Unfortunately, a few of the mines in Colchis have suffered the loss of slaves, lately. Not to worry! It's market day! A chance for mine owners and farm owners alike to view new, potential workers in large quantities. People mingle through the square, looking at the men and women for sale. Even if some of these slaves look a little familiar, that's hardly shocking. Seen one worker, you've seen them all, right? And for those who just love a spectacle, there's still plenty to see and do. Food vendors have set up stalls to feed the hungry crowds and, of course, other merchants have followed to pawn their wares, lending the day a rather festival type feel.
Vangelis had finished his stint in the current war effort to the North. He and his brethren had fought back the hordes and peace had settled in those lands, meaning that he had been able to return home a few weeks ago. Now, he had one final duty to see to before he could return for good - at least for a significant enough period to perform his tasks as Crown Prince - before he was due to set sail for Taengea and weaponry discussions with Prince Zacharias. But first, he was headed back North to deliver the last piece of cargo and supplies before the autumn monsoon season made the waters near impassable between the Kirakles islands and the Northern Lands. He would leave them there with Lord Lazaros and return home in time to welcome the dawning of the month of Posidaios. He hoped.
It had been like this for the last six months. Complex and difficult sea voyages, taken at unsafe speeds in order to allow Vangelis to be near everywhere at once. But while it was trying in its own way to ensure that all tasks were completed within the appropriate deadlines - before they became a serious issue - he knew that it was worth it. That his chaotic schedule meant success in his father's and his own efforts in the northern wars. The fact that he was able to leave his fellow men so often and so frequently was only a sign of how short and unobtrusive the skirmishes were becoming; how easily defeated they were before the men fled back to their tribes. Back in his younger years, Vangelis had had to spend years fighting to the glory of Ares against a single well stocked and supplied foe. Now they were small irritations; vanguards that held no backup and rebels that had lost their cause. Vangelis was too much of a perfectionist and an authoritarian where his men and military efforts were concerned so he couldn't leave them when battles ensued and leadership was needed. But neither could he justify sitting around on the continent, waiting for an attack that might not come instead of utilising his time elsewhere.
Even if it did mean an impossible schedule and more time on a ship than on land.
This time, on the crown prince's trip to the north, Vangelis was at least managing to perform a princely task along the way; utilising an efficiency that the General enjoyed.
The route he needed to take from Megaris to the encampment across the sea passed by Dolomesa. And rather than send a messenger regarding several issues that had been raised with the Colchian treasury - a messenger that would have taken the same time that he did to make the journey - Vangelis had thought it wiser to suffer a few days to his schedule and (hopefully) correct the problem itself while on route; as opposed to simply offering the Lady Imeeya and her steward Chares the identification of the problem and then beginning the drawn out problem of working out the solution via letter.
Of course, the issue might have been too large to be solved in merely a matter of days - in which case, Vangelis had faith in his cousin’s dedication and her steward's experience in seeing to the problem in his absence, but at least he could help give the matter a kick start.
The port of Dolomesa was small for the number of people that seemed to occupy it. This particular area of the Kirakles Isles was neither pretty nor majestic. There was no green and it offered nothing of natural fragrance. Instead it was stony in colour palette, dusty in the air and smelt of too many humans in too small a space. Such a presence was to be expected. Dolomesa had one of the largest, if not the largest slave populations in Colchis and, while it might not have been the jewel in the Kirakles crown, it was certainly the gold that paid for those jewels. A significant and strategic area of the kingdom, Vangelis had visited the place on numerous occasions growing up and was no unfamiliar with the streets and market area, immediately leading off from the dockside.
He scanned the area noting that he had (quiet deliberately) arrived on Market Day. Though it was a very specific market day - held not for the trading of food and materials, but that of stock. Human stock. The slave markets of Dolomesa were large, impressive and entirely vital to the mining industry in the rocks beneath their feet. Instead of markets in the capitol where stewards and housekeepers would barter for a single slave with high end skills, this market was for groups and units of workers. The purchasers didn't need to know how skilled or talented each piece of property was for they would not be performing tasks that required such intelligence. They would be digging, mining and breaking rocks. The point of interest in sales such as these was how many slaves, how young they were (in order to get the longest amount of use out of them) and what gender they were (males always sold for a higher price than the women). Their names and individual characteristics were of no moment. Only volume and type and then the ratio of their cost.
