The Soft-hearted slave merchant – Part 4
Twilight dyed the sky red.
Takumi and his comrades got back to Valeria to report the situation.
“Thank you… Thank you so much!”
Were the first words that Mirta told them as she bowed.
“No problem. Everything proceeded smoothly, after all.”
“This is bad, though. Now we have to rethink about a lot of stuff.”
Commented Karin. She was writing restlessly on a notepad and looked quite annoyed.
“I wanted to use the increase of the tamahagane’s price to visit Geld, but now I can’t.
I must also come up with other excuses for all of the others… I’ll go crazy.”
“If you furrow your brows like that, you’ll grow wrinkles. It would be a waste on a beauty like you.”
“He’s right! You have such an adorable face, Karin!”
“Yeah, yeah, thank you, Mirta. Kunon, stop eating and help me.”
“What? But I don’t like thinking about that kind of stuff!”
With her cheeks stuffed with food, she made an X with a couple of skewers.
She didn’t want to help in the slightest.
“Sorry for troubling you…”
“You don’t have to apologize. Takumi solved everything, so this is a matter between us. You have no faults here.”
“Indeed, indeed! We did it in a flash!”
The elf and the werebeast reassured her.
Things proceeded smoothly only thanks to those two’s collaboration.
Karin had a thorough knowledge of demi-humans and could understand their species and lineage with a simple glance. That’s how they were accurately selected for the buyer’s needs.
Kunon was mainly their guard.
At first, they avoided buying many demi-humans, since it wasn’t safe, but now that she could suppress single-handedly a bunch of them, they choose to be bolder.
If we omit the time they spent returning to Valeria, their efficiency in dealing with customers was great.
Of course, both of them knew it, and looked at Takumi with eyes brimming with expectations.
“…How can I help you?”
“Takumi… Tonight is the Harvest Festival, right? I’d love to buy something there…”
“I really want to eat meat!”
“Fine… Here, use these as you want. You can even gift them to someone else, as far as I’m concerned.”
Takumi threw the leather bag he just received at their feet, and the two of them joined hands happily voicing “Hoorayyy!”
They couldn’t just work all day. Every once in a while, taking a break was necessary.
Mirta’s gaze flickered to and from Takumi.
“Err… What will you do, Takumi?”
“I don’t have urgent things to do, so I wanted to relax a bit.”
“I-I see! What about taking a walk together?”
“I don’t mind that. Do you want to see the festival too?”
“Err… if you’re fine with that, I’d love to…”
She asked with pleading eyes, her cheeks slightly red as her head lowered. He knew that something was wrong.
“Oooh… I see, I see…”
Karin squinted her eyes grasping the situation.
“Okay, Kunon. Let’s go.”
“What?! But if we’re all going to the festival, why don’t we wait for them and go together? Karin? Why are you dragging me?! Stooop!”
Karin waved at the others while dragging her friend away and left the room.
The moment they exited, Takumi let out a deep sigh.
“Should we go too?”
“S-Sure. Thanks for coming with me.”
She bowed again and left the room with him.
The sun had already set, and the sky was now painted with a vivid purplish-blue color.
Usually, the slums’ noise quietened down in the evening, but people couldn’t contain their excitement for this half-yearly occurrence.
It was called Harvest Festival, but it retained its original meaning only in the upper part of the city. The others merely took advantage of it to party.
People could buy food and drinks from the stalls of bars on the main street, and artisans could swindle drunk customers.
Takumi and Mirta walked in the boisterous roads without saying a word.
“So, do you have something to tell me?”
She widened her eyes in surprise when he broke the silence.
“You can always see through me, huh…”
“Well, you usually ask Karin about everything. It wasn’t hard to understand.”
She was Valeria’s boss, but she was also young, so Karin often helped her.
Talking to someone who had a broad knowledge about people, and who also shared her same sex was comforting.
That’s why asking Takumi meant that it was a serious matter.
He already guessed what she wanted to talk about, though.
“I wonder… if I’m doing my job properly.”
“Yes, you are. Since you became our boss two years ago, you’ve been giving your best.”
Her father, the former head of Valeria, wasn’t there anymore.
Two years before, he departed for a business affair, but had an accident and disappeared.
They didn’t even know if he was still alive or not.
Valeria fell in a state of confusion, and it was only thanks to Mirta, who succeeded to her father’s position, that it returned to operate normally.
But her influence changed the affairs deeply.
