Huyan Jin followed the man in the bright blue robe, barely listening to him going on and on about the goods he was selling. His gaze brushed over the cages standing to the side, appraising the people inside.
He really wouldn’t have thought that a place like this existed in the city. These people that called themselves merchants were doing nothing more than buying people from bandits for a small amount and then selling them as slaves at a high price.
Thinking about it, he couldn’t help but feel disgusted. Referring to them as goods, keeping them in cages like wild beasts. Was this so-called merchant still human? Was there not even a bit of compassion in him?
These people had had normal lives once upon a time. They had families, a home, a task in life. But then, they had been caught one way or another, bound and brought here where they could only wait until they would lose their freedom forever. Should one not feel pity and compassion for them?
The merchant continued to talk, not noticing in the least that the man he thought of as a potential customer wasn’t happy with him. He only glanced at him every now and then, trying to gauge if he had already taken a fancy to one of the slaves.
Unfortunately, it never seemed as if he had. Whether it was the strong, able-bodied men that they had had trouble getting their hands on or even the women that could be considered beautiful, he didn’t show even the slightest change in expression. The merchant was slowly a getting headache. This kind of customer was really the hardest to please. Just what was this man looking for?
The merchant glanced at Huyan Jin’s beautifully embroidered robe and dropped his hands. Whatever he was looking for, he would find out and sell it to him. This kind of good deal, he definitely couldn’t let it run through his fingers. He cleared his throat and turned to Huyan Jin with a flattering expression. “Dear customer, was there something that mostly fit your requirements so far? We could see if there’s something similar that would fit your taste more.”
Huyan Jin drew his brows together. Did he look like he wanted to purchase a human being? Originally, he had come out to buy a weapon and some presents for when he returned home. But while he had been looking for another stall, this merchant had approached him with glimmering eyes, telling him that there were some special goods that he might like more than what was displayed at the stalls on the market square.
He had decided to give it a try but now, he regretted that choice. He didn’t even want to see this. He wanted to return and just forget about this. But, on the other hand, he was unable to divert his eyes from this misery. He could feel these people’s destitute and hopelessness and that feeling filled him with rage. He would have liked nothing more than to draw his sword and end all this. But he knew that he could not accomplish this. He would only lose his own life without helping these people at all. He would only plunge them deeper into the darkness, costing them the last glimmer of hope they might still have.
There was nothing he could do.
The merchant froze when he was met with Huyan Jin’s dark look. Don’t tell him this customer wasn’t as satisfied as he had thought? Even if he hadn’t found the perfect slave yet, he didn’t need to look at him like this, did he? He coughed in embarrassment and motioned to the front. “Uh … A man like you certainly wouldn’t want these normal goods. Why don’t you follow me to the front? We are keeping some special slaves in the house.” He turned around and scurried forward.
Huyan Jin continued to frown but still followed him. Since he had come here, he should at least take a look around. Even if he couldn’t do anything right now, it was still better he saw and knew what exactly was happening here. That way, when he came home, he might be able to do something about this place. This kind of thing … It had to be forbidden!
A servant opened the door for the merchant and Huyan Jin before stepping to the side again. The two men walked in and the merchant offered a place for Huyan Jin to sit down. “Wait a moment. I’ll have my servants bring some refreshments and get the slaves here.” He rubbed his hands and then walked off, waving at the servant and moving deeper into the house.
Huyan Jin looked around, his feeling of disgust growing even further. This waiting room was lavishly decorated with only the highest quality goods. A thick carpet covered the wooden planks, the chairs and table were intricately carved and a painting scroll hung on the wall, depicting a cheerful scene of dancing beauties.
Obviously, these merchants didn’t lack any money. If they wanted to, they might even be able to go around wearing solid gold bars. This kind of person … Did they still need to sell humans? Ah, but this money, it had probably been ‘earned’ like this. This kind of person … They wouldn’t feel it was anything wrong.