Finding the building he was looking for, Vangelis sent a messenger to the House of Drakos before making his way across the crowded square.
Despite wearing his scarf and hood over his head in order to disguise his identity and prevent undue attention, Vangelis' height, breadth, stride and the two bodyguards that followed him caused people to skitter out of his way, the general populace parting like the sea on opposite sides. No-one commented on his name or shouted his identity, so he took them to assume he was simply a powerful man that needed his space over the crown prince of the kingdom.
Even with his hood up, however, Vangelis was careful in his gaze. He noted the slaves kept in bulk and chained together. He observed the slave traders; businessmen, merchants, pirates... they were all here. Slave Day in Dolomesa was the biggest opportunity for selling cargo for anyone in the slavery business. It happened once every three weeks and it was a must for most sailors and traders. Not to mention the slave owners and mine workers who would be buying the cargo.
Reaching the building he had been aiming for, Vangelis stepped inside, ducking beneath a low door frame and finding himself in a darkened room, which might not have been so dingy if it hadn't been full to bursting with people. Their frames, crammed in together blocked any windows, or even the light from the open doorway from streaming in. Everyone instead was more interested in pushing towards the front desk, which looked like a tavern bar, behind with multiple young men in clean chitons but clay covered hands worked as quickly as they could. Every so often a slave came forwards to take marked clay tablets from each of the scribes to be taken into the back to be baked and sealed. The records finalised.
This office was the booking room. It was where the slave traders and purchasers went to register their sales and had them finalised with the Provincial Treasury. They registered the slaves they had purchased and who from; the number, the price and everything. That then translated into a tax bill at the end of each financial year. The failure to complete the paperwork - or clay work - at the end of each auction was to face a severe fine. And Slave Day was, Vangelis guessed, always incredibly manic.
Not only was the room filled with people, it was filled with noise... the merchants between himself and the main desk all seemed to be yelling and shouting at once, attempting to give their details to one - or any - of the scribes as quickly as they could, in order to return to the auction faster. With all the shouts and grumbles thickening the air, there was no way that Vangelis would have been able to be heard over the din, unless raising his voice to its fullest and pulling rank on them all. Effectively destroying any subtlety he had been holding onto this visit.
Luckily, however, Chares was a man of get efficiency and was already overseeing the day's affairs and legislative work. The man held a similar code of honour to Vangelis in that, a job well done was usually a job done by one's self. Having sent a messenger to the House of Drakos to inform the Lady Imeeya that he had docked and where he could be found, Vangelis found that he held little surprise that Chares had decided to be in attendance hours prior to the arranged meeting.
Whilst others in the market place; commoners who had never laid eyes on royalty before, might not have recognised Vangelis of Kotas when he stood in their presence, the Steward Lord Chares had met Vangelis on several occasions and, as such, was quick to react to his presence, standing in the doorway of his Auction Office.
"Your-" Chares began but nearly bit off his own tongue when Vangelis offered a stern expression of reproach in return. He needed this trip to Dolomesa to be a short one. Not a week long tirade of the richest merchant families attempting to arrange dinners and sway favour with the ruling House. Chares said no more, in favour of discretion, and motioned towards the back of the office.
Skirting his way carefully around the hankering crowd of angry merchants, it took Vangelis several moments to work his way to a back door that Chares opened from the opposing side. A quick exit and a short walk down a back corridor and Vangelis was presented into a room that looked like a small private study and was clearly used by either the Auctioneer or perhaps a local Dock Master.
"You are earlier than expected, Your Highness..." Chares finally spoke, once Vangelis was inside the room and the door shut behind him. His guardsmen had split - one on the outside and one within the room. "I did not instruct the Lady Imeeya to be with us until noon." The man's tone was apologetic and concerned but Vangelis raised a hand that halted such uncertainty.
"I surmised as much. We had fair winds the entire way and so I sent a messenger to the Drakos household to explain my early approach. I'm sure the Lady Imeeya will be with us imminently and I have no issues waiting upon her arrival."
