“Just out of curiosity, what happens if I refuse to pay?”
“Tsk…” The small man made an irritated noise. “Officially, we aren’t able to hold you personally responsible. Any loan a slave takes out is technically made using their own body a collateral. Therefore, the most we can do is repossess and enslave Carmine and sell her to recoup our losses.”
“No!” Carmine cried out, grabbing my shirt.
“I see…” I reach out and patted Carmine’s hand reassuringly. “It’s okay, I’ll settle this.”
She let go of my shirt and I walked up to the men. The two guards on either side flexed, ready to step in if I tried anything dangerous. Instead, I reached out and clasped his hand, shaking it.
“What is this?” He asked, a confused look on his face.
“I can’t say it’s been a pleasure dealing with you, but thankfully this was able to be resolved amicably,” I responded.
“Wait, what? When did we resolve this?”
“Eh? Didn’t you say you’ll repossess Carmine? It’s truly unfortunate, but I’m sure you can find her a good home. Are you by chance interested in sisters?”
“W-w-w-wait a second here!” The guy’s eyes flashed in shock.
“M-m-master! What are you saying?” Carmine looked about ready to cry.
“Ah, here’s a gold coin, it should cover the slave removal fee.” I pulled out the coin and pressed it in his palm and then turned to Carmine. “I apologize I wasn’t able to be a better Master. You keep trying. Come on, girls.”
I turned and walked away, the other five girls in tow. When Carmine and the three men realized I was already almost to the gate that led back into my house, the realization of what was happening finally set in.
“Master! You can’t leave me!” Carmine collapsed, crying out as she reached in my direction.
“W-w-w-wait! Don’t be so hasty!” The guy ran to me so fast that he even abandoned his protection as he went to stop me from entering my mansion. “We can always negotiate! That was just an introductory rate, we can definitely work with people to help them settle their debts!”
“Not interested.” I tried to walk past him, but he grew even more desperate trying to block me.
“W-wait! I can bring it down to 2000 gold! No, 1500! That’s my best offer!”
Of course, I wasn’t an idiot. The entire thing sounded suspicious from the get-go. Even if these people were backed by some kind of money loaning guild, they were clearly acting outside of the proper regulations.
From the moment Carmine had started talking, I had predicted a lot of what she said was nonsense. A reputable person from the Loan Guild wouldn’t lend money out to a slave without a token of authority. I knew this because I had to get one for Faeyna. There were various settings and permissions as to what she was and wasn’t allowed to do. It was the only way a slave could legitimately do business. Never mind the extreme interest rate, or their attempt to recover it only weeks later.
It was likely that they knew about me becoming a lord recently, and knew about Carmine’s condition, and then went out of their way to try to ensnare her with the hopes of getting a cut of my lord’s salary. He’s some country lord bumpkin who doesn’t know anything, and Carmine is a pretty girl in trouble. They could keep an impressionable and gullible lord paying them some coins for the next twenty years.
When Mary said Carmine was troublesome, she wasn’t exaggerating at all! However, it also seemed like she was preyed upon by these guys, so it probably wasn’t all her fault. I bet even the people she purchased goods from were set up by these men to quickly cause her to lose the coins she borrowed, so she always came back quickly and they didn’t lose a single copper.
It’s too bad they tried to catch me up in their scheme. My mother was a single parent without an education and a low income. She was the perfect prey for these kinds of scams. In truth, my mom had fallen for a few and we struggled as a result. But by the time I was a teenager, I had seen them all and regularly had to send these scam artists on their way before they could exploit my gullible mother. The question now became what was I going to do with these guys?
Of course, I couldn’t just kill the guys. There was a chance their affiliation with the guild was real. Not everyone who joined a guild would necessarily be a good person. I could go report them to the guild, but I honestly didn’t really know what their policy was. For all I knew, what they did really was acceptable, as much as I didn’t believe it.
That meant that if it became an argument between me and them, they might be able to succeed through plausible deniability. They’d say something like I misunderstood them, and then they’d have evidence where I didn’t. At best, it’d be my word against theirs. At worst, they run to the guild and complain and they in turn act rashly before finding out the truth. Apologies were all good and fine, but I’d rather not be inconvenienced in the first place.
So, they tried to threaten me with taking Carmine away, expecting that to be scary for me. In some ways, it was like what happened between myself and Lydia. However, back then, I had the feeling that Figuro was doing his best and I genuinely did have strong feelings for Lydia. When it came to Carmine, the threat didn’t impassion me at all, despite their hope.
So, when they gave me a means of not paying, I decided to see what would happen. Naturally, I knew that they wouldn’t be able to take Carmine’s slave status away from me thanks to the curse. That required a bit more money than they had. I was seeing how much they knew, and that turned out to not be very much.
If they did take her and try to sell her, they’d find a roadblock. By the time they realized they’d been duped, I would already have consulted with the Loan Guild and reported their actions. It was a delaying tactic, but it didn’t turn out the way I expected. I thought they may actually take Carmine. She’d be gone for a few days, but she was a Paladin so I doubted she’d be hurt. Instead, the prospect of not getting any money and also being stuck with Carmine was more than they could handle.
