While the youth ate some of the dry rations and restored his strength, Hou Dong went to make true to his promise with his men and went over to the house where the merchants had taken residence.
He casually knocked on the doorway while he walked in, not waiting for anyone to invite him in. “We need to talk.”
The merchants looked up from where they were sitting at the table, eating what their servants had prepared.
Hou Dong furrowed his brows when he saw that scene. He had thought the merchants had only taken the most necessary things with them but it seemed he had been wrong. They had even taken this kind of food. Wasn’t this just making trouble for him and his men again? Since they were traveling through the desert, this mission was already more difficult than they had told them. Now, it turned out that not all of the carriages were filled with goods. In that case, they wouldn’t have needed to guard everything as tightly. But once again, the merchants hadn’t informed them truthfully. Well, this was negligible compared to the misinformation before.
Hou Dong walked over and sat down at the table. He put an arm behind the backrest of the chair and leaned back. His gaze brushed over the faces of the merchants and he gave a smile, finally stopping at that of Mister Zai. This guy was the one who had originally approached him to ask if they would take on this mission and he had also been the one who had decided to sell the beauty. “Mister Zai, there’s something I’ve been wondering about.”
The merchant put down his chopsticks and also gave a smile even though it wasn’t as seemingly happy as Hou Dong’s. “What might this be about, Mister Hou?” He lowered his gaze and his smile grew slightly more pronounced. He could imagine perfectly well what this was about. After all, he knew that he had lied about the contents of this mission a little. He had expected for this man to approach him sooner to demand a higher remuneration. Well, it was good that he was asking now. The timing was just perfect.
“You can probably imagine what I want. When you came to me and my men, you told us that you had valuable goods to transport on a tight schedule but that none of the mercenaries were able to accompany you since they were busy. It has always been our pride to help those in need and since you were making it sound urgent, I agreed even though escorting merchants isn’t what we normally do. But what you told me about the mission back then turned out not to be true after all.”
Mister Zai looked at him strangely. “I really don’t understand what Mister Hou is saying there. Didn’t you just say yourself that I told you we needed some able-bodied men to escort us to our destination and back again? I also mentioned that it would be a long journey.”
Hou Dong snorted. “That was the gist of it. You also said that we had to go to the South. I asked if there were any special difficulties on this journey. You said that there weren’t.
“Now, correct me if I’m wrong but it seems we’ve gone not just to the south but to the southeast instead. And as for the difficulties that you said we wouldn’t encounter … It seems you forgot to tell me that we would have to pass through the desert. That is indeed a bit of a difficulty.
“My men and I would have needed to prepare differently for that. The rations we take with us would have needed to be more, the amount of water we take with us would be more, the horses would also need to be taken care of differently. So how come you mentioned none of this?”
The merchant clicked his tongue. “Aiya, Mister Hou, you can’t put all of that on my head. Isn’t the city in the south? Sure, it might be a little to the east too but it’s certainly still southern looking from anywhere within our Hua country. You can’t say that I lied about that. And as for the difficulties … This just part of the travel. It is no added difficulty for you, is it? After all, your task isn’t to travel but to guard us against bandits. And I wasn’t expecting any difficulties of that kind.”
Hou Dong’s eyes narrowed. This guy really thought he would get away with this? “Mister Zai, aren’t you worried that my men and I will leave you here?”
The merchant laughed out loud. “Leave us? Mister Hou, you must be joking! Wouldn’t you miss out on our generous pay then?”
Hou Dong leaned forward and stared at the merchant, his right hand grabbing the hold of the dagger at his waist. “Generous pay? Your pay already wasn’t very high when we were just talking about escorting your caravan. It got pitifully low after we started escorting you through the desert.”
The merchant didn’t seem bothered by this accusation. Naturally, he hadn’t offered much. It had just been enough to entice these men but not even a single coin more. Why should he do anything else? He wasn’t an idiot! It was still best not to spend too much on this type of thing. Mercenaries could always be hired again. If not this group, then it would be another one. What was the big deal about that? These people shouldn’t think they were important! “Mister Hou, you wouldn’t want to try to renegotiate the price with me, would you? That’s not very honorable of you.”
Hou Dong gave a lazy smile. “Well, I’m a warrior. Who said that I’m honorable? I’m just doing what’s best for me and my men. What you’ve offered is not enough to make us accompany you the whole way.”
“So what is it that you want?”
“Why don’t you double the price? I’d say that’s fair.”
The merchant choked. “Double?! You must be dreaming! Even if I had lied to you, this still wouldn’t be dangerous enough to have you deserve that kind of money.”
Hou Dong squinted. Yes, they probably didn’t deserve that kind of money. At the very least, this kind of mission wouldn’t be worth that much even if they had to travel through the desert. The main problem was still that that bastard had dared to lie to them. Why should he let him get away just like that? “And what if I insist?”
