The Sloph Slavers
After four days of travel on sea, the Armatrin Harbor was within sights.
"Meh, this place looks rather small. The size of the harbor itself is at least ten times smaller than that of the Golden Bay's."
Lorist laughed and said, "How can you compare a place like this to Morante City? Originally, this place started off as a group of fishing villages. Had it not been for formation of the Lormo Duchy, nobody would even bother to come here after six years of war. Rumor says that the smuggling operations run by the Forde Trade Union in the empire were mostly carried out here. For it to be developed into a small town right after the war is already a rather amazing feat. I bet that in a few years it would evolve into a rather populous port city."
"No matter how populous it becomes, it has nothing to do with us anyways. Milord, you said that the fatty is waiting for us there?" asked Els.
"He told me in the letter that he would set up camp outside of town. We'll get to know more when we ask around after we get off on the port," replied Lorist with uncertainty.
While the harbor was already within viewing distance by noon, they only managed to dock their ships around three in the afternoon due to the curvy waterways which made it hard for anyone to reach the harbor safely without getting stranded on shallow sea if they didn't have a guide.
Lorist, Els, Alisa, Howard, Reidy and Patt all got off the boat and noticed that nobody was at the harbor to receive them and felt that something was off. That's weird, Charade said that he would send someone over to the harbor in the letter, but why haven't I seen a single one of our people?
Els nodded towards Lorist without saying a thing and headed towards a tavern nearby with a sign that depicted a beer cup and a fish to gather some information.
Lorist waited for a while and the tax collector got off the boat with Shadekampf following behind. Lorist waved towards him and the tax collector came over respectfully. "Milord, how may I help you?"
"I believe that around 3000 people got off at this harbor around ten days ago. Do you know where they have set up camp?" asked Lorist as he stuffed a gold Forde into the officer's pocket.
The officer's face instantly gleamed as he said, "Of course I do. They're within a small pine forest to the south of the town. They must be your subordinates, right? The raging bear symbol on their flags is identical to yours."
Lorist nodded at that statement.
The officer continued, "Milord, I'm afraid that your people have run into some trouble. The place where they set up camp is near the Sloph Slavers' camp. I heard that some sort of conflict had sparked between the two parties and your people have been stranded within the vicinity of their camp for four days now."
"Oh? And who is this Sloph fellow?" asked Lorist.
"This......" The tax collector started hesitating.
Lorist tossed him another gold coin and his expression changed. In a low voice, he said, "Milord, Sloph is a famous leader of a mercenary group. He is really formidable and he is closely affiliated to the people at Port Nupite. If it's possible, I advise you to send someone to visit him with a gift and apologize for your subordinates' actions to settle the issue."
"Oh, I see. Thank you for your kind advice," said Lorist, unmoved.
The officer gave a bow and replied, "You're welcome. Then, I'll take my leave here."
"Everyone, get back onto the boats. Reidy, ask Terman and Yuriy to come over," instructed Lorist.
Els quickly got back to the boat and told everyone the news he had obtained from the people at the tavern. According to him, the mercenary group leader called Sloph was in actuality the head of a slave trading syndicate and is currently the local hegemon whose power and influence rivals even that of the local lord's. The lord had no choice but to come to a concession with Sloph that states that as long as his slaver group doesn't impede the businesses in the area so that he can collect taxes from the business owners, he would leave the group alone.
Els said that Charade had arrived 11 days ago at the harbor and had set up camp within the pine forest south to the town, which was within vicinity of the syndicate's own camp. For some reason, they have attracted the slavers' attention and battles broke out between them. Having not enough weapons and armor for his forces, Charade could only quickly have someone cut down several trees to block up the entrance of their camp. It also seemed that several people have already been captured with a few more dead.
Sloph's syndicate also had a formidable fighting force at their disposal, including three Gold ranks, more than forty Silver ranks as well as at least two hundred Iron and Bronze ranks. It was no wonder that the dominion lord didn't dare to find trouble with them. There were even rumors that a brother of Sloph was a Blademaster, however he rarely spent his time with them.
