Day 17th, 8th Month, the Year 2812, Western continent calendar:(Towards the peninsula 11)
One week had passed as promised.
Ryouma and the others left the inn they were using as their base and set up a camp 3km away from Epiroz’s eastern gate.
Before entering the peninsula, they all had to undergo a series of trainings and trials. However, other than the Earl’s private army’s training field there was no place large enough for them to train within the confines of the fortress city.
That was why Ryouma chose to camp outside of the settlement, since one did not simply ask the Earl to lend him the place.
“Preparations are already complete… What is left now is to see how many people are going to pull through what’s to come, I guess…”
The sun reached its peak. Ryouma’s eyes gazed at the walls of Epiroz.
“It is impossible to expect all 300 people to survive… I think we should be satisfied if half of them survived, don’t you think so my Lord?”
Genou, who stood behind Ryouma, said those words.
“I guess so…”
Ryouma shrugged his shoulders and replied Genou in a relaxed manner.
A week had passed since he had made the deal with the slave merchant.
From here on the selection of personnel would begin. The strong ones;the smart ones; and all those who possessed a strong will.
Only children possessing such traits would be given their freedom.
Of course, everyone was going to be released from slavery.
However, in this world, only the strong could possibly obtain true freedom.
But still, the children bought by Ryouma were certainly fortunate.
Whether they could obtain their freedom or not wasn’t the point, but that, unlike most in the same circumstances, they were at least being given the opportunity to grasp it with their own hands.
“My Lord, you ought not to worry about it too much… I think those children are already lucky enough to be bought by none other than my Lord.”
Hearing Genou’s words, Ryouma frowned.
Ryouma was aware of this even without Genou saying it, he already knew. It was just… Even if the young man realized such things, his heart still couldn’t accept it fully.
(I, who is buying those children to be used, and the slave merchant, who sold those children… I guess I’m no different, huh…)
This train of thought rose inside Ryouma’s mind.
However, he also knew that he couldn’t be soft and stop here, because it was at this moment that everything would begin.
“Young master! The merchants have arrived.”
Bolts’ voice hailing Ryouma could be heard.
“Understood! I will go meet them immediately.Let’s go, Genou.”
After having said those words he began walking towards the open area. The hesitation that had once shown on Ryouma’s face was nowhere to be seen.
He comprehended better than anyone else that reality was harsh and heartless, and that if he were to hesitate here, this ‘truth’ wouldn’t change.
“Milord, thank you very much for using our services. As promised, we’ve prepared the items. Please check them, sire.”
After saying that the slave merchant bowed his head carefully just like how he did the other day.
“It seems like I’ve caused you some trouble, huh?”
Even if Ryouma didn’t care for the other person, he wouldn’t dismiss their hard labor, and would never forget to appreciate it.
“There’s no such thing, sire. After all, this is a business… Furthermore, the business is currently on the downslope and we have been unable to attract many customers. Actually, I’m very grateful to milord for bringing us this deal…”
The slave merchant waved his hands and denied Ryouma’s concession.
Ryouma’s gaze then turned cold, looking at the slaves standing behind the slave trader. There appeared to be more girls than boys.
Ryouma then questioned the slave trader in a forceful tone.
“Well, whatever. So then? What about the ratio and quantity that I have requested?”
“Well, yes… In fact, I’ve brought 320 people with me here. In term of ratio, it’s 7:3 between females and males.”
“Isn’t the amount exceeding that of my request?”
“Yes milord… Because there weren’t enough male labor slaves… As compensation, we brought more than 300 people.”
Upon hearing the slave merchant’s excuse, Ryouma did not try to hide his bad mood.
“I take it that this is your form of apologizing?”
The slave trader smiled without saying anything.
“Well fine then… None of them bear any physical defects, right?”
“Yes milord. I’ve thoroughly examined each and everyone of them. None suffers any type of ailment.”
Some of the slaves bore whip scars on their bodies, but they were only scratches that were within the scope of possible recovery.
As expected of a trusted slave dealer, he seemed to understand how to perform a good trade.
“Very well. I’ll trust you… I will take all of them. You now just need me to pay the remaining 750,000 baht, am I right?”
“Yes, that is right, sire.”
Ryouma lightly nodded his head and handed over the money bag to the slave trader.
“Thank you very much.”