Mister Zai pressed his lips into a tight line. Under normal circumstances, if the mercenaries dared to talk to him like this, he would just leave and look for somebody else. Unfortunately, they were only halfway to their destination and bandits were being sighted in the desert every now and then. If these guys decided not to care about the money and just returned home, leaving them and the goods without any protection, then who knew if they would make it safely to the city? It seemed this matter couldn’t be solved easily. Then again, he wasn’t resolved to accept this outrageous request.
Mister Zai looked at his son that was accompanying him. Even though this child did not have too much experience traveling yet, he had always been sly. Maybe he could think of something.
His son got the hint and turned to Hou Dong, giving him a brilliant smile that didn’t look any more sincere than that of his father. “Mister Hou, I do understand where you’re coming from. Maybe my father wasn’t prudent enough in telling you about this mission. But demanding double the price is a little too much, don’t you think so?”
Hou Dong looked at this father and son duo and scoffed inwardly. He could see exactly what was going on here. The son would try to lower the amount of money they had to pay extra and then they would try to find a way to get out of this completely.
Most people probably would’ve negotiated with them, accepting a price that the merchants were willing to pay before they had to leave with empty pockets. Unfortunately for them, Hou Dong had never been a reasonable person. Right now, they were in the middle of the desert. The merchants wouldn’t dare to go overboard. So why shouldn’t he demand a little more? Even if the mission wasn’t that difficult, his men were unhappy. If he let them earn a little more, they could enjoy themselves in the city to their hearts’ content, making up for the previous trouble. That was worth it. “Then what if I insist?”
Young Master Zai blinked. What did this man mean he insisted? He turned to look at his father whose expression had gotten ugly. Obviously, this warrior was not alright with accepting less money than the double price.
Mister Zai gave a cold smile. If that man refused a toast, then he’d have to force him to drink a forfeit. He certainly wouldn’t give him any more money. “Well, if Mister Hou insists, then we’ll have to pay that amount of money. But if you want to settle accounts, then we should settle all of them at once, shouldn’t we?”
“Oh?” Hou Dong couldn’t help but raise his brows. It seemed this bloodsucker had thought of something to make him give up on this? What kind of handle did he have on him? He really couldn’t help but wonder. “Then what account is Mister Zai talking about?”
The merchant motioned toward the door. “I already told Mister Hou that we would be selling that beautiful slave in the city later on. But I’m afraid I still saw you touching him. Isn’t that lowering the price of our goods?”
Hou Dong gave a hollow laugh. So it was about this? “Well, now that Mister Zai mentioned it, I’m wondering what makes you say that he is your slave that can be sold just like that? Wasn’t I the one who found him?”
“It might have been you who found him but you still found him while escorting our caravan. Whatever you find, it should be ours. That is how it is normally done with these kinds of escort missions.”
Hou Dong snorted. “I wouldn’t know. I don’t do escort missions normally. I don’t think I’ve signed any contract that says so anyway, have I?”
The two men looked at each other, neither of them willing to back down.
Mister Zai’s son couldn’t help but interject. “Well, there have been some misunderstandings before. How about this? We won’t make things difficult for you for touching our goods and you won’t insist on such a high price. Wouldn’t we all be happy with that solution?”
Hou Dong snorted. “That is one hell of a trade. It’s not as if your ‘goods’ were known to be a virgin. So me touching him or not will not have any effect on his worth whatsoever. Furthermore, I still don’t think you can just casually claim him as your goods. Since I didn’t sign any such contract and I found him, then if anything he should be my slave. So what does it have to do with your goods if I touch my slave?”
Mister Zai grinned when Hou Dong said so. “Now, what you’re saying there doesn’t make much sense, Mister Hou. If you want to say that this isn’t our goods because you didn’t sign such a contract, then how can you ask us for money? You haven’t signed anything, so in the end, there isn’t any contract whatsoever. How can you expect me to pay you?”
Hou Dong narrowed his eyes. So now they didn’t just want to take away the beauty he had found and refused to pay him what his men’s service was worth, they even wanted to renege on their original promise and take the pitiful amount of remuneration back? “Oh? So you mean it won’t be a problem if we leave? Since there is no valid contract between us, it shouldn’t be a problem to just abandon you here. We’re not bound by anything, after all.”
Mister Zai and his son exchanged a glance. They certainly wouldn’t have thought that this would be Hou Dong’s reaction.
Mister Zai cleared his throat and forced a smile. “Aiya, what are you saying, Mister Hou? I was merely saying that even though there wasn’t any written contract, our verbal promises should count just as much, shouldn’t they? So this is like agreeing on the standard contract. And following that contract, the beauty is ours.”