Everyone was sullen at hearing the news. None of them would have expected to run into an obstacle that early in the journey.
"Patt, Reidy and Shadekampf, you guys stay on the boat and take care of Howard and Alisa. Yuriy, make sure you have at least twelve other guards with you and protect our goods. Even though the boats fly the flag of the Peterson Merchant Guild and not many people would dare to get on their bad side, we must prepare for the worst. Set up the carroballistas and make sure they are well shielded. If anyone attacks, kill them."
Currently, Lorist was filled with an air of bloodlust. "As for the rest of you, suit up in your armors. Terman, prepare five carriages and load a large amount of crossbow bolts onto it and follow me to the camp. We'll kill anyone that dares bar our way."
There were 38 senior students from the academy that were willing to accompany Lorist on this journey, among which 12 departed early with Charade, another 12 stayed behind with Yuriy and 5 of the 14 left wore full body armors like Terman. Another 7 of them and Els were equipped with the light cavalry armor purchased from the Dawn Academy, each armed with a crossbow and five javelins. Lorist picked a scale armor that only protected his upper torso and tried moving around in it. Satisfied that it wasn't impeding his movement and agility, Lorist got on his horse with 12 javelins within the quiver hanging from side of the saddle.
Renting five transport carriages from the port at a high price of one large silver each, Terman had the coachmen follow them to Charade's camp and promised that they wouldn't be held responsible if they lose the cargo should an attack break out.
With six fully-armored knights as the vanguard and Terman riding at the very front, they set out towards the south and quickly exited the city and proceeded towards the highway that led to the pine forest.
After traveling for a while, they could see a simple roadblock up ahead which was formed by a few trees stacked up together. A few other people could be seen standing around the area and one of them signaled for Lorist's group to stop.
Without a single word, Terman lowered his lance and pointed it towards the front. The other knights behind him soon followed suit with exception of the one in the middle holding the battle standard of the Nortons up high in the air.
All five lances of the knights emitted a blade of light as they charged forward. "Gah! They're all Silver ranked knights!" The road blockers didn't dare to stand in front of them and hastily moved to the side and started running to their grazing mounts as they cursed out loudly.
The first one to crash against the trees blocking the way was Terman. Bang! A loud sound erupted when the trunk was smashed into smithereens, clearing up the path ahead. All five of the carriages and the rest of the group rushed forward without delay.
Pointing at the carriages while swearing in loud voices, some of the enemy got on their mounts and gave pursuit while the others fired at Lorist's group with their bows in a fit of rage. In the midst of all that chaos, a sudden cold, crisp voice could be heard. "Men, ready your javelins! Kill them all!"
Screams of agony rang out on all over the place. Els's group dashed around the battlefield and the ones closer to the enemy fired their crossbows with some further away launching javelins in the enemy's direction, killing ten or so overwhelmed fighters in but an instant. The few archers of the enemy were the first ones to fall, followed by two mounted fighters with their horses nailed to the ground from the javelins aimed at them. The shrieks of the fallen horses were extremely unpleasant to hear.
Holding his horse by the reins, Lorist picked up a javelin with his left hand, focused on his target and let the javelin fly. In a few moments, 12 of the road blockers died beneath the lightning-bolt-like javelins. Upon seeing Lorist run out of javelins, one Silver Swordsman who was playing dead rushed towards him with a loud cry and jumped high up in the air with both his hands raised as he prepared to unleash a downward slash, aiming to strike Lorist off his mount and escape with it himself.
A blade of light started emanating from the assailant's sword. When the assailant saw Lorist drawing his sword and preparing to parry his own, he didn't give it much heed as Lorist's blade did not have a glow on it. Hmph! An Iron rank like him wants to block a strike from me, a Three Star Silver rank? He'll die instantly after I break his sword in half and then the horse will be mine.
Beyond the assailant's expectations, Lorist's sword didn't break and instead, a strong force could be felt passing through his own sword into his hand. His weapon was sent flying far through the air as he helplessly stared at Lorist's agile sword strike slither like a snake through the space between them and going for his throat before everything turned pitch black.......
