Chapter 3 Episode 12
Day 17th, 8th Month, the Year 2812, Western continent calendar: (Towards the peninsula 12)
Melissa and the other slaves finished putting the clothes on.
However, because none of them had ever taken a bath before, their hair was all tangled and twisted like a dumpling.
In other words, their appearance was one that shared quite a few similarities with that of modern vagabonds that could often be found sitting depressedly in an alley.
And now, after having donned new garments, it rather made their dirty bodies stand out all the more.
“Well… First, we need to give them food… After that, a bath, huh? It will be quite the challenge with this many…”
Ryouma’s concern was only to be expected.
A group of slaves was simply standing in front of him with empty eyes. It was a large group of over 300 people.
He could easily handle clothes and meals, but when it came to taking baths, the difficulty involved grew considerably.
There were public baths for the general public, but there was no way any of them would be able to take care of 320 people all at once.
And not only that, but because the slaves were terribly filthy, no matter how much Ryouma paid the public bathhouse, they would likely reject him.
Just imagining 320 people entering a single public bathhouse felt ludicrous to him.
As expected, it was out of the question to only rent a single building for bathing.
Of course, it would have been possible to push such unreasonableness if Ryouma had flaunted his noble status, but Epiroz belonged to Earl Salzberg.
It would only spell trouble were he to force his wishes in a territory with a resident lord that was not him.
“First of all, let them eat their meals. It would be a pitiful waste if they were to get cold… As for the bath, we can just boil some water and let them scrub and wash their bodies.”
Ryouma nodded his head after hearing Laura’s suggestion, then he called Lione out.
“Alright then… Lione! Go ahead and get started!”
There were a lot of things he needed to do; he felt like a juggler at a fair, keeping half a dozen balls in the air at once.
“Alright, everyone! Line up!”
Following Lione’s directives, the children split into five lines.
They moved sluggishly, but they didn’t fail to follow the instructions properly.
The children showed a confused expression while following Lione’s instructions.
They were all still scared of the pain caused by the slavers’ whips. Although Ryouma did not even consider the possibility of flogging them if they did not obey, the slaves believed differently. They were firmly convinced that their new master was no different to their previous ones, and would not hesitate to put the whip to use whenever he became displeased or had they not done as ordered.
Even after the children listened to Laura and wore their clothes, their eyes remained vacant.
“Heed my words, alright?! It’s hot, so you need to eat it slowly and with care so that you don’t get scalded!”
Once again Melissa could not give credence to her ears, from what she had just heard; nor to her eyes, for in front of her she could see a steaming, hot bowl of soup.
The soup was even filled with plenty of different ingredients.
Not only were there carrots, onions and potatoes, but also meat… It might have been different had the meat been just big enough for the sake of making stock, but this was not the case.
This kind of food was considered lavish even for the average commoner, let alone them, who had been abandoned by the gods of fortune.
Most commoners would only be able to afford a couple of daily bowls of corn soup with onions or the like.
Meat and other equally sumptuous vegetables would only be present on their tables during special occasions.
At least for Melissa, who hailed from a poor fishing village, the soup in front of her looked like nothing less than a luxurious meal.
(T-This is… What are they trying to do? Why would they give us something so extravagant?)
Melissa could tell the soup was hot just from holding the bowl.
Her diet for the past few years as a slave was nothing short of miserable.
She would only be fed twice a day, once in the morning, and again at night.
The slave merchant would pour the soup in plates that, more often than not, could barely hold the watery brew, and the soup itself would be nigh on tasteless.
Furthermore, ever since falling into slavery, she had never witnessed it being served hot. It was made in large batches, and was distributed in the form of a cold insipid soup.
And since the bread given along with it was never less than a couple days old, it was unsurprisingly hard. So much so, that she wouldn’t have been able to eat it properly if she hadn’t soaked it in the water-like soup.
Even the lowest of commoners would eat better food. They could eat meat several times a year. Compared to that, what was known as slave food was downright horrible.
That was why she simply couldn’t believe what was served in front of her.
The memories from the times before she had become a slave emerged in Melissa’s mind.
(Warm… It’s like the soup that mother usually made…)
Even though Melissa’s family had been poor, her mother would have always made sure to put warm food on their table.
Of course, it would have been just a soup affordable for poor commoners.
The ingredients themselves wouldn’t have been that great. Generally they’d have consisted of just some vegetables, and only rarely would there have been fish or meat in the dish.
However, for Melissa, her mother’s soup was the greatest of feasts.
Always warm, and the taste had been good too…
Besides Melissa, a boy raised a surprised voice.
Along with his surprise, the bowl fell from his hands, and the soup spilled over the ground.
Looking at his hand held in his mouth, he seemed to have been unable to hold his urge and endeavored to gorge on the soup even when the master had told them not to eat it yet.
A frightened expression appeared on the face of the surrounding children.
To them, what he did was akin to abandoning one’s life. Not to mention, he had also wasted such a luxurious soup…
The youths around him immediately distanced themselves from him, while he immediately crouched down out of instinct.
This was also how slaves normally behaved, since no one could predict what kind of brutality would befall them if they stayed near someone being, or about to be, punished. This behavior was concededly a form of self-defense.
The surrounding children could only pray that they wouldn’t get dragged in and get punished when they saw a silver-haired girl running towards the boy.
However, their expectations and what actually followed were worlds apart…
“Are you alright?”
A gentle and calm voice was heard.
The boy who had prepared himself to receive the anticipated punishment could only look up towards the owner of the voice with fear.
“Are you really alright? No soup was spilled over your feet, right?”
Sara said those unexpectedly caring words while picking up the dish that fell to the ground.
