Chapter 1 – Story 38: Slaves

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“Hey, Shyemul, I don’t look suspicious, do I?”

Souma, wrapped in the clothes he had hurriedly requested Hopkins to order, takes a good long look at his own appearance.
He’s wearing a set of trousers and a one piece not too different from what the people of the city wore, but with fabric made from something of finer quality. Then again, when it comes to Souma’s standard, it’s a rough fabric that couldn’t be considered a fine quality whatsoever
He’s also wearing a blue fez hat, a thin cloth is hanging down at the back of his head and a large shawl with native-styled embroideries is wrapped around his body above the tunic.

“I don’t quite grasp human clothing, but I think it fits well as a foreign country’s fashion.”

Souma felt relieved due to Shyemul’s remark.
Souma planned to match his outfit with the image of him having come from a distant eastern country that he assumed when he entered the city. However, even Hopkins didn’t know what kind of place that eastern country is to begin with, so he put together some clothes that look as if they fit that image.
Nevertheless, given the uniqueness of Souma’s hair and skin color, he manages to look like a human that came from a different country.

“Oi, you two. The slave merchant residence is over there.”

Hopkins turned around at the coachman bench of the covered wagon and pointed ahead.
What Hopkins pointed at is a large mansion surrounded by an earthen wall. The roof of the house that peeks out from the other side of the wall is not a roof thatched with planks and straw like the ones of the commoners that can be frequently seen in the city, but a dome-shaped roof that was made out of bricks.

“Sorry, but I don’t really want to have much to do with slave dealers. I’ll be waiting out here for you guys.”

Hopkins then lowered the speed of the wagon.
Souma wondered whether Hopkins might have resistance towards introducing him to a merchant like himself due to the catastrophe he will likely cause in the city. However, there was another reason why Hopkins didn’t want to get involved with a slave dealer
There are slaves such as criminals that were deprived of their freedom as punishment and those who sold themselves out of poverty among the slaves handled by slave dealers, but most of the slaves being sold are war prisoners and members of subjugated ethnic groups.
And, in this world, where the Holy Faith that insists on weeding out sub-humans has expanded its influence to a large extent, the greatest merchandise of slave dealers would be the people of other races that are called sub-humans.
Hence, slave dealers who want to get their hands on slaves collude with the clergy of the Holy Faith, going even as far as openly inciting wars against the so-called sub-humans in many countries.
Furthermore, the Holy Faith realized that the slave trade involving sub-humans would allow for tremendous profits. They named the handling of these filthy sub-humans as a danger that could lead to heresy, so they set up a license system in the Holy Faith for slave dealers and constructed an organization that serves to procure enormous almsgivings from the slave dealers.
However, the slave dealers are not to be taken lightly either.
Using the license system against the Holy Faith, the slave dealers obstinately insisted that they are members of the Holy Faith. They used this to get the Holy Faith to agree to various privileges, beginning with the exemption of things like city tariffs and tolls for using the roads and bridges.
In this way, slave dealers reached the point of gaining profits that exceeded the almsgiving. But, that triggered an intense animosity from other merchants at the same time.
Most likely, there exists not a single person that considers it fine for the slave dealers to evade taxes by utilizing the privileges of the Holy Faith when they’re diligently paying their own taxes
Moreover, the rumour that a part of the slave dealers are secretly dealing in merchandise other than slaves is something often gossiped about among the merchants.
If they really were able to carry in tax-free merchandise, it would become a matter of life and death for the other merchants. It’s not certain whether it’s the truth or not, but that doesn’t change the fact that there is a large divide between the slave dealers and the other merchants.
Nowadays it’s even said that slave dealers and the other merchants have a relationship that’s gotten to the point where they meet at the merchant guild, their gathering spot, and smile at each other as they hold knives behind their backs
This is why Hopkins kept his distance from slave dealers.
Once the wagon has stopped in front of the mansion, Souma makes his way towards the slave dealer’s residence accompanied by just Shyemul.
At the gate of the earthen wall stood two spear-holding men with a strong build. Their heads were shaved as if they looked like they’re villainous pro wrestlers.
Souma walks up to them with a bold stride in order to not be suspected and asked,

“Can I have you announce my arrival to the master of this mansion?”

