Chapter 172: Inside The Tavern II
“What’s wrong?” Mica whispered, leaning in close with her head tilted down so only the bottom half of her face was visible. “Do you recognize someone?”
Shaking my head, I turned back to my table. “No one important.”
A different barmaid—this one much less affectionate—arrived with our order. She placed the three mugs of ale in front of Olfred along with the single bowl of soup containing a piece of bread sloppily submerged inside the goopy liquid.
“Please bring two more bowls,” Olfred said as he slid a mug across the table in front of me and Mica.
“There’s a stall a block down to feed your slaves,” she said with blatant distaste.
Ignoring her attitude, Olfred simply stirred the orange stew with the piece of bread. “It’s been a long journey. I’ll have them eat here tonight.”
I didn’t bother to see her reaction, but she left wordlessly. My mind was focused on the cold mug of ale bubbling in front of me. I pressed the cool rim of the mug against my dry lips, relishing the slight burn down my esophagus as the carbonated liquid reached my stomach.
<i>Damn, that feels good. </i>
Mica almost finished her entire mug in one gulp. Her body shivered as she let out a blissful sigh. “Even this cheap ale tastes heavenly to Mica right now.”
With a silent chuckle, I lifted my mug for another swig. Out of the corner of my eyes, though, I spotted the same barmaid whispering to one of the men sitting at the same table as Sebastian, pointing a finger toward our table.
“Looks like we’ll be having guests,” I muttered to the two lances as I set down my drink. Sylvie rustled deeper into my cloak while I pulled the hood a bit more over my face just in case.
Just a few moments later, a large man with a scraggly beard came to our table and with him, a short portly woman wearing a condescending smirk and clothing just as revealing as, if not more than, the barmaids here.
The bearded man regarded me and Mica with a raised brow and an expectant gaze. I got up without a word, pulling Mica from her seat as well, and stood behind Olfred.
The woman, seeing the two half-empty mugs, let out a snort. “You really shouldn’t be spoiling your slaves like this. It makes them think they can act out.”
“How I treat my slaves is none of your business,” Olfred replied curtly, sliding in another piece of bread underneath his mask. “Now what can I do for the two of you? I hope you can keep things succinct.”
“Succinct?” the man scoffed. The wooden backrest groaned in protest as he leaned back on the seat but continued to hold out. “Some fancy words you got there. You should be careful around these parts, especially if you’re traveling from the South.”
I could see the two trying to size up Olfred. Mica could pass off as a human child but I was worried that they might realize that Olfred wasn’t human.
“Thank you for the advice,” Olfred responded as he continued locking eyes with the two of them.
“We wanted to give you a warm welcome around,” the woman said, leaning forward on her elbows.
“We graciously came over after seeing the way you treated your slaves,” her companion continued, shooting a pointed gaze at Mica and me. “We have a whole line of slaves for sale that I feel you’d be interested in.”
My jaw clenched at her words. I imagined a room full of children and adults alike, barely clothed and fed, kept only as commodities.
“I’ll have to politely decline,” the old lance replied almost immediately.
“Don’t say that.” The portly woman slid to the edge of her seat to be closer to Olfred. “We’ve got a fine line of both girls and women if you’re not looking for a more practical slave.”
“We even have dwarves and elves,” the large man added, his cracked lips curled into a lewd grin.
There was a beat of silence before Olfred responded. “I thought after the formation of the Council, interracial slavery had been banned?”
“That’s why it’ll cost you an arm and a leg if you want to buy one.” The man burst into a fit of hoarse laughter at his own joke—or what he considered one.
If the lance was angry, he did a good job of hiding it. Mica, on the other hand, stirred beside me. I was able to sense the minuscule amount of mana leaking from her, but even that small amount was enough to fill me with unease. Not long after the union of the three races, the leaders of all three sides made a collective effort to abolish slavery. However, getting rid of slavery in one fell swoop would not only cause dissatisfaction amongst slave owners, but there would be severe ramifications in the economy by essentially getting rid of a large portion of the kingdom’s workforce.
