Here's the fifth release of the week, enjoy your double release!
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Viscount Timba and Kalik both finished the whole pot of delicious fish soup in almost an instant. Lorist tossed the remaining fish into the stone pot for a second serving before he left to pick more wild vegetables and mushrooms.
Viscount Timba asked curiously, "Why are you cooking again even though we've already finished?"
Lorist pointed to the pair of slaves - Hannu, the huge one, and Yannu the old one.
Kalik said unconcernedly, "They're both slaves, so you don't need to feed them. We can just give them the remains of the fish head."
Tarkel smiled while shaking his head as he said, "Kalik, we are currently on the run. This is not a simple field trip. Taking care of everyone in our group is actually the key to our safety and survival. Look at Hannu. Though it displeases me to say this, he is somewhat like your mount, Viscount Timba. Even mounts have to be fed water and food, right? Otherwise, they will collapse midway and cause us much trouble. If we don't feed him well, he won't have enough energy to carry you around and there's no saying when we'll be able to leave our dangerous predicament."
Viscount Timba nodded in agreement and said, "Tarkel's right. Well, isn't it quite fortunate for you slaves to be able to have the same food as us?"
Since they had to wait for the two slaves to finish eating before they could resume their travels, Tarkel got hold of the sack formerly belonging to Knight Oss and took out some dough Lorist had stuffed in it and began making small biscuits as rations. By the time they wrapped everything up, it was already afternoon.
Not one of them bothered with the moaning, pleading knight. It was as if they didn't notice him there. With his limbs broken, and stripped naked as he was, the former gold-ranked knight was nothing more than a cripple that could do nothing but wait for his death.
Before they continued their journey, Lorist stopped the viscount from climbing up on Hannu's shoulders and only made some hand gestures. Confused, the viscount asked Tarkel, "What's he up to?"
Tarkel said, "Lord Viscount, Locke feels that it is not adequate for you to be riding on the slave's shoulders. It's a little too eye-catching. You'll easily become the first target the enemy sets their eyes on. He feels that it's better if you get carried on his back instead.
Viscount Timba asked, "Why didn't he just say so?"
Tarkel replied, "Lord Viscount, Locke has always been the quiet type. He doesn't like to speak unless he has to."
In the meantime, Lorist had used the knight's clothes to make a soft hammock-like back sling for the viscount.
The viscount was rather satisfied with the makeshift sling and asked Tarkel whether he would be willing to give Locke away, saying that he would be more than happy to pay a high price for him.
Tarkel shook his head and said, "Lord Viscount, Locke is not a slave, and I'm not the one employing him. He's one of the rare talents cultivated by my guild for more than ten years and he only answers to the president. Don't misunderstand, while he obeys my orders on the surface, he has all the right to escape by himself if the situation is dangerous enough. The merchant guild can afford to lose me, but not someone like Locke, on whom they're willing to spend huge amounts of money to train into a blademaster that would serve as the martial foundation of the guild."
"Oh, then how are they trained?" asked the viscount interestedly.
"Lord Viscount, apart from us, the Peterson Merchant Guild, all other guilds of the big seven basically do the same thing. They take in young orphans and train them according to their talents, be they academic or martial, so they'll be the cornerstones of the guild in the future. By the time they become a gold rank or a blademaster, the guild would have spent more than 10 or 100 thousand gold Fordes on them," replied Tarkel.
"Why can't you just hire blademasters instead of cultivating them yourselves?" asked the viscount in confusion.
"Lord Viscount, while we do hire blademasters, it's exceedingly rare. Unless we're very well-acquainted with the person and their background," Tarkel said solemnly, "Our guild is not like noble houses such as yours. We have lots of trade secrets that we have to protect, so we find it hard to trust the loyalty of blademasters that are not raised as our own. If, by any chance, our trade secrets are revealed, that would cost us quite severely."
"Ah, I see," mumbled the viscount, nodding, "That's right, hiring blademasters could prove to be quite troublesome as well. I've spent a huge price to hire blademasters before and all they care about is money. A couple of times they even gave me an unpleasant look when I asked them to do something. And to think they would be that useless when deployed... Not one of them returned to me after they were deployed..."
While the viscount was complaining, Tarkel secretly asked Kalik about what he said and quickly found out the truth.