Thereupon one of the gatekeepers briefly told him 「Wait here」 and entered the mansion.
After a short time a middle-aged man possessing a sturdy build arrived together with the gatekeeper.
Souma stretched out both palms, as if he were reverently holding a case, in order to show them to the other party. And then he bowed and said the greeting, as he was taught by Hopkins.

“I visited to bring you good luck and wealth.”

According to Hopkins, that seems to be the greeting carried out between fellow merchants.
The act of holding both palms turned upwards and showing them to the other party signifies that he doesn’t possess any weapons and means 「I have no malicious intent towards you」. Also, at the same time, it carries the meaning of “I brought fortune that’s not visible to you”.
The man stated the same words in return after displaying the same hand motion.

“Good luck and wealth to you as well. — I’m the master of this mansion, Grokakos.”

The man that introduced himself as Grokakos checked out Souma from the tip of his head down to the toes.

“So, who are you, and where are you from? What did you come here for?”

“Yes. I came to this region from a distant eastern country in order to do business and to receive my father’s teaching. My name is Soma.”

They pondered on whether he should use an alias, but they decided against it since it’s likely he’s not already known around here. It saves him from the trouble of having to awkwardly use a fake name.

“Oh. From an eastern country, you say…?”

“At the moment when I decided that I want to possess several slaves, I came visiting after hearing that you are the best slave dealer in this city.”

Upon Souma’s flattery, Grokakos snorted as if saying “Of course”.

“Well, certainly. I do suppose I am the best.”

Grokakos looked at Shyemul who was standing next to Souma.

“But, even with such first-rate goods right next to you, you still want slaves?”

“Yes. I have heard that the zoan are riotous around here. Thus I’d like slaves other than zoan working as guards for me.”

“I see. Come this way then.”

Passing through the gate behind Grokakos, they enter the mansion. The mansion was built with baked bricks, not sun-dried bricks as commonly seen in the city, and thus hinted at Grokakos’ assets.
Souma and Shyemul leave a short pathway after entering the mansion, and come out with the sun overhead once more.
The mansion’s courtyard is a far too spacious plaza with tuff loam as a base. The mansion is constructed in a way that it surrounds the courtyard, with two floors serving as a residential area and one part of a floor being used as a jail, secured with bars. The sight of the jail, which was partitioned into several cells that surround the plaza in a circle, is just like that of a zoo.
However, the ones put into the cells are not animals.
The ones huddling together inside the gloomy cells were people who had become slaves.
They seem to have not even received any decent washing. Souma pinches his nose softly due to the stench of filth and sweat drifting into the surroundings.

“No matter what slaves you need, they are at our disposal. Farming slaves, combat slaves. Highly educated slaves that can works as teachers or manage your fortune. Also, there are female slaves here as well, of course.”

As if telling him “You get the meaning, don’t you?”, Grokakos showed a vulgar smile.
Grokakos sits down in an arrogant manner on a bench located below the shadow of a sun-shading tree, which had been planted directly in the centre of the courtyard. Calling over a female slave that doesn’t wear anything besides a loincloth despite it being winter, he has her pour alcohol into a cup on top of the table.
The female slave has dark brown skin, which makes her being a southern human apparent. She has goosebumps on the skin of her slightly quivering body. Souma is troubled where to look, because it pains him once he considers her circumstances rather than her exposed, voluptuous breasts.

“At any rate, you are lucky, you know. Currently the slaves with good vitality are all gathered.”

Upon Grokakos’ words, Souma focuses his consciousness on him in a hurry.

“Did something happen?”

“You don’t know? The celebration of our esteemed king’s birthday takes place very soon. This year he will turn exactly forty years. Apparently it will become the grandest celebration in recent times.
And thus, because of the festivities, we have gathered sub-human slaves. Since we got nothing but zoan ‘round here, we specifically stocked up on slaves that were sold by a distant country in Jeboa. Since a caravan of slave dealers serving as the purveyors for Holmea’s royal family will be arriving here in five days, I’m going to go together with them to the royal capital to earn some money.”

