「Ardis, Rona, quick――! 」
About two months had gone by after the Harvest Festival. As their life had started to calm down at the village, Ardis once again started his mercenary occupation.
Having said so, his main purpose is to find the way back to his original world, accepting request and subjugating demonic beings are all done on the way.
However, there were people that stopped Ardis who wanted to leave with Rona as usual. It is Fillia and Riana.
Before when they are living in Corsas Forest, Ardis promised the two that the condition to bring them along is to 『Be able to defeat a Ractor on their own』.
Having continued training under Nere even after they moved, on top of that, gaining experience from patrolling and hunting around the village, they have cleared the condition already.
As a result, Ardis had no excuse to refuse them following. As such, Ardis had hesitantly allowed them to tag along but, his final resist was adding on another condition.
And that was not both at the same time, but only one of them at a time. Never apart since he met them, Ardis didn’t think that the twins that always said 『Ourselves』 would be able to accept that condition.
However, Ardis’s such plan was easily shattered. Three months had passed since they’ve started staying at the village.
The twins that have overcome their past bitter memories looked at each other after being told the condition, and started discussing who would be the one to follow first.
In the end, they decided between themselves, and Ardis is calling over Fillia in one of the city in Alburn Kingdom.
「To think that they would accept it……」
Ardis muttered his regret at the unexpected decision of the twins.
「That just means they’ve grown a lot. Al have been taking care of them for many years already, don’t you feel a little happy? 」
His golden partner said so in a soft voice inaudible to others, and looked at Ardis from below.
「But Al is still treating Fillia and Riana like children. 」
「It’s not like I’m treating them as children……」
「Then tell me, what Al was doing when you are same age as them? Were you having a pleasant life protected by adults? 」
Pointed out by Rona, Ardis recalled his times when he was about fourteen and fifteen and became silent.
「In the first place, you’re too stubborn. You promised them to bring them along if they can defeat a Ractor with the two of them, but now that it happened, you added on another condition, 『It cannot be both, only one can come at a time』? It’s really cowardly to add on a condition after the fact, I think. 」
Ardis who was hit harder was even more silent. This time, Rona was taking the side of the twins opposing Ardis who didn’t want the twins following.
Without regards to Ardis who was stunned by his partner’s sudden betrayal, beside him, there was Rona and Fillia who was the one that followed this time.
「Nee nee Ardis. Which inn are we staying at today? 」
Probably seeing Ardis who was walking slowly, Fillia who returned grabbed Ardis’s left arm and asked.
「……Hmm. Since we’ve been staying outdoors for a few days already, let’s find a good bed to sleep in tonight I guess. 」
「Hurray! A place with tasty food is good! Right, Rona! 」
「Unn, I agree too. At the very least, even if it’s a little more expensive, let’s stay in a good inn, Al. 」
「Well, there’s no need to worry about the price but……. The problem is even if there’s a proper inn, it’s not like the food will be too. 」
Ardis and co are now situated in one of the city in Alburn Kingdom that is in a civil war situation.
Normally, it isn’t an ideal situation to bring Fillia along but, there’s another reason not to say that. After all, Ardis’s heretic branding was known and drawings of his face are also spread.
Of course, it’s not like he’s being judged for law in any country just by being branded a heretic. It’s only a heretic branding by the church that doesn’t have political power, so it doesn’t have the backing of law.
However, the church is also an organization that has enormous influence in the continent. There’s a chance that feudal lords and countries might be hostile just because of that.
Rather, looking at their treatment against twins, it is already an obvious fact. Ardis could hide his face with a hood, and his body with a robe but, it’s not like Rona who is an eye-catching golden beast can do that.
Having said so, he wouldn’t be able to rest easy worrying about Fillia if Rona is not around.
「The logistics are in tatters thanks to the civil war, and the city security can’t even function properly. Although I think they would have something better than preserved foods, it’s better not to expect too much. 」
The reason why he chose Alburn Kingdom despite its civil war state is because that the people here has no room to care about the church’s announcement.
