Mister Zai nodded at the servant girls and threw them a few copper coins. Then he turned to Kanuen. “So everything’s prepared now? Let’s go then.” He went and sat down in the carriage that stood in the middle of the courtyard. Another servant came over and lightly pushed Kanuen in the direction of the carriage. He didn’t say anything but he didn’t touch him roughly either. It seemed, now that he was ready to be carted off to his new Master, they would treat him slightly better
Kanuen didn’t feel good at that thought. Being another person’s property was what made your worth rise in this kind of environment. That was nothing to be happy about. It was merely sad.
Kanuen still walked up to the carriage and got into the carriage at the servant’s wave, sitting on the small bench opposite of Mister Zai. Hou Dong had made his plan. Certainly, he would do everything to make sure that it would work out. He definitely couldn’t be the reason that anything went wrong in the end. No, right now, he had to go through with this.
He kept his gaze to the ground, not even looking up when the servant closed the curtain in front of the door and the carriage started moving. He heard the gate opening and then the carriage rolled through the streets. He wasn’t told where they would go or who that new ‘Master’ of his would be. Nobody bothered to tell him anything. Most likely, even the previous words of the merchant hadn’t actually been for him but the servant instead.
Mister Zai really hadn’t been talking to him. He didn’t see any reason to try. This youth looked so foreign, he felt it unlikely that he spoke either the language of their Hua country or the language of the kingdom of Kai. And anyway, this person would be sold off for a nice sum in not even an hour. Making friendly with him wasn’t anything he had to do. He only had to make sure that his look was presentable.
In that regard, Mister Zai was satisfied. That inn had done everything they could to satisfy his demands. The new hairstyle showed off the beautiful face and delicate neck and the light robe they had given him had no sleeves, leaving his shoulders bare as well. The see-through fabric fell down the length of his body, two panels added to the side that did nothing to cover his skin but could be bound to form sleeves or wrapped around his chest to make unraveling the robe more appealing to his new Master.
With the two panels just hanging down, not only his arms were exposed. His clavicle also laid bare and the low cutout provided an excellent look at his chest. This really invited a man to dream. If his customer wasn’t satisfied with this slave, then he wouldn’t be satisfied with anything.
Mister Zai turned to the side and lifted the curtain, looking out at the street. He couldn’t help but feel a little surprised. After the show that Hou Dong and the slave had put on in front of the inn, he had expected that warrior to make trouble later on. But now, the slave had been prepared and they were already on the way to the customer and nothing had happened. There weren’t any of Hou Dong’s men on the street either to try and stop them in a last desperate attempt. Well, not that it would have changed anything if there were. Even if he managed to get the slave out of this carriage, where would he go with him? There were guards everywhere in the city. How would he get out? There was no way to do something like that.
Mister Zai let go of the curtain and turned back to look at the slave. He couldn’t help but feel that it was a pity that this one wasn’t a girl. Otherwise … He shook his head at himself and waited until the carriage finally stopped. His servant came and pulled the curtain away from the door, letting him get out and then motioning at the slave to follow.
Kanuen stepped out of the carriage and looked around. He didn’t know where they were. It seemed they had put quite some distance between them and the inn though. There was still a cobblestone street leading into the distance but it wasn’t lined with houses anymore. There were only a few big ones that were surrounded by gardens and stood far from each other. Maybe this was in the outskirts of the city? The place furthest away from the desert?
Mister Zai went down a path leading through the garden and impatiently waved at the servant. The man furrowed his brows and lightly pushed Kanuen’s back again. Kanuen glanced at him and looked around, trying to see if he could spot Hou Dong anywhere. Unfortunately, he couldn’t. Neither Hou Dong nor any of his men seemed to be close by. He sighed and followed Mister Zai down the path to the entrance of the large house.
The servant knocked and soon enough, the door was opened. The one standing on the other side was a beautiful girl, dressed in a scanty robe that didn’t leave much more to the imagination than the one that Kanuen himself was wearing.
He couldn’t help but look away. It seemed this was what expected a slave every day after they were sold off. Today wasn’t anything special. Just thinking about it … He couldn’t help but feel sick but he gulped the bitter feeling down. No, he couldn’t doubt. Hou Dong would come and save him. He definitely would. Just because he hadn’t seen him, it didn’t mean that he wouldn’t.
