Azhure: This is the second part of the Secret Nation Chronicles pilot story. I’m still not finished yet and there will be a third part which should be the last. After that, I can move on to Owen’s Collection.
Voice: Hey, Azhure! Don’t you have something else to tell!?
Azhure: Yes, as I write this I realized an implication. One that relates to the Eleven-Century War, but I’m discussing it after the third part as it will be relevant to it.
Voice: Seriously!? Fine! Then stay tuned, everyone!
“Trader,” Zack, the Blue Doves merchant, said. “I’m buying this cat beast as well. How much does she cost?”
Audible gasps were heard as the slaver trader was similarly shocked. “Y-You are buying again?” he stuttered. Even though he would welcome additional purchases, after four hundred and fifty-one gold, that would unexpected.
“The purchase of the elf Fia is a request from my client,” Zack explained. “I’m also told to buy slaves for the Blue Doves while I’m at it. Conveniently, the purchase of Fia has left me more or less the usual budget. So, how much is the cat beast?”
“T-The cat beast is five gold,” the slave trader exhaled.
Strange, was Fia’s thought.
The Blue Doves merchant bought all the slaves Fia was with on stage. Whether it was because the other customers were intimidated by Zack’s intent on purchasing again after lumping out almost a bag’s worth of gold erum or something else, it meant Fia was not separated from Chloe, for the time being.
Now, they were in another cage on an open field fenced by brick walls with a double-gate as exit behind the headquarters of the Blue Doves guild which notably had a strange metal tower on top of it. However, unlike other cages, this one was… spacious, to say the least.
Rather, this cage was larger than the previous as there were the same amount of slaves in this cage as the previous, making it less cramped in comparison. It wasn’t like there weren’t enough slaves to fill the cage to the brim as literally beside it was another cage filled with a similar number of slaves.
It’s all been strange since I arrived here, Fia thought. Especially what the merchant asked me yesterday…
“Where are you from, miss Fia?” Zack asked.
“Huh?” Fia raised an eyebrow.
“…” Zack crossed his arms and waited.
Gulping under her collar, Fia answered, “R-Rosa village.”
“Fia of Rosa village,” Zack nodded. “Fia Rosa. Alright.”
Why would he ask about my ruined village…? Fia wrapped her arms around her knees as she contemplated the question made by the merchant before he brought her and the other slaves to the Blue Doves. She really wanted to know why but she can’t exactly ask. Is it because this client was looking for me from my village? Does that means he is one of the…!
Before Fia finished those thoughts, she felt her arm held by a pair of tiny hands. She looked to her left to see Chloe looking at her in concern. Clearly, the little girl has seen her visible distress and was worried.
“Fia?” Chloe softly muttered.
“…I’ll be fine, Chloe,” Fia assured the cat beast, gently patting her between her ears. “Thank you.”
“Mmm…” Chloe purred.
“Hey, Jack. Why we’re going this early again?” a voice said in a laid-back tone.
Overhearing this, Fia turned her head to see two young men at the walled corner of the field, one with a sword and the other a spear strapped behind their backs talking to each other. Judging by their other equipment, they must be adventurers commissioned by the Blue Doves.
“It’s because of the count, Mitch,” Jack, the adventurer with the sword, answered.
“Oh right. Literally, because Hamburg Steak,” the adventurer with the spear, Mitch, snickered mentioning the count’s name, without proper addressing. Seriously, what was so funny? Also, what’s a ‘steak?’ “Couldn’t keep it in his pants.”
“Ugh… Hamburg’s a place first, then the steak, Mitch. Why does everyone think of that first?” Jack groaned. Oh, was it about the count’s name? What does it have to do with this ‘steak?’ “But yes, that’s why it’s dangerous for the headhunt target to be here.”
Headhunt target? Her?
“Yeah,” Mitch nodded. “He sure is a sore loser coming back to Zack for round two.”
“Tell you what, boy. I will take that elf for double, no, triple the price you paid for her!” count Hamburg offered.
“The elf Fia is for my client,” Zack deadpanned.
“Then tell that client of yours that I am buying the elf from him,” the count huffed.
“No, my client wants her specifically,” the Blue Doves merchant shook his head. “No compromise.”
“Then say you cannot secure her!” the count tempted.
“I am not damaging the credibility of my guild for momentary gain,” Zack rejected with a no-nonsense tone.
With that, the noble stormed away again, angrily declaring, “Mark my words! I will have that elf!”
“Wait, why can’t he just use his noble privilege to nab miss Fia from the get-go?” Mitch wondered.
Fia also wondered why he addressed her, a slave, respectfully. Now that she thought about it, even Zack addressed her as ‘miss Fia’ when he asked where she was from. But when count Hamburg came back, he called me ‘elf Fia’ like before. So is it when the count wasn’t around? she pondered.
In fact, the Blue Doves merchants have been nothing but respectful. They didn’t treat her and the other slaves roughly after coming under them even when putting them into this cage. It was like they saw them as living beings and not commodities that can be handled slightly carelessly.
“Right, you’re still new here,” Jack sighed before lifting his finger. “One, this is the capital. The emperor here is in control, not some count. It’ll be a different story if we were in his territory.
“Two.” He lifted his second finger. “Nobles wouldn’t raise a fuss over slaves especially miss Fia who are bought legitimately, it would be ‘unbecoming’ of them. Also, the Eria Faith teaches against committing depravity and Erdal nobles are supposed to be prime examples of her believers, but you and I know that’s never the case.”
“Please, a fat noble clearly screams having done every sin in the book,” Mitch sneered. “Damn heretics.”
