – but first, she needed to be comforted. 

"Come here, lovely one," he told her, opening his arms. Lellen shook her head, her face and the top of her ragged clothes soaked in tears. Arral sighed, frustrated. He waited a moment to see if she would change her mind, then got up and addressed the manager. 

"Are there bathing rooms for rent?" he asked. Upon finding that there were, he paid for the best one and ordered the food placed in it. He went back to the girl, still crying, still standing where he'd left her, and gently but firmly took her arm. She allowed herself to be led down a hall and into the bathing room. It was, fortunately, clean, and there were fresh towels on the side of the large sunken tub. He set the water to run and indicated the table when a waiter entered with their tray. When they were alone Arral turned to Lellen. "Lellen, lovely one, you are to strip and get yourself into the bath. I will turn away until you are submerged." He turned, and Lellen stared at his back, sniffling and uncomprehending. "Hurry up, Lellen, I'm turning around in a minute, whether you're in or not!" Quickly she undressed, despising the dirty rages that had been her garb for the last week. Lellen attempted to remove the metal collar from her throat, but finally gave up and stepped into the tub. Try as she might, Lellen could not stifle the low moan that escaped her lips at the lapping of the hot water on her feet. Soon she had descended all the steps and ducked under to wet her head. Maybe he would punish her soon, but the bath was wonderful anyway. She was glad the water was cloudy with the white silt reputed to have healing properties, as it hid her body from his eyes when he turned back to her. She wasn't sure why he had let her undress privately, but she was glad for it. Her tears had slowed, but her body still ached. 

"Good girl, Lellen," he said, smiling at her. "We still have another two hours before the ship docks, and an hour before it starts loading, so don't rush. You and I need to talk." Lellen caught her breath. Didn't he mean to talk at her, not a conversation? But, instead of commencing a lecture, the drifter settled himself on the floor beside the tub and looked down at her tenderly. Lellen kept her knees bent in order to keep her shoulders under the chest high water and regarded him suspiciously. Why was he so confusing? 

"Let me explain a few things to you, Lellen. Maybe that will help. Ask any questions you want." He paused, waited for her tentative nod. "Good. Now. My name is Arral Drakon. I gather information for the InterPlanetary Council. I have been assigned by the Council to go to Markin and find what I can about a particular terrorist group. There are rumors that one exists there, called the ketnekers – the bull chargers. I don't know that that's true, but that's what I need to find out. Because they need to be neutralized before they kill anyone else." He watched nonchalantly as the color drained from her face, despite the hot water. Interesting. 

Lellen felt her knees go weak and her blood run cold. Surely… her cousin was not a terrorist! Maybe it was just coincidence that his group of friends called themselves the ketnekers too – maybe his information was all wrong. But it was impossible to think – that Larn could kill anyone! Impossible! And yet a tiny thought nagged at her – remember when he came home that one day, late summer, one day when he swore to Mama that he'd kill them? All of them? But that was so long ago, Lellen told herself. Surely he didn't mean it. Surely he was just a boy with brash words, hurting and lashing out in his hurt against them – those men, so long ago in that forest. Surely… 

"Lellen, you must answer me when I speak to you." 

"Yes, Master?" she quickly said, flushing with embarrassment. 

"I asked you if you'd heard of them." 

"No, Master," she replied. It was true. She had heard of no terrorist group called the ketnekers. He watched her closely for a minute, then accepted her words. 

"Very well. As you see, I truly am going to Markin and I was in need of a slave who understood the land, the people, and the language." 

"You speak it very well, Master," she said, not at all in flattery. 

"Thank you, Lellen. But it is nice to have a native speaker." 

"But why don't you hire a guide?" 

"Unfortunately, I am not going as a tourist. That would arouse too much suspicion, if such a group does indeed exist. I was ordered to buy a Markin slave woman in order to pose as a permanent immigrant to Markin. I want to be on a personal level with people – I need for them to be comfortable with me. And," he added, "a slave is more trustworthy than a guide for hire." His little smile disgusted her. 

"Yes, because they can be beaten if they disobey, or their tongues cut out so they can not speak the truth!" she spat bitterly. Arral frowned sharply at her. 

"Lellen, calm yourself. I will never beat you. Nor would I ever desire to mutilate you! I will punish you if you disobey, yes, but I would never harm you. I meant it as a compliment, Lellen, because all I have heard from those who own Markin slaves is that if a Master is strong and good enough to earn their slave's trust, then those slaves are the most trustworthy and loyal of all other people they have ever met. I would be honored, Lellen, if I could earn that level of devotion from you. And I would never force it from you." His voice dropped on the last sentence as he remembered the cautionary tales he had heard.  

