Chapter 5 – Slave Market

 

 

 


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Imperial Calendar ― Year 430, June the 1st

Chrono cut off a piece of duck meat and carried it to his mouth. As he bit into the tender meat, the grease seeped out all at once. The spices pulled out the meat’s umami, and the herbs gave it depth.

This is what I call a meat dish. It’s been a long time― Chrono’s lips unconsciously formed a smile as he ate a meat dish for the first time in two months.

When he lifted his face, he could see Tilia eating her serving in the seat opposite of him. She skillfully used a fork and knife to cut apart the meat into bite size before carrying it to her mouth. Her entire conduct could be summed up with the word elegant.

Very likely this is the result from repeated education in manners since her childhood.

Chrono stared at Tilia even while aware that it was rude to do so. She was eating her food mechanically with an expression that didn’t allow for a reasonable guess whether she liked the dish or hated it.

As soon as Tilia finished her plate, the maid standing nearby respectfully handed her a napkin. After accepting the napkin without even moving her eyes, she wiped off the grease clinging to lips.

“Why are you looking at my face?”

“I was just thinking that you’re taking your meals with a considerably composed face.”

It was the maid who reacted to Chrono’s comment by grimacing in obvious disagreeableness.

“Don’t mind him.” Tilia instructed with a sigh.

“Please forgive my rudeness.” The maid smoothed her expression over.

“You’re truly happy――”

“It just means that it’s a great joy for any cook if they can have their guests eat the dishes so happily.” The landlady butted in.

“…Ugh.” Tilia groaned in response, and then bit back while glaring at the landlady, “…Chrono, you did an outstanding job to gather maids, a head maid, and a cook, on top of establishing a workshop, in such a short time. You have my praise for that. But, couldn’t you have chosen your cook a bit more prudently?”

“I wonder whether it’s a bit too risqué,” the landlady whirled around on the spot, just to fold her arms in a way that emphasized her chest.

Her slender legs and deep cleavage are a sight for sore eyes.

“You’re not at an age that would allow for such behavior.”

“Well, personally I believe that I’m still young enough, albeit barely.” The landlady retorted with a huffy look.

“It’s still not too late, so hurry up and fire her.”

“I’m sorry to tell you, but Lord Chrono and I share an inseparable bond.”

“I paid for her debt.”

“How much?”

“100 gold.”

“Is she even worth that much?”

“As a princess you probably can’t fathom the charm of an experienced woman.” The landlady answered provokingly while being confronted with Tilia’s disagreeing look.

Meanwhile the maid was scowling at her like a fury, but that didn’t dampen the landlady’s drive in the least.

‘She’s probably come this far even while shouldering debts because of that blunt boldness of hers.

“Oh well, whatever.” Tilia shifted her eyes back to Chrono. “How are things with your head maid?”

“According to the doctor, it looks like she’ll require a bit more time.”

“I see. All that’s left is someone in charge of accounting, huh?”

“Yep.” Chrono agreed and bit into his bread.

 

 

The clinking of hammers hitting metal filled the mansion’s garden. The sound itself came from one of the four towers that enclosed the mansion. Or to be more precise, from the tower that had been reconstructed into a workshop. Ten dwarves were working over there.

As Chrono silently watched them tolling, Goldi approached him.

“Are you on inspection, Milord?”

“Yep, I wondered how things were proceeding in the workshop.”

“We are still at the stage of testing the operational performance of the workshop, but I doubt that we will find any problems with it.”

“That’s good to hear.” Chrono felt relieved.

He had invested a sizable amount of money into this place. Thus it’d be anything but funny if it proved to be useless.

“Lord Chrono, please take a look at this.” Goldi knelt down and respectfully offered a dagger to Chrono.

“This is?”

“It is the first weapon produced by the workshop. As promised, I shall present it to you, Milord.”

“Thanks.”

Chrono took the dagger and pulled it out of its scabbard. The exposed blade had a luster as if it was wet. It was clearly in a different league compared to the mass-produced dagger Chrono called his own.

“It looks fairly sharp.”

“It is a dagger that has been created with a new smithing method. We have also produced a longsword, spear, and armor.”

“Nice. If they pass the stress tests without any problems, I’ll have you replace our old equipment.”

Chrono sheathed his dagger, and inserted the scabbard in an opening of his sword belt.

If they supply us with high-quality equipment, it’ll become less likely for my subordinates to die, and I’ll be able to save on expenses. It’s the very definition of what you’d call killing two birds with one stone.

