A man with a recently shaved beard walked around the spoils the scavengers had laid down on the ground, examining everything in silence.
The eldest of the scavenger sibling waited with a blank expression.
The young siblings, however, couldn’t hide their anxiety.
The oldest knew why her younger brother and sister were like that.
“We need to sell everything and get back to the town before sundown,” she had said before they arrived at the army’s camp.
If they were too late, they might not live enough to use the money.
“Are those all the weapons and armor you got from the battlefield?” the man asked at last, his voice showing that he wasn’t impressed.
“Yes, milord,” the eldest siblings said, careful to not look the man in the eyes.
“I’m not a lord,” he cut her sharply without even looking at her.
“S-sorry, sir,” she said, gulping. She bowed to him and her siblings hurriedly did the same.
“Most weapons are broken,” said the man, picking up a sword from the haul.
“Y-yes, mi… sir. The battle was hard, especially after dealing with the Sand-Eaters. Believe me, we brought the best on that field,” the woman said.
Then she widened her eyes at her daring and lowered her head to stared at the ground.
She closed her fists so tightly they had lost its color.
The little boy by her side grabbed her hand and squeezed it.
She looked at him and managed to show a tense smile.
“Only a handful can be used right away. Most will have to be melted to of any use, but my lord will take it. We need all the metal we can get,” the man said, turning to the siblings. “I’ll pay what you’re asking.”
The younger scavengers smiled and looked up at their older sister.
The woman let out a small sigh of relief and smiled back at her siblings.
Unaware of that, the man nodded to a soldier.
The woman left and went to one of the tents in the middle of the camp.
When she returned, she held a small sack full of coins and handed to the siblings.
The eldest sister tried to maintain an empty face. But when she opened it, her face beamed with a smile as she and the other two stared at the silver and brown reddish coins.
They exchanged looks again and their smiles grew even more.
“Thank you, mi… sir. Thank you so much for the generosity,” the eldest sister said, bowing again.
The man let out a quick chuckle.
“I’m not being generous. We need all the metal for weapons and armors. Especially in times like these,” he said, his face growing dark.
The scavenger trio stopped smiling, dropped their shoulders and looked at the ground.
It had been a rough month.
Before the forest tribe’s betrayal, there had been news about invading groups from all over the border. From north, south and west.
The kingdom had managed to deal with most attacks with ease.
But after the invasion of the Sand-Dwellers with their entire people for the first time in living history, things had gotten much worse.
Violence spread. Life got worse.
Bandit groups rose here and there and terrorized the common folk.
The kingdom, too busy dealing with the invaders, could not deal with them and let the matter to the local lords and nobles.
Claiming they had to, in order to maintain order and security of the, most lords increased their taxes.
But few cities had seen the money turned into more hired blades on the streets.
Merchants had to raise their prices to hire protection.
With everything getting harder and more expensive, more and more people started taking up banditry in order to survive.
The life in the supposedly safe cities vanished in most places far from the capital.
And no one had any hope the situation would improve soon.
The eldest sister handed the money to the younger sister.
The little girl raced to their cart to stash the money in the safe place.
But when she pulled the cover and the fake wooden panel…
“What’s that?” the man asked suddenly.
The girl froze. With her hands trembling, she stashed the money safely and turned to him with fear plain in her.
“What’s that?” the man asked again, his voice hard and cold.
The girl trembled and cried in silence.
“W-what are you talkin’ about, milord, I mean, sir…?” the eldest sister asked, walking to stand between the man and the little girl.
He ignored them both. Walking past them, the man went to the cart and pulled the tart the scavengers used to cover their haul from the rain.
Underneath and amongst scavenger siblings’ personal belongings, there was a sword wrapped with a cloth.
It should be impossible to the even have a glimpse of the blade with no sheath.
Not even the handle was distinguishable.
But somehow, the man found the sword.
He pushed everything aside and picked up the sword, unwrapping it.
It had no ornament. It had no jewel. It had no engravings.
It had nothing special about it
It was just a long, thin, one-hand sword, with the handle big enough to hold with two hands if needed.
And yet the man couldn’t take his eyes from that blade.
“Milord, I mean, sir, that sword is… it’s—” the eldest sister started mumbling but stopped when she realized the man wasn’t listening to her.
The noble turned the blade around, checking every inch of it.
“Where did you found this?” he asked after a long time without taking his eyes from the weapon.
The curiosity was plain in his eyes as he looked his dull reflex on the metal.
The woman bit her lips and exchanged glances with her siblings.
With a heavy sigh, she closed her eyes.
“We picked it up on the battlefield, sir,” she said, the regret plain in her voice.
The other two scavengers stared at the ground, afraid to look the noble in the eyes.
“The battlefield…? Who… had this?” the man asked, his voice louder. “Who had this blade?”
“Who was carrying this blade?” the man asked again, almost shouting this time.
