The ride went uneventful for hours, and was uneventful still. Yet, as the sun faded down the treeline, Frey couldn't help but feel anxious. Night tends to bring changes. In the shade of night, things happen, unseen. It was night when he met Liezel. It was night when everything went wrong with Zalvik and his squad. Nothing brings about change faster than the night, and Frey hated change. He hated the unexpected. But perhaps, living in this world, and finding himself in life-and-death situations a couple of times got him used to it, even for a bit.
"It's getting dark." uttered Gren as he stared at the shrinking scenery of trees behind us.
"It is. We might have to camp here for the night." Hugo held his chin, turning to Frey. "What do you think?"
"A little rest is called for, I think." Frey answered.
"Isn't it? Ardey, Horan, we're stopping here." Hugo shouted. The horses neighed as the two soldiers pulled on their leashes. The wagon, creaking and groaning, tilted as it swerved left to the roadside and parked near the shrubs. The slave caravan ahead of them followed soon after, stopping in front of them.
Frey jumped out of the wagon, eyes peeled, ears straining. The sky above was a murky shade of purple, the trees on either side of the road shadowed green.
The two bandits followed next, pushed on their backs by Hugo and Gren. The bald bandits didn't so much as struggle against their captors. One of them, the bandit whom Frey had a conversation with earlier, gave him a passing glance before Gren kicked the tall man forward.
Ardey and Horan came rushing, both carrying coils of thick twine. With their help, Hugo and Gren tied the two captives on a thick-trunked oak. Even when he was tied, the bandit kept glancing at Frey, nodding with a grin on his face when he sensed Frey looking.
You don't have to tell me. Frey clicked his tongue in irritation.
He walked to the front of the cargo wagon. From behind the horses, Frey watched the soldiers of the slave caravan drag the slaves out of the cars one by one. The soldiers threw each of them onto the ground. The slaves, with their ankles shackled together, couldn't balance themselves from the brutish push of the soldiers. Grunts and cries rang out of their lips as the slaves fell kneeling on the ground.
A truly disgusting sight. Something inside Frey wanted to reach for the hilt of his sword and behead the bastards there and then. He sucked in air and took deep breaths, cold burning the walls of his throat. His anger soon subsided.
When all the slaves were out, the fat soldier (which Frey assumed to be their leader) did some sort of a head-count of the slaves. Frey counted eight women, ranging from late teens to thirties, all thin and poor. The children numbered at least a dozen, all girls, their ages varying from toddlers to pubescent.
As the count went on three other soldiers got sacks out of the other car, full of what must be food rations. The soldiers handed each slave one yellowish lump that looked like bread drained of all moisture. The children nibbled on the bread hungrily, while the women ate the stone-cold food with grimace on their faces.
The fat soldier doing the head count trotted toward Frey at the end of the head-count. Frey wasn't one to judge appearances, but he just didn't like this one. The fat soldier was ugly, with black, beady eyes, a greasy forehead, and a debauched grin plastered on his face.
"Gotta keep them vermins in line." the soldier said as he approached Frey. Perhaps a funny coincidence, both the horses of the cargo wagon brayed at the same time the fat soldier passed by them.
"Frey." he answered. "Frey Alcott."
The fat soldier raised a brow. "A weird name. Almost like a Kazilian. I'm Krul Radu, Lieutenant of the 56th Infantry Batallion under General Verkel."
"Kazilian?" Frey asked.
"Weaklings of the North. You don't know them?"
"I grew up in a village down south. News on other kingdoms rarely get there."
"Is that so? Well, even I can tell you're not from the capital. Why are you with captain Hugo?"
"I was to find the blacksmith Barton in Redel. Hugo's just helping me get to the capital, that's all."
"Barton, eh? The bastard's gone now. He'd been assisting rebels and helping prisoners escape. He was asking to be caught." Krul placed a hand on the horse beside him and caressed its back. The horse closed its eyes as it breathed relief. "So, what do you do? You a hunter or something?"
"Something like that." Frey nodded.
"What's your biggest prize so far?"
Krul narrowed his beady eyes at him. "The strongest monster you hunted. You're a monster hunter, aren't you?"
"Ah. A goblin hound, I guess."
"Really?" the fat soldier gasped. "That's gotta be a stroke of luck."
Something didn't feel right. Frey felt as though he had stepped on a landmine, a switch that he shouldn't have pressed.
Krul inched closer. He stood beside Frey, and dropped a hand on his shoulder. "Say, what do you think about them?" Krul pointed at the huddle of the slaves, more precisely at the women sitting on the ground, chewing on bread they held with their cuffed hands. They were covered with grease and grime, but Frey could see traces of white and fair skin under all the dirt.
"These bitches may be dirty, but with a little wash and brush, you know. They make good toys." the man's smile grew broader, menacing, saliva almost dripping from his mouth. "Gotta give it to Kazilians, they're exceptional whores."
A lump clung on Frey's throat, and he couldn't speak. He held his anger, resisting the urge to throw down Krul to the ground and strangle him. He inhaled, exhaled, letting the heat inside him flow out into the frigid open.
"I'm... I'm listening." Frey uttered.
"How about I give you a taste tonight, for free? After that..." Krul brought his face close and whispered to his ear. "You can buy one. Any one."
Frey turned to Krul, his heart numb, eyes dead cold.
"We have a deal. How much will it be?"
"You talk fast. I like that. Pick one, I'll tell you after."