Steam could still be seen rising from the edges of the bowl.
All the contents were scattered on the ground, spreading the smell that further stirred up the children’s appetite.
“Hmmm… For now, it seems like you’re just surprised because of the hot soup… Please be careful from now on, alright?”
Hearing Sara’s admonition, the boy looked bewildered.
That was because her words contained only concern for him, there was no rebuke in them.
The children from his surroundings showed the same bewildered looks.
“Right… Please eat it with caution this time, alright?… Huh? Wait, wait, waaait!”
His soup had already been absorbed by the soil, and there was no way for it to be eaten anymore.
Sara had meant for the boy to get a new one, but he greatly and dismally misunderstood her. He proceeded to kneel on the ground without hesitation and struggled to gather the spilled vegetables and meat.
If Sara had not stopped him, he would have, without a doubt, eaten the food that had fallen to the ground.
“Not that! There! Get a new one from the woman with red hair over there!”
Due to encountering such an unexpected behavior, Sara felt a bit upset and desperately pointed towards Lione.
The boy’s gaze followed the direction her finger was pointing at with anxiety and doubt. Looking at the boy’s eyes, anyone could have seen that he was now frightened out of his wits.
Sara then tried to shake off his dread by talking to him.
“It’s fine, go on… Listen to me, alright? You don’t have to eat something that has fallen down on the ground! We have a lot of food. You can even ask for a second helping afterwards, so please, eat it carefully, alright?”
Prompted by Sara’s words, all the children proceeded to gingerly ingest the food while still being fearful.
Sara felt relieved that at least they had started to eat, while at the same time feeling worried for a different reason.
“Fuuh… Will we be alright, I wonder?”
She understood Ryouma’s aim.
She knew that Ryouma never considered giving them warm meals and new clothes simply out of goodwill.
It was nothing but a means to an end; to make the children remember what it felt like to have desire in their hearts; to make them remember what a will was, that is, the power of choosing their own actions and asserting their choice.
To eat, to wear clothes, and to have a place to live.
These are basic needs, and only after recognizing them as such would you seek to satisfy them. This is the origin of humankind’s actions, but not its end. After that there’d be the pursuit of a better life, for oneself and the ones they love, comparing things against the others, and envying the differences. Because of this reason, a human has the ambition to strive. Back in Ryouma’s world a great statesman had once said: “A man’s worth is no greater than the worth of his ambitions.” <TLN: Capitalist ho!>
Desire is the strongest driving force to make a human act. Because there is selfishness, people seek and crave.
And a slave did not have that. They had lost something once, something they couldn’t live without as human beings, their identity! They had become mere animals in human’s clothing.
Of course, it was natural for them to have none of that. After all, they had abandoned their most basic foundations. And they had abandoned it because of the harsh reality that fate decreed they had to experience.
No matter how much someone told other people to never give up, if the people didn’t have the will, they would never succeed.
And the slaves had even given up on trying.
However, this was not an unchangeable truth, for they were living beings, and to live is to constantly change.
And Ryouma intended to achieve that by making them remember that they were human! A creature like none other, with a will to ever move forward.
Of course, it was impossible to make them recall immediately. After all, their harsh life and the despairs that formed their current mindsets were not something so shallow or inconsiderable that could be changed in a single moment.
They were fundamentally different to the Marfisto sisters. The sisters had been war slaves, and they had come from a prestigious family. Their foundation and minds had been very strong.
That was why, before anything else, Ryouma’s plans hinged on educating the children for a period of time of no more and no less than six months.
That was the grace period Ryouma was going to give them.
In that time, they also needed to regain their will and desire as humans. But if they failed…
(What are you going to do? Ryouma-sama…)
To be honest, no one knew the answer.
Not even the man himself had a clear answer for it.
Sara then stopped thinking about it and began to look around.
All the children seemed to have started eating their food.
Despite being silent, their behavior was vigorous enough.
Already, in front of the large cauldron, some of them stood in a long line, asking for another serving.
For now at least, it was enough if they could relive what is was like to have hearty meals and remember the pleasure of eating.
(It seems like the first step was successful…)
Laura, who was standing a bit away from Sara, was of the same mind. The twins’ eyes met each other’s, and they both nodded their heads.
(For today, we give them the carrot. After all, starting tomorrow the stick awaits…)
The children were going to be faced with harsh training by Lione and her mercenaries under her.
At first, they would aim to improve the children’s basic physical strength; after that, they would gradually teach them an assortment of battle techniques, mainly with spears and swords; then how to ride a horse; then to fight with bare hands.
For one month, they would undergo a bitter and demanding training. After that, they would be taught how to use magic arts.
And during the last month, they would be thrust into real battle.
Ryouma had no need for warriors who couldn’t fight.
They would have to go up against monsters, and kill them; put up a fight against people, and kill them. Those who survived all of the ordeals would be given their freedom; those who escaped would only have one of two fates awaiting them: to live the rest of their lives with the stigma of a runaway slave or death.
What Mikoshiba Ryouma wanted was the capable and unyielding ones only.
In this harsh world, the ideas of equality did not exist; only the strong could attain true freedom, while the weak lived on in misery.
There was no time to help a fellow human; those willing to live, those who wanted freedom, needed to make every effort for it!
He intended to give the chance to change their fate only to those who wished to grow stronger. However, in the end it was up to the children whether they wanted to become strong or not.
Would they die as the weak, or be reborn as the strong?
At the time, those were questions that no one knew the answers to…
Editor’s notes: oof! Part of this chapter felt almost like a philosophy treaty…it was really hard to edit u.u
Translator’s notes: My brain almost fried translating this.