Grokakos drinks up the alcohol in one gulp and, while playing with the empty cup in his hands, asks,

“So, what kind of slaves are you looking for?”

“Strong sub-humans. If possible, smart ones will be nice too.”

“Sub-humans, powerful and strong, right…?”

While voicing out Souma’s request, Grokakos let his gaze wander through the empty sky for a while.

“Hey! Bring Dvalin here!”

When Grokakos shouted that, one of the jail overseers took out a single slave from within the cells and turned up while pulling a chain.
Souma opens his eyes widely due to the slave that was brought along.
His height is as short as that of a child, but he has a firm physique as if he had been cut out of stone. The lower part of his face is covered by a grey beard. His face is surrounded by disheveled hair and has deep wrinkles carved into it, similar to the tree rings of an old tree. There was a characteristic pair of strong-willed eyes and a big dumpling-like nose within that face.
His age is hard to guess by his outward appearance, but he is emitting an aura of having accumulated quite a few years.
However, his body doesn’t let one feel as if it’s weakening due to age whatsoever. As his body isn’t covered by anything but a loin cloth, one could perceive the thick muscles all over his body moving, as if they are swelling below the skin each time he takes a step.
He wore shackles that had holes for his neck and his two wrists, and two wooden boards that were fastened with hinges just like a bleaching rack. Chains with an iron ball at their end have been attached to his ankles. However, far from becoming subservient due to this treatment, he’s puffed up with pride and is surrounded by an imposing air. The slave overseer, who grasps the chains extending from the shackles, looked the part of a servant accompanying his master.
Due to there being a well-known race that appears in many fantasy novels in front of him, Souma’s voice sounds shrill out of excitement.

“A dwarf?”

“Correct. This guy’s name is Dvalin. He’s a dwarven war-leader that fought by leading the dwarves in a distant imperial region.”

Grokakos stands up and takes the whip out of the slave overseer’s hands. He hits the sturdy chest of the dwarf called Dvalin with a snap.

“Look at this burly body! It appears to repel even spears and swords. In addition, these strong arms. Most guys will get trounced if they receive a hard blow from this guy. Besides, he’s smart, too. After all he led countless dwarves as a war-leader! You won’t be able to easily run into such a good bargain too often.”

A red trace was left on the chest hit by the whip, but Dvalin’s face didn’t twitch even once.
But Souma noticed that Dvalin faintly grasped his right hand the instant his chest was lashed. And that wasn’t a reflexive movement due to the pain. It was only the right hand, but it was grasped tightly,

“I’m pleased with him. How much do you sell him for?”

“Ha! This guy is commodity that will even stand out as a drawcard in a martial tournament. If I were to sell him… let’s see. I guess he would cost around eight hundred silver coins.”

Grokakos was seemingly belittling Souma, thinking that there’s no way for him to be able to buy Dvalin at such price. He snorted as if regarding Souma as a fool.

“Understood. — Shyemul, bring money from the covered wagon.”

“Huh?”

However, Grokakos raised his voice in disarray due to Souma’s immediate response.
As told by Souma, Shyemul brought bags filled with silver coins from the wagon. She places those in front of Grokakos. Each time she does this, Grokakos eyes open greatly.

“Here’s eight hundred silver coins. Please confirm it.”

Being told so by Souma, Grokakos hurriedly summons servants after snapping out of it. The servants proceeded to take out the silver coins from the bags. In addition to ascertaining the quality of the silver by hitting the coins with their nails, they line up the silver coins in a hollow slot carved out on a wooden board. The slot had been shaped into a length to snugly fit ten silver coins. The servants counted the coins with it.
Due to the servants slightly nodding after having counted all the silver coins, Grokakos faces Souma with a look of surprise as if asking him 「Is it really okay?」.

“Will it be acceptable for you to sell him to me with this?”

“T-That’s! Certainly!”

Grokakos, for whom it would be terrible if Souma changed his mind, replies in a hurry.

“Are there any formalities necessary?”

“No, since he’s a fresh slave who hasn’t been even branded yet, it will be fine for you to take him with you just like that. Yes!”

