Editor: Ghost Ape
“You’re not selling, eh.”
“Indeed I’m not…”
It was a long, long time ago. A story from when I was only around a hundred years old and my body was still small. I was lying on the stone pavement in the central market of the ancient kingdom, now only known in the annals of history by its name, waiting for a buyer.
Written on a wooden board hanging from my neck was: Talking dragon – price negotiable. The elderly merchant sitting next to me on a mat wearing a long, white beard was my 35th successive buyer. Although I’ve been endlessly passed around on the market – my next buyer couldn’t be found, so this elderly merchant had been raising me for quite a while. Thanks to that my speech got influenced.
That day the surging crowd passed before my eyes as usual, with no ill-informed person willing to buy me in sight.
I apologetically lowered my head to the laid-back elderly merchant gulping down his alcohol in daytime.
“I’m sorry. Even though I always remain behind, you’re feeding me with good vegetables daily… Isn’t that called being in the red?”
“No worries, those are just scraps. Leaving my goods with empty stomach would spell poor business.”
“Still, I’m feeling bad. Since I’m not selling anyway, maybe I should earn some small change doing a spectacle around here.”
“You better give it up. If you wander around aimlessly you’ll just wind up locked in a kennel for fighting dogs like the other day.”
“Riiight, that happened before…”
Just before I was bought by this old merchant, I was sent into a dogfight cage by my previous owner, who demanded me to earn as a high-revenue spectacle.
Yet, ultimately, even the dog didn’t give me a second glance and the match’s time ran out, so the contest ended up being awful and the booing was terrible. I ended up getting banned from entry because apparently I “immensely dampened the dogs’ fighting spirit.” I think that ban is still in place, but I cannot exclude the possibility of being dragged into a similar dangerous event.
“Then if being a spectacle doesn’t work, I guess I’ve got to do my best to sell properly. Say, how cheap can you lower my price?”
“Let’s see… I bought you for a price of one loaf of bread, so something along those lines if possible. If a likely buyer appears I’m willing to halve it.”
“So I was worth a loaf of bread… Hearing it spelled out like that is quite a shock.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll sell anyway.”
“I guess not. I also think it’s hopeless… still, I want to try putting on airs a little bit.”
The merchant showed me a broad smile fitting a good-natured old man, telling me to do as I liked. Enthusiastic, I took a step forward onto the market’s alley, intending to show off my pride as a man.
“Pay attention everyone! For a limited time only, you can now buy me for the price of one loaf of bread!”
Feeling awkward I turned back to the old merchant, who was still drinking with a gentle smile plastered over his face. Only, there was no sign of helping me out.
“I-I am herbivorous so my food expenses are low, and if it isn’t too hard I’ll do my best as a spectacle! Ah, but things like jumping through fire rings and dogfighting are a no! Same with balancing on a ball, it’s scary. The safe and easy ones.”
Again, no one stopped.
Why…? Certainly, I’ve no earning ability to speak of, but I also don’t have maintenance costs. If they just buy me and make me earn some change wouldn’t they profit a little?
“There’s no one but merchants in this area. Since merchants are quite superstitious, they’re not eager to buy merchandise bringing bad luck.”
The elderly merchant explained as if disclosing a secret.
“To be frank, you’re a lizard imitating a dragon, scam-like goods. It’s the norm for everyone to think that if they were to get involved with sham merchandise their luck might take a turn for the worse.”
“Old man, you don’t mind?”
“Look, I’m half-retired already. On the contrary, if I leave you around I won’t be as busy.”
“Are you calling me sales poison?”
I became slightly vexed, my spirit burning in defiance to show I can be sold no matter what it takes. Then after thinking I finally came up with an idea.
“Hey I’ve thought of a solution. If merchants won’t buy me, how about going door to door and peddling me to private residences? Except merchants, other people might buy me right?”
“’You’re right on time, we were lacking ingredients for an evening stew. At the price of one loaf of bread, this amount of meat is a great deal.’ It’d be nice if it didn’t turn out like that…”
“No, I was just saying. After all it’d be rude to go and bother everybody like that. I have my manners, yes.”
I tried to dig even deeper for ideas.
“Admitting I’ve no value, wouldn’t it be worth it to throw in some freebies?”
The old merchant tilted his head and asked slowly.
“Freebies…? For example what?”
“Like if they buy me for the price of one bread, they get a loaf extra for free.”
“Then it’s better to simply buy the bread.”
Despite me being the one who said it, I had to agree. Having a worthless lizard stuck to you is just a nuisance.
“We might as well try deception and say we’re giving some absurd freebies. Like, if you buy me you’ll become Dragon’s Kin and amazing magic power will take root inside you.”
“You mustn’t lie like that. Masking a lie as the truth, if you go and start saying things randomly you never know when they’ll go around and come back to bite you in the behind.”
“No waay. There’s absolutely no magic power in me, no need to worry like that.”
Fufu, the elderly merchant laughed. It was a laugh as if he was gazing at something far away.
“To tell you the truth, I happen to know of only one person who can buy you. Wanna hear?”
“Eh? Really? Seeing it’s someone who thinks I’m worth something, I’m more than willing to.”
Against my bubbling excitement and wagging tail, the elderly merchant tautly pointed his index finger at me.
“… Hm? Did I do something?”
“I’m telling that it’s you. You can buy yourself. You, who have always been bought and sold by humans may have not experienced it, but the freedom of being able to go anywhere is quite a thing. How about it, don’t you want to give it a try?”
After staring blankly for a while, I let out a laugh.
“That was a good one. I’ve no money after all. Besides, isn’t there something wrong with goods buying themselves out?”
“The price… You don’t have to worry about it now.”
“Hm? What did you say?”
Once I asked, the elderly merchant shook his head as though he wanted to dodge the question.
“You don’t need to worry about it. Now then, what will you do? You seem to have many years still ahead of you, wouldn’t it be fine to tour the world on your own four legs?”
“Well… Okay. As long as there’s grass I can live pretty much anywhere. It might be nice not to have to worry about being sold.”
It’s embarrassing to say, but the me of that time didn’t know of the existing demon menace away from the human settlements. When I demonstrated an affirmative response, the old merchant nodded saying ‘it’s decided then’.
“You probably have to prepare mentally, there’s no need to rush immediately. You can depart whenever you feel like it.”
There were two things that the me who gained freedom like this learned later. First off, the elderly merchant who passed away several years after I left was apparently extolled as a master tradesman, able to discern the true value of any commodity, “The God of Appraisal.”
And the second one, I’ve understood only after around 4900 years. The words “The price… You don’t have to worry about it now” that the elderly merchant said, were probably…
Just when I thought I’ve finally appeased the berserk and transformed into a half-dragon Rēko, now she started a rampage in a different sense.
Forced into a flight by Rēko’s wings, after we smashed through the ceiling of Lady Saintess’ barrier I overlooked from far above the town converted into a bog.
“Evil Dragon Lord, it feels like I can achieve anything now. Let us swiftly deal with this so-called Demon King and step onto our path of destiny toward the world’s salvation. It’s clear to me now that everything ‘till this moment has merely been a prelude to raising the final curtain.”
At that time, the elderly merchant must’ve talked about the payment of 4900 years accrued interest. Although I had no proof, somehow I was sure of it.