The slave merchant immediately lowered his head without even checking the money inside the bag, very much like he once did back at the shop.
Then he presented Ryouma with two documents.
“Then please sign this delivery note milord… With this, all the slaves here now belong to Mikoshiba-sama. One piece of the document will be given to Mikoshiba-sama, and we will keep the copy.”
After confirming that Ryouma’s name was written in the documents, the slave merchant nodded visibly satisfied, then he put one of the documents back in his bag.
“With this, we’ve finished our trade, milord. In the future, please use our services again, the Abutal firm.”
Pleased with the trade, the slave traders left the camp with smiles on their faces.
“Now then… Lione! Distribute the clothes that we’ve prepared. After that, Laura! Are the meals ready?”
Even if the weather at the time was mild, people could still get sick if left naked.
Ryouma had already seen how the slave merchants treated the slaves back at the shop, so in preparation for this moment, Ryouma had arranged for clothes, underwear and warm meals to be ready for the slaves.
He had thought that the slave merchants might have provided some clothing when they delivered the slaves, but it seemed that this kind of service did not exist in this world.
First of all, Ryouma had to let the slaves put on some clothes.
The members of Red Lion distributed the garments to the slaves who were standing still like dolls without a soul or will of their own.
“Boy, we’ve finished distributing the clothes…”
Lione showed a troubled expression while reporting to Ryouma.
The cause was clear. It was because, even after being given the clothes, the slaves only held them in their hands.
Normally naked people would immediately put the clothes on.
Or at least, normal people would ask if they could wear them or not.
However, these children just stood there silently.
They received the outfits but did nothing, not even asking anything.
“These children… Why won’t they put the clothes on? It can’t be, it isn’t because they don’t know how to wear clothes, right?”
It wasn’t like they were infants. They might have been slaves, but it would have been too much if they didn’t even know how to wear clothes!
“Ryouma-sama… Please leave this to me.”
After saying this, Laura walked towards the children and spoke gently.
It was a most calm and gentle voice.
When spoken to like that, the children began to show some expressions.
At first, they showed surprised looks, then dazed looks. However, after Laura urged them to wear the clothes, the young crowd started to put on the garmens that they held in their hands with frightened expressions.
After a few minutes, all the children had gotten dressed.
“Just what did she say?”
It was normal for Ryouma to be taken by surprise.
The slave children’s countenances were still gloomy. However, after Laura talked to them, some sort of expressions, even if a little, showed up on their faces.
Although it was faint, they now bore something akin to human expressions. Compared to their previous doll-like visage, Ryouma thought it was a great improvement.
“It’s easy. I just told them that the clothes we’ve given to them are theirs.”
“What do you mean? Wasn’t that obvious?”
Ryouma’s doubt was natural. For him, the clothes he had distributed were already the younglings’ belongings.
However, Laura shook her head.
“Slaves can’t think like that. They will accept the clothes only after their master clearly told them to… After all, I’ve experienced that kind of life for a long time as well…”
Thinking about it a little, Ryouma understood.
Because the children had been treated poorly, they had even repressed their will to question.
For a slave, the master’s will would determine their life and death.
They had no rights. They only had to obey and not show incompetence, so that their master wouldn’t get rid of them.
“Ah, I see now…”
After Laura’s explanation, Ryouma finally comprehended the situation.
They couldn’t do anything unless Ryouma gave them permission to. That was what the children believed.
Thus, Ryouma first had to order the children if he wanted them to do something, even though they were humans. Young men and women who had their own free will.
From there on, Ryouma discerned that he had to tell them loudly, and make them remember, that they were humans, that they were people with souls and wills of their own.
That day, Melissa’s fate changed for the second time.
It was three years ago that her fate had changed dramatically for the first time.
She was born in a small fishing village in the Zalda Kingdom, while her family had been poor, she had lived surrounded by her family experiencing a peaceful life.
However, this life suddenly ended due to the pirates that came from the Wortenia peninsula.
She had learnt that sea raiders had made their base at the peninsula when she was an infant.
But, compared to the trade ships loaded with expensive goods, there wasn’t much value in pillaging the fishing village.
That was why her village had never been attacked before.
Besides, who would want to attack a fishing hamlet just to get dried fish to begin with?
However, reality was harsher than she had previously thought.
In front of her eyes, a massacre took place.