Moving to inspect a large piece of parchment that had been pinned to the wall with small daggers and offered a large timetable of sorts, Vangelis was content to decline the wine that Chares moved to offer but accepted the seat in the high-backed chair set behind the desk. Uncertain how to proceed, Chares stayed on his feet, his hands clasped respectfully behind his back and his expression clouded in thought.
Vangelis had not informed Chares, nor Imeeya of his concerns or why he was arriving - for such information was privileged and he did not trust it solely to a bird - only that he was trespassing upon them on this particular Slave Day. He had no desire to make Chares uncomfortable and given that he and Imeeya were in charge of the financial exchanges and records of the province it was likely they already knew why he was here. But he believed in efficiency over everything else and so he would not break the silence and speak upon the subject until the Lady was in attendance also...
The rumors about slaves being stolen from the mines and then resold were rampant. Rampant and mostly reduced to whispered grumblings behind the hands of the owners of slaves. To the people who sold them, it wasn’t spoken of at all. Instead, if the slaves being offloaded looked in anyway familiar, or had been there repeatedly enough that some of the slave traders knew them by name...well that was just a coincidence. It didn’t matter. And for the slaves themselves, who was to say it wasn’t a nice break from the hell that was the mines? After all, perhaps this time they might be sold somewhere else. To a farm, for example? One could hope.
Lukos stood near the center of the market, high on a raised platform. He leaned back against a railing, watching as a huge group of slaves was shuffled up the stairs, their chains clinking, their heads ducked down, their shoulders slumped, onto the same platform. Below, a crowd had already gathered, looking to see what kind of stock there was and how worth their time it might be.
When he’d first acquired this particular round of slaves, they’d been nothing but skin and bone, worked nearly to death in the mines. It was such a shame, really. They’d been perfectly healthy when he picked them up from that nowhere fishing village the first time. Now he had them back and he’d spent the last month fattening them back up, had his crew scrub the lot of them down on the deck of his ship, outfitted them in the rough spun clothes they wore now. In his estimation, they were practically brand new. The only thing was that some of them were still healing from minor wounds and cuts that they’d gotten while in the mines.
If anyone bothered to look, they’d see that the hands of all these men were incredibly rough and calloused; a clear indication that these were from working stock. Some of them might even have been branded or tattooed, proof that they had been former slaves. What a shame. Ah well. They were here now.
He glanced down the line at Levi, bringing up the rear of the slaves. Arktos was back at the ship, arguing with the harbormaster about port fees, while a few of the crew were here and there, keeping their ears to the ground. Lukos watched as a hooded man and his obvious bodyguards wandered through the square on their way to the tax area. His gaze stayed on the man for as long as he was visible before he turned back his attention to what he was doing.
“No! Stand here, not there,” he snapped to a slave that looked rather addled by the heat. “Mongrel cur,” he muttered to Levi as the man made it to the top of the platform. “Highest price,” Lukos said to him. “I want double what they’re worth if we can.”
The slave market was normally a busy day in Dolomesa. The streets filled with many unpleasant sights, sounds, and smells as human chattel was transported, inspected and sold en masse to the buyers eager for fresh new muscle to put to work building or carrying or mining. While there might be the occasional sale on the side of house slaves or breeding stock, the vast majority of the sales in Dolomesa were laborers Large groups of strong men were sold to the highest bidder who would squeeze every ounce of labor they could from these people, then return the next market day to replace those who had expired. While this type of work usually incurred a high turnover of workforce, lately those numbers had been much higher than normal.
Imeeya had been staring at the books for the entire week, going over and over the numbers trying to figure out what might have been happening. There had been no reports of mining accidents, one of the major causes of slave mortality. Perhaps there was someone who had been pushing their workforce smarter than was prudent, but that would normally cause a resulting increase in production of the precious metals even if they had been failing to report the deaths. If anything, there had been a decrease in production due to this inexplicable lack of workers. Imeeya had been scouring through the records looking for any indication of what could be causing this issue. It was as if slaves had just been up and disappearing. If they had been anywhere but an island completely surrounded by water, she might have suspected they were having a problem with runaways, but where could they run?
Imeeya had been in the process of trying to puzzle out what had been happening when she had received word that her cousin Vangelis would be visiting on business on the way back from fighting in the north. Vangelis wasn’t normally one to drop in for a visit without a good reason, and given that he had planned the visit to coincide with the slave market, Imeeya suspected that he must have seen the same discrepancies with the numbers of slaves who had been sold through Dolomesa recently. While she knew that Vangelis only meant to help her sort out the situation, she resented the implication that she couldn’t figure out the problem on her own.