Mister Zai rubbed his hands when he saw the girl. “We came to bring the slave over that your Master wanted to have a look at.”
The girl curtsied and motioned inside, leading the way through several rooms until they reached a courtyard. A fountain was located in the middle, several flower beds with colorful plants surrounding it. A few musicians were playing a tune from hidden places in the corners and a group of young girls wearing pretty robes was dancing on the side. It seemed there was some event going on.
Kanuen lowered his head when he felt the gazes of several people falling on him. Unfortunately, nobody looked away just because of that.
“Mister Zai!” A man hurried over but he didn’t give the merchant more than this short greeting before he rushed over to Kanuen and grabbed him by the shoulders. “Let me take a look at you! Oh, what a beauty! Really wonderful!” His hands ran down Kanuen’s arms and down to his hands, holding them and squeezing them before the man stepped back with a satisfied nod. “Really not bad!” He let go of one of his hands and pulled at the other, making Kanuen spin in a circle to look at his back. “Really not bad. Mister Zai, you didn’t promise me too much. I’ll take him. You can go and get the money from Liain.”
Mister Zai nodded and turned away without another word. Compared to him, this man was much more wealthy and with how many connections he had in the kingdom of Kai, he wasn’t somebody that could be offended or easily befriended. Selling him a slave and making a profit was already very good. He had accomplished his goal for today.
Meanwhile, the man turned to his guests and clapped his hands. “As you’ve seen, I’ve just acquired a new treasure. And like I always say, a man can only get and stay wealthy if he thoroughly inspects every treasure as soon as he gets it so that he can make sure that its worth doesn’t diminish over time. So you’ll have to excuse me now. I’ll have to go and inspect this treasure. You may continue in the meantime.” He put an arm around Kanuen’s waist and led him into the house, not caring for the opinion of the other people.
Nobody seemed to find anything strange with it either. They just turned back around and continued with their conversations, some of them discussing the new slave they had just seen. The musicians continued to play their tune, the young girls continued to dance while the servant that had led them here had silently left again. If not for the host of the party that wasn’t there anymore, it would have seemed as if nothing had changed.
Kanuen was dragged into the house and to the second floor. Even though the bad feeling in his stomach got even worse, he didn’t resist. He had already found out before that resistance wouldn’t lead anywhere. Right now, he could only hope that Hou Dong would come and save him. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any way to get around this.
The man dragged him into a room that was just as pompous as the rest of his house. The ceiling was high above their heads, the floor covered in colorful rugs that seemed thick enough that they could be used as a bed. Well, they could for ordinary people but the Master of this house obviously had different tastes. There was indeed a bed in the room and it was just as big, offering enough space for at least five people to sleep on it. Thick furs were draped over it, making it seem even bigger.
Kanuen felt repulsed at the sight. This kind of life … It was completely contrary to what he was used to. And considering what he had seen in the city before he felt even more that it was wrong.
The man closed the door behind them and walked over to Kanuen, taking his hand while pressing up against his back. His gaze once again brushed over Kanuen’s body and he smiled. “Really beautiful.”
Kanuen didn’t speak up even though he could somewhat understand what this person was saying. The man spoke neither the language of Sou nor the one from Hua country that Hou Dong used but instead the local tongue of Kai. It wasn’t too hard to make out his meaning though. Several of these words were the same as if the three countries had been much closer once upon a time, even sharing the same language. After everything he had seen, that was hard to imagine.
The man stepped around him and Kanuen couldn’t help but glance at his face. He wasn’t exactly the old man he had imagined after what everyone had said. Instead, he was merely middle-aged with a pale but healthy skin tone.
Like the people from Hua country, the citizens of Kai also didn’t like to have tanned skin so it wasn’t strange that this man’s skin looked like this. From what Hou Dong had told him before, in Kai, people would equate those with darker skin with the people working in the harbor or what they thought of as the scum on the streets. Somebody wealthy certainly wouldn’t want to be compared to these kinds of people.
In stark opposition to the pale skin, the man sported a head full of black hair and an equally dark, short beard on his chin. Not even a strand had turned gray or maybe he was just dyeing it that color despite how it might look in reality.
The man smiled at Kanuen’s gaze. He reached over and cupped his cheek, brushing his skin with the thumb. “Look all you want, little slave. You should get used to this face. You’ll see it every day from now on.”