Her parents died with their bodies skewered by spears. It was unknown to her what had happened to her siblings and friends.
There was only one thing an eleven years old girl could do back then. And that was to run away from that place.
She had managed to avoid the pirates’ hands and escaped from her burning village.
What was inside her mind back then was the overpowering desire to survive.
She had no recollection of what had happened after that.
What she could remember was that she had managed to flee the village, but her memory was cut off from there.
The next thing she remembered was that she was picked up by some man from a certain town.
Then, all of a sudden she found herself standing naked side by side with people wearing collars.
Back then she could not fathom what had happened.
However, reality gradually hit her.
That was, the reality where she would get beaten no matter what she did or said.
When she cried, she would get flogged; when she shouted she would get flogged; when she begged she would get flogged; when she talked she would get flogged.
Like that, she learned how to take care of the scars caused by the whip.
She learned that to survive, she had to kill her own will and behave like a doll, devoid of any feelings.
Such thoughts continued to become more and more lodged in her mind after seeing many slaves being disposed of in front of her eyes.
Even more aggravating, she was a female slave, without much much physical strength. Although her face could be said to be pretty, it was not a face that someone would deem a matchless beauty either.
She might have been sold as a sex slave if she had been a bit older, but she was only 14 years old right now.
Due to living the life of a slave for many years, her body had withered, it was not a body that could entice men’s lust.
Had Mikoshiba Ryouma not bought her then, she might have ended up dying not long after.
However, fate worked in mysterious ways.
(These clothes… What should I do with them?)
Mellisa was brought together with the other slaves, and unlike some of the others, she at least wore a piece of underwear and a ragged piece of cloth given to her by a slave trader a long time ago.
Her fellow sufferers also showed puzzled expressions when they received the garments.
(What is this even? Can I wear it?)
The underwear she was wearing right then had been worn for months already and the ragged shirt was torn on more than one place, by courtesy of the slave trader’s whip. That was the state and entirety of her current attire.
Of course, she yearned to change her clothes!
However, such a wish would never have been granted. Because she was only a thing.
When people were given something, normally they would immediately consider it theirs from then on.
However, at the same time, Melissa thought that something like that would have been impossible to happen to her.
(No… I am a thing… There are no people who give clothes to a thing…)
She promptly acted the way she consistently did.
This had to be a trap, similar to the time when the slave merchant presented them with meat and told them to eat. What followed then, was a thorough thrashing for those who took the food.
That was what something that Melissa had experienced in the past.
A slave’s ration consisted of only hard bread and cold, bland soup.
There was no way that meat would be served to them. It was almost as impossible as for the heavens to turn upside down!
A slave could only eat food fit for slaves. Even if meat were to fall on the ground, a slave never ought to wish to eat it.
This very doctrine was drilled into the slaves by their owners and slave trader.
Down to the very core.
All the slave children that were brought outside the fortress city that day had gone through such brainwashing.
That was why nobody made their move.
They were all just standing still on the spot.
However, the situation abruptly moved in an unexpected direction for them.
A woman with blonde hair stood in front of her and proclaimed something that thoroughly surprised Melissa.
“It’s cold, isn’t it? Those clothes in your hands are yours from on. My master, Mikoshiba Ryouma gave those clothes to all of you. Wear them properly… That is what your master wants you to do.”
When she heard those words, Melissa doubted her ears for a moment.
(Giving clothes to slaves? Really? This kind of good clothes?)
They were not clothes made from silk, these were articles that could be bought from any clothes store.
However, this was not something that a slave would usually be clothed in. They were items that would usually be worn by the town citizens.
Not only that, the items on her hands were also a brand-new one. Not some old used clothes.
It was definitely something excessive to be given to a slave.
Melissa looked around.
Very much like her, everyone else exhibited confusion after hearing the woman’s announcement.
But, the speaker’s voice was calm, and she did not show any hostility. She didn’t seem to be lying.
“It’s fine… Hurry and put on your clothes! After this, we’re going to have a meal!”
Deciding to listen to her this time, a boy got dressed. Only after the others saw the blond woman nodding her head towards the daring boy, did they proceed to put on the clothes as well.
After all of the slaves became clothed, a man stood in front of them.
He was a greatly dignified person, displaying the august aura of a king.
It was at that very moment, that their fate as slaves changed forever.
It was the beginning of their harsh life towards freedom.