“Still. Even if I would agree to this ridiculous statement, me touching him doesn’t change anything. You won’t be able to prove to your customers that he is a virgin regardless of whether he is or isn’t. Since there’s no proof, whatever you say is worthless. And it’s not like I raped him. I merely saved his life. Do you really want to make a big matter out of that? If I didn’t do so, then there wouldn’t be any goods in the first place.”
Unfortunately, the merchants couldn’t argue that point.
Mister Zai’s son furrowed his brows but finally, his expression lit up. “Well, this matter is indeed a little tricky. How about this? We won’t make matters difficult for you in this regard. Unfortunately, there is no way for us to pay you more. You see, we’re just a small group of merchants. We don’t have that amount of money.
“If we had, wouldn’t we have paid a bigger sum to one of the experienced mercenary teams? We wouldn’t have needed to rely on a group of warriors that normally isn’t up to hire, would we?
“Ah, but since you are interested in our goods, we could make a deal about that. Why don’t you … and your men … enjoy yourself with it while we’re on the way to the city? As you said before, there is no way to ascertain that the goods are still untouched. You might as well enjoy him a few times. I’d just like to ask that you do not go overboard. One or two men a night should be the limit. Otherwise, there really won’t be any way to sell it any longer. Would you agree to that?”
Agree to that? Hou Dong gritted his teeth and clenched his hands into fists. As if he’d agree to that! He had promised that he wouldn’t force the beauty. And now these stupid merchants actually suggested that he and his men should rape him? Had they gone nuts?
He stared at the two men and his gaze brushed over the other merchants at the table before he gave a huff. “So that’s your way of dealing with this. Alright, I’ve heard what I needed to hear.” He got up and walked out of the house, striding over to his men.
The merchants inside the house couldn’t help but reveal a grin. “As expected. These warriors have no backbone. If you give them money or beauties, they’ll do whatever you want them to do. Well, it’s a pity about the boy though. He really was pretty. That kind of exotic beauty might have sold for a high price.”
Mister Zai picked up his chopsticks again and returned his attention to his food. “How is that a pity? Let him and his men have some fun with the boy. If he keeps to that promise of only one or two men a night, then the boy will be able to be sold after a bit of rest. And even though we can’t prove that he’s a virgin, we’ll at least be able to sell him as an experienced sex-slave this way, won’t we? I’m sure there will be some men that will be willing to pay a high price for that as well.” He chuckled and continued to eat, the other men joining in with a laugh.
Outside, Hou Dong hit the palm tree, making the big leaves rustle loudly, one of it even falling to the ground.
His men that sat close by, couldn’t help but wince. These bloody merchants! What had these fuckers done? Even though their Master had a slightly erratic temper, he wasn’t like this normally. These guys should have said something wrong.
Seeing the bad mood their Master was in most of them preferred to pretend they weren’t there or had fallen asleep. The only one that used the opportunity to rush over was Sun Jin. He gave a big smile and leaned closer to their Master, lowering his voice. “Master, if those merchants annoyed you, then how about we teach them a lesson?” He couldn’t help but think that this was just perfect. Before, he had said something that offended his Master but now these guys had volunteered to take the hate of him. Why shouldn’t he take them up on their offer and stoke the fire a bit? They had practically asked for it!
Hou Dong narrowed his eyes. True. Why shouldn’t they teach them a lesson? They deserved it. He glanced over at the beauty and his rage boiled even hotter. Even if he wasn’t interested, this wasn’t the way to treat somebody. He might not be a citizen of their Hua country, but he was also a human being. They didn’t know where he came from or what type of person he had been there. How could they decide to make him a slave for some old, lewd man? No, he wouldn’t let that happen!
Hou Dong turned to Sun Jin and clasped his shoulder. “Sun Jin, this is the first time since we know each other that I think you actually had a great idea. Go and call the others over. I think there are some things we need to talk about.”
Sun Jin’s face lit up and he nodded eagerly, running off to get the others.
Soon enough, Hou Dong and his men converged on the other side of the pond, whispering in hushed voices. Hou Dong had pulled the beauty over too. This also concerned him and with the plan he had in mind, the beauty’s help would be needed. So it was a must to involve him from the very beginning to make sure he wouldn’t misunderstand anything.
“So what do we do, Master? Leave them stranded in the desert? Ditch them in the city and then pretend to be bandits and rob them when they’re on the way back?” Sun Jin’s eyes sparkled when he thought of all the possibilities how they could screw those merchants over.
Hou Dong glanced at him and gave a smirk. “Not bad, Sun Jin. You actually have some ideas. I’m thinking of something bigger though, something that won’t put us into trouble while giving them a major headache. Alright, here’s the thing: They gave us the wrong information but when I confronted them about it, they refused to admit their mistakes, even going so far as to heap accusations on our heads.”