If their own life is already in danger, there would be fewer people daring to make a move on a mercenary that’s branded a heretic.
Of course, there would still be foolish people willing to, but as long as not everyone in the whole world, or everyone in the city is his enemy, it would be no problem.
Rather, having protected several villages and settlements from beasts and bandits, he was thanked not just once or twice. There might be people among them that had realized Ardis’s identity but there’s still no troubles happening for now.
For them, it’s not a time for that considering their country’s state.
「Well, refugees are everywhere outside the city……. It’s unlikely they have enough food. 」
「What are refugees? 」
「People that lost their home because of war or attacks from demonic beings, or people that ran away. 」
「They’re like us from a while ago? 」
Fillia’s unexpected words widened Rona’s eyes.
「Nnn……? Ah―, come to think of it, that’s right. 」
Because of various circumstances, Ardis and co that were forced to relocate from Corsas Forest are indeed refugees in a certain sense.
「Though, in our case, we left because we want to avoid troublesome matters, the refugees outside the city now are different. 」
It’s not just outside the city that’s overflowing with refugees. Even while walking down the street, they could see many people lurking around in the back alleys.
They are probably the refugees that managed to enter the city before the gates were closed.
Now that people can’t enter without paying toll, there’re not many refugees that are rushing inside from the outer walls.
However, at the same time, the soldiers that are guarding the gate have low morale too. Anyone can enter without getting their identity confirmed just with some bribes.
That’s why, people like Ardis and Rona could enter the city without getting blocked but, if the current situation continues, then the damage to the city’s security will be severe.
At the very least, there’s no doubt that it would cause prices to soar and hinder goods distribution.
Stalls are few even on the main street, and those that open all have expensive goods.
「Uwaa, so expensive! Six copper for a sack of apple? 」
Rona seeing the price of fruits sold on one of the stall was surprised. While looking at the stalls as he walked down the streets, Fillia who found a busy spot ahead pulled on Ardis’s arm.
「Ah, Ardis. Look there, there’re a lot of people. Let’s go there! 」
The place that Fillia pulled them to was a gathering of people more than expected. Only that spot in the shabby looking city was strangely bustling.
With several short stands lining up the originally empty space, there were people with plain clothes standing on it.
The people walked around the area and looked at the people on the stand.
「What’s this? 」
「……It’s a slave market. 」
Ardis who frowned answered Fillia’s question.
A woman in her prime age called out to Fillia who was tilting her head.
「Nee, cute little miss there. Won’t you buy me? I’m good with laundry and cleaning, also cooking is my forte too. I can cook western dishes that are rare here. Since we’re close in age, I can give advice that only girls can too. 」
The girl was appealing with a smile but, of course Fillia could only have a confused expression, not knowing what to do.
「A mercenary right? Then buy me! I’m a former mercenary, and even hunted a Beast King before. I can fight, carry baggage, and even dismantle materials. 」
Another middle-aged man beside her appealed himself.
「Sorry, but we’re good with cooking and combat strength. 」
「Is that so, what a shame. 」
「Can’t help it. Call out when you change your mind. 」
Ardis refused them in place of Fillia who looked confused, and both the woman and the middle-aged man looked disappointed but withdrew nonetheless.
「Yeah, I hope that you will meet a good employer. 」
Ardis said some encouraging words, as the middle-aged man thanked with a thumbs up in response.
「Let’s go, Fillia. 」
Ardis who thought to leave the spot as soon as possible was tugged by Fillia again.
As he followed Fillia’s gaze that seemed to discover something, Ardis showed a bitter expression.
Her both eyes were looking over at a shack. Several people walked out of the shack that stood out in the slave market.
With a merchant-like man with good physique leading, another two armed escorts followed behind.
Then behind them are several males and females restrained with shackles on their wrist and foot.
Skins that are dark from dirt, body that looked thin as the result of having nothing proper to eat, eyes that looked like they lost hope.