On their own planet, Markin slaves had a particular ceremony that was performed between slave and Master. It was performed when the slave reached a point at which he believed he could devote his whole life to the service of his Master, and the Master believed he could devote his whole life to the care of his slave. Once the ceremony was performed, it could not be broken save by death, and each was bound to the other forevermore. The slaves had the tremendous responsibility of serving their Masters' every whim, and the Masters had the equally tremendous responsibility of caring for their slaves' every need. Arral had been told that is was the most beautiful of ceremonies, and was getting rarer. It also had to be totally voluntary. A Master who unwisely ordered his slave to undergo the ceremony often found their slaves dead shortly after; they were always accidents, always tragic, but some hinted that a slave bound in an involuntary ceremony often could not bear to face a life devoted to a Master who had robbed them of their most precious gift to give.  

Arral had actually met one man who, foolishly, after falling in love with the slave his father gave him upon his coming of age, had began to beg her to allow the ceremony. The young woman, also in love, knew the seriousness of the ceremony and refused, counseling him to give her time. She asked him to wait until their infatuation had cooled, to see if he did not grow tired of her and wish to sell her. There is nothing wrong with waiting, she told him. I will serve you in whatever way you desire. And when you are sure that you want the responsibility for my life, I will give it to you. I do want it, he had pleaded with her, and she had smiled playful eyes at him. Patience, Master, patience, she had said. But he could not be so. One day he came upon her doing some task he had set her to, and ordered her to perform the ceremony with him in three days time. She had blanched and affected not to hear him, which angered him. She had always obeyed him readily before, so he ordered her again. She pleaded and begged for him to think, to wait, to give it time. He punished her for defying him, and she tried to run away, but he found out and caught her before she could get very far. And so the ceremony took place. She served him for another year, but she was never happy, never smiled. He began to lose interest in her, and one day he came home after looking at the slave market for a new slave. He found her body. The knife had slipped while she cut vegetables for his supper, slipped and sliced her hand open. She had bled to death. The enormity of what he had done came to his mind too late. Had he heeded her and waited, she would still be cheerfully serving him. Had she stayed cheerful and playful, he would not have lost interest. Had he not lost interest he would not have spent time at the slave market. Had come home after work and not gone to the market he might have been in time to save her. 

Arral felt the tears start in his eyes as he remembered the haggard face of a young man who'd aged a half a century in one day. He'd lost his job, his home, his interest in life. He would never take another slave, even though he legally could, since there was not enough evidence to rule her death a suicide. 'I killed her,' he had told Arral that day in the pub. 'I killed her,' he repeated, as if he could not believe the words. 'I loved her, and so I killed her.' No man who listened to that story would ever make the same mistake. 

Lellen watched the drifter sink back into memory, and she wondered whose memories haunted him – he seemed touched by pity, but not for himself. She of course knew what he referred to, but was unsettled that a Rokian man knew of such a private thing. Presently he came back and looked at her again. 

"Do you understand, lovely one?" he asked softly, and Lellen nodded. Perhaps he meant to try to be fair like a Markin Master would be. After all, once we get to Markin he will be under our laws, she thought with a fierce surge of pride. My land will protect me. But then her hopes wilted. Maybe they will not, when they see that I am no more that a slave, now. 

"Tell me of yourself." Lellen frowned as she regarded him and did not speak. Arral sighed. "Why must I be sharp with you, Lellen? It is not a difficult task! I hope that you will feel comfortable enough to share your personal life with me soon, but until then I would like to know a little about the woman I own!" He glared at her, and Lellen felt a tad bit guilty. He really hadn't been mean or cruel to her yet, and she was being stubborn. Didn't she have a plan of lulling him into a false sense of security by her obedience? Well, this was a fine way to go about it! 

"I'm sorry, Master, this is just so – so hard to understand. Hard – to understand why a Master cares so much about a simple slave that attacked you." Arral smiled softly. 

"Well, Lellen, you're going to live with me for at least a year if not longer, and I want to know who you are. What do you like, what don't you? I don't want you to be miserable. I never wish misery on a slave of mine. As for attacking me, I can understand that you were scared and upset and you took an opportunity I forgot to guard against, but you did not kill without cause. I am very impressed; those qualities are very important to me and my line of work. However, I also demand perfect obedience. If I tell you to jump up and down and bark like a vitla , I expect you to begin that moment. If I tell you to put down a dagger, I want no questions asked but immediate compliance. If I tell you to hold your breath I don't want to have to wait for you to understand why, I just want you to do it and not stop until I say so. Is that clear, Lellen?" She could see in his eyes that he was deadly serious. 

"But why, Master? What will those things benefit you?" 

"Sometimes I need you to behave in a certain way for tactical reasons, and I have to trust you to do so, without question. I do not have time for too many questions – working near terrorists can be dangerous, and every moment counts." 

