The fact that these wild ducks chose to build their nests in the forest near the tribe meant they had accepted and adapted to the environment. Perhaps the fat duck was part of the reason. No matter what, to the tribe, it was not a bad thing.
Now, the daily patrol teams expanded their patrol area to the forest near the tribe. In the past, they would only go there once every two days. Now, they would slip into the forest every day.
The patrol team had another hobby-- looking for eggs.
After finding all the different nests, they would bring back the cracked or eggs that had shattered after falling on the ground. If they were edible, they’d eat it, anything else was used as fertiliser for the Thousand Grain Gold. These broken eggs would likely not hatch chicks.
Shao Xuan wanted to check if every egg contained an embryo but when he looked at it against the sun, he could not see anything. These eggs weren’t translucent so he gave up, only telling the rest to bring back broken eggs.
The patrol team were careful not to scare the ducks in the forest too. They usually approached the nests if the ducks had left or they would not go near.
These ducks were very smart, the ones who had their nests amongst tall grass would cover their eggs with grass. At a glance, it did not look like there was a nest here. It was only when a few of the warriors followed the ducks secretly when they discovered the nest.
Compared to the hard working mothers, that bright green, fat duck was living a very carefree life. Of course, it would patrol around the forest. Whenever a wild rat or smaller animals appeared, the ones that it could defeat, it would go into a defensive mode. It could become a battle duck in a second. However, when it saw an animal that it could not beat, it would start screaming. When the warriors on patrol heard its screams, they would rush over to save the ducks.
The tribesmen were always enthusiastic about beneficial, interesting activities. They had time to spare anyway. Many children didn’t have much to do so they would catch insects for the ducks to eat.
Perhaps sensing that this was a safe area, the mother ducks grew more relaxed.
One day, new sounds could be heard from the forest.
Grey, yellow and patterned balls of feathers could be seen.
Although there were people on patrol duty, they could not watch every corner all the time. The fat duck definitely couldn’t watch everything at the same time either. When these ducklings hatched, they attracted predators too. There were several unavoidable incidents of ducklings caught by predators, sometimes even the mother too.
Shao Xuan sent people to bring the ducklings who had lost their mother back to the tribe and reared them in a pen. The fat duck was unbothered as usual. In reality, once the ducklings were born, he was generally uninterested in them. Although he still patrolled the forest, he did not stop to look at the ducklings.
As for the ducklings, everyone in the tribe was very enthusiastic. There was a huge duck pen built at the foot of the hill. Shao Xuan even led a team to build housing for the ducks.
Then, one day, Shao Xuan received a report that the fat duck had moved into the house on its own, even barring the ducklings from entering.
When he saw how the fat duck’s stubborn face, Shao Xuan had no choice but to build a smaller shed next to the duck housing. He laid dried grass inside and was finally able to lure the fat duck over.
Previously, Shao Xuan had already discovered the poison-neutralising abilities of the duck eggs brought back. That was why he paid more attention to the ducks reared in the tribe. As for the ducks still in the forest, he did not tell his people to catch them. This was their first time feeding and rearing ducks, it was best to have a control group outside. Then again, with their lack of experience, it was not a good idea to rear so many ducks at once either. Might as well let the adult ducks rear their own younglings.
Other than the ducks, the blacksmiths at the tribe had made huge advancements too. They melted the large bronze Ding cauldron Shao Xuan had brought back to cast other wares. They made huge improvements in weapon-making too. The only problem they had was the lack of ore for experimentation.
To Shao Xuan’s delight, the grains were almost ready for harvest. The grains were starting to turn yellow. They would be ready when they were golden. With his experience, Shao Xuan told everyone to be more careful when the grains ripened, for example guarding them against rats.
According to Ji Ju and everyone’s calculations, the Thousand Grain Gold should be able to be harvested before the date they left for Anba City. They had accumulated half a year’s worth of animal hide, it was time for trade again since it was not ideal to leave it at home. Then again, to the Taihe tribe, who specialised in agriculture, they were going to trade after harvest season. Flaming Horn had to go with them too, since there was a partnership going on.
However, since the small conflict they had with Anba last year, they had to be more careful this time. Although they were counting on being able to talk to Black Bear directly, they still had to be careful.
The shamaness, Chief Zheng Luo, Duo Kang, Guang Yi, Shao Xuan and all the higher-ranked people of the tribe gathered at Zheng Luo’s house to discuss the excursion. Although Shao Xuan was the youngest person seated in the room, no one dared look down on him.
As they discussed, someone reported that there was a man looking for Shao Xuan at the foot of the hill.
“Did the person mention his name?” Zheng Luo asked the warrior who entered.
He thought for a moment. “He said his name was ‘Heng’.”