The day of the market, Imeeya had sent Chares to do his usual job of overseeing the sale records of the slave market. Normally, she wouldn’t venture down to the market at all on such a day. She was always told that she shouldn’t expose herself to rough crowds that ventured out during the slave market, and normally Imeeya was content to comply. While normally being told that she shouldn’t do something would be a good way to get Imeeya to do something, Imeeya was glad for the excuse not to have to deal with the chaos and unpleasant sights that would be found in the market on that day. Imeeya herself stayed back, pouring through the records yet again, hoping that she would be able to find something to explain the discrepancies without having to rely on Vangelis’s help. She had until noon before he would arrive in the market to meet with her and Chares, or so she thought.
Imeeya was sitting at her desk, stacks of clay tablets in front of her when she was interrupted by a knock on the doorframe, and an announcement that Vangelis had already arrived in Dolomesa, over an hour earlier than had been expected. Imeeya paid the messenger a few small coins and then headed towards her own chambers in a flurry of activity. She hadn’t even yet had time to make herself presentable for the prince’s arrival. Imeeya quickly slipped on one of her finer silk chitons, a light blue piece embroidered in a deep blue pattern around the hem and sleeves. She almost pulled on an intricate necklace then stopped, considering that it may not be the appropriate place to display her wealth, and instead swapped it for a simpler necklace. Imeeya quickly slipped on her sandals and raced out the door, slowing to a more normal pace as she neared the marketplace. She didn’t want to appear as if she had been rushing. It would not do to arrive at such a meeting out of breath.
Imeeya walked slowly for the last few blocks, smoothing her hair back into place, and considering how she would present the situation to Vangelis, assuming that it was even the situation he was here to talk to her about. No, she’d let him speak first, she decided as she walked. No need to alert him to another potential problem if he didn’t already know about it. Besides, she was sure she’d be able to get to the bottom of the issue without his help.
As Imeeya finally reached the building where she knew Chares did his business within the market. Instead of fighting through the crowds busy attempting to register the purchases and sales of slaves, Imeeya was admitted through a side door by a guard who recognized her. She quickly headed to an office that she knew Chares would often use when he needed to conduct more private business. It was a room that was shared by a number of people depending on the day and what business needed to be conducted at the market, so Imeeya knocked sharply at the door before entering, though she did not wait to hear a reply.
Luckily, waiting within the office was Chares as well as Prince Vangelis, sitting behind the desk.”I apologize for the wait, Your Highness.” The formal greeting felt weird as an address for Vangelis. The death of her father at a young age had meant she grew up closer than normal to her mother’s family. Yet at a formal meeting in front of another person, it’s what would have been expected, and Imeeya was not one to drop formalities. ”I was under the impression that you were expected to arrive at noon.” While Imeeya wasn’t one to call someone out directly, her tone did make it clear that she wanted it to be known that it was Vangelis’s earliness and not her own tardiness that had made for his wait. ”I was informed that you had a matter of importance for us to discuss, that needed to be addressed in person. Imeeya stated, waiting for Vangelis to confirm the statement and clarify his reason for the visit.
Vangelis looked up at the knock upon the door and offered a twitch to the corner of his mouth that, to those who knew him, would be easily recognisable as a soft smile of recognition, when the Lady Imeeya entered the chamber. He noticed with approval that the steward Chares seemed to straighten a little in his cousin's presence - a sign that he was conscious of his appearance and presentation before a woman of her stature and that he respected her, her gender never causing a problem in his adherence to her superiority.
It was a hard role to play - steward to a female baroness. Especially one who had been given her title through bloodline rather than having been married to a male counterpart who had since left this world. Many a man, with many examples to prove their feelings potentially valid, would have shied from treating the woman as a real baroness and attempt to run the barony in their own manner. Chares was one of those rare men who seemed to fit his role perfectly.
When Imeeya offered an explanation for her apparent tardiness to the meeting, Vangelis raised and waved a hand nonchalantly. Whilst his cousin was speaking in formal tones and words - as was appropriate when there was someone else present in the room - Vangelis was of higher rank. Which meant that he could address her with a little more familiarity without damaging her reputation. In fact, being spoken to by someone of immediate royal bloodline in a casual manner could even serve to strengthen someone's role, despite the other way around being insulting.
