Word got out something special was for sale in the market. Rumour had it a captured boy outran Kroll’s troops back to Malaxia. It was well known Kroll and his men were soldiers without equal. The selection process was harsh. All Malaxians were trained in the military from a young age and, even then, only one in a hundred passed to serve with Kroll’s battalion. The final selection took a whole year. Recruits had to endure physical and mental hardships in order to make the cut. Many died on the programme, but it all added to the mystique. Once serving soldiers, they ran the fastest and fought the hardest. If a boy could physically prove himself to such a tough band of warriors, he was worth buying.
The marketplace was packed and a buzz swept around the hall. It was so busy, many traders could not even get inside. With the formality of livestock out of the way, just one slave was up for sale. Ned was pushed into the arena. Shouts and even a few cheers rang out. He took a deep breath and looked at all the people. It was clear the boy was not fazed. With a raised chin, he made eye contact with many and clenched his fists. He was not the biggest boy ever to be sold, but there was something different about him. Ned’s eyes glared and most in the room had never seen the like of it before.
The auctioneer raised his arms for hush. “Gentlemen, this is no common or garden slave.” Everyone stared at Ned. “Forget his small stature. This boy proved himself on a route march, nay a death march, with Kroll’s warriors. And he would be a fine addition to your workforce.”
Kroll was near the front and stood with his mighty arms crossed. He noticed the boy was washed and wearing clean clothes. Ned walked to the centre and stood with his wrists chained in front. The bruising was still noticeable, but it seemed to enhance his new-found stature. Kroll studied him. The boy had courage. But it was more than that. He could not put his finger on it. Maybe it was the fact he was as fit as the best soldiers in the Malaxian army. And he was still a child. If he joined an army, this boy could become a great warrior one day.
The bidding began and it quickly went past the ten coin mark. At this point, most traders faded away. Many wondered if he was worth so much. Someone pushed the price to fourteen gold coins. He looked smug as the auctioneer asked if anyone could beat the bid. And then one man called out.
“Fifteen gold coins!!”
Everyone looked over. It was just a farmer. The auctioneer again asked for higher bids. A quiet descended until the auctioneer’s hammer crashed down. Murmurs swept amongst the crowd.
“What does HE want with the boy?”
“The fool paid way too much.”
“It’s the first time he’s even bought a slave.”
But Kroll did not care. He was pleased with the price. In a way, he thought it was a shame the jailor would be allowed to live. Two large men strolled into the arena and pushed Ned toward a holding area. The bustle and noise inside the market increased as everyone filtered out. Kroll held back. The boy had done well in making it back to Malaxia, and now he had earned a small fortune for the soldier. Kroll strode outside. The warrior was not the sort of man to waste time. He was owed thirty gold coins. And he was going to collect immediately from the snivelling jailor.