Kanuen lowered his gaze. He didn’t know when Hou Dong and his men would come but he didn’t want to give this man any reason to feel he was being welcomed. If he didn’t show too much fear but also didn’t try to escape, that should be enough to keep him away for at least a while, shouldn’t it?
The man chuckled and continued to rub his cheek. “What an interesting reaction. That Mister Zai really wasn’t wrong about you. It seems you do have some experience. Mn, it seems you’re not looking forward to this but you do know that there’s no way around it. You probably detest men like me who will buy a beauty like you for their pleasure.” His gaze brushed Kanuen’s body once again and he pursed his lips, his eyes narrowing. “Now, what should I call you?”
He ran his fingers over Kanuen’s cheek, his neck and finally down his shoulders, feeling up the naked skin of his arms while he observed Kanuen’s reaction. “You are being cold to your new Master, completely indifferent. Like winter, like ice or like the changes of time that will stop for no man. Ah, but it doesn’t fit your beautiful appearance.
“This skin … It makes you look like you were of low birth but seeing you prepared this carefully, I really can’t bring myself to see you as just a commoner. You’re more like …” He circled Kanuen, his fingers continuing to brush the naked skin of his arms and tugging on the panels hanging from the robe, finally grabbing onto the fabric below the nape of his neck, pushing it down from his shoulders and exposing his upper body. “You remind me of those nobles from the past era that didn’t know how to go with times and thought they could reign forever until people like me showed them how wrong they were.” Once again, he pressed up against Kanuen’s back, his hands circling his waist.
“Oh. And wasn’t there that story? Once upon a time, there was a mythical being. He was beautiful and compassionate and helped the pitiful humans that were crawling in the dirt. But with time, this being grew conceited. Maybe he had been worshiped too much or maybe he thought from the very beginning that he was above the humans and didn’t need them as much as the humans needed him.
“When the humans saw what had become of him, their feelings toward him changed. Originally, they had felt that this being was sacred, inviolable and worth their admiration, bound to be worshiped as a god by them forever. But now, this morphed into a feeling of their superiority. Yes, this being was beautiful beyond compare, he was ethereal in his gracefulness and unparalleled in his bearing. He also had magical abilities that had allowed him to support the human race all this time. But why should he be above them just because of that?
Who knew how his abilities had been acquired? Anyway, what was given could be taken away and they had found out that there were ways to make this being lose his magic. As for his beauty … A beautiful woman is naturally bound to lie below the body of a man. Such a beautiful being, it could only be fit to be a whore for mankind.
So the humans caught him to bring him down to their level. He was called … Lianuo, I think?” He pulled Kanuen closer and rubbed his chin against his cheek, his beard scratching his soft skin. “With how you are right now, you really remind me of that story. You’re just as beautiful and just as cold as Lianuo was in the beginning. Let’s see how long it will take to pull you down to my level. Lianuo. That will be your name from now on then.”
Kanuen glanced at the man that was inclining his hand to kiss his shoulder and a trace of disgust flashed through his eyes. Never mind this distasteful story. He had a name. Kanuen. This was the name his parents had given him. It was the name that had a meaning in his own language. How could somebody else dare to give him another? This wasn’t right!
But it seemed slaves didn’t count as people. Their Master’s could do whatever they wanted to them. If they wanted to give them a new name, then that was their right. If they wanted to possess their bodies, that that was also their right. The slave, on the other hand, he didn’t have any rights at all. He was merely … a thing. He wasn’t human any longer, he wasn’t even as good as an animal. He was just a possession. A possession that could be replaced at any given time. No matter what the slave thought.
The man left a trail of kisses on Kanuen’s neck and shoulder, his hands brushing over his chest, and sighed.
Kanuen furrowed his brows and pressed his eyes shut, trying to ignore what was happening. Just where was Hou Dong? Don’t tell him he wouldn’t come? Don’t tell him he would have to let this happen? He didn’t want to. He didn’t want this. He wanted to be with the person he loved. Why was it so hard?
“Lianuo.” The man glanced up, peering into Kanuen’s face. Seeing his expression, he chuckled and caressed his other cheek. “I wonder what you’re thinking about. Making you look like that … It seems you’re not as indifferent as you pretend to be. Maybe I should give you another name, after all?” He looked down again, rubbing Kanuen’s shoulder. “Somehow, I still think the name fits you very well. Even if you’re not indifferent, you certainly are as beautiful as this mythical being must’ve been. That alone makes you deserve the name, doesn’t it? Lianuo.”