Zheng Luo and the few looked up abruptly, Zheng Luo leapt up. “Quicky invite him inside!”
However, when he remembered the man was looking for Shao Xuan, he had to get Shao Xuan’s opinion so he stopped the warrior and turned to Shao Xuan. “What do you think?”
Shao Xuan stood up. “I’ll go down the hill to check first.”
Many people refrained from entering a tribe they were not familiar with. If anything happened, they would never be able to escape. When he thought of this, Zheng Luo understood too. However, he did not sit in his house either, going down the hill with Shao Xuan. As a person who was very interested in casting and forging, the Xia was a mysterious group of people to him. If you didn’t have enough stuff to trade, you would never be able to hire a Xia person to craft a weapon for you in the city. The more experienced the Xia forger was, the less likely the forger was inclined to accept offers.
Every Xia person who left Gongjia Mountain was a master. Even if they weren’t famous now, it was only a matter of time. Once he became famous, meeting him would be difficult. This was a rare opportunity that Zheng Luo would never pass up.
When Shao Xuan arrived at the bottom of the hill, Gongjia Heng was sitting on a patch of grass near the river, watching the colourful line of ducks in the river.
After living near the tribe for a while, the ducks trusted the tribesmen more. They would even fight for the food scattered by the people.
“Your tribe rears so many birds? Aren’t you afraid they will fly away if you leave them here like that?” asked Gongjia Heng, pointing at the ducks in the river.
Shao Xuan smiled. “They flew here on their own, they can fly away if they want.”
“Right.” Gongjia Heng did not believe him. Then again, he was not here to look at ducks, he had only asked out of curiosity. As for whether the Flaming Horn people were rearing ducks, he had no interest.
“I asked a few tribes before finding this place.” When Gongjia Heng arrived, he had seen a Flaming Horn warrior dragging a freshly hunted wild boar. He had tossed it to his partner easily as if it was just a small sandbag. At the time, he thought, ‘Shao Xuan wasn’t lying, the tribesmen are strong.”
“Come into the village, we can talk inside. You must be tired too. Rest for a few days here before leaving,” said Shao Xuan.
Gongjia Heng did not refuse. Since he left Gongjia Mountain, other than staying for two days in the house he’d lived in for twenty years, he hadn’t gotten proper rest. There had been many fearsome beasts in the forest so he had been very tense to avoid the beasts. Now, he was just exhausted and needed some good sleep. Although it was his first time at Flaming Horn and did not know them well, he trusted Shao Xuan.
After introducing Heng to Zheng Luo and the rest, he brought Heng up the hill to his house.
Heng had been carrying a large bundle. When they entered the house, Heng plopped the bundle on the stone table and there was a loud thud.
“These are for you!” Gongjia Heng said seriously. “I haven’t properly thanked you yet. This is a portion of the fruit of my labour at Gongjia Mountain, also a gift of thanks to you.”
Shao Xuan took a look at the things in the bundle. Ten weapons including swords, axes, spears and daggers. Although they were just on the table, you could feel how sharp they were from the cold glint on the blades. Every weapon had a cloud symbol, which was Gongjia Heng’s signature. One of the golden swords had a dark cloud pattern which was Shao Xuan’s name.
Gongjia Heng gave a look of pride. With great confidence, he said, “This sword is, other than the one I gave as an offering at Gongjia Mountain, the best sword I have made until now. It can break a rock easily!” As he spoke, his eyes swept the room. He saw a few rocks as big as his fist and strode over to pick them up. “Watch!”
Zheng Luo, Duo Kang and the rest had squeezed into the house too. They craned their necks and stared unblinkingly, afraid they might miss something exciting. They had heard of Xia-made weapons that could easily cut rocks in half. However, these weapons were costly to make. Without the right connection, they couldn’t hire a Xia blacksmith either. The best masters didn’t usually meet outsiders.
Today, they had the chance to witness this, they were so excited they couldn’t breathe!
Gongjia Heng held the sword reflecting golden light in one hand, then threw the rock in the air with the other.
He slashed the sword down powerfully when the rock was in the air, the blade directly on the rock.
As the sword slashed, there was a flash of golden light that brought a feeling of sanctity. Like a flash of lightning in a dark night, as if it could split the skies in half.
Everyone around felt a chill down their spine and shuddered.
The golden sword made contact with the rock and created a sound that almost pierced their eardrums.
Stone powder flew.
The rock rolled on the ground.
The sword was still perfect, there was no dent.
The rock had a small chip.
Shao Xuan: “...”
Gongjia Heng: “...”
Zheng Luo, Duo Kang and the rest: “...”
I guess... this kind of counts as splitting rock?