She shouts. Words that I cannot understand. Her blue eyes are gazing at me, brimming with suspicion.
For a moment, I am shaken by her reaction.
However, I realize, I must have scared her, suddenly popping out from the marsh vegetation.
And my appearance is not the best, I presume, my clothes being ragged, covered in dirt and even blood.
Still, her reaction speed was amazing. In a single, fluid motion, she managed to grab her sword and rise on her feet, assuming a stance while pointing her blade towards me.
I raise my hands, making sure that she can see my empty palms. This should be a universal gesture right? At least, it shows that I am not holding some weapon.
I put on my best smile, moving slowly towards her.
Again, she shouts something…perhaps she want me to keep distant, and I comply.
She looks shorter than me, with an athletic body. Small nose and full lips, a face that you would call beautiful if not for all the blood and dirt smeared on her pale skin. She’s dressed in some sort of soldier uniform, reinforced with leather armor that hides her shapes.
It’s not the time for me to stand there, gazing at her like a maniac.
I wave my hand, and now I feel like a clumsy teenager again, not just look like one.
Remembering what I found inside the boat, I take out the clothes from my inventory. However, I do not manage to complete this action.
A cold blade is grazing my neck.
The girl is now behind me. Fast! She was almost twenty meters away from me, and yet she closed the distance in a split second, and even managed to get behind me.
She whispers something, her tone now low and intimidating.
This is frustrating. Perhaps she thought that I was reaching for a concealed weapon and attacked me…still, a simple situation that could be cleared in a minute is now seriously threatening me. Language barriers sure are dangerous. Damn it! It should be about time that I get a language skill!
In response to my thought, Navi activates.
[Navi: Record about Language Skills- Grab a book, and learn the old fashioned way! ]
With this, I am sure: Navi is mocking me.
I take a deep breath, and stay still. Maybe the woman will unhand me if she understands that I pose no threat to her.
Her hand does not falter. Not even trembling, she must be used to situations like these. Although she looks the same age as me, it seems she’s used to this kind of situations…
A rustling sound comes from the vegetation behind us. Two men emerge, wearing the same uniform as my captor. A tall, muscular guy and a short, skinny man with unkempt beard.
The short one laughs, while the other speaks to the woman, concerned.
She unhands me, throwing me off my feet towards the two new arrived. I land on my knees.
As I raise my head, again I find myself with a blade resting near my neck. What is this, some kind of greeting here?
The short guy holding the blade smiles gleefully, but his eyes are cold. He’s staring at me, checking if I could pose some kind of danger to the group. God, I must look pitiful here, a lost boy with ragged clothes. But, as he continues his inspection, his expression grows even colder.
He hits me with a kick. I land on my back, holding my nose. I feel blood flowing from it.
The other two are shouting at the man, perhaps protesting for his sudden attack. He hushes them with a gesture, and comes towards me. He presses his foot on my chest, pinning me on the ground. With the tip of his sword, he rips my shirt open.
He waves his hand to the other guy, signaling him to come forward. Pointing at my chest with the tip of his blade, he mutters something to his companion.
The other guy looks puzzled, for a moment. With a deep breath and a shrug of his shoulder, he answers the other man’s remark.
Shaking his head in denial, he kneels besides me.
Without uttering a word, he ties my hands with a rough rope.
Strong. Too strong. I try to resist, but the man only tighten his grip, making my bones creak. He could easily break my hand, just like that.
That strength is not normal.
Out of curiosity, I activate Inquisitive Eye to better ascertain my situation.
Level 40. All three of them. How much bad luck can a single guy have?
The girl is called Emilia, while the short man’s name is Rudy. The one restraining my arms is called Rodrick. These are the only info I can get from my skill…but, damn it, it’s a shitty situation after shitty situation, just give some break here!
Still, resisting or even attacking them will only get me hurt. I stop struggling. Rodrick lifts me without effort, pulling me on my feet. My hands are tied behind my back. When I try to move them, the knot tightens, and the rough rope hurts my skin. No slipping out of this knot, huh?
Behind me, Rudy points his blade at my back, poking me with the tip of his sword to make me walk.
We depart from the grove, threading again in the swampy soil.
Moving in formation, Emilia and Rudy take point position, scouting the terrain and a suitable path. I stand behind them, with Rodrick holding me prisoner.
We walk until the sun sets, avoiding large groups of monsters while Emilia and Rudy swiftly dealt with small groups or isolated ones. Their combat prowess is unbelievable…movements so fast that my eyes cannot even follow them.
In an instant, they just make minced meat of their target, and move on to the next.
They manage against monsters close, or even higher than their level.
Most notably, I do not see them using any kind of magic or skill.
Of course, they could have some kind of passive skill, like speed enhancement or strengthening magic, but my intuition tells me something else.