He reached down and opened Kanuen’s belt, making the thin robe fall to the ground. He took a step back and appreciated the sight of Kanuen’s naked body. “Look at you, Lianuo, there really isn’t anything to find fault with. How deserving of your name.” He put his hands on Kanuen’s backside, pressing his fingers into the soft skin and kneading it. “Lianuo, you were made for the touch of a man.” He gripped him tighter and leaned in closer, his hard crotch pressing up against Kanuen’s body.
Kanuen faced away as well as he could, pressing his eyes shut even tighter. He couldn’t help but bite his lower lip, once again trying to hold back any sound. Inside, he couldn’t help but call out Hou Dong’s name. Hou Dong, please, just come and save me already! I cannot hold on.
The man behind him let go of his backside but only to loosen his belt, letting him pull the fabric of the robe aside and reach for his pants.
Kanuen couldn’t see what he did but what he heard was enough to let him know. This was the same sound he had heard in the bath. The rustling of the fabric when the guards took off the robes, the sound of cloth sliding over skin when they pulled down their pants. It was still edged in his mind.
This time, he couldn’t hold back. A stifled sob escaped his lips. “Hou Dong …” He trembled and folded his hands in front of his body, praying that things would be over fast.
Behind him, a curbed groan sounded and then an arm wrapped around his waist, a rough hand rubbing his shoulder.
Kanuen flinched and wanted to turn away but then a familiar scent hit him. It was the smell of leather and the dust of the road. He opened his eyes and blinked away the tears that had gathered in them, lifting his gaze to the man’s face.
Hou Dong leaned in, his lips softly brushing Kanuen’s. Just when he wanted to deepen the kiss, he suddenly pushed him off and sneezed.
Kanuen blinked. He wanted to hurry over but Hou Dong raised a hand.
“Stop.” His voice sounded nasal, not at all like the strong tone he normally used.
Kanuen stayed where he was even though he wanted nothing more than to rush into Hou Dong’s arms. He looked around, trying to see whatever danger might still be there. He only found the man that had bought him lying on the ground face-first, held down by two of Hou Dong’s men. He was struggling and trying to break free from their hold without success. He glared at Kanuen as if he was the one who was at fault for all of this.
Hou Dong reached to his neck and pulled up the cloth that he had originally worn in the desert to cover his face. “Just what did they do to you? You’re smelling like …” He furrowed his brows and looked at Kanuen, his lips twitching when he saw that his lover was still naked. He glared at his men that where unashamedly appraising Kanuen’s body and rushed over, picking up the robe on the ground. He wanted to put it back on his shoulders when the same smell hit him once again. He threw the robe away and cursed, glaring at the man that was lying on the ground behind him. “Fuck, do you think he’s a flower garden? He was smelling great before you know? What’s wrong with it? You fucking rich people have no taste at all!”
He turned away and looked through the room, finally going and ripping off one of the veils that hung on the side of the bed. He smelled at it and even though there was a light flowery scent, it was better than the fucking robe. He took it back to Kanuen and wrapped his body in it. “Make do with this first. I’ve already prepared a set of clothes for you downstairs. You can change into that in a bit and then take a bath when we return to the inn where we’re staying.”
Kanuen nodded and pressed the veil to his body, trying to cover as much of his skin as he could. Unfortunately, the veil was also made of a half-transparent fabric. It’s only remaining advantage was that it was long enough to wrap it around his body several times. It didn’t help much though. Even Hou Dong’s men still looked over, salivating at the sight.
Seeing the look they were giving Kanuen, Hou Dong’s expression darkened. He didn’t scold them though and just turned to the guy on the ground. “I’d say this is your fault. Look at this! Even my men can’t look away. Now, what if they always think of this when they look at Kanuen in the future? Won’t that be a problem for me and my men? I don’t want to have to beat my brothers up every day.”
The man grunted. “What are you talking about? This is the slave that I bought! How does this have anything to do with you and your men?!”
Hou Dong laughed. “The slave that you bought?” He returned to Kanuen’s side, stepping behind him and taking him into his arms.
Kanuen immediately hid in his embrace, closing his eyes and letting go of his worries. He finally felt safe again.