In order to remedy this, one thing that the Council had been working diligently on was taking a step-by-step approach; rewarding owners who freed their slaves and heavily taxing owners who kept slaves.
While slavery existed in all three kingdoms, there had always been a high demand for dwarven and particularly elven slaves from Sapin. At least that’s what Vincent, the owner of the Helstea Auction House, told me.
Olfred gently pushed the bowl of stew away. “On second thought. Perhaps I am a little curious about what you have to offer.”
The woman inched a bit closer, her face contorted into what she considered coquettish. “I knew you’d be interested. I’ll let our boss know.”
“Is it okay if I at least get settled into an inn somewhere nearby first?” Olfred asked. “Our journey has been somewhat rough.”
The woman locked eyes with her companion before she motioned him with a twitch of her head. With a nod, he waved a giant arm at an old man with a slight hunch that had been idly drying glasses with a towel. “A room for the gent and his two slaves!”
The woman didn’t give Olfred a chance to object, leading him toward the back door with her bearded companion close behind. This time, the seated men and women in our way scooted their chairs, making a path as their gazes bore holes in us.
Before going into the back hall with the hunched elder, I looked back once more at Sebastian who was smiling in our direction with a barmaid whispering something into his ear.
Once we walked deeper into the scarcely-lit hallway, much of the clamor from the tavern died down. Mica and I trailed behind Olfred silently while the masked lance himself responded to the portly woman’s idle banter.
“Here’s your room, sir. That’ll be two silvers.” The old man held out an empty palm while his other hand held a rusted key.
<i>Two silvers? For a dingy room up here in Ashber?</i> I couldn’t believe it. It was reasonable to be able to buy a plot of land here with two silvers.
<i>‘I’ve never had an interest in this continent’s currency, but even to me it sounds ridiculous,’ </i>Sylvie responded incredulously.
Nevertheless, Olfred continued playing his role of the weary naive noble as he produced two glimmering coins from inside his cloak.
Without even a thank you, the old man dropped the key into Olfred’s hand and tottered back to the tavern. The woman, on the other hand, seemed even more flirtatious after Olfred produced the coins, going as far as squeezing Olfred’s arm before she and her companion headed back.
“We’ll meet back in an hour back at the tavern.” She turned back around and shot Olfred a wink.
Closing the door behind us, I immediately slammed my fist against the wall. Since my fist wasn’t coated in mana, a jarring pain shot up my arm but even that was welcomed. The fact that I wasn’t able to do anything for those slaves and for my town—I deserved the worst.
Letting out a sigh, I scanned the room which was no larger than the bathroom I had at my home in Ashber. There was one bed and dresser squeezed in; even taking into account Mica’s small frame, she and I would have to sleep sitting up.
Taking off her hood, Mica immediately jumped on the bed, burying her face into the pillow before letting out a scream.
“You did good holding back from those two,” I praised, removing my cloak as well. “That woman, especially.”
Taking off his mask, Olfred replied, “Her charming appearance didn’t make up for the fact that she has captured one of my own.”
I blinked, still unable to get used to the dwarves’ tastes.
“If it wasn’t for this darn mission, Mica would’ve flattened this entire tavern!” Mica cried, her voice muffled from the pillow.
“My thoughts were the same,” Olfred replied. “Our circumstances, however, force us to be discreet.”
I turned to the older lance. “Whether we decide to act, our mission is priority. It’s no problem going with them to see these slaves, though—in fact, it gives us a better cover to move around.”
Olfred nodded in response as he unclipped his cloak and slung it over the wooden dresser.
I sat down at the foot of the bed while Sylvie fumed beside me.
<i>Something on your mind?</i>
<i>‘I don’t understand why there would be a high demand for slaves of different races. Is it because humans feel pity for enslaving one of their own?’</i> my bond asked.