Geiz Ejistan, one of the best men of the organization, acted as the director, even though on paper he wasn’t, and Jill, who was once a close aide of Vatel, helped her at first.
Mirta was giving her best to walk down her father’s path.
She vowed to protect what he had built.
“But if we talk about your results, then I should change the answer.”
“Ugh… You’re being pretty straightforward…”
“We’re talking honestly, so I should be clear. You’re copying what your father was doing, but you won’t reach the same result as him.”
It really was hard to digest, but Mirta had to understand that.
Vatel was violent, naive, honorable, passionate, and thanks to his nature, he managed to increase and preserve Valeria’s business, and maintain order in the slums.
Mirta, due to her gentle nature, couldn’t imitate his way of life.
“…I knew it, you should have taken over the reins of Valeria.”
“No, it’s better this way. Naming a former slave whose birthplace is unknown as the leader would have caused a huge uproar since there’re veterans like Geiz who should be more qualified. It’s only thanks to you that nothing that excessive happened.”
“I see… I proposed myself as the new leader because Geiz is too obsessed with money. I was afraid that the organization would’ve strayed from my father’s idea.”
Geiz had the ability to run the business, but he was too greedy. He would have used even questionable means to gain profits.
Probably, if he became the leader, nothing of Vatel’s ideas and plans would have remained.
“It would be the same if I were in your place, Mirta. Things change depending on people, and after some time, they might be completely different. Also, I’m not interested in becoming a leader.”
“But you are more or less attached to us, right? You are, right?”
“I won’t deny that, don’t worry. I like my actual role.”
“So, you don’t mind your job…? You’ve changed.”
Both the country and religion accepted slaves. To meet their high demand, some people’s work was based on stocking them up, even though not every slave merchant was nice.
They bought and sold others to survive.
They were called “demons” by common people, scornfully named “race traders” by normal merchants, despised as “viles” by the nobles, and addressed as “despicable humans” even by clerks, who should have accepted the existence of slaves.
That’s exactly why Takumi liked his actual role.
“Everyone hates slave merchants. Usually people take their distance, but isn’t it great to see their conflicted faces when their day is saved thanks to what they hate so much?”
“…You really have a bad personality. It’s almost twisted.”
“Indeed, but it’s exactly for that reason that I can understand people’s hatred and act in an efficient way. That’s how I created the image of the Soft-hearted slave merchant.”
“It would have been better if I didn’t hear any of that…”
“I don’t want people to know about it either, so let’s pretend I never said anything.”
Takumi placed a finger in front of his lips, and Mirta looked at him with her usual long face.
“You really are amazing. You always think a step ahead… Instead, this is as far as I can go…”
As she talked, she looked more and more depressed.
Takumi placed a hand on his chin and pondered about what to do.
“Then, why don’t you take enjoying this festival as your duty?”
“Eh? How are my duties and enjoying the festival connecteeed?!”
Takumi took her hand and pulled her through the crowd.
Seeing the moderate prices of a stall, he waved at the man within it.
“Hey, mister. I want to grab a bite.”
“Hey, Takumi! Wow, are you on a date with Valeria’s boss?!”
“Yeah, more or less.”
“W-We aren’t! He just said to enjoy the festival and dragged me here! I-I mean… err…”
Mirta’s face was flushed and she didn’t know what to do next. Seeing her, the shopkeeper laughed heartily.
“Ah, youth is great!”
He said to them while giving their paper packages.
Within them was a thin layer of dough stuffed with ham and vegetables.
“Here, it’s our special piadina! Take them!”
“Eh? But I don’t…”
“Oh, c’mon! Valeria’s members helped me a lot to carry this and that. It’s on the house!”
“O-Okay, then! Thank you very much.”
Mirta accepted them while embarrassment still lingered on her face.
The man kept waving at the couple as they returned to the main road.
“Well well, if it isn’t Miss Mirta.”
The voice of an old woman reached them.
“Ah, Doctor Zerna. How is your back doing?”
“Way better thanks to your Recovery Magic. Medicines didn’t have any effect on me.”
“Your medicines are way more miraculous than magic. They work perfectly fine on our men’s wounds.”
“Because I put effort in them. If Valeria couldn’t use its members because of some wounds, I would be too afraid to step outside my house.”
The old woman laughed, and Mirta chuckled softly.
“I bet your members are drinking and eating to their heart’s content. Here, I have some medicines for the stomach and for hangover. Take some.”