“Come to think of it, how is the reproduction of a composite bow proceeding?”

“We have gathered all the materials needed, so all that’s left is to make it. But…”

“But?”

“It does not look like elves will be able to capitalize on all of its performance with their level of strength.”

“Hmm, I hadn’t considered things that far.”

Maybe because it was a racial trait, many elves were slender and delicate. Chrono had believed that the elves would be able to use any bow, be it composite or long bow, but that proved to be shallow thinking.

“Can you adjust it so that elves would be able to use it as well?”

“Very well.”

“Is it okay for you to agree so readily?”

“It is the duty of a blacksmith to develop new techniques.”

Chrono could sense a tinge of confidence from Goldi’s tone.

“Do you have a good idea about how to tackle the issue?”

“I have something like an image in mind, yes.”

“Okay, then I’ll leave the rest to you.”

“Consider it done, Milord.”

Goldi stood up, and started to walk off towards the workshop. Suddenly Chrono recalled that Tilia had used a cloth napkin during her meal.

“Goldi!”

“What might it be!?” Goldi noisily ran back to Chrono.

“You said that it’s the duty of a blacksmith to develop new techniques, but can you also use that principle on items other than weapons and armor?”

“It depends on the items. What would you like me to make, Lord Chrono?”

“Paper.”

“Paper, you say?” Goldi furrowed his eyebrows, pulling a troubled expression.

That reaction could only be described as natural since the manufacturing methods for paper hadn’t been introduced in the Empire. If you needed paper in the Empire, you had no choice but to import it from the Free City States.

“It would take years to develop it from scratch.”

“So far as it goes, I have an idea how it’s produced, you know?”

“What!?!” Goldi’s eyes flew wide open out of surprise.

“You peel the bark off trees, boil it down together with the ash of plants, and beat the pulp until it has a loosely clumped texture. You dump that into water, and once you splash it into a wooden frame, it’ll be done.”

“Lord Chrono, that description is too vague.”

“Well, I’ve only watched it being done at one time.” Goldi dropped his shoulders in disappointment while Chrono scratched his head.

Figures. I guess it’d be too tough to create paper based on the knowledge I learned on a social studies trip with my elementary school.

“But, I feel like it will be possible to make it if I know that much.”

“Really?”

“I cannot promise you anything, but I will give it a try and see how far it will take me.”

“It may sound irresponsible, but please do your best.”

“As you wish, Milord.” Goldi hit his chest, and then gazed in the direction of the main gate.

“What’s wrong?”

“A carriage has arrived.”

Once Chrono followed Goldi’s look, he spotted a parked carriage. Just then the door opened, and a woman with a highly revealing dress ― Elaine ― stepped out. Her dress had no sleeves, and her abundant chest was hidden by no more than two pieces of cloth.

The length of her skirt was short enough that it made one thing they’d be able to catch a glimpse of her underwear at any moment. In any case, it was clear that you’d see them the second she climbed some stairs or sat down.

Elaine approached Chrono and Goldi with a seductive swing to her hips.

“Welcome.”

“Oh my, what an honor to be greeted by the Marquis himself.” Elaine stopped and cast a sweet smile at Chrono.

“Does your presence here mean you found someone?”

“Yes, indeed. A slave meeting your conditions will put up for auction, so I’ve come to pick you up.”

“Okay, then let me get my money.”

Immediately after Chrono turned around, a wind blew. A sweet scent tickled his nose, and he felt something soft pressing against his upper arm.

Elaine had twined herself around his arm.

“There’s no time for that, so let’s go, okay?”

“No matter how you look at it, going without any money seems like a bad idea.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll pay in advance. Of course I won’t ask for any interest. That’s why, let’s hurry along, alright?”

“Well, but…”

 

 

His reason appealed to him that he should grab some money first, but Chrono didn’t free himself from her hold. And before he knew it, he was led into the carriage by Elaine.

 

————– End of Part 1 ————–

 

 

“We’ve arrived.”

“Where are we?” Chrono stepped out of the carriage and looked up at the two-storied building in front of his eyes.

Two men ― probably what anyone would call black suits ― stood in front of the door leading into the stone building.

“My store that’s located in the business district.”

“You mean this is a b-brothel?”

“It’s really cute how you’ve become so bashful. Is it your first time to visit a brothel?”

“Yes,” Chrono admitted honestly.

