The Three-Chicken Woman!
Sunlight shined in through the window.
Natir sat quietly on the mattress on the first floor of Volk’s house with Aina sleeping by her thigh.
In the end, she did not get to talk to Alfred the other night, not with all the ruckus that her appearance had caused, but the incident painted a permanent smile on her face.
The celebration of Gull’s victory must have lasted until dawn because sleep had gotten the best of her before Volk returned home, and she had ended up missing him, too, as she slept like the dead until noon.
“I’d have you know that I received quite a few interesting offers yesterday,” Volk said as he returned.
She turned to him.
“Slept well, I hope? It’s noon already.”
“Yes, I was exhausted. What offers?”
He said comically, “Offers to buy you and Aina, of course.”
The surprise caused her to chuckle. “Yes, I imagine that you did.”
“Why shouldn’t there be?” he humored. “You’ve turned into the hottest name in this forsaken forest overnight. Congratulations.”
She teased back with a narrow gaze, “Mm, are you congratulating me or yourself?”
“Both of us, I suppose,” he said, pouring himself a drink, “but mostly myself.”
“Oh? They must be quite generous offers, then.”
“Quite generous. The word going around is that the sons you will bear will be...let’s see, what was the word that idiot used? Ah! Ferocious!”
She cracked out laughing.
“No one ever said that to me before. Wait, what about the mother? Are ferocious women on demand here? I can play the part if it will help boost the price,” she said and put on a comical show, waving her hand for a claw and hissing like a cat.
He shrugged. “Mens’ fantasies are a market big and wide. It has room for everything.”
“Yes, I’ve been around that corner.”
“One buyer was quite persistent with his offer in particular, saying it was as if you had stabbed him with the spear of your eyes, straight into the heart.”
A wild laugh escaped her. “I think I know who that is. And it was more like a stab to the shoulder!”
“Hm? Something I need to know?”
“No, no, it’s nothing,” she said, fighting laughter and feeling hyper from the silly conversation. “So, was he the highest bidder?”
“What was the highest bid? Come on, forget the bones and give me the meat.”
“Mm, nice try. But Volk never discusses his clients’ affairs. Just know that some offers were very tempting.”
Natir intoned playfully, “Oh?” Then she narrowed her gaze. “Let me guess: you are a man who doesn’t fall into temptation so easily?”
“Fortunately, I am not.”
Her smile vanished as his answer brought doubt into her heart. She kept her eyes on him as he came to sit in front of her.
Volk said, far more seriously, “You need to know that I decided to take one of those offers.”
Natir was shocked at first. The joke-for-a-topic suddenly turned real. But then, she recalled her reality and dropped her face. It didn’t matter what last night’s brief moment was, she was still merchandise.
She asked lifelessly, “Who’s the buyer?”
“That I honestly do not know.”
Natir looked at him, so he explained, “It was an anonymous offer, sent to me with a child.”
A name flashed in the back of her head and she yelped, hopeful, “ALFRED?”
He shook his head. “You do not understand Alfred’s way.”
Volk sent a metal rod rolling on the table. “Alfred sends things into motion, and only when it’s about to go off the course he likes,” before the rod could fall off the edge, he grabbed it and sent it rolling the other way, “that’s when he interferes…” He looked at her. “But what happens in between one action and the next is of no interest to him, he’d rather let things take their natural course. Does it make sense now?”
Natir dropped her face, looking truly brokenhearted. “Is that why he didn’t buy me himself when he had the chance?”
Volk shrugged. “It would’ve gone against his nature. An unnecessary interference in the flow of events. Alfred would never do that.”
“So… It’s not Alfred for sure.”
“For sure. And besides, how can the earl keep such a thing a secret? It would make no sense to keep his offer anonymous then, now would it?”
Natir’s voice fell, and she surrendered to her fate, “Alfred won’t interfere. And you’re not one to keep me. You’ve made that clear many times already.” She sniffled and looked away. “When will it be?”
“I already accepted the offer, and the payment was delivered. It is done.”
Volk let a moment of silence pass before he suddenly clapped his palms to his thighs, making her jolt. “SO! As of today, you are a free woman.”
Her face darted towards him. It didn’t sink in. “What?”
“You’re a free woman. You and Aina.”
“What...but...I don’t understand...you just said—”
“The offer I received was to set you free,” he said, smirking, “for three chickens! And I accepted!”
Her jaw dropped; the shock was much harder than Natir had thought possible. She had gone mute, following him with her eyes as he headed to the back of his workshop without a single thought flashing through her head.
“I bought you for three chickens—”
Volk picked up a wooden cage with three chickens inside and held it high in his hands, admiring it.
“And I sold you for three chickens… Even for me, the irony behind it was just too tempting to resist. I had to take it.” He turned to her and humored, “You are the three-chicken woman!”
“Please tell me that’s not all you’ve got to say? I had quite the different reaction in mind. I thought slaves live their lives preparing for this moment.”
Natir didn’t know how she was supposed to react. It felt so unreal.
A wave of cold fell upon her out of nowhere, causing her skin to shiver. She embraced herself and hunched her back, crying her heart out.
Volk watched her, not interfering and not saying anything. He let her take her time.
“Thank you...thank you.” She sobbed, wiping her running nose and the tears racing down her cheeks, but it just kept flowing out of control.
He put the cage down. “It’s done… Soon, the two of you will be celebrated and receive your tribal marks. Aina will not grow up a slave.”
She squeaked, hysteric with joy, “Yes.”
“This is no time for tears, now is it?”
“No...No it’s not...but I… Volk. Thank you...thank you...thank you.”
She buried her face in her palms and cried.
Volk approached her as she trembled before his eyes, looking so fragile of a creature like nothing he had seen before. He put his hand on her shoulder and said softly, “Anything to get you off my back.”
Volk then headed to the door. “Well then, I should be heading out now, I’ll be at—”
Pulling herself together, Natir wiped her tears off and turned to him. “Wait… If we’re free, where will we stay?”
He froze. His eyes widen with shock. It immediately dawned on him where this was going.
He made his escape. “I’m not listening.”
She quickly chased after him, limping. “Volk?”
“You’re not my problem anymore. You’re free. Go! Get out of my house.”
“You’re really going to kick an injured mother and a four-year-old out in the snow?”
“Volk, don’t you think you can run away from this, come back, we need to talk!”
“I said out of my house! I had it with the two of you eating my poor stash like rodents! Out! Get off my back already.”
“What stash? If it wasn’t for the leftovers we scavenge from Alfred’s tables, we’d have all starved to death by now. Volk? Volk, get back here!”