Normally, it would be a shameful figure to show to others but, there wasn’t even a sliver of sadness on the faces that lost their expressions.
With one man holding onto the chains connected to the shackles on their neck pulling them along, the human-shaped merchandises were entering the carriage stopped in front of the shack.
They’re all objectified people. Since it’s a slave market, naturally the merchants that trade with objectified people are here as well.
The reason why Ardis frowned was because it was the scene that he didn’t want Fillia seeing.
「They’re from the Scyts Business Association right? 」
「As usual, it’s terrible there. 」
「Yeah, even though slaves, treating them like objects are……」
「Although people say that bad rumors are often exaggerated, there’s no choice but to believe seeing that. 」
「But it’s true that they’re cheaper. 」
「In the end, they only consider the cheap part huh? 」
Apparently it is an association with bad public relation, as Ardis commented at the people with displeasure.
「I can only hope I will never be there. 」
Even the other slaves said something like that. The objectified people rode on the carriage and started moving.
Naturally, the crowd of people split up to let them go.
Probably seeing herself in them. Fillia’s eyes shook seeing the objectified people sitting on the carriage passing by.
Fillia appealed to Ardis seemingly wanting to say something. Even without saying, Ardis knows what Fillia was thinking.
「You can’t. 」
However, understanding it doesn’t mean it’s possible. Fillia looked like she was about to cry seeing Ardis shook his head.
In the Alburn Kingdom, trading objectified people are considered legal. Slaves and objectified people are acknowledged as assets of the owner.
If not released lawfully, Ardis’s side would be the one doing a crime. Already having the church as an enemy, it’s not like Ardis can do anything to get himself a place in the continent now but, having said so, he didn’t want Fillia to be caught up in it.
On top of that, he didn’t want to show an example of ignoring the law. Of course, Ardis had done several times of pushing through while ignoring the law.
However, he did so to protect something even more important than following the law, at the very least, he decided by himself knowing the risk.
If she wanted to do it while ignoring the law, that decision must be made by Fillia herself and within her own capability.
「Listen, Fillia. Slaves and objectified people are acknowledged by this country. Selling them are too, although their treatment just now are not condoned, they aren’t doing a crime. 」
Though, talking about the law in a country in civil war is pointless, as Ardis explained to Fillia while smiling bitterly in his mind.
「Forcefully releasing them would mean stealing assets from the owner. That’s why, to save them, you will have to pay suitable price. If Fillia bought them, they can be saved from being objectified people. But just saving them would have them return to being one. To not let that happen, you will have to provide them with clothes, food, shelter, and work. It’s not just one or two, there’re probably several tens of such people in just this town. Do you want to save every one of them? And all of them that you encounter in the future? If you have that much resolve and power, then you can do as you wish. 」
Although with tears in her eyes at Ardis’s words, Fillia didn’t back down.
「But……, but Ardis helped me and Riana that time. 」
「That time, the merchant that had ownership over you two were killed by bandits. That’s why you two were not anyone’s any more. If the merchants were still alive, even I couldn’t have taken you two as I wished. 」
「……Then, you can’t save them like us? 」
「Saving everyone is impossible. My hands doesn’t reach that far. Just looking after Fillia and Riana with both my hands is my best. 」
In the first place, if Fillia and Riana are not twins, then Ardis was sure they wouldn’t be together now. When he returned to Thoria, there’s no mistake he would’ve sold them off suitably.
Ardis grasped on Fillia’s hand tugging on his sleeves. She might’ve thought pleading to Ardis would’ve solved it.
However, it will only make her more dependent on Ardis. Fillia who started crying soundlessly buried herself in Ardis.
Rona who listened from start to end in silence looked at Ardis with a sympathizing gaze.
Ardis returned a bitter smile to that, and started thinking while feeling something prickly in his chest.
Scyts Business Association. It’s apparently an association with bad rumors according to the surrounding people. Then there would be at least one or two scandals that will come out if he hit randomly, as Ardis squinted his eyes.