The merchant was given a final shove out into the clouded light, and stumbled over the clumpy sand. The auction grounds doubled as an arena when needed, and the tan floor was stained by blotches of brown. The merchant stood on a leveled depression surrounded by tiered seating. A sparse amount of owners loosely littered the stands, in casual indifference. The few owners present were lounging around well before the merchant arrived, and would spend many hours of their day simply chatting and trading with each other. He was the twelfth of seventeen slaves to be gawked over, and with such a limited selection, the audience’s attention was little and waning. A pirate guarding the exit shouted for him to take off his clothes, and he complied when he turned to see his stern gaze. He then stood naked, alone, and itchy from the dust laying withing his scratched and nicked skin.
The owner’s uninterrupted murmurs insulted him even more, but then he remembered himself. His body was laughable. His lazy rolls around his waist presented a comedic contrast to his gaunt arms. His face was fat with decades of chewing leaf. His hair was long and sparse, with no signs of improving. Worst of all his left leg was wide and ungainly. It had been pierced right through by a docking hook from one of his sister’s stolen airships. That hook, which saved his life, carved a precious canyon of muscle from him, when it was unceremoniously withdrawn. His thigh had scabbed during the lofty ride to the mountain, and as he changed his bandages, he kept the dirty ones on the outside, where they dried, stiffened and functioned like a brace.
His right foot was sore from taking all the burden, and his gait was like a dancing shuffle complimented with twisting, swinging arms. He wasn’t a man worth seeing. He was a man worth hearing. Sadly when he tried to speak he choked in pain, and his hoarse attempts could not penetrate the omnipresent murmur. He looked back to the exit guard, who was pressing his back against the tunnel wall, staring deep into the immediate stone, and smoking a pipe, bemused. There seemed to be no rush to the days here, at least for an owner or a guard.
He stood ignored and wondered what they did with slaves that don’t sell. His practical business-mind didn’t present any sort of promising prospect. He was neither seen nor heard. He began to feel like a ghost, like a child. He pictured himself a child again, back in his grandfather’s manse, seated between his sister and his mother, looking down at the lessons, written and spread out. With waking from that dream he noticed that an idea had stowed away. He began by shuffling in a large circle, as if strutting by the crowd. He then shuffled to the center of the circle, and back the way he came. He jumped from his path, and marked a letter in the dirt, digging with his heels into the loose earth. He shuffled along his old footprints to the outside of the circle, where he tried to skip out and away to mark a difference. He barked out a gruff cry as he got down on his knees, and with that exclamation he was finally heard by a few of the owners. More of them then took notice of the shape he had drawn in the pit. The merchant spat and wiped his sweat onto the sand, as an effort to bring a damp contrast to highlight his words and numbers. As he wrote in large sweeps, he crawled backwards, and leveled the next swath of land.
He kept toiling, driven by the desire to finish before it was too late. Through the pain, he kept his focus on his memory, the first thing he could remember fully understanding. When he had carved the last number, he finished with an excessive stroke from left to right, underlining his equation, and plowing a plume of sand to drift in silence. It was real silence, no murmurs, no coughing, no laughs or commands. He looked up from his work, and took in scope how much he had presented. He then noticed that the stands in front of him were empty. He stood up with great effort and then was shouted at. He turned around to and saw that the owners had congregated to his back, and one was trying to wave him out the way. The merchant stepped aside, and waited. A few owners had parchment and ink, and were copying down as much as they could understand. He was asked to clarify a word or two, and he did as bade. One of the owners yelped in agreement, and smiled with pride.
There was no bidding war. He was bought by the administer of the settlement, an owner who had taken responsibility for the disposal of waste, the maintenance of the trails and wells, the labourers at the free-man docks, and other such communal needs. He stood out in the crowd with his black cloaks, and tall widening hat, which was also black, but speckled with blue stars. The owner called down to the guard, and voiced a few sentences in a language often spoken by the river raiders near his homeland. The guard waved the merchant towards him, and when the merchant didn’t move, the guard came out from the shade of his tunnel, and pulled him along. The guard was gentle this time, careful not to damage his owner’s property. He even smiled at the merchant as he handed him off to an escort.