"It's of no moment, cousin." He told her with a dismissive tone. "The winds were stronger and the seas calmer than I had anticipated. The fault was mine."
Having stood up upon Imeeya's entrance in a sign of respect for her gender, Vangelis now took the opportunity to wander and pace as he was prone to do sometimes in thought. He saw no reason to continue pleasantries and greetings beyond such a point so, to him, it was time to proceed with business. Not because Imeeya's arrival had delay them - he believed what he said of it being his own estimations that were at fault - but due to his own nature of being an efficient and brisk sort of person.
"The Treasury have identified financial inconsistencies in the slave trade in Dolomesa." He began, as he walked around the desk with a slow and purposeful stride, his pacing taking him into the main belly of the room. "I do not insult your intelligence by supposing that either of you have no knowledge of this. What have you discovered so far, as to an explanation for this?"
Imeeya took the opportunity to take a seat as Vangelis began walking around the room. She took one of the chairs in front of the desk, leaving the chair behind the desk for Vangelis if he wanted to return to a seat while they were talking. As the question was asked, Chares leaned forward as if he was going to answer, but Imeeya noted with approval that he turned to look at her for an answer before speaking up himself.
Imeeya paused for a moment, sorting through the information that had been running through her head for the last several days, making sure that her thoughts on the topic were coherent, instead of the swirling mess that they had been that morning. “As far as I can tell, the problem is that the slaves are disappearing into thin air.” Imeeya answered, explaining the problem with a hint of jocularity at the outlandish claim fighting with the frustration at what had turned into an impossible to explain discrepancy with the records.
Imeeya paused and took a breath before continuing. “Setting aside any levity, as far as the records are concerned, slaves seem to be vanishing from the mines in which they are working.” Imeeya’s tone turned more serious as she delved into what she had discovered from the records. “It could be as simple a matter as deaths not being reported, though I’ve seen nothing that indicates that there would be any kind of incentive for such misreporting.” Imeeya’s thoughts and words picked up speed as she explained the reasoning behind her conclusions. ”It’s not confined to just one or a few owners. If there was anywhere for them to run, I’d suspect we have a problem with runaways, but unless they have somehow learned to run on water...or if there’s someone helping them.”
Imeeya stopped talking abruptly as the facts all clicked into place. That was a thought that hadn’t yet occurred to Imeeya, that they might be getting some kind of outside help. But who would be willing to do such a thing, and on such a scale? She looked up to Vangelis to see if he had followed her reasoning and if he could confirm the merit of her ideas.
Pacing was something that helped Vangelis think, but he wasn't the kind of person to stomp in heavy and demanding strides at a quick pace around the room - as if to try and make his mind work faster through the propulsion of his legs. Some people walked out a staccato pace in order to get to ideas faster but for Vangelis it was more a subconscious and slow meander as his feet started to walk while his mind was otherwise occupied.
He listened to Imeeya's thought process, to the implied steps that they had taken in order to what out what had gone wrong and Vangelis was pleased to note that she - or Chares through her - had worked through the problem logically. Was there actually a loss of slaves or just poor administration on the numbers? Were purchases and sales being appropriately recorded? Was slave death being appropriately handled - or even noticed - as some lower managers might not wish to report faults or cave ins from mistakes and instead just hide them, along with any deaths they had caused. Was production being affected and, if not, why? Were sales going up or down?
These were all economical questions, factors and clues that needed to be considered at any one point before the conclusion was drawn regarding what possible answers were left.
Imeeya was speaking through them and Vangelis watched her and caught her eye when she suddenly drew to a quiet pause in her verbalised thoughts, the conclusion coming to her, as it had to him. Vangelis, obviously, had not been necessarily aware of the answer to all of the questions that needed to be checked, but he had was experienced to know that if the answers had been as Imeeya was now confirming, another potential conclusion could be drawn.
"They're being stolen." Vangelis confirmed, his deep baritone voice low in the quiet room as the noise and havoc of outside was barely a mumble around the walls.