Corpses could be seen scattered all over the road. Of all the people who dared to block their way, more than 30 of them were lying on the ground dead with four or five others frantically escaping whereas Lorist's group of nine were completely unscathed. The result of the battle was really satisfactory to Lorist. He didn't expect to kill 13 people just at the start of the battle, as well as 10-odd of the 20 plus people that followed later. Els and the rest of the group didn't even have to face one person each of the remaining enemies.
One senior student came up to Lorist and saluted him respectfully with an expression full of admiration.
"Check the bodies again and make sure to drive a blade down the ones who are still alive. Collect their belongings, I'll join you guys shortly," instructed Lorist.
The belongings referred to the enemies' mounts, weapons, clothes as well as provisions and other resources. Lorist believed that he was already quite generous for not taking their undergarments. Had Charade been the one to manage this, he'll leave the bodies stark naked on the ground after stripping them of everything they had.
"Yes, milord," replied the senior student.
"Els, when we arrive at the camp later, give them the mounts, weapons and armor that you've collected. As for the money, you guys can divide it among yourselves. Don't forget to leave some for Terman," Lorist told Els.
"Milord, the way loot is divided is already set by Charade. You can't just decide by yourself to change the regulations like that," reminded Els.
"Oh, apologies. I've forgotten. Then let's divide it according to the regulations," said Lorist.
After taking a turn at the road, the flag of the Raging Bear could be seen within the camp. There was another encampment two hundred plus meters away from the aforementioned one, fortified by a rampart made of mud and stone, making it look far more secure and tidier than Charade's camp that was constructed with simple wooden trunks. That must be the slavers' camp.
When the main gate of the camp was finally open, a cheer erupted when the ones inside saw Lorist. The slavers in the other camp gathered to see what was going on with some of them riding to where they set up their road block, obviously curious at how a small convoy of five carriages managed to make their way to the pine forest.
Getting off his horse, Lorist told Terman, "Secure the area and distribute the spears and the crossbows."
A senior student from the academy with a bandage on his head hurriedly came over to salute them. Lorist recognized this fellow: he was one of the 12 academy students that set off with Charade's group.
"Ah, you must be Dulles. How did you get injured? Is it serious?" asked Lorist worriedly.
Dulles replied gratefully, "It's just some bruises, nothing big. Lord Locke, you're finally here. Charade is within that tent over there and he has been injured while Knight Potterfang is resting up because he was on patrol last night. I've already sent someone to notify him."
"Alright. Bring me to see Knight Charade," said Lorist.
Pushing open the tent entrance, Lorist saw Charade sitting down all wrapped up like a dumpling.
"Hey, fatty. Somehow, you don't look as fat when you're all wrapped up!" joked Els.
Staring at Els, Charade pouted before saying, "I knew that you would come along. It's a shame I didn't make a bet with somebody, otherwise I would've won myself quite a bit of money."
"Sol......" Els was completely speechless.
"How are your injuries? Are they grave?" asked Lorist.
"It's fine, I only got slashed a few times and lost some amount of blood. Lundmorde told me that I'll fully recover within 20 days. Lord, I really didn't expect for us to falter right at the start of our journey," said Charade.
Lundmorde was one of the 12 senior students of the academy that went to Port Nupite with Charade and he was a beginner rank herbalist.
Els sat down by Charade's side and patted on his thigh as that was the only part that wasn't wrapped up in bandages. Els said, "Fatty, who did this to you? Your brother will definitely make him pay."
"The likes of you? Drop that notion. That fellow's a Gold Swordsman! I already got seven wounds from fighting against him for only a while. If you were there, you would've been stained red with your own blood in no time," Charade replied.
"Sol, don't forget that I'm stronger than you. I'll show you how I take care of that guy," said Els, dissatisfied at being looked down upon.
"Alright, cut that. Charade, tell us more about the situation," said Lorist.
