“Take the boy! He’s still a virgin. Surely you can see value in that?” the pot-bellied man said, clasping his hands as if he’d offered him a chest of gold instead of his youngest son.
Feilon’s ears were ringing. Saburo Tokugawa was a suave political figure in the region. Though only a third son, and distant cousin of the main branch of the Tokugawa Clan, he acted as if he was the Daimyo himself. He owned most of the land in the surrounding villages, as well as half the fishing boats in the harbor. But with rebels roaming the mountains in search of easy prey, he’d lost a significant amount of money as of late. Which is why he’d enlisted Feilon’s help for protection.
Three times already, he hadn’t made his payments. And when Feilon’s collectors had returned empty-handed for a fourth time, the Fujiwara Clan Leader decided to come himself, positive they could reach an agreement that would work for them both. Feilon wasn’t out to ruin the man, but he had his own Clan to keep in mind, as well as his reputation.
He knew the man had money set aside, so why the man was offering his son instead of paying him back, was beyond him. Yet here he was. Dead serious. Not only was he selling him to a near stranger, rumors were circulating in the region that Feilon—and by extension his Clan—was a demon. But apparently, that didn’t come into play when bartering off his son.
“You can sell him to a brothel to make you money. Or you could have him warm your bed, if that’s your fancy,” the man continued, mistaking Feilon’s silence for indecisiveness.
Feilon’s stomach turned. He wasn’t opposed to having a man warm his bed, but this was a child! And for a father to whore out his son? It made him want to gut the wretched low-life, starting with his balls.
“How dare you offend Lord Fujiwara this way! He’s not a slave trader, nor does he involve himself with anyone who is. You’d better come up with money or else we’ll show you not to mess with the Fujiwara Clan,” Bayu, Feilon’s right-hand man, spat.
Feilon was about to interfere in the heated discussion, fearing the young general would rip the bastard a new one when Tokugawa’s wife dragged in a child.
The boy looked around eight or nine years old, but it was hard to tell with the formless, threadbare hand-me-down tunic he was wearing. A far cry from the silk kimonos his parents were wearing. The child was malnourished, and it showed in his hollowed cheeks and emaciated form. He was barefoot and even from across the room, he could see bruises in various degrees of healing on his arms and legs.
Feilon’s jaw clenched. The fat man clearly hadn’t skipped a meal in his life and was wearing the finest clothing money could buy, yet his son looked like a poor farmer’s son. For a moment, it crossed his mind that perhaps he was trying to sell him one of his slaves impersonating as his son, but the child had too much of his mother’s features in him to not be related.
When the discussion between Tokugawa and Bayu heated, Feilon’s attention turned back to them when the boy looked up at him.
The brightest amber-colored eyes peered at him and, for a split second, they looked each other straight in the eyes. The boy was quick to avert his eyes and stared at his feet again as his mother shook him by the gruff of his worn kimono tearing the seam. The moment passed in a flash, but the impression it left on Feilon didn’t. There had been an all-encompassing sadness in those amber depths that had no business being in a child’s eyes.
He heard Tokugawa’s proposal.
It made him sick all over again to think the boy overheard his own parents speaking about him as if he was a piece of meat to be bartered over. And then they dare call me a monster! What shocked him was the silent resignation in the child’s expression. As if he was almost glad he was being sold.
“I’ll take him.”
A sudden silence fell over the room. Tokugawa looked gleeful; Bayu looked downright stunned. The only person in the room whose expression Feilon was curious about didn’t show any as the boy kept staring at his feet.
“You still owe me my money. Pay before the next full moon, or I will destroy you and your entire Clan,” the Fujiwara Clan Leader said, having no more patience with the man. If he’d known him to be this scrupulous, he’d never done business with him in the first place.
Tokugawa clapped his hands in glee. “Thank you, Milord. It’s a pleasure doing business with you. I will pay you the rest, I promise.”
Feilon motioned to Bayu to handle the rest before beckoning the youth over to him. The boy did as told, but kept looking at the floor between his feet. Feilon couldn’t blame him.
The Fujiwara Clan had quite a reputation. It hadn’t gone unnoticed that their residents didn’t age and kept to themselves. Rumors as to the reason behind it varied from them being demons to Gods—and everything in between that. Though no one was foolish enough to disrespect him to his face—Too scared to offend him and end up dead, or worse—Feilon was well-aware of the whispers. He didn’t mind. It served them well to be feared, and it made his job of protecting the Himura’s easier.
But now, with the child in front of him, he wished they didn’t consider him a demon.
He squatted, gently cupping his face, forcing the child to look at him. “Don’t worry, everything will be alright. You’ve got nothing to fear. Go grab the things you want to bring.”
The boy nodded but didn’t move. Monster or not, it broke Feilon’s heart to think the youngster had nothing to call his own in this palace of a house.
Feilon straightened and motioned to Bayu. The general only needed one look to know what his Master wanted. “Take him and wait outside.”
The man gave one more disdainful glare at Tokugawa before nudging the boy towards the door. “Come on, kid.” The child needed little encouragement.