Seeing that scene, the man’s expression changed. “You —”
Hou Dong chuckled. “That’s right. He’s my lover. These merchants … Don’t tell me you really didn’t know that we came here together? And I thought your arm reached so far that you were able to control the whole western region of Kai that borders on the desert. Seems like I was wrong. You really didn’t know and just stepped right into the trap, paying a fortune for somebody else’s lover.
“Well, it won’t be to our disadvantage. That merchant said we’d split the profit fifty-fifty if it worked out. I guess with that money, my lover and I won’t have to worry for the rest of our lives. Thanks for that, I guess.” He grinned and grabbed Kanuen’s chin, turning his head to the side. He hesitated a bit but then pulled down the cloth covering half of his face and finally kissed his lips. “Mn.”
Hou Dong gave a smile and reached up, gently caressing the cheek that the other man had touched before leaning in and lowering his voice to a whisper. “Sorry for being late. We went to teach those guards a lesson when they got off their shift and I guess I got carried away a bit.”
Kanuen raised his gaze to Hou Dong’s, his eyes widening. “You … you know?”
“Of course, I know. You really thought I’d let you go in there and not have somebody close by watching? I’m sorry it took so long to lure them away. You must have been scared. But don’t worry. They got what they deserved and you’re safe now. Nobody will touch you anymore if you don’t want it.”
Kanuen nodded and burrowed back into Hou Dong’s arms. So it turned out he hadn’t been alone. There had actually been somebody close by, watching over him. His previous fear … even though it hadn’t been completely unwarranted, he had still worried too much. Of course, Hou Dong wouldn’t just leave him alone.
Hou Dong smiled and kissed his temple. “Alright, let’s pay this guy back then. I certainly won’t let anybody touch my lover and get away with it.” His eyes blazed and he let go of Kanuen, turning to the man on the ground with a smirk. “You like dressing your slaves up like that? You like giving them such humiliating names like Lianuo? You want to mess with them until they feel they have no worth at all anymore? Well, then let us give you a taste of your own medicine. Men, strip him!”
His men laughed and went to work. Hou Dong also couldn’t help but grin at the thought of what he was about to do. He coughed when he remembered that Kanuen was still watching though. His lover wouldn’t like this kind of practice. How could he let him see? He turned back and gently pulled him into his arms again. “I’ve brought some horses and a carriage. Let’s get you in there before we continue. You probably don’t want to see him anymore.”
Kanuen nodded and the two of them left the room, rushing through the corridors of the villa and to a courtyard behind it. A dilapidated carriage was standing there.
Hou Dong coughed at the sight and rubbed the back of his head. “It’s not much but I thought that would be good. We can pretend we’re poor merchants. There are some clothes in there too. Just pull the canvas closed and change inside. Some of my men are around but they wouldn’t dare peek.”
Kanuen laughed. “True. They don’t peek. They outright stare.”
Hou Dong coughed again and pushed him to the carriage. “Alright, alright, they were wrong to do that just now. I’ll beat them up for you once, alright? They’re my brothers though. They wouldn’t do more than to look.”
“Mn.” Kanuen crawled into the carriage and stared at the heap of cabbages inside. It seemed Hou Dong had made sure they were convincing. “About that man …” He turned back to Hou Dong only to see him furrow his brows. “What?”
“You wouldn’t feel compassionate, would you? He was about to force himself onto you. Whatever we do, he deserves it.”
“I … I know. I just wanted to say that you shouldn’t take too long. Won’t he scream for help? Then you and your men would be in trouble.” He certainly wouldn’t care for that man’s well-being. He might not like seeing people suffer but what that man had done … if not for Hou Dong, then things wouldn’t have turned out well for himself. Somebody that treated another human being like that didn’t deserve his compassion.
Hou Dong laughed and pecked his lips. “So you were worried for my sake. How sweet of you! Well, you don’t have to be though. Haven’t you seen the people in this house? I bet they’re used to hearing the strangest things from that room and most of them are slaves anyway. They hardly speak a few words of the local language. ‘Help’ certainly isn’t one of them. So whatever we do … nobody will notice.”
Kanuen nodded. “Then you should go and finish up. I want to leave here.”
“Mn.” Hou Dong pulled the canvas closed for him and then glared into the shadows where his men were hiding. “If I hear that any of you were peeking, then you’ll really get a beating. Face the other way until he’s done.”
There was some grumbling coming from the shadows but Kanuen still heard the rustling of clothes when the men shifted away before the courtyard fell silent again.