The imperial capital, where he had spent two years, naturally had brothels ― a pleasure quarter as well, but he never took advantage of its services. He was desperate to keep up with his lessons at the military academy, and he had no friends who would have invited him to go out to play there.

Though, it was highly likely that he’d have refused even if he had been invited――

“You don’t need to be so wary. If you dislike the sound of ‘brothel’, you can also consider it as a social meeting place for gentlemen.”

“I don’t think changing the way you call it would change what it stands for, though.”

“It does. If you describe it as a place that offers some comfort from the daily hardships instead of a place where women sell their bodies, it becomes slightly easier to stomach it.”

“That’s what you’d tell those working there, isn’t it?”

“It’s important for either side, be it customers or the women working there.”

‘I feel like that’s just playing word games, but maybe it’s different for those facing the reality of selling their bodies.

“Let’s go.”

Chrono started to walk while being led by Elaine. They entered the establishment without the black suits calling out to them. After passing through a lobby with an expensive-looking carpet, they reached a hall. Inside were a genuine counter bar and many black leather sofas. Moreover, the hall was equipped with a little stage.

“Your seat is over here.” Elaine came to a stop in front of a sofa close to the stage. “Sit down.”

Chrono followed her instruction.

“Do you wish to drink liquor?”

“No, thanks.”

“You’re losing out, seeing how we’ve prepared some great drinks.” Elaine grumbled and sat down next to Chrono.

She seductively leaned her body so closely to him that it seemed as though she was glued to him. Chrono wanted to take some distance, but he couldn’t resist the charm of her tempting thighs and bare side-boob.

“What do you think about this seat?”

“It’s great.”

“It’s only natural to prepare a great seat when it comes to entertaining the local lord, I think. But I’m still happy to hear you say it.” Elaine giggled.

“It’s my first time when it comes to buying slaves, so…”

“Let me explain the procedure then. First, the slave merchant and his slaves will stand at the stage’s wing.”

“The slave merchants?”

“Yes, I’m just providing a venue for trading slaves. I take a small usage fee, but that’s all.” Elaine provided a further explanation when Chrono repeated her words as a question. “Then, it’s scheduled for the customers to place their bids, just like they’ve done during your auction.”

“You’re rather well-informed about our auction, aren’t you?”

“Anyone can start a rumor, but no one can stop one. Men become especially talkative in bed.”

“I should have sworn them to secrecy.”

“Probably.” Elaine chuckled.

“You think you can keep the price down?”

“I haven’t made any of the necessary arrangements, but I doubt anyone would seriously bid against you.”

“That doesn’t sound very reassuring.”

“Next time I’ll properly lay the groundwork first, I promise.” Elaine smiled lightly, and then added with a whisper, “…It looks like the place has started to fill.”

Chrono let his eyes wander. He didn’t plan to get completely absorbed in their conversation, but without him noticing, around half the seats had filled up.

“It’s going to start anytime soon now.”

When he lifted his face, a girl, led by a man who appeared to be a slave dealer, just came out on the stage. She wore a single strip of cloth, probably for the sake of making it easier to check her growth.

Once the man jerked his chin, the girl started to slowly walk. Each time she made a step, the cloth swayed, allowing a short peek at her underdeveloped breasts and pubic hair.

Some rowdier guys jeered as they leaned forward. It looked like some kind of show, but the girl’s eyes were dyed with desperation.

She made a full circle around the stage before coming to a stop.

“…I’m Shea. I come from the Botees Barony. My specialty lies in taking care of all house chores.”

Immediately after snickering became audible from the rowdy folks――

“Her introduction is over with this!” A man, seemingly the auctioneer, rushed out from the stage’s wing.

“Miss Shea doesn’t possess any outstanding talents, but she’s a picture of health, and given that she’s a genuine virgin, we’ll start the bidding at 10 gold!”

“A healthy virgin, eh?” Elaine grumbled.

“Is something wrong?”

“That’s what must be written in the slave dealer’s report, you see.”

“What’s that?”

“Slave dealers lie every once in a while. Since the buyer’s side is aware of that, the bid won’t rise much if she’s just a healthy virgin.”

“I see.”

Chrono checked out the men.

“…If it’s 10 gold.”

“Oh, we got a bid for 10 gold! Add even just one brass, and you’ll be able to win the bid!” The auctioneer yelled, but no one in the venue went beyond 10 gold.

It had followed Elaine’s prediction.