His men frowned while the beauty just looked at him in confusion.
“What the fuck did these guys say we did? Haven’t we done our job well? Nothing happened on the way here, did it?”
Hou Dong nodded and reached over to the youth, rubbing his neck. “Apparently, we damaged their goods. Now, they don’t know how to sell them.”
Sun Jin raised his brows. “When did we damage their goods? We didn’t even touch them!” He looked over to the carriages only to get a slap from Duan Bao.
“Where the fuck are you looking? They’re talking about the beauty our Master found.”
Sun Jin turned back and looked at the youth. “Ah? How is that their goods? Wouldn’t that be ours?”
Hou Dong nodded and pulled the youth closer. “That’s what I told them. Unfortunately, they don’t feel like agreeing to that. So neither do they want to give us the money nor do they want to give us a person. Well, that’s not quite right. They said that this might just be a big misunderstanding and that they would magnanimously forgive us for being this troublesome and would accommodate us a bit. So they promised we could have the person for a few nights instead of the remuneration we should get. Then they would just forget about whatever happened before.”
Sun Jin’s face lit up. “Ah? They actually promised that? I’d really like to —”
This time, Duan Bao smashed his elbow into Sun Jin’s stomach.
Sun Jin doubled over and coughed. “Ah! Fuck! I mean, I’d really like to go and smash their faces for even thinking about something like that! Our Master’s person, how could he just be casually given out to somebody else? And we certainly wouldn’t touch the person he wants.” He held his stomach and glared at Duan Bao. This guy! Couldn’t have said something instead?!
Hou Dong gave Sun Jin a look before turning to the beauty. “Don’t worry about it. None of my men will touch you. And what I said previously still holds. I won’t force you into my bed either. If you want to, there’s a place for you. If you don’t want to … Well, that won’t happen.”
The youth looked at him, still wondering just how this man could be so reassured that he would be able to win him over.
Hou Dong gave a smile and turned back to his men. “So since they don’t want to give us either the person or the money even though both should be ours by right, we’ll just take it. Naturally, we could ditch them here and be done with this. But … I don’t think this is the right way to go. Even though it is still quite some way to the city, it’s not sure that anything will happen to them. How would that be teaching them a lesson?”
Sun Jin clenched his hands into fists and smashed them together. “Right! If we’re doing something, we should go the whole way! We can’t let them get away that easily.”
Hou Dong rolled his eyes. “Precisely. So how about this? We’ll continue to accompany them until the city and pretend that we’re satisfied with what they offered. We’ll let them do their business and let them sell the beauty.”
The youth looked at Hou Dong, his eyes widening. This man … hadn’t he just promised that he and his men wouldn’t touch him? How could he let the merchants sell him off now?
Hou Dong laughed when he saw him look like that. “What? You really think something would happen to you? Naturally, we’ll go and save you. We’ll even make sure that whoever dares to buy you will get his just desserts too. After that, we’ll return to the merchants and ask for our pay. They will certainly refuse to hand it out, bringing out that bullshit contract and pretending that it’s normal to only do so when we’re back home.
“This is a good excuse for us to accompany them back into the desert until we’ve reached this place again. Then we can ditch them. It’s a good spot. It’s still quite a bit away from the city and it’s a long way until Hua country. They won’t dare to go the rest of the way without protection so, in the end, they’ll return to the city since it’s closer. Whatever happens to them there, it won’t be our problem.”
His men nodded. “That sounds good, Master, but isn’t that just making them take a detour? They’ll have a longer way but it won’t hurt them much, would it?”
Hou Dong chuckled. “Sun Jin, you’re thinking too small. What do you think will happen when they return to the city? There’ll be a very angry customer waiting for them. Not only did he buy a slave that vanished right the same night, but he’ll also feel deeply humiliated because of what happened in that night. Naturally, if the merchants that sold him the slave return, they’ll be the ones to take the blame. Furthermore … they wouldn’t have anything to either pacify this customer or hire a group of mercenaries to escort them back home.”
The men looked at him and understanding dawned on them.
Some of them chuckled, glancing at each other. “You’re evil, Master.”
Hou Dong smiled. “How am I evil? I’m a very righteous man. If I see somebody doing bad deeds, I just can’t help but want to show them the might of justice. So, I’m only trying to do the right thing here.”
The warriors laughed but the youth couldn’t help but feel lost. He really couldn’t understand what these men were talking about. Well, there was nothing he could do besides following Hou Dong. He could only hope that this man was saying the truth and that he wouldn’t end up as the plaything of some old man. In that case, he might as well have stayed home and put up with that disgusting bandit.