What I am seeing is just sheer combat prowess.
They are scary.
As daylight is almost gone, we stop on a dry patch of land. Apparently they want to camp there. Rodrick scurries from the spot, treading in the vegetation around us.
He is tying something to the trees. Barely, I can see a thin wire in his hands, and he’s using it to build some kind of perimeter around us. Small bells are suspended on the wires…it’s some kind of alarm tripwire. Simple, but effective. If something runs into the barely visible wires, it will alert the group.
As his comrade completes the tripwire, Rudy ties the rope that binds my hands to a small tree. His companions are kneeling on the ground, thee two of them facing the same directions.
Rudy joins them, and they start chanting strange, hushed words. Are they…praying? I can hear them mutter something…it has rhythm, an they repeat the same sentences a few times, their hands conjoined slightly above their chest. A sung prayer, is it?
Their religious moment goes on for a lot of time. Sunlight is now completely gone, and the Two moons are shining over our heads. Done with their prayers, the group starts rummaging through their backpacks. They take out provisions and blankets, preparing themselves for the night.
Still, they do not even light a campfire. They share with me their frugal dinner, salted meat and stale bread with roasted mushrooms. Eating with my hands tied is difficult.
Out of pity, Emilia tosses me a worn looking blanket for the night.
They sleep in turns, with two on guard duty while one rests. Of course, being a prisoner I am not participating in guard duty, and I can rest a bit, although the rope forces me to uncomfortable positions.
I manage to get a few hours of sleep, but my back hurts from the rough terrain and the bad position. During the night, I thought about cutting my ropes and sneaking away from them. For a moment, I was ready to do it, but then I noticed Rudy. He was staring at me, his hand resting on the pommel of his sword, as if he was expecting me to do something.
And so, I desisted. He would probably cut me down at the slightest hint of my action.
Morning came, and we resumed our march.
We walked for hours, until the sun was high in the sky. Gradually, the terrain changed under our feet.
The swamp gave way to solid ground, covered in pale grass with sharp leaves. An entire field of tree stumps is in front of us, where apparently an entire weald has been mowed down.
We move towards the destroyed woods. On the tree stumps, fresh sap can be seen. Perhaps the trees here have been cut down recently, I surmise.
And, as we advance, I see the reason for that environmental destruction.
A fort is being built.
Crude wooden fences as the perimeter, while behind them a proper, sturdy looking wooden wall is being built.
People wearing the same uniforms as my captors are busy going in and out of the place. Their level roughly the same as the three walking with me. An army garrison, perhaps…or a pioneering outpost?
It seems we still are in Aldora Marsh, as no new notification from Navi pops up. Not even when we enter the fort.
Inside, women and men wearing rags are scurrying around, moving crates and barrels, while other are working on the wall construction.
A small watchtower is being build on the left corner of the square shaped wall, while three completed towers stand tall on the remaining corners. The soil under our feet has been compacted into a hard court.
The fort is big, housing two wooden complete wooden barracks and a third one still under construction. Two round, wide wooden fences can be seen near the complete buildings, while cloth tents are scattered all around a big campfire surrounded by white stones.
Soldiers with harsh-looking faces are standing guard in front of a shabby wooden fence. As we walk near it, they salute our group. Perhaps my captors are high-ranked people?
A chilling view interrupts my train of thoughts. Inside the fence, I can see people. Their bodies look malnourished, barely covered by torn rags of crude cloth. Women and man, and children, even. Around their neck, a thick, dark metal collar.
I shudder when I see the information about them with my skill.
All of them are slaves. As I look around, I notice that all the workers here, beside the soldiers, are slaves, wearing the same metal collar as they stroll around with their bare feet.
Gaunt bodies and empty stare. In the distance, I can see some soldiers picking on a group of slaves. They are shouting at them, while the dirt-ragged men lie on the ground, their hands risen up to shield their face as they stutter conceited words, perhaps asking for mercy. They only receive laughter and abuse.
I sigh, deeply. Biting my lips, I look away and walk forward. One simple thought rings in my head. I hope to not become like them.
The group leads me to a near wooden barrack. This one is well built, with four soldiers patrolling around the building.
Rudy shouts something at one of them, which in turn salutes and strolls away, entering the building.
After a minute, he comes out.
Rudy nods, and gestures his comrades to follow him, as he goes toward the building.
The wooden door makes a creaking sound as he opens it.
Inside, the dim light from wall-mounted torches makes weird shadows dance. There are no windows, and the air inside is heavy, smelling of sweat and smoke.
A blonde man sits in front of an improvised desk, focused on a huge scroll depicted with weird symbols. As I am forced to walk towards him, I can clearly see the scroll. It’s a map, with low details and many blank spaces.