“Is there no other bidder? Okay! Then she’s sold for 10 gold!” The auctioneer announced, resulting in the girl looking relieved.

The slave dealer and his girl disappeared into the stage’s wing.

“Now then, let us take a look at the next item!”

Upon the auctioneer yell, the next slave dealer with his girl appeared from within the wing. The girl this time around had a big chest. The strip of cloth covering her was pushed up because of her breasts, making it impossible for its lower end to cover her lower half.

“It’s all just girls.”

“Male slaves are unnecessary around these parts.”

The girl passed in front of them. Her frantically swinging her hips, probably in an attempt to emphasize her sexiness, was somewhat pitiful to look at for Chrono.

“What’s going to happen to them if they remain unsold?”

“If they have prospects, they’ll be put on sale at the next auction.”

“And if that doesn’t work out either?”

“Some of them will be taken over by my brothel, but I don’t know what happens to the rest. However, I doubt that it’s anything pleasant for the girls.”

“Do you know the name of the slave who meets my conditions?”

“Yes, her name is Elena. I hear she studied at the Free City States Union.”

“Elena, huh?”

Chrono mumbled the name under his breath as if to savor it slowly.

 

 

Why am I in such a place? Elena asked herself as she put power into her arms which she had wrapped around her knees.

Her visual field was filled with darkness, and even straining her eyes didn’t allow her to see through the blackness.

No, what would it help even if I could see past the darkness?

Right now Elena was inside a cage which didn’t let her stand up nor spread her arms.

Actually I might become even more dispirited if I learn of my current situation.

“Why?” A voice, so hoarse that she couldn’t believe it to be her own, spilled out of her lips.

It posed a question she had considered countless times.

Why am I in such a place? Why must I suffer so much? What kind of sin have I committed to receive such a punishment?

Elena ― Elena Grafias ― was a baronet of Empire Cepheus. Her family’s lineage dated back to the beginnings of the empire. Her ancestors had cut through the forests, cultivated the land, increased the number of tenant farmers, and armed themselves for the sake of defending their land. They managed to build a force even the emperor of that time couldn’t ignore.

They might have committed a crime somewhere during that process, but that shouldn’t be any reason to punish me.

“Why?”

Elena tore at her hair.

Her father was a conservative, but at the same time he was the person who understood Elena the most. When she asked him to be allowed to study at the Free City States Union, he readily approved of it. Persuading her mother was a lot more difficult. By several notches.

Elena chose Ymee as a destination for her studies. Ymee was a point of cultural exchange between the east and west, dubbed as the gate to the east. She learned all kinds of things such as foreign languages, foreign customs, and foreign cultures, but it was arithmetics that drew a bigger part of her interest.

“Why have I become something like a slave?”

She plucked out her hair, strand after strand.

I think it all started when my father died.

Learning of her father’s death while studying abroad, she hurried back without taking anything with her. It’d be a lie if she said that she didn’t feel anxious to come back home for the first time in years. But, Elena’s worry proved to be no more than needless anxiety. Her fiancée gently attended to her, and even her uncle showed concern for her.

Just when she started to think that it wouldn’t be that bad an idea to remain in her hometown for the rest of her life, an incident occurred.

Bandits raided the family’s mansion. The servants were killed, and Elena suspected that her mother very likely wasn’t alive anymore either. And then Elena was sold off to a slave trader.

The slave trader had many girls who had been kidnapped just like Elena. At first, it felt like those girls had some human emotions left in them. However, each time they were exposed to violence, their will to resist diminished.

Elena didn’t allow them to break her. Of course, the price was anything but cheap. Each time she opposed her new owner, she was treated to violence. Her entire body was painful. Painful and hot.

And yet, what allowed her to persist was――

“…Philip, save me quickly.”

――her belief that Philip would come to rescue her.

Since their childhood, Philip had told her that he’d accumulate as much training as a knight as possible. He had just recently graduated from the military academy, but Elena believed that the likes of a slave dealer’s guards would pose no threat to him.

“Please, come quickly and save me.”

Otherwise my heart is going to break.

Her not being killed despite taking a rebellious attitude was owed to her value as merchandise. If she were to lose that value, the slave dealer would kill her, Elena was sure.

No, he might do something a lot worse to me than just killing me.

Suddenly, light shone upon her.

“Philip!”

 

—————— End of part 2 ——————

 

“Hah? Did she completely break after gettin’ beaten up too much?”