“It’s okay… I’m not that attached to the slave, you can have her,” I told the little man.
“You…” He truly looked anguished. “Sir… we… we… we can’t take her!”
“Oh?” I finally stopped and looked back. “Then how will you square your debt away?”
“Geh… you…” He wiped the angry look off his face and tried to put on an ingratiating smile. “I can see you’re a man of wealth. How about we come up with some kind of agreement?”
“No thanks, take her away.”
“Master is so cruel…” Carmine cries.
“I’m not your Master anymore, please greet your new masters…”
What did a man of wealth mean? Was he saying I’m stingy? The frown on my face that time was genuine.
“I don’t want her!” The man finally broke down. “J-just keep her!”
“Nope, she’s your problem!”
“You don’t get it! She’s blacklisted all across town! No one will buy her in Aberis! There is no way we can sell her at a profit! We won’t be able to sell her at all!
“Then you probably shouldn’t have loaned her money…” I shrugged.
Fear shot through his eyes as he glanced at the crying Paladin and realization shot through him. It wasn’t just that he wasn’t going to get paid anything. Rather, he was also going to be stuck with her. That was somehow worse!
“P-please, take her with you!” he begged.
“Nope. Do we need to take this before the Guild to resolve it?”
His eyes flashed with even more panic. “N-no! It’s just… I can’t take her with me! Is there anything we can do so you take her with you today?”
I make a show of scratching my chin thoughtfully. “I suppose there is something I would take in exchange for her.”
“Wh-what is that?”
“I need about a hundred gold?”
“A hundred gold? That’s a ridiculous amount!”
“What are you saying? This girl here has nearly a 1000 gold debt on her. 100 gold is a 90% off sale! I’ll tell you what, because you guys seem nice, how about I sell it to you for 99 gold and 99 silver.”
“It’s 10 silver per gold… isn’t he charging him more?” Lydia whispers to Miki.
“Shhhh!” She shoots back.
“Going once… twice…”
“W-we’ll take it!” The short man cries out.
Sometime later, there was a knock on my door. I was receiving a massage from Lydia and Terra both. Terra was starting to press for something more, and if things kept going this way, I was going to enjoy both women at once. That was when Faeyna knocked on my door.
“Master, there is someone at the door.”
I sighed and stood up, putting a shirt back on and walking barefoot to the front entrance. There, standing in the foyer, were the three men from earlier. I frowned as I walked up to them.
“I found a place for Carmine after the agreed-upon price. What do you want now?”
“You tricked me!” the small man yelled.
“Eh? Didn’t we reach an agreement? I’d take care of Carmine, and you’d pay a hundred gold. I thought we’re all good now?”
As for taking care of Carmine, I handed her to her sister and ordered her to sleep in her sister’s bed as punishment. For the rest of it, I performed a few Slave Orders to make sure Carmine didn’t fall for this again. She could no longer make purchases by herself. If she needed anything, it’d have to come through me or Faeyna.
“You bastard! That gold wasn’t even mine!” he cursed. “If I can’t pay it back, they’ll break my legs.”
“Hmm… shouldn’t agree to debts you can’t pay, huh?”
“You…” He clenched his fist, but he knew he couldn’t yell at me anymore even if he was angry.
After all, he came here for a way out, and the worst thing I could do is shut a door on his face. He may be part of the 5th strongest organization in Aberis, but I was a noble. That meant I was a part of the first strongest organization in Aberis. At this moment, as he stood in my foyer and I was wearing a silk robe, that couldn’t be more apparent.
After swallowing his anger, he continued. “What can I do to get that 100 gold back? I need it by the end of the month or I’m a dead man!”
“What’s your name?” I asked, crossing my arms and looking at him consideringly.
“Drake.” He responded. “I’m Drake and these are my friends, Danny and Brick.”
The two men on either side nodded as they were introduced.
“Why should I help you? You tried to scam me,” I stated blatantly.
He bit his lip. “I and these two grew up on the streets. They looked after me when we were young. They were bigger, but I was the brains. That’s how it always worked. I grew up though and realized I wasn’t as smart as I thought. I was smart compared to them, but I still let people run around me. I tried to do the loaning business, but it was too cutthroat. You were… you were our big score. I thought some new lord who rose from nowhere must be gullible. However, then you didn’t take that woman, and I knew if I returned back with her, I’d definitely be punished. I screwed up. I’m not the boss my guys need. However, you’re a lord, right? You have money and a need for tough guys. Even if you won’t accept me who has no skills, please accept my brothers!”
With that, he gave a low bow.
“As it turned out, you’re not as dumb as you think,” I responded.
A dumb guy would have stuck to the scam, kept escalating things, and perhaps even eventually cost him his life. This guy had something a lot of people in this world didn’t. He knew when to quit, when to run, and when to double down.
“As a matter of fact, I do have a use for you. Actually, I think you’d be perfect.”