Eria Faith. After years of ‘traveling’ in the Erdal empire, Fia has no excuses for not knowing the empire’s state religion. The deity Eria of the faith’s namesake was the patron deity humans worship, much like the Spirit Deity elves and beastman worshipped. Supposedly, Eria preached to do good, simply put, but her followers were anything but that. Although…
Heretics? Fia tilted her head. To Fia, Eria was an ignorant deity that allowed her followers to enslave other races like her, plain and simple. But what’s with the adventurer with the spear calling the count a ‘heretic?’ Wouldn’t hypocrite be more accurate?
“Anyway,” Jack continued. “Even if all of that fails, we did spread rumors to the upper class that any noble going after us find themselves being ruined. Mostly it’s us having a ‘higher’ backing.”
“With evidence to back that up, right?” Mitch asked, tilting his head over to his conversation partner.
“Essentially,” Jack shrugged.
This is just strange, Fia lowered her eyelids halfway. With the facts overheard, there was a lot of reassessment. One, the way these two men talked was as if they weren’t adventurers from the Adventurers Guild, but private guards of the Blue Doves that had gone against nobles and won?
Also, the merchant guild was brave enough to lie about having a high-ranking noble backing them which would spell serious trouble if that were to be exposed. Clearly, there was more to this merchant guild than it seemed.
And these men were really casual talking this outside, Fia noticed, being one of the people who could hear them. Then again, Fia found the street in front of the merchant guild’s backyard to be relatively quiet. They must be confident to carelessly reveal those facts in public.
“Still, we can never be too careful,” Jack continued. “Which is why we’re preparing to leave now. Hopefully, the large caravan will make the count think twice.”
“As well as bandits and monsters,” Mitch added.
Evidently, Fia looked around her seeing humans walking in and out of the headquarters carrying boxes of various goods that they load up to their respective transports. Although the workers have done it professionally, they were clearly in a rush to leave.
And all of this was because of her.
Was this client really that important? Fia thought. That they don’t want any chance for count Hamburg to take me away?
This was getting stranger and stranger.
Typically, a caravan was a group of merchants traveling together for safety in numbers against bandits and monsters. Usually, there would be a ‘lead’ merchant hosting the caravan where other merchants would join in, for a fee. If they brought their own guards, they can also join free of charge. Regardless, the merchants gather together with the goal of equally protecting their goods.
However, as far as Fia and the other slaves realized, this caravan was for the purpose of protecting them, much to their confusion. This was on top of bringing Fia to this client at all costs.
“Mmm…” Chloe mumbled nervously, hugging Fia tightly. Even she knew this was wholly different than before.
Fia could see the cage she was in between two wagons front and back, the cage beside hers was also similar. In other words, there were six vehicles in two columns of three with the slave cages in the second row, and each of them was pulled by two horses.
Surrounding the entire caravan was a dozen guards, be they private or hired, each on horseback – meaning there were two dozen horses in total – which was unusual, caravan guards would normally hitch a ride on the wagons, not riding on their own horses especially when all of them do. Incidentally, all the wagons ‘guarding’ the slave cage have two identical crests painted on both sides of their bonnets; a small blue dove flying behind a bigger one, marking them as the Blue Doves’.
“Alright, we’ve traveled far enough,” Zack, the merchant who bought Fia, announced. To already enforce the argument, the merchant happened to be the leader of this caravan and was pulling the cage Fia was in. “We’ll have lunch before crossing the Great River.”
All the merchants and guards got off their respective mounts and went off to their business; feeding the horses, setting up the campfire, taking out ingredients from one of the wagons, etc. It was very orderly as not one wasted their time idly by, all of them were doing something to contribute.
It’s as if they do this many times before, but why? Fia wondered. She had watched the goods the merchants had loaded up into the wagons, they don’t seem to be the exotic goods their guild was known for. In fact, those same goods were being taken out for lunch.
In other words, those wagons were there for the sake of adding the numbers, and carrying supplies for the journey – Fia knew this because she has sworn she overheard Jack, one of the guards, bluntly admitting to it.
Why go this far just to transport us? And me… Fia pursed her lips. Sure, slaves were pricey, but the empire always procure more of them so they were easily replaced. She saw fellow slaves dying in front of her eyes and the slave traders simply click their tongues and discard them off the road like spoilt milk.
I remembered the last slave trader throwing out some of us as decoys in a monster attack, Fia grimly recalled. I had to hold Chloe tightly to dissuade him from sacrificing her as well.
“Here you go.” One of the merchants slipped a bowl of porridge into the cage. “Pass it to one another. There’s enough for you all,” he said as he slipped another in. “As always.”
Case in point, slave traders cared little for their slaves since they’ll be sold. Also, slaves were usually fed scraps, not hot meals these merchants cooked from the pot, they also eat the porridge as well. This was the same since being under the Blue Doves’ ownership, not that they would complain, but it was still unnerving to be treated decently – the roomy cage being self-evident.
“Nn?” Chloe turned to her side as she heard a sound while quietly eating her meal.
Fia also looked to see one of the guards, Mitch, slipping his hand into the cage and putting a small pouch before opening it. Taking a closer look, it was filled with colorful candies the likes Fia has never seen before.
“Here, take some, kiddo,” Mitch whispered. “Don’t let the others know, you’re a growing girl, okay?” he winked while putting his free index finger in front of his mouth – his spear was resting on his shoulder. Turning to the elf, “you want some too, miss Fia?” he offered.
Truly, these people treating them this nicely was unsettling.