When Lorist was leading his troops on shore, the rank 2 blademaster hired by Viscount Timba brought four of his gold-ranked knights and 300 slavers to join the battle. However, all of them were crushed, not even a messenger managed to escape and report their defeat. The viscount had lost all his high-tier fighters and, as a result, he had to escape with his two slaves.
Lorist stifled a laugh when he heard about how the rank 2 bladesmaster, who had been giving Engelich trouble during the initial fight, was actually the viscount's man. In the end, that blademaster died from being impaled by multiple ballista bolts.
Viscount Timba, on the other hand, began to show more interest at Tarkel's description of the orphan-raising program and hoped that his own house could employ the same method to garner loyal supporters. There would be no shortage of orphans for him to raise either, he could simply use the progeny of his domestic slaves.
Domestic slaves? Tarkel didn't understand what that term specifically meant and asked Kalik about it.
"Domesticated slaves, you see, are children of two slaves that had been intentionally allowed to breed. Well, some of them may be the result of female slaves getting pregnant after being forced by their owners. Given their status as slaves upon birth, they aren't nearly as rebellious as captured slaves and most often accept the status quo without question.
"Yannu over there is a second-generation domestic slave while Hannu is one of the third generation. His parents are also second-generation domestic slaves like Yannu. Domestic slaves can easily sell for double the price of captured slaves at the port.
"While Viscount Timba's idea of using domestic slaves is sound, there's a crucial problem with it. In the Hanayabarta kingdom, slaves aren't allowed to carry weapons. While they are allowed to awaken their battleforce, they can in no way be given a weapon to carry, they would pose too much of a threat to their masters."
As they traveled, Tarkel, Viscount Timba, and Kalik chatted rather heartily, which allowed Lorist to gather quite a bit of information about Hamidas. From how King Lud was actually a one-star-gold-ranked knight, to the fact that the three blademasters of the royal family were leaps and bounds stronger than those hired by the nobles, Lorist heard it all.
During the night, they feasted on the wild hares and cockerels Lorist managed to catch. Grease smudged all over their faces.
According to Kalik and the viscount, they were already near the border of the hilly area. They would only have to scale two more small hills from morning to noon the next day before arriving at the plains where the capital was located. Viscount Timba mentioned that he had hunted at those plains with his brother-in-law, King Lud III, before. It was the reason for his ability to recall the terrain of the area roughly. By the time they leave the hills, they would only have to travel for another half a day to arrive at a manor belonging to the royal family. After that, they would be able to take a carriage back to the capital.
The travels on the next day proceeded smoothly without incident. It did not take them long to travel across the two hills to arrive at the border between the hilly area and the plains. After a few more hours of walking, they could finally see the manor in the distance as they walked past a wheat field.
Lorist, who was leading the whole troupe, suddenly stopped in his tracks and made a gesture to listen, before he turned around and made some hand signals. Quickly, he jumped into the wheat fields and disappeared from view.
Tarkel tugged on the viscount's clothes and asked Hannu to squat down a little.
"Stop walking. Locke said that something is wrong with the manor up ahead. Let him go there to check first," warned Tarkel.
"I don't think anything's wrong with that. Aren't you being a little too paranoid?" asked Kalik suspiciously.
Viscount Timba joined in and said, "If we travel faster, we might be able to make it in time for a good meal before taking a nice bath and having some much-needed sleep. By tomorrow, we'll be able to take a carriage to the capital as planned, so please don't mess around right now..."
Tarkel said in a serious tone, "Lord Viscount, Kalik, I trust Locke deeply on this one and he mentioned that he feels danger up ahead. He told me that even though the wheat was already ready for harvest, we didn't see a single slave working in the fields for the whole afternoon we were traveling. There's definitely something fishy about this, don't you think?"
Upon giving it some thought, Kalik's expression changed and he said, "That's right. Milord, if everything was as usual, we would've seen slaves working on the harvest along the way here. But not a single one is in sight. It's possible that something's happened to the manor up ahead. Have you forgotten about the enemy's cavalry? I suspect that they've already made their way to the plains. If we go to the manor now, we might just walk straight into their hands!"
The viscount was finally convinced. He beckoned them to hide behind a pile of dirt by the road as they waited for Lorist to return.