Judging from his appearance, he must be some sort of high ranking official here.
The man sitting at the desk raises his head, staring right at me. Grey eyes under furry eyebrows that give him an intense expression. His thin lips are furrowing, and a red scar runs on his left cheek. Truly, a warrior looking guy. His metal armor shines red under the torchlight.
Standing up, he slowly walks toward me. My captors kneel in front of him, forcing me to do the same by pushing my head down.
The man crosses his arms . I can feel his piercing gaze, on my face.
He chuckles, and starts talking to Rudy.
With his head still bowed down, Rudy starts talking with his superior. For a long time.
Of course, none of the words that he’s saying makes sense to me.
The man in the armor listens silently, slightly nodding from time to time. I repeatedly used my Inquisitive Eye on him, but the skill failed until I gave up. To resist it so many times…his level must be incredibly high…
With a gesture, he dismisses his three subordinates.
Now, only the two of us stand in the room.
He asks me something, and shakes his head in disappointment as I do not answer.
He kneels in front of me, his head on the same level as mine. Looking straight in my eyes.
With his hand, he points at himself.
<<Wolve>> he repeats a few times. It must be his name.
Now he points at me.
<<Roshal>> I mutter. My voice sounds tired, exhausted and weak. I am so fed up by the recent events.
With a smile on his face, he repeats my name.
He rises on his feet, and walks behind me. I can hear the sound of metal sliding. With a single gesture, he cuts the ropes that bind my wrists.
Blood starts flowing correctly again in my hands, without the tight ropes to constrict my skin and veins. I massage my wrists, one after the other, in the attempt to relieve the pain.
I bow, deeply.
He helps me get up on my feet, and even offer me water from a small jar.
I drink directly from the jar, gulping the fresh liquid down.
Using my left hand to dry my chin, I hand the jar back to him.
I try my best to smile. He’s showing some kindness, unexpectedly. I mean, thinking about my situation, it’s not so strange that I ended up as a prisoner.
They clearly are a military group, and I just strolled into their field of operation. And so, the three that I encountered in the swamp just arrested a suspicious looking boy and brought him to their superior.
It happened a lot even in my world, I think.
But still, I can’t shake off this sense of uneasiness that holds me. Perhaps the simple fact of me being unable to communicate with them, or the clashing morality, as here they are keeping and exploiting slaves without even batting an eye.
Still, it seems I will not be treated as a prisoner anymore.
Wolve himself leads me out of his office, leaving me with two young soldiers. He tells something at them before parting from us.
With a smile, the two invite me to follow them.
We walk into another wooden building. The interior is spartan looking, with crude bunk-beds arranged with uncomfortable-looking, hay stuffed mattresses. These must be the soldier barracks.
One of the young soldiers hands me a change of clothes. Of course, it’s not the same kind of uniform that they are wearing, but civilian clothes of shabby quality. Still better than my own clothes tho.
As they hand me the clothes, one of them leads me to a corner of the room, hidden by a dark curtain. Behind it, a wooden bathing tub and a hole in the floor used as a latrine.
The place smells a bit. But…I cannot expect my world’s hygiene standards here. And it’s still way better than relieving myself in the swamp, that’s for sure.
As the two soldiers wait patiently outside, I have the leisure to take a bath, albeit with cold water.
To my surprise, I find a piece of soap and towels, lying on a small wooden stool beside the tub.
After cleaning myself, I put on the borrowed clothes.
Rough, cloth shirt with a yellow-gray color, and a pair of dark trousers that make my skin itch when I put them on. Even a pair of worn shoes, that feel a bit tight when I put them on.
Heading out of the bathroom, I thank them with my best smile and a nod.
After that, they lead me to the tents. They show me one of the tent, pointing towers one of the sleeping bags that lie on the floor.
It’s a bit shabby looking, but at least I will manage to get proper rest here.
The two part ways from me. I stay in the tent, sitting on the sleeping bag while musing over my thoughts.
It does not last long, however. Two small things blitz inside the tent, talking so quickly that they almost make my head dizzy.
Two small children, boys that look like ten or eleven years old.
They are a bit taken back when they realize I cannot understand them, but still, they laugh and pull my hand.
Abiding by their will, I let myself to be taken out again. More children are outside, playing some kind of tag game.
I join them, for a bit.
Someone is looking at us.
In the distance, Emilia is smiling, seeing me laugh with the children. This simple thought makes my heart race for a moment.
I spent the entire day like this. However, it’s not like the soldiers are completely oblivious of me. Someone is always keeping tabs, from a distance. To them, I am a stranger, so it’s natural to show some kind of suspicion, or at least to be careful.
Still, I intend no ill will, although their treatment of the slaves bothers me. I know what I can do here, and I definitely am in no position to oppose them or help the slaves. And so, feeling a bit disappointed by myself, I simply look the other way.
