Journey to the South: Seven of Thirty

Posted: February 7, 2013 in Fiction
Tags: ,

    In the morning we broke our fast with Natallu, dining on pastries, porridge, and some jerked meat. As we ate and made small conversation with our host, Cuahuatec was among the slaves who served us, and it soured my stomach to see the drying wounds from the lash marring his skin and matting the fur on the Gromothim’s back. Luckily, I had satisfied my hunger by that point and my lack of eating raised no questions, but the sight disturbed me on a level that haunted me even while I, Viro, and Decurio Atam went riding with Natallu afterward.

    The young Father of House Jaa gave us a tour of the estate’s grounds, explaining how they primarily raised corn and grapes, but also husbanded sheep. Viro, who has always had more of the draw toward Namshiir and matters of agriculture, mainly engaged Natallu during this tour which gave Atam and I the opportunity to converse.

    “How much longer will it take to procure the supplies for the next leg of our journey, sir?” I asked in a hushed voice, riding alongside the Decurio.

    “Another day should be all, Ambassador,” he replied. “We could have left today if we had not had to move lodgings. It is taking a little longer to get everything shipped out to the estate.”

    I had frowned at that. “Would it be possible…to perhaps have the supplies meet us on the road?”

    The Decurio raised an eyebrow. “You would like to leave sooner, I take it?”

    My gaze had drifted off over the empty fields of the Jaa Estate, covered in snow that had fallen during the night. “Aye. Such a man as our host…I am soured by the way that he treats those beneath him.”

    Atam nodded. “I will send three of my men back to Tarahn as soon as we return to the house with the orders. When would you like to depart, sir?”

    I remember chuckling darkly. “I would like to have departed last night after hearing him whip that poor slave. There is discipline and then there is cruelty, and do not believe that Natallu cares about the difference. If he even knows what it is.”

    The legionary grunted. “You do not wish to witness such barbarism anymore, sir?”

    I frowned deeply at that. “I wish that the poor slave did not have to undergo such sadistic treatment. He saved my son, by Krinai! And I have seen nothing out of his behavior that seems to merit the punishments that our…respected host seems to dole out at a moment’s notice.”

    “Then why not take him with us?”

    I glanced at Atam with a questioning look. “What are you proposing, sir?”

    The Decurio shrugged. “Buy him off of Natallu, if you have to do so. If you feel for the creature and desire to change his circumstances, then why not do so, sir? We can easily support the additional mouth to feed. And we were going to keep the extra wagons for the supplies – he can ride in one of those, if that is your wish.”

    I grunted thoughtfully at the proposition. “I…I believe I will do so. Thank you for your counsel, Decurio.”

    When we returned to the house, the legionary officer departed to find his men and Cuahuatec approached with my children in his wake, quite happy to see myself and their mother. I drew aside the young Father of House Jaa, informing him of our imminent departure.

    “I am much saddened to hear that, Chief Ambassador,” Natallu said with a frown. “May I ask why?”

    “Timing,” I replied, lying only a little. “Unfortunately, we are to have a ship waiting for us in Akhem and we must continue our journey with haste. We thank you for the generosity of opening your house to us, of course.”

    Natallu’s face was neutral, but he nodded his agreement. “Indeed. It has been a pleasure, sir, and an honor.”

    “There is…” I hesitated a moment. “There is another matter: I wish to purchase Cuahuatec.”
“What?!” the nobleman asked, taken aback. “I…why?”

    “Well, the Gromothim has definitely shown loyalty, he seems like an able slave – of which I happen to be in need. And besides…it appears you may have too many on your hands. I simply wish to acquire a necessary servant and help lighten your load some.”

    “Well, I…” Natallu began, then he scowled. “This is because of last evening, is it not? Did that miserable cur say something to you? Cuahuatec, come here!” The Gromothim male approached cautiously, already beginning to shrink into himself. “Did you lie to this honored gentleman here? Did you beg for him to take you away from me?”

    The Gromothim shook his head in the negative, but seemed unable to speak he was so afraid. “Lies!” Natallu snarled, backhanding the little slave across the face and sending him tumbling backward into the snow.

    It surprises me to this day, but I found myself standing between the young Father of House Jaa and his slave, staring the man down. “I rescind my offer to buy him off of you, Natallu I’igaruu Jaa. I am commandeering him in the pursuit of Bureau duties. He will be coming with me.”

    “How dare you?!” snapped the nobleman, his eyes burning.

    “I dare because I can,” I replied levelly. “Do not tempt me into making sure that the Bureau of the Treasury decides that your House will be requiring a full and extensive audit of taxes due for the next decade or so. Trust me: I have more than enough friends there who would be happy to do so upon my recommendation.”

    The nobleman stared at me, the fury evident in his eyes, his nostrils flaring wildly. “Fine,” he said, then turned and walked toward the house. “Leave my estate within the hour. Otherwise I will consider you and you retinue trespassers.”

    Sighing, my heart drumming hard in my chest, I looked down at Cuahuatec and offered a hand to the slave. He meekly accepted it and stood up, wiping blood from his lips.

    “You did not need to do that, sir,” the Gromothim said softly.

    “Nor did you need to continue suffering underneath the tyranny of that…that boy,” I said, casting a glance toward the house. “But, come: we all must make ready to be on the road.”

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