The merchant soon returned, a line of people trailing behind him. Contrary to the slaves outside that had often been dressed in rags, that exposed their legs and arms, sometimes even their chest to display whatever they had to offer, these people were dressed neatly.
Huyan Jin looked at them and his expression grew even stormier. These people … they were young. Some of them were only about twelve or thirteen years old, the oldest maybe twenty. There were girls and boys but all of them had soft faces, slender bodies, and an overall fair appearance. The robes they had been given were tightly hugging their bodies, showing off their thin waists. It was painfully obvious what these slaves were sold for.
Huyan Jin clenched his hands into fists in his lap, hidden beneath his sleeves. This merchant really dared to offer him something like this! He really wanted to do nothing more than take the cup with the freshly brewed tea and throw it at that disgusting guy. How could he treat a human like this!
Some of the slaves trembled seeing the stormy expression on his face and the merchant couldn’t help but frown.
How come this customer still wasn’t satisfied? Maybe he had to convince him a bit more? Or maybe he hadn’t understood what this customer wanted? He pulled out a girl and pushed her in front of Huyan Jin, giving a bright smile. “This is —”
Huyan Jin shook his head and put the cup down, getting to his feet. “Don’t bother telling me what she is. I will not buy her. In fact, I will not buy any of them.” He turned to go, leaving behind the stunned merchant.
Just when he was about to reach the door, one of the slaves rushed out of the line and fell to his knees in front of him with the thud. “Please, Master, I beseech you to buy me. This one is Kyenin, aged seventeen years, able to read and write, can do embroidery and play the xiao for the Master.”
Huyan Jin reached down and grabbed the youth by the shoulder, pulling him to his feet again. The youth lifted his face, causing Huyan Jin who had just wanted to push him back in line to freeze. For one, this boy was of stunning beauty that could make one’s breath catch in the throat. But what drew Huyan Jin’s attention was that pair of expressive eyes that did not evade his gaze. Instead, this boy was staring right back at him. A slave, a servant … he was clearly none of that. He didn’t seem to see himself like that either despite the fact that he had just asked to be bought.
Kyenin reached out, tugging at his belt and lowering his voice. “I beseech this Master to buy me. Everything is better than being in this place, having to wait for somebody to come and take us with them.”
Huyan Jin gulped. He understood very well what this boy meant. Obviously, the prospects these slaves had weren’t good. Naturally, he would rather go with somebody who refused him in the hope that it was because the person was decent.
But … could he really do this? He had never wanted to buy a slave. It was degrading. Both for this boy and for himself. And the worst thing was that the longer he looked at him, the more shaken he felt. Those eyes pierced his soul and — as much as he loathed to admit it — that face struck his fancy.
It showed him quite plainly just how weak he was and how easily his morals that he had prided himself in could be corrupted. He had thought he was above this. He had thought that … He would never feel like buying a slave. He had thought he honored human life enough but it seemed he had been wrong. In front of this face, he suddenly felt himself overcome with the strong urge to give in to what this person wanted. Buying him, taking him home … But then what?
Huyan Jin closed his eyes and took a deep breath, trying to calm his mind and body. To be honest, this was the last person he wanted to buy. He didn’t want to force anybody into his bed. He was sure that he didn’t need to. But if he bought somebody and brought them out of an environment that they hated, then … wouldn’t that be the same? Whether it was because he would be his ‘owner’ or because the youth felt indebted to him, it wouldn’t be genuine.
If he did this, then any chance of developing something between them was lost. But how selfish would it be to refuse his please because of that? What kind of person was he to think of his own pleasure in this situation?
“Please.” Kyenin spoke up again, his voice urgent. If this man left after he had dared to reach out to him, then he would suffer at the hands of these slave traders. He could not let him leave. Whatever it took, he had to convince him.
Huyan Jin opened his eyes again. Meeting with the light brown gaze of the youth, he finally sighed. Alright, he was weak. He turned to the merchant, his lips pressed into a tight line.