Basically, after Charade and Potterfang arrived at Port Nupite, the latter got in touch with several of his old comrades. One of them was working as a bodyguard for a slave trader and Potterfang managed to easily purchase over 700 young and fit slaves from him without a hitch. It was worth mentioning that all of them had awakened their Battle Force and most of them were of the Iron rank with the rest being Bronze ranks. Many of them used to be troops of the former Krissen Empire or garrison troops from different cities who have been taken captive during the conflict and sold to slave traders. They were mainly held back from escaping due to their captured family members.
Charade said that he managed to get the slaves for a total cost of 16000 gold coins and also spent quite a bit on clothing and food. However, after paying the downpayment for the food he ordered, he noticed that he was only left with around 4000 gold coins and he still needed to pay around 3000 gold coins to settle the whole bill as well as transport the food. That's why he was hesitant to purchase weapons and armor to equip the slaves he had just obtained, since he expected Lorist to bring those over when the time came to meet. It ended up with the Sloph Slavers setting their preying eyes on them due to the slaves not being armed.
The slavers had been paying attention to Charade's group for two whole days after they set up camp and believed that they were another rival slave trading group due to the slaves they bought. That being said, Sloph's group weren't going to let them off that easily and sent someone to notify Charade of their conditions. First, they were to pay 5000 gold coins of toll. Second, they must leave at least half of the slaves they had behind.
Naturally, Charade refused those conditions and explained that they weren't slavers but rather the army of the Norton Family. However, the other party was completely ignorant of the existence of the Nortons and even said that even if the Nortons were nobles, they must also heed their demands.
Originally, Charade would still try to negotiate peacefully with them if that was an option. However, the moment the Norton Family was humiliated like that, Charade instantly killed one of them and beat up the rest before chasing them away. It was after that when Charade noticed that something was wrong as the folks of the town viewed them in hostile light and refused to sell them any weapons, even down to the smallest kitchen knives.
Unable to do anything about the fact, Charade quickly went back to the camp and tasked the soldiers to fortify their it with an ad hoc wall made from tree trunks. With less than a hundred sets of equipment and more than 3000 people, they almost crumbled under the forces of the slavers. It was fortunate that Potterfang and his two ex-colleagues managed to hold back the enemy's Gold rank fighter. Coupled with the 12 academy students' rampage, they managed to cause the slaving group roughly 30 casualties and forced their forces to retreat.
For the past three days, 17 slaves have already died with 50 more injured and 40 others captured. 7 of the 12 academy students were also wounded from the battle and were currently recuperating from their injuries. The slavers have also changed their tactic and started to besiege Charade's camp and waited for them to run out of food and other resources before finishing them off. Thankfully, Lorist's group arrived just as the provisions were about to run out.
At that point, the tent's flaps were pushed open and Potterfang came in with two other men.
Upon seeing Lorist, Potterfang said, "Milord, you're finally here."
After that, he introduced the two men beside him to Lorist. "Milord, these two are my former comrades in the army. This one here is Lode Wales and he's a Two Star Gold Swordsman and this is Mons Malek and he's at the peak of the Three Star Silver rank. Both of them would like to follow us to the Northlands to check that place out."
What Potterfang meant was simple: these two wanted to find a family to serve, but they didn't understand Lorist's demeanor well enough. That's why they decided to join the journey to see whether Lorist would be a good fit with their principles before deciding whether to join the forces of the Norton Family. Potterfang hoped that Lorist would allow them to tag along.
Standing up and saluting the two, Lorist said, "I thank you two for helping us out. Had it not been for you guys, the camp might have been breached long ago. The Norton Family will definitely not forget this favor. If there's anything the Norton Family can help the two of you with, we will try our best."
The shorter guy, Lode Wales, smiled and said frankly, "My, you're far too polite. It goes without question that we would help our comrade Pog here out when he's in trouble. There's no need to go out of your way to thank us."
Mons Malek wore a serious expression without saying anything and merely nodded.
Just as Lorist was about to continue speaking, Dulles rushed into the tent from the outside with a nervous look on his face. "Lord Locke, the enemy is preparing to attack us again!"