Getting involved will only worsen my situation, without being of any help to the slaves.
Night-time came, and I had dinner with the soldiers. Some kind of stew, served in hollowed, stale loafs of bread. All of us sitting around the big campfire, the flames dancing under the moonlight. Only Wolve and some soldiers who are on guard duty do not take part in the collective dinner.
Later, some of the soldiers take the pot with the stew towards the slave’s fence.
Forced to form a line, they hold a small, wooden cup in their hands. A spoonful of soup is given to each slave, no difference between man or child, old or young. With a humble look on their face, they wait and leave after receiving their meal. Without uttering a sound.
Meanwhile the soldiers are joined in a collective prayer. Even Wolve comes out of his barracks this time, and it seems he himself is leading the religious chant. Every one of his subordinates repeat his words, together in a single voice.
I admit, it looks suggestive…prayers under the moonlight, with the dancing flames from the campfire making strange reflections all around the place.
After the prayer, a bell is rung, and the soldiers retire themselves to their barracks.
I too move towards my tent. It seems this place is the civilian encampment. Not slaves, but normal people, perhaps wives or relatives that accompanied the soldiers here.
Besides my tent, a soldier stands guard. It seems they still intend to watch me closely…
Without minding too much, I enter the tent and get my first, proper night of sleep in this new world.
At dawn, a bell rings in the air, waking me up. I stroll outside the tent, greeting the soldier with a wave of my hand. Did he stand his guard all night?
He waves his hand lightly at me, and leaves, yawning.
Without anything to do, I simply stroll around the camp. My exploration lasts only a while though.
I run into Emilia and her group. She seems flustered a bit, perhaps irritated.
Rudy makes a wry smile and says something. Is he teasing her.
She comes towards me and invites me to follow her.
Without all the weariness and bloodstains, she truly is beautiful.
We end up in a small corner of the base, shadowed by a hanging cloth. Wooden stools and a crate are under the cloth, and it looks like some sort of recreation area for the soldiers off duty.
Other groups of people are around us, it seems they are playing some sort of game with dice.
Emilia invites me to sit, in front of her.
She takes out a small pouch, emptying it on the crate. Small, smooth stones come out of the pouch. She takes one in her fingers, and shows it to me. A symbol is carved on the stone.
She hands me the stones and a small slate of clay with a wooden stick.
Pointing herself, she states her name.
<<Emilia>>. Her voice sounds a bit…bored.
Doing the same, I state my name.
She nods, and takes the stones from me. Every stone is carved with a different symbol. She arranges three of them, placing them so that I can see the symbols on their surface.
Pointing at the three stones with her slender finger, she repeats her name.
So, it looks like the symbols are some sort of alphabet. She’s teaching me their language.
Using the wooden stick, she writes the symbol on the clay, one by one. For each symbol, she speaks out loud the phoneme that each of them encodes.
<<E-mil-ia>> she says, talking slowly.
By brushing the stick on the clay surface, she cancels the symbols and hand me the slate again.
Again, I mimic her.
We spend the entire day like this, stopping only for lunch.
She teaches me several words, using drawings near the symbol to let me know what each word means. Her drawings are…bad.
It’s kind of cute, though.
I spent days with them, between Emilia’s lessons and the occasional visit from Wolve. Life inside the camp is ruled by practice and prayer for the soldiers, while all work is left to the slaves.
A ringing bell signals the time, at dawn, noon, midday and sunset. Often I found myself observing the soldiers practice.
Their movements always amaze me, and, much to my surprise, none of them looks like he’s using some kind of skills or magic. Not even when some injured soldier is being treated, they just use bandages and surgical practice, although a bit rudimentary.
Having nothing to do, I focus on learning the language, while doing tentative conversations with the soldiers. I even try to speak with the slaves, but they just lower their head and walk away from me. Their condition still troubles me a lot.
As I stroll on the camp, I take some food with me and leave it for the slaves to find. Of course, it’s just a self serving act, to quell my conscience a bit.
Rudy follows my every movement, keeping eyes on me. It seems he’s been ordered to follow me around as much as he can.
Another pair of eyes, however, follows me around. At first, I did not notice it. But as the days went on, I often saw a little brat, a blond slave girl.
I even approached her one time, but a woman, perhaps her mother, took her away apologizing to me with her head lowered. Perhaps she thought the little girl bothered me?
After a week, I made some progress in learning the new language.
I can write the symbols, I even memorized some of them. Expressing myself with only short, basic sentences, and helping me with gestures, I can effectively communicate now.
Of course, complicated sentences are still outside of my ability, but at least I can answer to greetings, thank someone or ask for food. Small phrases, the ones that a baby would learn.
Still, language barriers sure are bothersome.