Moving now with more purpose than before, Vangelis headed back around the desk and, instead of taking a seat, set his hands on the surface of the table and braced one of his feet back.
"We need to double check everything that could be without criminal activity, but if the results are the same as you found, I agree with you. Large groups of slaves are being stolen and then resold to the highest bidder; increasing your slave sales without adding the number of slaves currently owned by the traders here in Dolomesa." He then proceeded to snatch up a piece of parchment and some ink and wrote out each of the questions he had previously only thought. "These are the questions we need clear answers to, including evidential backing." He slid the paper towards his cousin. "Once they've been established and the answer is still as we suspect, you'll be able to request additional aid for any plan you put together to address the criminal element in your province."
Pushing himself back up to full height, Vangelis placed the stylus he had used back in a helpfully located pot on the desk top and then dusted the tips of his fingers on the sides of his pants. He offered Imeeya a rare nod of approval.
"You seem to have done everything right so far, Lady Imeeya." He told her, using her formal title so that she would know that he was addressing her work with a critical eye rather than that of family. "You just need to ensure the evidence is in order before the Treasury will gift you the funds to help handle the problem." He glanced at the list on the table.
"If you need anything I shall be in port for the night and after that communication is to be carried on with my brother Prince Zanon as I shall be in the North." He told the both of them, but more the steward Chares this time as he would be the one in charge of communications under Imeeya's orders. "We look forward to your reports."
And with that, and a polite bow to his cousin, Vangelis stepped around the two of them and headed back out the door he had come.
“Hurry up, Ai!” The brunette cried as she raced down the hall, nearly colliding with a servant when she went to turn a corner. After steadying them and engaging in a war of apologies, Essa gathered the skirt of her pearl colored garment, the other hand wrapped around her epiblema of the same color, only more cream in coloring, and continued her pace, squealing in delight when Aikaterine grabs hold of her suddenly, linking her arm through Essa’s. Together the two girls raced out of the manor, their laughter echoing. Essa, who never treated Aikaterine as a slave but as a sister and best friend, felt beyond lucky to have Aikaterine in her life. With her mother and sister always so busy, it could be very, very lonely, but it wasn’t so bad if she had the golden haired girl by her side. Today, of course, was one of those lonely days.
Some time after Imeeya left, lonesome Essa wandered into her sister’s office in the hopes of spending some time with Imeeya, though Essa was sure the time spent would be her sitting in the corner while Essa worked, both girls silent. Not that Essa minded that outcome at all. But much to Essa’s sadness, Imeeya wasn’t home. Well, what was she to do now? “Would you like to take a walk outside, my lady?” Aikaterine had offered, ignoring Essa’s annoyed look. The Drakos girl had asked Aikaterine not to call her “my lady” many times before, but no matter how many times she was told, Aikaterine woud never call Essa by name lest they were in private. It wasn’t proper, Aikaterine had argued, though Essa couldn’t see why not. They were friends, weren’t they? What did status and titles have to seperate them? Aikaterine would fondly call Essa naive before the conversation was dropped. “Hm, a walk does seem nice.” Essa had answered, smiling at the pretty blonde girl before they both went to fetch their shawls and sandols.
So the girls walked, talking about everything important and everything not so important. Eventually their walk would take them to the slave market, a part of Dolomesa Essa has never been to and sometime around their walking through the market, Essa loses Aikaterine. How? Well Essa isn’t entirely sure herself, one moment she was there, the next there was a wave of people and her maidservant, who had paused to look at something Essa didn’t catch, disappeared. So her walk quickly turned into looking for her maid and friend.
While searching, her shoulder is knocked into, the force causing her to fall into someone’s sweaty back. “I’m sorry!” The brunette apologizes, straightening herself as the man she bumped into turns around, though Essa’s eyes are on the one male who knocked her shoulder and kept walking without looking back. Well, that was rude! “Are you alright?” She asks the gentleman, smiling softly. “Forgive me, I didn’t mean to, I was just walking when--” She stops short when the man holds up a hand and smiles. “All is forgiven, don’t you worry none.”
Thinking the conversation over, Essa turns around and begins to keep searching when the back of her epiblema is yanked with enough force that Essa yelps. She turns and it’s the man from before, the one she knocked into.