Souma’s mouth crooks due to the word ‘brand’, but Grokakos, who had his soul stolen by the silver coins piled up in front of him, didn’t even notice a small change like that.
Believing that even he would somehow end up getting corrupted if he stayed here like this, Souma received the keys for the anklets with the iron ball and the neck shackles of Dvalin, turned on his heels right away and was about to leave.
But, Souma is quickly called to halt by Grokakos.

“P-Please wait a moment. Since we also got other good slaves, I’d like you to have a look at them by all means. Hey, you lot! Pour some wine for our honoured guest!”

Showing an insincere smile, Grokakos wiped away the dust on the bench he was sitting with his sleeve and offered it to Souma. Using the same bench as a man like Grokakos was revolting, but since it would become bothersome if he hurt his mood by refusing here, Souma reluctantly sat down.
Once he did, a female slave tried to pour wine into a new cup, but Souma, who just displayed a shameful sight a bit ago due to one cup of ale, firmly refused even that single cup of wine.
Shyemul kept the female slave at a distance by lightly glaring at her and brought her mouth close to Souma’s ear.

“That guy suddenly changed his attitude, how come?”

“… I know, right? I wonder where I managed to mess up.”

Thinking about it for a bit, Souma had an idea about the blunder he perpetrated.
It’s something he read in a certain manga before. It seems to be common in foreign countries to haggle over the price at the time of buying some goods. As the store’s side is aware of that as well, the first price they put up is quite exaggerated.
If that’s right, my act of buying Dvalin at the slave dealer’s asking price certainly made him regard me as easy prey. That also complies with him suddenly having improved his manners, as if he changed his attitude completely.
Souma readied himself to try beating down the price next time.
At that moment Grokakos, who was all smiles, arrives while pulling other slaves along.

“Well, well, thank you for waiting. There we go, these guys are also quite good bargains.”

Rubbing his hands together, Grokakos had the five dwarves that were led by a slave overseer line up in front of Souma.
Souma wrinkles up his nose due to those dwarven slaves.
Even judging by Souma’s inexpert eyes, the condition of those dwarves was terrible. He can’t feel any vitality from the five people who have empty looks just like dead fish. Blood is trickling down and bandages are coiled around their faces, which had been thoroughly beaten up. The color and tone of their skin is horrible. They might have possibly contracted some kind of sickness.

“How about it? Two hundred silver coins per creature. If you purchase all of them together, I will give you a price reduction to eight hundred silver coins.”

“Don’t screw with me! Isn’t it at most ten silver coins each?”

As he felt irritated due to the cruel treatment of the dwarves, Souma’s tone became blunt.

“Eh? Oh? Huh?”

Grokakos’ expression changes into something amusing.
Souma was flustered wondering whether he had failed.
To begin with, he’s a typical Japanese who’s weak at haggling. Even if he haggles, as he doesn’t know what kind of price might be good to suggest at the start, he simply said ten coins as it’s a nice number as a suitable cut off.
Even though he tried to beat down the price, he was drenched in cold sweat wondering whether five percent of the original price was too rash. However, as he’s worried that he might get taken advantage of if he withdrew what’s already been offered, he somehow pretends to be calm.
Thereupon, after acting as if being surprised, Grokakos shouted at the slave overseer standing next to the slaves.

“You dunce! If you look properly, you will see that those aren’t the slaves I told you to bring along, now are they!?”

Due to that Souma almost retorted with 「No, it was you who brought them with you, right?」, but he wisely limited it to just saying that in his mind.
The slave overseer that had something whispered into his ear by Grokakos pushes the dwarves back into their original cell. He returned with a new set of five dwarves from a different cell.
The slaves he brought along this time were obviously different from the dwarves just now. They certainly fall short if compared to the dwarf called Dvalin, but nevertheless they are healthy and strong dwarves.

“I’m very sorry for just now. Young master, over there are the slaves I actually recommended.”

“They are quite decent slaves. How much do they cost?”

Even though he draws back from suddenly being called young master, Souma says this as if he knew exactly what he was talking about.