The one standing in the light was a subordinate of the slave dealer. With a frown on his face, making it obvious of how much of a bother it was to him, he opened the cage.

“No! Stay away!”

“Shut it, bitch! Get your ass out of the cage! Move it!”, shouted the man in rage while stabbing at Elena with a long stick many times over.

Each time the stick’s end was driven into her, she choked.

“Got it? Then get out of the cage, dammit!”

“…”

Elena bit down on her lips, and crawled out of the cage. Then she stumbled as she tried to get up. Her legs had lost all their strength. And yet, the slave dealer’s man didn’t lend her a hand or anything.

“Come on, hurry up this way. Once you leave this room, head straight down the corridor.”

Elena advanced through the narrow passage while being spurred on by his stick. After a while she noticed someone standing in the corridor.

That person slowly approached her. A girl who was in a terrible state. Her body was bleeding at many places while smeared with vomit and excreta. Her hair was a mess, her skin was riddled with bruises and darkened by dirt, and her left eye was swollen.

She looks just like a monster, Elena thought.

“No thoughts ’bout this?”

“What do――gh!”

The slave dealer’s man said in ridicule, and Elena gasped.

“A-Aahh!”

Elena was breathing hard. Next to the monster-like girl stood the subordinate of the slave dealer.

In other words, that’s――’

“Hihihi, didn’t recognize yourself after havin’ all this done to you, eh?”

“Y-You’re wrong! This isn’t me!” Elena denied with a shake of her head, just for the monster-like girl to also shake her head. “T-This is just too much…”

“Come on, we’re goin’ to the slave market. It’s gonna be your big moment, hahaha,” said the man, apparently having a blast. And Elena was sure he actually had fun, too.

“P-Please! At least let me wash myself.”

“Don’t come any closer. You stink, bitch.”

The man drew back while covering his mouth with a hand.

“I’m begging you, please let me wash myself. Like this――”

“I’ve told you to not get any closer ‘cos you stink. Are you deaf!?”

The man got pissed off, thrusting his wooden stick out at her. Its tip hit her solar plexus, causing Elena to go down on her knees as she couldn’t endure the pain and agony.

“Please, please!! With an appearance like this――”

“Don’t you dare try touchin’ me, you filthy pig!” An impact suddenly assailed her. The man had kicked her with a thump. “It’s damn obvious you’ll remain an unsold sponger! Despite you bragging ’bout being a baronet or some shit like that!

“I’m the Grafias family’s――”

“No one gives a fuck! Here you’re just another filthy slave!” The slave dealer’s man interrupted Elena. “Unless you get anyone to buy you, you’ll end up as scrap.”

“I-I…”

…was an idiot, regretted Elena from the bottom of her heart. I didn’t understand my reality. I shouldn’t have been so obstinate. I might have been able to run away if I got bought as slave.

Tears trickled down her cheeks.

“Finally got your own situation, eh?”

“I did. I understood, so――”

“Give up if you understand. In the first place, what’s washing gonna help with you havin’ become such a mess anyway?”

How much easier would it be for her, if she could simply answer, “Isn’t that because you people beat me up?” But, right now, Elena wouldn’t be allowed such conceited behavior as slave.

“I beg you. Please let me wash myself.”

“Ain’t no way I’ll let you do that just because you’re asking, is there? Now, hurry back up!”

The man struck the floor with his stick, apparently having lost his patience with her, and thus Elena stood back up.

“Move it. Go left and climb the stairs.”

“…”

Elena staggered as she went upstairs. Her thighs were on fire, although she hadn’t even climbed half the stairway.

Just when she reached the half point, the man sneered, “I’m looking forward to the time when you come back unsold.”

“…” Elen continued her climb, remaining silent.

“What? Got no interest in what’s in for you?”

A knocking sound filled the area as he was apparently hitting the wall with his stick.

“It’s gonna be a blast since I’ll work you hard until the end.”

“What do you mean?”

Once she muttered that question, she got a smacking sound in response, making her believe that he might have laughed.

“Cattle that’s got useless is killed, no? The same applies to slaves. I’ll kill you extremely brutally as gory as possible in front of the newcomers.”

Elena shuddered as goosebumps popped out across her whole body. She was afraid of dying, but the man’s joyful way of talking about it frightened her much more.

“It won’t be an easy death for you. Even if you beg me to relieve you by killing you for good, it’ll just be the start. I’ll make sure that you suffer as much as possible before you croak. Hahaha!”, laughed the slave dealer’s subordinate.