The few soldiers around started looking in their direction.
The younger scavengers flinched and hid behind their sister. She spread her arms discretely to shield them in case anything happened.
The woman gulped with difficulty, her mouth and throat dry.
“I-it belong… it was in the traitor’s hands… Fael,” she managed to say.
The man widened his eyes.
“How did a weapon like this ended up in the hands of someone like him…?” he asked, more to himself than to the scavenger siblings.
The people around them grew quiet as the man thought.
The siblings waited in fear.
“Why didn’t you show me this sword?” he asked after he managed to take his eyes from the weapon.
His voice was so low it was hard to tell if he was angry or not.
The woman clenched her hands to stop the tremor. But it made no difference.
Everyone knew lying to a noble or a high-rank soldier was a risky business.
Except for the king, there was no law against it.
But there would be a punishment.
And that punishment depended on the humor of the person in the higher position.
They could free the liars or even have them executed and very few would complain.
The woman stood there, the cold sweat running down her back.
She knew the risk of lying. She knew that personally.
But she still tried to lie to the noble.
Only to keep that plain looking one-hand sword that emanated a strange aura.
If they sold it at the city, they might have gotten an incredible amount of money.
Riches beyond what simple scavengers could dream.
For that reason, she risked lying when the noble asked if that were all their weapons.
She had prepared herself for the consequences.
But only she. Her siblings had nothing to do with it.
Spreading her arms even more, took a deep breath.
“B-because I thought I could sell it for more at the city, mil… sir,” the eldest scavenger said, doing her best to not sound defiant.
It wasn’t hard. All she could feel was fear.
But even so, she found the courage to say one more thing.
“Please, sir, my siblings had nothing to do with this. It was my decision,” she said, graveling at his foot.
The siblings joined her sister without a word, their heads down.
The man showed no expression as he stared down at them.
For a long time, no one dared to break the silence.
Then, after what felt like an eternity, the man beckoned at the soldier again.
The scavenger feared the worst. She stopped breathing as she waited for her sentence.
The woman walked towards him, her steps echoing loudly on the silent camp.
After the noble whispered something, she bowed and left.
Time stretch for the scavengers, as if it had stopped working properly.
Even the other soldiers feared what could happen when their companion came back.
Then the woman’s footsteps came back.
The eldest scavenger heard something heavy rattling.
With difficulty, she raised her head.
The solder wasn’t holding a weapon. She had a heavy-looking sack in her hands.
She walked towards the siblings and stopped before them, offering the sack.
With her body numb, the scavenger woman stood up and reached out for the sack.
When the soldier let go, she grunted at the weight of the sack.
Her siblings stood up too.
She looked between the sack, her siblings, who only shook in fear, and the man, still looking at the sword;
Her hands tremble so much it was hard to open it.
With difficulty, she held the sack with one arm and opened with the free hand.
The woman had trouble breathing when she saw the content.
Countless gold coins shone in the bright sunlight.
The youngest siblings widened their eyes at the money. They never had never even seen so much gold.
The eldest looked at the man, who had finally taken their eyes from the sword.
“Hope that’s enough,” he said, and his tone indicated that they should consider.
The woman realized at once she could ask for more gold and he would give to her.
But she was too scared for that.
All she did was try to thank him, but she had lost her voice.
All she could do was to nod stiffly.
The man smiled, if barely, and walked away from the scavengers.
Their business was done.
As the scavengers tried to leave as fast as they could, the noble headed to the second biggest tent in the camp.
The two soldiers at the entrance bowed and let him enter.
“My lord?” the man asked softly to the dimly lit tent.
But even so, there was no way he could hide the excitement in his voice.
“What?” a grumpy voice responded from somewhere.
“My lord, look what I found,” the man said, not trying to hide the excitement anymore.
There was a grunt and some indistinguishable mumbles and then a light grew from somewhere inside.
The man walked to stand next to his lord’s bed.
The highest ranked noble in that camp wasn’t alone.
The woman next to him smiled to the Lord before putting on her clothes and leave the tent.
The Lord rubbed his eyes, trying to get rid of the drowsiness.
But when he saw the blade in his subordinate’s hand, he became fully awake.
Without a word, he ran a finger on the sword and stared at it for a long time.
The soldier watched his Lord’s reaction in silence.
“Yes, indeed, my Lord.”
Some scavengers found it on the battlefield. At the hands of Fael,” the subordinate said, almost as if he was savoring the words.
The Lord’s eyes shone. “The traitor…”
He grabbed the handle and raised the sword, swinging it a few times.
“This blade is worthy of a man like me,” the Lord said, smiling.
So this is my new wielder, thought Tetsuko, watching the man swing her like a new toy.
Even under that dim light from the oil lamp, she could see it in his eyes.
No… from the moment he touched her handle, she felt it.
She wasn’t a sword to him. She was a prize.
I don’t like him.