“As you said before, dear guest, it will be ten silver coins per creature. I suppose that will also serve as an apology for the blunder just now. Fifty silver coins will be sufficient for all five creatures.”

“That’s fine with you!?”

Souma ended up yelling that reflexively.
They are far healthier and stronger than the previous dwarves. And yet, he’s told that the price he thought might’ve been a bit too low was acceptable.
Even Souma couldn’t hide his astonishment.
Seeing Souma’s surprise, Grokakos nodded several times while looking satisfied for some reason.

“Got it. Then, at that price…”

Souma had a feeling as if he got bewitched by a fox, but for the time being he agreed.

◆◇◆◇◆

~ PoV Grokakos ~

Grokakos, who expressly saw Souma off until he was outside the mansion, recalled what had just happened as he sat on the courtyard bench once more, drinking the lukewarm wine as if licking it.
In Grokakos’ opinion, the brat that said that he came from an eastern country was a complete greenhorn.
Going by his looks and attire, it doesn’t seem like he lied about coming from a distant eastern country, but he’s a complete failure in bargaining.
Perhaps some blockheaded merchant failed in his business in the eastern country. He sent his son to a distant foreign country before him, while harboring the foolish dream of attempting a comeback here.
Thinking like that, Grokakos belittled Souma completely.
Hence, showing Dvalin whom I planned to sell in the royal capital of Holmea State was solely to show that I had slaves of such high quality in my shop. After all, I definitely couldn’t except him to possess such a fortune that he would simply buy Dvalin.
However, Souma was completely ripped off, without even trying to haggle it down. That certainly struck even Grokakos dumbfounded.
This guy is an unexpectedly good customer with a dimwitted brain and a loose wallet.
Grokakos, who judged it like that, decided to push the dwarven slaves that are unlikely to find a buyer onto Souma.
They were the slaves I brought alongside Dvalin on the same ship, but because of the inferior environment, malnutrition and fatigue, their bodies are weak. Among them two of the creatures even suffered from an illness. Thus it doesn’t seem like they will last that long, anyways.
They are slaves that have no other use but serving as fodder for the wild animals in the sideshows of the Martial Tournament.

“How about it? Two hundred silver coins per creature. If you purchase all of them together, I will give you a price reduction to eight hundred silver coins.”

Due to his own crookedness of asking two hundred silver coins per slave, Grokakos shows a vulgar smile.
As long as it’s cheap slaves, one can buy combat slaves for forty silver coins and farming slaves for sixty silver coins. Because Grokakos presented slaves that cannot be used for anything but fodder for wild animals, his unscrupulousness becomes quite clear.

“Don’t screw with me! Isn’t it at most ten silver coins each?”

However, contrary to Grokakos expectation, he was now told with a displeased look that the price is far too high right after Souma looked at the dwarves.
And moreover, the price Souma mentioned was precisely spot on with Grokakos’ estimated selling price for the dwarves.
Just what the hell does this mean?
While concealing his turmoil, Grokakos’s mind was racing.
And then he realized.
Wasn’t buying Dvalin at our asking price maybe what you generally call a celebratory price?
This brat started his business here after getting ordered to do so by his father. His father isn’t a merchant that failed in his business as I thought, but actually a major dealer who is trying to spread his influence to the soil of a foreign country.
And, in order to start his business in a foreign country, he planned to form a connection with a prominent merchant in the city — in other words, me. Accordingly, him agreeing immediately to the rip-off price was to demonstrate that he has this much fortune.
However, not having realized that, I made the terrible mistake that he’s a customer who’s easy to fleece. Not only that, I even tried to push slaves of poor quality onto him. Didn’t this brat display his own business ability by precisely guessing the exact price of the slaves?
Grokakos suddenly trembled due to his own train of thought.
Far from being a customer with a dimwitted mind and a loose wallet, this guy is a terribly capable merchant.
What a frightening brat to lead this Grokakos with his youth around by the nose!
This is bad, Grokakos thought.
If it’s a major dealer of a foreign country possessing assets to the degree that he can generously pay such a large amount of money in cash, there’s no doubt that it will lead to the possibility of obtaining huge profits later on if I get hold of a connection to him here. In reverse, if he buys while displeased with my place, he will likely end up disappearing to another merchant.
How can I fix this mistake?
After acting artificially surprised, Grokakos shouted at the slave overseer.