“You’re really an idiot, aren’t you?” He stopped laughing, and calmly muttered, “I’m an idiot. The other slaves are idiots as well. But none of us is as dumb as you. It’s been really a long time since I saw a slave as stupid as you.”

At last, she managed to scale the stairs. Beyond the stairway lay the stage’s wing. She could hear quiet talking from where she was standing.

“Come on, go! Make a full lap along the stage’s edge! Hurry!”

“――rg!

The man stabbed his stick into her back, making her jump out on the stage. In the next instant, the venue became as silent as death.

“…She’s become this filthy?”

The slave dealer, who had appeared on stage, grimaced.

“Eh, umm~”

Even the guy, who seemed to be the host, was lost for words.

Elena started to walk with shaky legs. Each time she made a step, her despair further thickened like a fog of darkness. After all, the various men present in the venue screwed up their faces as soon as Elena got closer. Some awkwardly turned their faces away, others pinched their nose. Some even left the venue.

“…Ah,” she gasped while walking along the stage’s edge.

Just until a little while ago, she had been the noble daughter of the Grafias family, but her current self was completely worthless. No, it went far beyond her simply not having any worth. She was filth. Elena Grafias had been reduced to filth that merely polluted the stage with her existence.

Her visual field became blurred by tears. Her gait was faltering as if she was dead drunk. And yet, she somehow managed to make a full round, before facing the audience.

“Introduce yourself!” The slave dealer’s subordinate shouted from the stage’s wing.

Even though he’d said he was looking forward to killing me, she almost laughed out. Ah, maybe it’s become too much of a bother for him to kill me.

“…Elena. Elena Grafias. I studied abroad in the Free City States. I’m good at arithmetics.”

“We’re going to start from 10 gold,” announced the host, but no one even tried to raise their hand.

She was feeling giddy. Someone shouted something.

I don’t understand. I don’t get it, but it’s already over, she thought. It’d have still been better if I was killed during the bandit attack. It’d have been better if I had died before being sold to the slave dealer. If I had died, I wouldn’t need to go through this wretched torture now.

“Why?”

At last an answer appeared to the question she had asked herself over and over again.

Because I’m an idiot. I relied on stuff like being a baronet, having studied, or having a fiancé. But, how does any of that help when exposed to pure violence? I should have obeyed and lowered my head. Because I didn’t understand something so simple, I’m now going to die as filth.

The next instant after she became aware of her impending death――

“Uuugueeehhh!”

Unable to hold it back, Elena puked. Even though she only spit out gastric liquid, her urge to barf didn’t abate. She threw up over and over again due the revolting feeling similar to having her stomach turned inside out.

The puking came to an end――

“…Please. Buy me. Please! I’ll do anything. So please don’t kill me. Please let me die as your slave.” Elena prostrated herself as if burying her face in her own vomit.

“I will! I’ll buy her!”

“――gh!” Elena’s head jerked up.

An one-eyed young man ― no, maybe it was more accurate to call him boy ― had raised his hand.

“So, hurry up――”

“…Aahh,” Elena breathed out in relief.

It sounded like the one-eyed youth was kicking up a fuss, but all of that didn’t matter to her any longer.

I can die as a slave, and not as filth. That’s still a better, more humane way of dying, I guess.

Elena cried, cried, and before long ― lost consciousness.

 

—————– End of Part 3 —————–

 

Her awakening was fuzzy. She couldn’t clearly determine when her consciousness had returned. When she came to, she was lying on a bed while looking up at a ceiling.

“…I’m alive,” muttered Elena in blank amazement, before lightly coughing.

Her throat felt as sore as if being parched by fire.

“Oh, great. You woke up.”

Looking in the direction of the voice while remaining lying, she found a one-eyed youth sitting on a chair. Next to him stood a maid. Or rather, a woman wearing maid clothes with a wide neckline.

“I had wondered whether you’d ever wake up at this rate…sorry.”

“No need for apologies,” responded Elena with a bitter smile, “You bought me, right?”

“You remember?”

“Yes, I rem――,” started Elena, but had a coughing fit.

After the coughing came to an end, she tasted iron in her mouth.

“She must be thirsty.”

“Indeed. Can you sit up?”

The youth stood up and helped Elena. Just the action of sitting up sent her body into a world of pain.

“Here, some water.”

“T-Than――” Elena wanted to thank the maid, but got interrupted by another coughing fit.