<i>No. Sickeningly enough, a lot of noble families practiced interbreeding with their dwarven or elven slaves so their children can have a better and more wide-ranged potential as a mage. Lucas Wykes was a product of that practice. </i>
Sylvie didn’t reply but due to our bond, I could feel her anger spilling out; I didn’t blame her, though. When I first read about elves, I thought of them as this mystical race with a high affinity for magic. That belief was further enforced by the fact that my stay in Elenoir was mostly with the royal family. When I think back to the time I had rescued Tessia from slave traders, I should’ve guessed that they either went for children or weaker, unsuspecting adults.
<i>The Council had banned interracial slavery a few years ago, but after seeing these two, it looks like it was still going on. </i>
<i>‘What about the forest surrounding the elven kingdom? Isn’t it supposed to deter most other beings aside from elves and native animals?’ </i>
<i>Which is why elven slaves are so rare. The traders will not only need to be adept fighters, they need to have hounds capable of guiding them through Elshire Forest. </i>
Contempt spilled out of my bond. <i>‘To go to such lengths…’</i>
Coming from a modest household, my parents would never have been able to afford a slave, even if they had wanted one. This, in turn, had somewhat obscured my run-in with slaves. Still, the fact that it was happening in my hometown did more than just irritate me.
“If we can’t handle this directly, Mica is going to inform the Council of what’s going on here,” the small lance said abruptly, bolting up on the bed.
I nodded, not bothering to turn to face the dwarf. “Sounds like a plan.”
The inn had one bathroom at the far end of the hall, and when Olfred went out of the room to use it, an unfamiliar man with a small dagger clipped to his waist escorted him there. While Olfred said the man was nice enough, It was obvious that a place like this didn’t offer concierge service. We were basically being held prisoner here.
An hour passed by in the blink of an eye. We decided it was best for Mica to stay behind in case she wasn’t able to control her temper. Despite numerous complaints from her, the child-like lance knocked out like a log as soon as her head hit the makeshift pillow she had made from rolling up her cloak.
The two of us got dressed once more before opening our door. It was obvious to us even before that there were people waiting just outside, but we remained casual.
“Had a good rest?” the portly woman asked, her voice a bit more slurred than when she had first come to us.
Judging by the flushed cheeks that her companion had, it looked like the two of them had been drinking in the meantime.
“Come! Follow us this way. Our leader wants to meet with you,” the woman said, cozying up to Olfred.
I remained silent as I trailed behind my master until the bearded man spoke. “Your smaller slave isn’t joining us?”
“Her body is unaccustomed to traveling such long distances,” Olfred answered without turning around. “I didn’t think it’d be a problem just letting her sleep in the room.”
The bearded man’s lips curled up into a snide grin.
“Ah! So her body is accustomed to other things,” he chuckled, nudging Olfred with his elbow.
I rolled my eyes. <i>Does this ape have no sense of decency? </i>
The muffled clamor of the tavern grew louder as we approached the entrance. While the establishment was still busy, the table closest to us was left open with only one person sitting at it. Sebastian.
“Leader, I brought them here,” the woman spoke, the slur in her voice nonexistent.
<i>Leader?</i> I almost said aloud, my eyes glancing upward to get a better view of the balding conjurer. I had no lingering resentment toward Sebastian. Even back then, when I was still a little boy in this world, I saw him as greedy and shameless, but insignificant. The childlike desire he had for my bond, and the fact that he used the king to try and ‘coerce’ me into giving her up did get on my nerves, but I’d never thought he’d be up here.
Even if he had received punishment back then for his actions at the auction house, I doubt it led to anything more than a warning. He was a noble; he shouldn’t have any interests in a remote town like Ashber.
“You may leave.” He dismissed them with a wave of his hand. Sebastian’s beady eyes inspected me and I could feel him probing for my mana core level. He wouldn’t be able to sense anything, of course. Even if I wasn’t at the white core stage yet, I was high enough of a level where his senses wouldn’t be able to detect traces of my mana. His gaze moved upward from my sternum to my face, but upon seeing my disheveled hair and dirt-stained face, his focus turned to Olfred.
“It’s a pleasure,” Sebastian said with a wide, seemingly innocent smile. “Allow me to welcome you to my town.”