The longstanding war had come to an end.
The war that was so long and arduous that its battles had been inherited by the next generation and the next had finally come to an end.
The day the messenger brought the news of their victory past their gates was the day the trumpets boasting their victory sang.
Finally, the day family, friends and neighbours were reunited arrived.
People took to the streets and cheered.
“The war is finally over!”
“It is our victory!”
“My family is returning! My family is coming back!”
Colourful flags woven by women with extraordinary skill coloured the sky as the cheers of the crowd filled the spaces between.
Those who returned from war cried as they held their family, whom they had only seen in their dreams, while those who had been waiting for their return cried even harder.
It was a day when everyone shared their tears, laughter and overwhelming emotions with one another.
With the exception of a few.
A small figure being kicked stood out like a sore thumb.
Clearly not wanting to be struck anymore, the body shrank as much as it could but it was no use.
Another relentless strike landed on her back.
“Tsk, you’d only get your shit together once I kill you.
So, let me do just that.”
The scrawny man clicked his tongue as a cheap pipe hung from his mouth.
It did not take long before the perpetrators themselves were panting for air as they continued beating her.
That was when the scrawny man waved his hands.
The beatings paused and the sweat-soaked men stepped back.
It was only then could the retreating woman be seen.
She had a small and slender build, and donned worn-out clothes that were close to ripping and shoes that only had half their soles.
Her mangled hair was covered with so much ash and dust that her hair colour could not be seen.
Seeing the state the woman was in, the man inhaled from his pipe so deeply he hollowed out his cheeks.
While he approached her with a distinct stride, the woman only trembled and shrank away from him even more.
The man grabbed a hold of the woman’s face by wrapping his hands around her head.
Just as he expected, her face, no different from her hair, was also covered in ash and dust.
Even after her face was forcibly lifted, her eyes remained tightly shut.
In any case, she was a filthy disgusting little girl.
‘No, that’s not it.’
But if he took a closer look, he could see how captivating she was.
Her petite features, supple lips and eyelashes long enough for dust to comfortably settle upon.
If she could just wash off that thick layer of ash and dust, pale white skin would be revealed.
But what caught his eye the most was not her skin..
It was those blue eyes that shone brighter than anyone else’s.
The man who stared into the blue eyes revealing themselves under her long lashes, sucked on his pipe before smiling.
Our little Rhett.”
The man flashed his yellow teeth as he smiled before grabbing the face of the woman he called Rhett and shaking her face around rigorously.
Rhett’s face contorted in pain.
“You, why did you say you weren’t going?”
Her small, supple lips seemed to be saying something but the man’s hands waved before he could hear anything.
“Ah, it’s obvious, too obvious.
That must be the reason, hm? It’s because that old fart, Barrodon, changes the woman by his side every year, no? Hm?”
Because he was biting onto his pipe, his words sounded a little muffled.
“But, you know, I’ve spent a lot of money on you for raising you thus far.
Do you want to hear how much? Hm? Hm?”
Rhett’s lips parted before she spoke with much difficulty.
“I’m almost done paying you back.
All the money I earned while working in the inn…”
“What are you talking about!”
Ahahaha! The men surrounding them partook in the laughter as well.
The man who was laughing the hardest was the man grabbing his stomach not noticing that his pipe had fallen out of his mouth.
The man picked up the pipe he dropped before biting into it again.
“Those are mere pennies, pennies.
It can’t even pay off all the food you’ve eaten, can it?”
“Honestly, who comes to visit these slums? That’s why you get meagre sums for your pay and that’s why all you’d paid back are mere pennies.”
The man smiled slyly.
“But mere pennies is not the sum of money you need to pay back.”
“All you managed to pay back so far is, what’s it called? Interest.
Do you know what interest means, Rhett?”
Thud, thud. This time, now that he was in a bad mood, the man grabbed her hair and struck her head.
“So, it’s now time for you to pay off this debt.
Don’t you think so? It’s all because you don’t know a thing, a thing.
Those women that got kicked out? I heard they’re all living well in distant countries.”
“And you know.
If you manage to seduce that old fart in a year, you might be able to become that crony’s wife, you know? You can become Baroness Barrodon!”
She had been born and raised in the slums.
She was never taught how to write.
She did not know how to count.
But she knew that was a lie.
Wasn’t she the first to see servants from the baron’s estate dumping bodies into the slum a year ago?
“That old crony was responsible.
He picked you this time.
Madness swirled in the eyes of the man shouting at her.
“Actually, he requested me to bring you to him when you were much younger, hm? But still, I, Ben, have a conscience.
That’s why I raised you till you reached of age.”
That was a lie too.
It was because he had been haggling with him for her price until he was only recently satisfied.
“Do you know what Barrodon offered me in exchange? Do you! Out of all of this trash, me! He said he will get me, Ben, out of here!”
Ben’s intoxicated eyes shone.
“I’m finally escaping these slums.
My splendid life is only beginning…!”
She only felt disgust by Ben who chased after his dream whilst stepping on everyone else to obtain it.
Rhett contorted her expression.
“That’s why, you’re going!”
There was no time
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