"But why would you want me to hold my breath? What if you forget to tell me to breathe, and I die?" His eyes were flat. 

"Then, Lellen, you would have died anyway. I was once working with a woman, a free woman, on an assignment. We get too close to a war monger, and we immediately tried to back out, let someone else with more experience handle it. I had trouble getting her to listen to me – she didn't have near the training I do and it was making things difficult. As we were retreating, I noticed a guard lob something in our direction. I wasn't sure, but it looked like a canister of poisoned gas. 'Breathe,' I said. 'On three, hold your breath and run! One, two, three!' She opened her mouth to ask why she should bother and what was the danger, I'm sure. But I'll never know because she was dead before I made it two steps out. If she had obeyed, she would be alive. Since she did not, we lost an agent." Arral shrugged. "She chose to disobey, and she suffered the consequence. The ultimate consequence. Since I don't want the same thing to happen to you, Lellen, I am going to train you to obey me. You will also suffer consequences for disobedience, but they will be far less severe than the true consequences, were you to disobey me outside of our chambers." He eyed her. "Wash yourself, then wrap yourself in a towel and come to me. We have the matter of both disobedience and lying to deal with." 

"Yes, Master," Lellen answered. She was rather frightened now. Yes, she was a warrior, but these things were outside of the range of her experience. Perhaps he is right. Perhaps I must obey him. But a part of her decided nothing like that could happen on Markin – on her home! Still, she washed thoroughly, cleansing the dirt from her hair, nails, skin and even the hated collar. She looked to see where the drifter was – he was sitting in a chair against the wall on the side of the bathing room eating. He was not looking at her. Lellen quickly pulled herself out of the tub and dried, still darting glances at him. He seemed absorbed in the food, and Lellen's stomach growled. She still hadn't eaten. Quietly she approached him, covered in a towel, and waited timidly while he finished his bite, swallowed, drank a bit, washed his hands with the cloth provided and turned to her. 

"Let me explain what I'm going to do. I do not want you unduly frightened. There is a manner of punishing slaves that is prevalent on Markin, called planik, or spanking. This is a method also used by many Rokian Masters. Are you familiar with it?" Lellen's mouth dried and her belly quivered. Rokians used it, too? 

"Y-yes, Master," she replied, for the first time forgetting to keep her voice under control. 

"Good. Please place yourself over my lap, legs to my left side." Lellen obediently draped herself over his solid thighs and suppressed a whimper of shame and fear as he adjusted her. She had seen many slaves spanked, and many wives as well. It was common enough for Markin Masters to punish their slaves in public, if they decided it was warranted. She herself, being a woman, had been corrected by her Set Leader in this manner, though not over his lap. In some ways, she was glad she was a woman – planik never scarred, never harmed the punished person. Men, on the other hand, were corrected by flanik – flogging – whipping on the back that could break the skin. But that knowledge did not comfort Lellen much. There were many, many ways to make planik more painful and still not draw blood. Besides, what did a drifter know about administering a civilized punishment? What if he did harm her? Lellen began to struggle against his strong grip but suddenly his palm landed hard on her right buttock. 

"Hold still, Lellen, or I'll find something more effective than my hand." The slap had stung, even through the towel, and Lellen was surprised into stillness. "Good girl. I'm going to lift the towel now, and it would do you well to remember who owns you." Lellen felt a hot fury suffuse her blood and she lay rigidly, trying to impede his progress as much as possible. 

Arral noted her reaction and sighed mentally. It would be a long job, he thought, convincing her to accept her station for its duration. Maybe having proof of its temporary nature would help her deal with it. Well, he intended to make that contract as soon as possible. Still, for the time being she was going to have to learn to obey. Her defiance was getting wearisome. 

The drifter jerked her towel up, and it ripped. The sound gave Lellen a tiny smug triumph, but also a sickening sense of fear. If he would rip the fabric just to get to her, what would he do when he got to her? Abruptly, she knew. Her bottom was quickly covered in hot fiery smacks that set her wriggling. Yet, she tried to stay still, to not let him know how it affected her, and keep her legs closed. But his hand was hard, his arm strong, and his determination that she learn a lesson greater than hers to resist. Soon Lellen's rear felt roasted, and her legs and hips churned, trying to avoid the painful slaps. She began gasping aloud and lunging forward as if to escape. She didn't remember ever being spanked this thoroughly before. 

Arral let her wriggle and lunge, only catching her wrists together when her arms began to flail; her lunging pushed her hips higher on his thighs, offering him a better target. He watched her buttocks blush, then get redder and redder. He knew that the speed and relentlessness with which he spanked were rapidly bringing her to a loss of control. He wanted that. He wanted her to feel his control, to feel herself being dominated. He began to spank harder, ignoring the burning in his palm, and watched her struggles increase. Arral tightened his grip, hoisted her even farther forward and concentrated all his efforts on her sweet spot, right between buttock and thigh. This lovely slave of his would have a sore enough bottom to think twice about disobeying or lying in the future. Or at least he hoped so. 