After an hour or so, Lorist came back and signalled Tarkel with his hands. The latter went over and the two exchanged a few sentences. Kalik and the viscount couldn't hear what was being said clearly, but they caught enough to turn them pale. Among the phrases they heard were words like 'cavalry', 'hangings', and 'revolt'.
Tarkel gave the two a clear explanation upon his return.
"It appears that we are in trouble. Locke checked out the manor and said that there are more than ten cavalry soldiers over there. Based on their gear, it seems they are Norton scouts. Gallows have been erected and the supervisors and slave managers all hanged. That's not the worst of it though. The slaves are going to revolt and take up arms to encircle Hamidas for an attack."
Viscount Timba's face paled.
"Then, should we still head to the capital?" asked he.
"Don't panic, Lord, Locke said that they seem to still be planning the whole affair. He mentioned that they are going to the other manors around the plains to gather more slaves before they'll take action, so it should be quite some time before the revolt actually starts. All we can do now is wait here till nightfall. The soldiers here should have a hard time spotting us in the dark. It's best if we travel straight to the capital. I estimate we'll arrive by noon tomorrow at this rate," cautioned Tarkel.
Kalik added hatefully, "That's right. Lord, we have to wait here patiently until nightfall. Only by doing so can we rush to the capital and warn them about the impending revolt! His Majesty, the king, will definitely put these foolish slaves to death so this never happens again!"
With Tarkel and Kalik's urges, the viscount finally calmed down. They rested for an hour before the sun set and gave way for the night. Traveling single file, they snuck away from the bustling manor and headed straight for the capital instead.
Having traveled without rest in the following four hours, they stopped by a stream for a short rest.
Kalik asked, "Lord, I recall that there is another manor of the royal family not far from this stream. Should we check that place out as well?"
The viscount had already been frightened enough once, however, and objected to the idea right away. Given that the manors were not too far away from each other, within an hour or so on horseback, the slaves at the other manor might have been liberated as well. He was far from willing to take the risk of being hung at the gallows.
"Lord Viscount, are there many royal family manors like these around the plains?" asked Tarkel.
Kalik was the one who responded, saying, "Initially, these plains didn't have a name. But with the passage of time, we began to call them the Capital Plains. During the founding of the kingdom, the pirates who didn't know how to produce their own food and fought frequently for territory only relied on fishing for a living. That's why they initially attacked the Golden Coast so often. However, the coastal nations began to strengthen their defenses, causing the cost of procuring food by raiding to rise.
"When the second king, Lud I, came to power, he pledged to no longer raid those coastal nations and managed to establish new trade routes. Only thereafter was the food problem solved. Directly following this, Lud I began to develop Capital Plains fervently and built dozens of manors around the area. He effectively made these plains the main food producer for the kingdom. They're able to supply the whole kingdom.
"Currently, over 130 thousand slaves work at manors such as the ones we came across all over the plains. If all of them are roused by the Nortons for a revolt, the consequences would be unimaginable!"
Kalik shivered as he said the last sentence.
The group resumed their journey after another half-hour rest. By the time dawn came, they were all tired beyond their wits.
Another manor could be seen in front of them. Lorist again went ahead to check the manor out. He returned soon after. According to his report, the manor seemed to be untouched. The slaves and their supervisors were all fine and going about their business.
Timba and Kalik were gladdened by the news and rushed toward the manor without any reservation or hesitation. The manor's tenants immediately recognized the viscount and they were received hospitably. The viscount's visit, in spite of his haggard condition, was still a good omen for them, at least according to the supervisor.
The viscount didn't bother to listen to the supervisor's flattery. He hurriedly called for a carriage to be prepared for their immediate departure towards the capital. He only bothered to inform the supervisor of the impending threat as he stepped onto the carriage.
The manor's alarm bell could be heard signaling for the return of the slaves as the carriage drove away.
Dawn was upon them once more when they were about an hour from Hamidas. The carriage was already on the highway and was no longer at risk of being pursued. After another half an hour, a loud horn could be heard up ahead and the coachman stopped the carriage at the side of the road to make way.
A group of soldiers dressed in earthen-yellow garb could be seen lined up like a huge snake. They marched out of a huge castle in the distance, with more than a hundred cavalry leading at the front.
Kalik cried out with both his hands in the air, "That's our royal defense army coming from the capital! Hurrah! They've deployed! Praise be our king and royal defense army! Hurrah!"