“You dunce! If you look properly, you will see that those aren’t the slaves I told you to bring along, now are they!?”

Even though he did as I told him, I bring my mouth close to the ear of the slave overseer, who is confused as he doesn’t know why I’m shouting at him, and whisper,

“Choose at your own discretion five of the healthy dwarves that we planned to sell in the capitale and bring them here quickly!”

The slave overseer imprisoned the dwarves in their previous cage in a great hurry and returned while bringing along five new dwarves from another cage.

“I’m very sorry for just now. Young master, over there are the slaves I really recommend.”

“They are quite decent slaves. How much do they cost?”

Even though I brought out first-class dwarves, his response is weak.
Due to the failure just now, Soma’s interest has drifted away. Thinking that, Grokakos decided that he has to take measures that surprise the other party in order to redeem himself.

“As you said before, dear guest, it will be ten silver coins per creature. I suppose that will also serve as apology for the blunder just now. Fifty silver coins will be sufficient for all five creatures.”

“That’s fine with you!?”

There’s no way it is!…is what I want to say but I make an effort to hold back here.
They are sturdy dwarven slaves with nothing to criticize about their health. They will likely perform well as combat slaves or as slaves to be put to work on farms or in mines.
They are dwarves that will be definitely appraised with two hundred to three hundred silver coins per creature if I sell them.
It’s a loss to the degree that the profits which I obtained from overcharging for Dvalin not too long ago will mostly vanish.
However, there seems to be worth in being resolved for that much of a loss.
Due to Souma being surprised so that he isn’t even able to hide it on his face, Grokakos nodded several times in satisfaction.
With this not only the failure from just now was mended but I’m sure that I was able to strongly impress him with our excessiveness.

“Got it. Then, at that price…”

Seeing Souma still unable to stop being surprised, Grokakos was confident in his success.
Since that young master came awfully close to the appointed day when I will depart to the capital, it’s very likely that he plans to visit this shop once more before long.
If I stock up on healthy slaves until then, I will probably be able to sell them as expensively as Dvalin. Grokakos chuckled.

◆◇◆◇◆

Around that time, Souma and the others had left the city with the bought dwarven slaves on the covered wagon.
Hopkins and Souma were lined up on the driver’s bench. Shyemul sat inside the wagon while making sure to watch the dwarven slaves who had turned their backs on Souma and Hopkins.
The pillories and anklets had been taken off the dwarves by Souma, but at present they are obedient and don’t show any will to resist.

“You are saying you didn’t even pay nine hundred silver coins for all these dwarves?”

Hopkins, who had asked Souma about the events pertaining to the slave dealer’s mansion to kill some time, was surprised by what Souma was narrating.
Once he looks inside the wagon by turning just his head to the back, he sees six strong-looking dwarven slaves.
Dwarven slaves, who have strong power as well as a robust health and fortitude, are traded for a higher price than human slaves. As far as Hopkins knows, nine hundred silver coins is basically a bad joke, if they don’t suffer from an illness or are injured to a large extent.
If I look at the dwarves on this wagon, it wouldn’t be odd even if they went for a price of three hundred silver coins each, Hopkins estimated.

“Just what kind of magic did you use to be able to buy them at such a price?”

Slave dealers don’t regard people as people and are known for being greedy. If there’s a secret method that allows me to browbeat the prices for slaves this much with them as an opponent, I’d like him to teach it to me by all means, Hopkins strongly wished.

“What kind of magic, you ask… I just tried to haggle normally?”

There’s no way for that to be true. Fed up, Hopkins looked towards Shyemul, who has her back turned on them, in order to ask for help.
Thereupon, looking over her shoulder after noticing Hopkins’ gaze, Shyemul answered as follows after pondering about it for a bit:

“Isn’t that Soma’s natural virtue?”

Hopkins hung his head crestfallen after realizing that he made a mistake in the person whom to ask.

 

 


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