“No need for thanks. Just hurry up and drink, okay?”

“…”

Elena accepted the cup from the maid, and brought it to her lips while being supported by the youth. She drank the lukewarm water greedily.

“I think it’d be a bad idea to drink too much too fast.”

“…Ah,” escaped her lips after removing her lips from the cup.

“Lie down.”

“Somehow it’s like she’s become a granny.”

Elena laid back down while assisted by the youth. She exhaled the iron taste, and looked at her arm which was riddled with dark bruises and small scars.

“I’m――”

“Elena was it, right?”

“Yes. Elena Grafias.” The instant she introduced herself, a sense of relief spread in her chest. She realized she had at least regained enough humanity to be able to name herself. “You are?”

“I’m Chrono…Chrono Chroford.”

“You’re not going to call yourself Marquis Erakis?”

“The Chroford name ranks higher in value in my mind.”

The youth ― Chrono answered sullenly to the maid’s teasing.

“This is the mansion of Marquis Erakis?”

“In Harschel, a city in the Erakis March.”

If Elena’s memory was correct, the Erakis March should be located in an area that could easily be described as Empire Cepheus’s northwestern edge.

It’s quite a distance away from my home, but it’s still better than being in a foreign country, I guess.

“I know it’s a shameless request, but would you be able to contact my family?”

“Sure. I’ll ask an acquainted merchant to try contacting your home.”

“Thanks. I’ve got another request, but…”

“What is it?”

“I’d like to be allowed to take a bath. Also, a letter…”

“Okay. Wait a moment since I’m going to call someone.”

Chrono left the room, but immediately came back with a minotaur in tow.

“Do you have any problems with being carried by a minotaur?”

“Just me as a weak landlady wouldn’t be enough.”

Minotaurs are demi-humans forced into doing heavy labor, and shouldn’t have any contact with nobles or baronets, Elena thought, but couldn’t voice it out.

“Captain, usually ye’d use elves or dwarves for stuff like this.”

“You don’t have to pay this much attention to formality, you know?”

“Well, if ye say so.”

The minotaur easily lifted up Elena in his arms, and carried her all the way to the bathroom which was situated on the same floor.

“The rest from here on is my job. You guys, get out.”

“…”

The maid, who had called herself landlady, chased out Chrono and the minotaur.

“Come on, can you stand?”

“Lend me a hand.”

“You’re no kid, so walk by yourself.”

Elena forced her ailing body, taking off the negligee. Looking at the scars all over her body, she started to fret whether she’d ever get back to normal.

When she entered the bathroom while holding back her tears, she got wrapped up in a thick layer of steam. For the sake of ridding herself of the grime and filth as fast as possible, she approached the bathtub which was filled to the brim with hot water――

“Wash your body first, girly!”

“I know.”

Elena scooped out some hot water from the bathtub with a bucket, and gently spilled it over her shoulder. This caused all her wounds to sting painfully.

“…It hurts.”

“You feeling pain is proof that you’re still alive.”

Elena kept pouring hot water over herself while enduring the humiliation. Her reddish brown water soiled the floor’s tiles while an unbearable stench rose from it.

“What a smell. How long didn’t they let you wash yourself?”

“I don’t…know.”

“Turn around. I’ll wash your hair.”

Once Elena sat down on the spot while turning her back towards the landlady, the older woman poured hot water over her head. Just like moments ago, the water turned dark red, but as the landlady repeated it over and over again, the water began to gradually become transparent.

“That man…who is he?”

“You mean Lord Chrono?” The landlady stopped her hands while holding soap. “I suppose you could call him an oddball of a noble.”

“That’s not much of an answer, is it?”

“I mean, there’s no way I could answer you since it’s not like I know all about him either.”

“Are you ridiculing me?”

“I told you I don’t know either, didn’t I?”

The landlady answered and began to wash Elena’s hair.

 

 

“It’s already been a month, huh?”, muttered Elena while lying on her bed.

One month had passed since Chrono took her in. The swelling of her left eye had faded, and her bruises had become quite faint, too. She still wasn’t back to normal, but she had recovered enough to be capable of walking by herself.

“I think it’s about time for the reply to arrive.”

Though I’m happy that he’s picked me up from that place, Elena thought with a wry smile on her lips. My uncle is probably busy dealing with the aftermath, and Philip should be busy with his work as a knight. Besides, what kind of face should I make if I meet them?

“Are you up?”