“Eh? But… shouldn’t you sell these?”
“People here think that I’m a party pooper, so no one bought them. You would lighten my load and do me a favor if you take them.”
She rummaged in her cartridge while saying that and handed the girl a wicker basket.
“I will bring them at Valeria’s later, but… what is this?”
“Ah, that is… hihi! Something you should use in front of that young guy tonight.”
“In front of Takumi…?”
She tilted her head puzzled, while Takumi sighed deeply.
“Zerna, you should give that to prostitutes, not Mirta.”
“Your eyes are scary! Don’t look at me like that. Anyway, I guess I’ll take my leave before she understands what it is and gets angry.”
She mixed in the crowd and disappeared.
“What… should we do with this?”
“Let’s throw it in a bonfire. I want to see it burning.”
Takumi urged her and the two started walking again.
After a few steps, someone else called them, and after they finished talking, it happened again and again.
“Aaah, jeez. I want Kunon with me now.”
“Mirta, are you okay?”
“Yes, it’s nothing. I didn’t expect that so many people would give us things.”
Takumi’s arms were buried with bags.
“Isn’t that a good thing? This is the proof that you’re doing your job properly.”
She looked at him surprised, and he smiled at her.
“Being a leader is hard, and only other people can see their true value. You still have a long way to go. People like you and that makes you a great boss.”
Finally, on her face bloomed a smile.
“I see. I will keep doing what I can for Valeria.”
“Great. I hope you’ll find your style soon, without copying Vatel’s.”
“Ugh… I will try my best…”
She dropped her shoulders, but her expression wasn’t bad like before.
She looked more relaxed now.
“What if we bring these things to Valeria? I’m also getting hungry.”
“Ah, then why don’t we eat what we took before? They should still be warm.”
Mirta took a paper package from one of the bags that Takumi was carrying.
“My hands are full, I can’t hold that.”
“I didn’t think about it… what should I do now…?”
She already unwrapped it and looked unsure about the next move.
“…I bet that you can’t eat that alone, so if you feed me, I will help you.”
“W-Will we share it?!”
“Do you prefer to feed me until we’re back? You will grow tired as we walk, so the first bite is mine, second yours, and so on.”
Her cheeks reddened slightly, and she pondered about that proposal while looking at the piadina… and after a few seconds, she reached a decision.
She shut her eyes and brought the piadina in front of Takumi’s mouth, which opened wide and bit it. The aroma of ham prickled his nostrils as the meat’s flavor spread on his tongue, tuned by the vivid aftertaste of vegetables.
“Great, now it’s your turn… why are you making that face?”
Even though she looked nervous until a few moments before, now her eyes were shining passionately.
“Who knows… I feel like I’m getting intimate with a lovely pet…!”
“And I’m feeling like a pet who’s being fed.”
“You’re such a strange guy, Takumi. It’s like you can see further than anyone and stand on the other side of the line… but I’m glad that we’re getting closer.”
With a radiant smile on her face, she brought the piadina again in front of his mouth.
“Here, take another bite!”
Seeing her so happy, he couldn’t refuse.
He resigned himself to his destiny and let out a deep sigh.
“As you wish, leader.”
“Y-Yay! Thank you!”
She looked entranced by seeing him eating with gusto, and as soon as he swallowed, she presented in front of him the piadina again.
In the end, he finished it when they almost arrived at Valeria.
Mirta looked satisfied by the show and was now in a good mood.
“Should I leave these in the office?”
“Uhm… Maybe we can share some with the people who are still here… wait. Isn’t that Jill?”
A silhouette stood in front of the reception’s candlelight.
He didn’t change in the slightest in those seven years.
He was leaning his back on the wall with a sour look, while on the other side of the room were Karin, who looked annoyed, and a bored Kunon.
Jill noticed Takumi and Mirta’s arrival and rose his head.
“Are you back, Miss?”
“Y-Yes, I am… Err… what are you doing here, Jill?”
“I was waiting for you… even if I was growing tired of it.”
“You could have avoided that last part.”
Standing in the doorway was a plump man wearing luxurious clothes that were totally in bad taste.
He was Geiz Ejistan, Valeria’s director.
“Well, well… Sorry for bothering after you enjoyed the festival, but there’s something really important I’d like to discuss with you, Miss Mirta.”
“Err… I don’t really mind that, but is it about Valeria’s management?”
He squinted his eyes at her question and tittered.
“Yes… I want to talk about the future of our organization.”