He’s short and round with beady eyes, and in his sweaty hands was her shawl, which had managed to fall off in her efforts to turn around. “What’s a pretty little thing like you doing ‘ere?” Why was he looking at her like that? Flustered that she had been grabbed by a stranger, Essa stares at him with wide eyes. “Are you lost?” He continues, smiling as though he’s caught Essa in a lie when she shakes her head. She’s never been grabbed so roughly before in her life! And never, not once, has a man ever stared at her like this one was. “No, I’m not lost.” She mewls before holding out a hand. “I have to go now. My shawl, please.” He looks down at the shawl then at her before stepping close to Essa, too close, and moves in a way that suggests he means to place it upon her himself. Disgusted, Essa steps away so fast she nearly trips over her own feet, eyes searching for Aikaterine when her wrist is grabbed. “Don't you want your shawl back?” His breath is rancid and his grip is like iron. She tugs. “Unhand me! I’m expected somewhere, I can’t be late!” She lied. By the way his grip tightened, she knew he knew. Aikaterine, where are you!?
This was something he had done a few times since he had joined Lukos' crew. At first, he had only thought of using them to make it to the next port so that he could go on his way, find Hesiod and Agrippa (if by chance they had lived), and gather a new crew and ship. But the longer he was aboard the Aceton, the more content he was with the atmosphere. He didn't shy from the slave runs simply because he and the captain seemed to think in the very same realm of thought. Slaving was a way of life for pirates. It yielded the most drachmae, no matter what anyone told you.
And if you found a pretty one? One that drew the eye? They sold for even more. One could make a pretty penny simply selling a single slave girl to a brothel if she looked the part. Whether they had the skill or not? That wasn't the slaver's concern. He had sold more girls that he may have been proud of if his heart wasn't dead and cold. Conditioning that he had worked himself into despite his faith since the murder of Naos on Judean soil. He really didn't care what happened to the people he sold. The only individuals he had let into his life had been his first mate and the pirate witch that had inhabited his ship like a spectre ready to strike at any moment.
Docked in Colchis, Levi felt no pity for the first mate who was left behind to negotiate. That had been Hesiod's job too. He wouldn't even touch it with a spear for worry that he might murder the harbor master out of frustration. Levi did not negotiate.
So it was good that Lukos told him flat out that he wanted the highest price for the slaves. Because Lukos knew by now that Levi did not haggle or yield and that he could browbeat any buyer into paying what he wanted and nothing less for the product they sold. Shoving the lagging slave back into position with a sharp hand, he ignored the gasp and slight whimper of fear from one of the slave women close by. A critical eye glanced down the row and an eyebrow lifted in silent question.
She looked back ahead and Levi completely ignored her. "Of course," Levi said shortly, trailing the length of the platform to look down into the crowd. There was chattering and murmuring as people deliberated about the group of slaves. This was Lukos' sale to begin. Levi would simply assist when Lukos got caught up. He kept his eyes on the crowd and the people milling about below, his jaw set.
Having settled his business with his cousin Imeeya within the inner chambers of the slave market offices, Vangelis headed back down the main corridor in the private quarters of the building and out the way he had come, avoiding the large mass of people attempting to reach the registration desk to finalise their sales as quickly as possible. Skirting the edge of the crowd and finding his personal guards waiting for him by the main door where he had left them, Vangelis exited the thin and three storey wooden structure, his armed personnel falling in behind him naturally.
It was odd having men behind him, trained to defend and protect him as the crown prince. Especially given that he had personally trained at least one of the two and that he could beat either of them in a fight. It seemed superfluous to have guards with less military skill than the person they protected but then there were few men in this world who had trained with weapons since the age of five and been as disciplined in their continued application of the talent since then. Which meant it was natural that few beings around possessed Vangelis' level of skill with a blade. He had made sacrifices elsewhere, of course, to be as good as he was: time with family, the development of friendships, his own health and the purity of his skin (most of his scars had been inflicted by himself in his learning attempts with each new tool or weapon he encountered). But it led to him being alive which was more than he could say for some of the men he had trained with who hadn't been so diligent in their daily exercises.