“…nh! Yes, I’m up!”

Chrono peered into the room through the gap after opening the door a bit, causing Elena to sit up. For some reason, the landlady was with him as well.

“W-What about a l-letter for me?”

“…Well, it’s about that.” Chrono revealed a very awkward expression as he sat down on the chair next to the bed. “Look, you know the Picks Company, right?”

“Yes, they’re famous.”

“I asked an employee of the Picks Company and they tried to deliver your letter, but…it looks like they’ve decided that you’re dead.”

“Huh?” Elena couldn’t comprehend what Chrono had told her just now. “W-Why? I’m alive!”

“It’s been decided that you died together with the servants during the bandit attack.”

“I must clear up that misunderstanding right away!”

“――gh!”

The instant she got out of bed, her arm was grabbed by Chrono.

“Hey, let go of me! Didn’t you say that you’d let me go back home!?”

“…I’d love to let you go back, but the circumstances have changed.”

Suddenly a chill crawled up Elena’s spine. A person who was officially supposed to be dead ― in other words, no matter what she did, it wouldn’t change anything.

“N-No way! They planned to turn me into a slave?”

“No, that’s not it…”

“Lord Chrono, it’s best to give her the truth straight,” said the landlady with a fed-up voice.

“What’s the truth?”

“Gosh, you’re really slow on the uptake, aren’t you?” The landlady sighed unnaturally.

“Landlady, I’m going to take over from here,” intervened Chrono with a sad look. “Elena, you were tricked by your uncle and fiancé.”

“Why would those two do that to me?”

“Their aim was the Grafias family’s fortune. Your uncle was entrusted with managing the fortune, but you were the legitimate heiress.”

“W-What about Philip? If he married me, all of the fortune would become his as well! There would be no benefit for him to trick me!”

“Elena, you studied abroad in the Free City States, right?”

“W-What about it?”

“Wouldn’t he think that you wouldn’t have any intention to entrust the management of the fortune to him as the smart girl you are, even if you were to marry each other? Or maybe your uncle got him to cooperate by telling him that the fortune would become his if he married your uncle’s daughter?”

“…N-No way.” Elena was assailed by the hallucination of the ground beneath her feet crumbling away. Something she considered as firm and solid had been no more than a house of cards. “M-My mother!”

“It looks like she was killed. I have no proof for it, but I think there’s no doubt about it.”

This time Elena had finally run out of words.

“As such no one could prove that you’re Elena Grafias. All servants have been killed, and even if you went there yourself, it’d just end with you getting killed as well.”

“…ut! Get out!” Elena barely managed to scream.

 

 

Elena woke up at night. Apparently she had fallen asleep after crying herself into exhaustion.

“It’s dinner time.”

“I don’t need any.”

The landlady sighed and placed the silver try on the table, and then wearily flopped down on the chair.

“Leave me alone once you’ve put down the tray.”

“How about thinking about your future for a bit?”

“That’s nothing I could consider under these circumstances, is it? I was betrayed by my uncle and fiancé, sold as a slave, and on top of that, even my mother… At this point I don’t give a damn about what happens to me,” answered Elena with a tear-choked voice, burying her face in her pillow.

Even Philip, who used to be her emotional support, turned out to be her enemy.

Just why did I believe there’s love between us if he was no more than a fiancé decided by my and his parents?

“Although your mother was murdered, you’re quite cold-hearted about it, aren’t you?”

“You! What do you know about me!? It’s damn obvious that I want to avenge my mother, no!? But, but…right now I have nothing. No status as baronet, no money, and I can’t even prove that I’m Elena Grafias! Tell me! How am I supposed to take revenge like this!?” Elena screamed while letting her anger free reign.

But it only caused the landlady to sigh in a bored manner.

“Is that thing on your neck just a decoration? If you don’t have anything, think up a method that will allow you to take your revenge.”

“Think up?” Elena felt like she saw some hope hidden within the landlady’s remark.

Although she had lost everything, she still had the knowledge she had fostered during her three years of studying abroad. She also had her position as a noble’s slave.

“So, what are you going to do about dinner?”

“I’m going to eat it,” replied Elena, and sat down at the table.

And then――

“…Shit, just wait, you assholes!”

――she spat out her resentment while tightly clamping down on her spoon.

 

 


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4 Comments

  1. Pingback: Records of Chrono’s Wars – Volume 1 – Chapter 5: Slave Market – Part 1 »

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