Lellen could not take it any more – it hurt so badly, so much, and surely he was done! She was fighting back tears now, but it was a losing battle. She had to protect herself. Lellen tossed her legs up, blocking his access to her burning rear. 

Arral half smiled at her futile tactic. "Put your legs down, Lellen. Now!" he added when her legs didn't move. Her body strained to hold the difficult position, and Arral waited. Her bottom throbbed and Lellen mewed, forcing her tears of pain and frustration back. Keeping her legs up was hard, especially as he was holding her wrists and her weight was not well balanced over his thighs. She held on, like the warrior she was, but her legs trembled with exhaustion and Arral knew it wouldn't be long. With a cry of defeat and frustration, her legs dropped back down. Arral opened his own legs and caught hers between them, so she could not try again. He spanked her thighs for a long time, scolding as he did. 'Obey,' 'don't think you can out last me, little girl,' and 'accept', and 'don't you ever lie to me again,' and again, 'obey'. These were the topics Lellen caught the drift of, but she was crying too hard to hear every word. He returned his attention to her sweet spot, and spanked slower but harder. Lellen sobbed, and her struggles slowed down. She had never been spanked his much before. All she wanted was for it to stop, and at every new explosion of pain she cried out. She felt so helpless. 

"Will you obey me, Lellen?" 

"Yes! Yes, always, Master, always!" The young warrior had never felt this submissive in her entire life. 

"Will you ever lie to me, Lellen?" 

"No! Never, Master, I swear it!" 

"That is good," he said, and gave her a last hard volley before stopping and inspecting her crimson bottom. Well, she'd be very sore for a day, maybe two. Gently he stroked her swollen rear, feeling the heat. He gave her a little squeeze and she gasped through her sobs. 

"You're forgiven, Lellen. You're my good girl again." He released her and then drew her to him, cradling her shaking body in his arms. She felt so small and fragile he found himself wanting to protect her from the universe, to hide her away, to not go on the assignment and possibly endanger her. Yet he was bound to do his duty, and Arral did want to make her home safer for her, if indeed there was a terrorist group based on the planet. 

Lellen clung to her Master's rough clothing, wetting his shirt and gradually relaxing in his arms. Perhaps he was not a monster – other punishers had not comforted her after planik. And yet the man was stroking her back and holding her to him, murmuring soothing words into her hair. But what if he is just trying to get me to serve him sexually? she thought. Hurriedly she scrambled off his lap and stood before him, tugging the towel down to cover her as much as possible in spite of the tear. The drifter regarded her fidgeting with a slight smile. 

She's still afraid of me, Arral thought. She'll get over it. I hope. But one more consequence needs to be applied. 

"Lellen, I expect that towel to be the first thing you buy with the first money you receive." 

"Master?" 

"Yes, Lellen?" 

"What money?" Arral smiled. 

"Whatever you receive first. If you take a job on Markin, the price will come out of your first pay." Her eyes widened in consternation. She frowned. 

"But – Master, you ripped it!" Arral fixed her with a sharp glare and she was cowed. 

"If you had obeyed me and let me raise the towel, it would not have ripped." 

"But…!" she stared at him. 

"I'll have to pay for it, Lellen, when we leave. And I expect you to repay me as soon as you can." 

"But, Master…" 

"No more 'buts', Lellen, or you'll find yours being heated up again. Have I made myself clear?" 

"Yes, Master," she answered, disgruntled. Was he so poor he needed a slave to pay for a towel he ripped? Ripped in order to set fire to my poor bottom, she thought, gingerly feeling her seared seat. 

"No rubbing, Lellen, or I'll spank you again." She looked up in surprise. No other punisher had cared what she did afterward. "You heard me, slave, hands off." 

"But why, Master?" Arral saw she was genuinely puzzled, so he answered. 

"Because when I spank, I mean it. And you are not allowed to mitigate one bit of that sting or soreness. I want you to feel every second of it. Rubbing takes away the sting, and that's not its purpose. It's supposed to hurt. So hands off." Lellen removed her hands and frowned at her Master, but she understood his logic. If it didn't hurt, its purpose would have been defeated. And yet, it still stung and throbbed mercilessly. 

"But…" 

"No 'buts', Lellen. Remember what I said." She frowned again. Being a slave was very frustrating. And yet it was not unlike being a part of her Set, back home. She would learn to adapt. Even if he delivered a harsher planik than anyone else she knew. 

 

 

 

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