The only thing that stopped the men at his back from being horrendously frustrating was that they at least knew their skills to be subservient. They understood that their real purpose was to protect the prince's back. For, as skilled as Vangelis was, he did not possess eyes in the back of his head. It was their duty to ensure that Vangelis did not become prey to some unexpected attack between the shoulder blades or, if push came to shove, to step in front of the attack themselves. They were there as a final and last defence more than they were a fighting force and, in order to complete that assignment if necessary, they walked a few paces behind Vangelis at all times. Almost far enough away that, at a quick glance, Vangelis might be alone.
It was, however, one of these men that noticed an issue in the market place before Vangelis. Having set his sights on the staging area where the slaves were being auctioned off, his mind still on the conversations he had had with his cousin regarding slave shipments and thefts, it wasn't until one of his guardsman spoke up with sort - "General..." - to catch his attention.
Pausing, for his men knew he was uninterested in trivial matters around him and therefore to have them speak up must be due to a surprising or serious cause, Vangelis turned to look back at his men, one of whom subtly nodding in the opposite direction to the way Vangelis had been looking.
Turning his attentions in the opposite direction, towards the edge of the unruly crowds in the market, Vangelis instantly saw the disturbance his guard had noticed.
A little way into the mass of people - enough to hide their tussle amongst bodies, but not do in the heart of the crowd that their altercation would cause mass disturbance - a middle to aging man was causing distress to a young girl in fine raiment. Vangelis frowned as he instantly recognised the lady in question as his young cousin and, without a second thought, his heavy boots turned on their heel and sent him bee-lining in that direction, his stride sharper and quicker than his usual pace. He didn't meander amongst the bidders or avoid the members of the crowd. Instead, he simple strode through it, expecting people to move which, when you were the height and strength of a man like Vangelis and laid down with as many weapons, people tended to do.
Finding himself just behind Essa of Drakos and placing a hand gently upon her shoulder, Vangelis spoke to the sweaty man across from her whose eyes had just grown very big as he turned his attention up to Vangelis' full height.
"Do you have a problem with my cousin, sir." He commented, his tone dark and his eyes like burning ice. "If so, I apologise for the inconvenience she's caused but perhaps it would be better to take up your concerns with her uncle. King Tython."
And with only that, the colour instantly drained from the man's face and he looked as if he were about to be sick. With shaking hands that dropped Essa's shawl to the ground without so much as a backwards glance, the ugly man couldn't get out of their presence fast enough, his eyes down-turned and his lips tripping over apologies and assurances that there was no problem at all. He was like an entirely different being to the one that had clearly been so harassing to Essa.
Letting go of his young cousin's shoulder and crouching to retrieve the now dirty strip of silk from the floor, Vangelis offered to the young girl, as he held it between two fingers.
"Are you alright?" He asked her with a calming tone. For while the two of them - due to their age, gender and geography - knew each other not as well as one might expect for cousins, she was still his blood and he felt a warming in his own with the need to protect what was his and his own.
The sale was going well. He leaned against the post and mainly watched Levi work. This was more of a test than anything else. He wanted to see how well Levi could sell, what his haggling of prices looked like, and most importantly, how much money he could secure. The man was doing fairly well too, which put Lukos in a great mood. What he did not want was to have to load any of these slaves back onto the ship tonight. Not only was it a pain, but he'd have to feed them as well.
They were like any animals; needed basic food and water, washed off when they got dirty. They were pets he didn't want to keep.
His eyes were drawn to a bit of a scuffle happening near the center of the crowd and he was a little surprised to see the hooded man from earlier there. What had drawn Lukos's attention again were the bodyguards. He hadn't noticed them at first but they went everywhere this man did. One thing the pirate could never be accused of was being unobservant.
He watched with interest as the fight was broken up with very little inconvenience to the lady herself and an admirable efficiency to the whole affair. Then he clapped and nudged Levi to do the same, pointing and laughing. "Look!" he pointed straight at Vangelis and Essa. "What a hero, ladies and gentlemen! A hero right in our midst!"
This sort of display of gallantry done by Vangelis was not normal. Not here. Lukos wanted this man embarrassed and gone. He didn't like displays of this kind. They signaled a person of high morals and equally high integrity. Something he wanted nowhere near his person, his slaves, or his customers.
"Be loud," he said to Levi as he egged him on to jeer at the two unfortunates who were now the center of attention. People were turning to look and also clapping, now happy to know that someone had been saved. Crowds were stupid and easily led.