The merchant’s heart threatened to stop. He glared at the youth. “You!” He clenched his hand into a fist and shook it at him. “How dare you bother a customer like that! Get over here! Men, get him!” He waved at one of the servants who wanted to rush over.
Huyan Jin gritted his teeth. No wonder the youth had asked him to take him away this urgently. He raised a hand and waved the servants away again. “How much do you want for him?”
“Ah?” The merchant’s eyes widened. “Uh … That …” He didn’t know what to say. Who would want a slave that didn’t listen to its Master?
Huyan Jin frowned and took out some gold, throwing it in front of the merchant’s feet. “Will this suffice?” His voice got even colder.
The merchant looked at the gold and hurriedly nodded. Ten pieces of gold! For an untrained slave, that was quite a lot. It was a pity though. He might have been able to make him pay more if he had framed this right. But at this moment, the customer was already enraged. He should better hold back or the other goods might get damaged if they came to blows. Then he’d incur a loss. That wasn’t worth it.
Huyan Jin turned away, grabbed the youth’s hand, and pulled him out of the house and down the road he had taken before. “Where did you live before? I’ll bring you back.”
“You didn’t get the certificate of ownership.”
Huyan Jin stopped and looked at him with displeasure. There was actually something like that? Well, why wasn’t he surprised? Before he could decide what to do, a servant came running after them.
“Master! You forgot to take the certificate.” He bowed and handed Huyan Jin a small scroll.
Huyan Jin glanced at it and then stuffed it into his clothes, pulling the youth away with a nod. “So, you wanted to say …”
“Master doesn’t want me?”
Huyan Jin glanced at him, trying to calm down. “And here I thought slaves were supposed to be obedient. You don’t even want to tell me where you came from?”
“Master will try to bring me back there. But how will I live? Everyone was sold or killed, the valuables taken away, the fields trampled by their horses. I’d starve to death in a few weeks or would have to go to the next bigger town to beg and sell myself. I’d much rather follow you.”
“I don’t want you to follow me.”
“Then you should bring me to a brothel and have me service men there.”
Huyan Jin stopped in his tracks and glanced at the youth. He wasn’t even twenty. How could he say such crude things? He wanted to chastise him but in the end, he couldn’t bring himself to do so. It wasn’t the boy’s fault that he had been caught by the slave traders. He sighed and pulled the youth along, finally reaching the market square again where he had left his entourage.
He unceremoniously pushed the boy to one of the guards, wanting to get rid of him as fast as possible. The sooner he didn’t have to see him anymore, the sooner he’d get back his calm. It was too shameful to bear. “Get him a horse.”
“I do not know how to ride.” The boy refused to even look at the guard and continued to stare at Huyan Jin as if expecting him to take care of him. It really made one wonder who was the slave and who the Master.
“You …” Huyan Jin closed his eyes, cursing in his mind. It seemed he could not outrun this feeling of shame. Somehow, this boy had made up his mind to stick to him. He sighed and pulled the boy with him to his own horse. “Fine, let’s just leave then. Back home.”
His men acquiesced and the group soon left the town in the direction of their own home.
Huyan Jin glanced at the slightly tanned hands that held onto his belt and couldn’t help but speak up. “Heh, ‘Kyenin, aged seventeen, who is able to read and write and can embroider and play the xiao’, how come you can do all of that but are still unable to ride on your own?”
Kyenin smiled and pressed his cheek against his Master’s back. “So Master remembered all that. Would Master prefer a slave that can get away on his own?”
“Mn. I see. Well, you’ll learn. And when you can ride, you can see if you want to get away. Your Master doesn’t lack money so … you can keep the horse by then. Just don’t take my personal horse.”
“Oh. I’ll remember that.” Kyenin closed his eyes and the two men fell silent, quietly riding toward the home where they would be living together from now on.