The large man’s name was Wacha. On the way here, Zheng Luo had already told Shao Xuan about this person. Since Wacha was mostly stationed at the salt mines, he did not spend much time in the village. He did return for ceremonies and stood near the front so Shao Xuan recognised him.
And because Shao Xuan remembered how Wacha looked, he was shocked.
He remembered Wacha being a tanned man. When the day was hot, he would walk around topless and his shoulders shone in the sun like a piece of barbecued meat shining with grease. There were many venomous insects in the salt mines that bit humans and left scars. If the remaining venom was not excreted by the body completely, the scar would leave a hole in the skin.
Wacha, who spent so much time at the mines, had a lot of experience with these insects, evident from his pock-marked face. It was very rough, rougher than orange peel. The tribesmen did not think much of it, some even though he looked more intimidating like that to be able to lead his team. It was true too. With a face like that, when he put on a solemn expression, one look at you would feel like a boulder about to squash you into pulp.
Right now, Wacha had lost all his ‘intimidating’ scars, his dark, tanned skin had lightened into a rosy glow. At first glance, Shao Xuan thought it was the wrong man.
Wacha was embarrassed as Shao Xuan stared. Every person who visited was shocked, Wacha had seen reflections of himself in tubs of water, even borrowing the shamaness’ only mirror to check his face… Utterly terrifying!
Wacha felt like he could not meet anyone in the tribe anymore. Without the marks on his face, he didn’t feel like the mighty leader of the salt mines team anymore. It was embarrassing!
Seeing Wacha’s sad face, Zheng Luo scolded, “This is a good thing! It means all the venom residues in your body have been excreted!”
The venom left behind by salt mine insects was stubborn. Even the herbs made by the Taihe tribe weren’t completely effective. They were limited too, anyone who wanted the herbs had to trade using a lot of other stuff. Since Wacha didn’t want to spend too much, he did not trade for any of these herbs. However, no one had expected this to happen after he ate a few eggs as he nursed his injuries!
As they spoke, a woman carrying a large container of water walked in. This was Wacha’s wife, Susha. They were both totemic warriors and guarded the salt mines.
When she saw Zheng Luo and Shao Xuan, Susha quickly put down the water tank and flipped her long hair, braided with animal teeth ornaments, behind her shoulder and smiled. “Chief, Elder, you’re both here!”
Just like Wacha, Susha’s face was a lot smoother and had a healthy glow. She did not look like a salt mine guard at all.
As she spoke, she took out another egg. “I got this from the shamaness. We’ll share this later.”
Wacha had four people in his family-- Wacha and his wife, a young son and his mother. Wacha’s father had passed away during a hunt a long time ago, there were only four of them now. Usually, when the couple left the village for work, the grandmother would care for the child.
When the grandmother had received news about the incident at the mines, she had been terrified. She immediately went to the shamaness to trade for two duck eggs with the salt in her home when Wacha returned with a severe injury, while Susha also sustained some injuries. The old lady had heard that these eggs had detoxification properties and aided in healing so she immediately made them eat the eggs.
The effects were very obvious.
Since Susha’s wounds were not serious, she recovered in a few days. Wacha was severely injured with too much poison in him, plus multiple bone fractures. He hadn’t been able to get off his bed and had been lying down for days. However, today, he was already able to walk and most of the poison had been cleared from his body.
When he saw the egg, Wacha gave a look of helplessness. “I’m already mostly recovered, I don’t have to eat anymore. You three share the egg.”
“This is the last one, the shamaness doesn’t have many left either. And you’re mostly recovered, so you don’t have to eat any after this.” Susha planned to cook this egg.
All the duck eggs the patrol team found were kept with the shamaness. Not everyone could get the eggs easily. Since Wacha and his wife were injured at work, the tribe took some responsibility too. That was why the first two eggs were given by the shamaness. After that, they traded with her using salt.
Since they were guards at the salt mines, they naturally received a larger share of salt. Shao Xuan saw several ceramic tanks in the house with wide mouths and deep contents. There was also some ceramic wares used for cooking salt.
There was a smaller ceramic cup with a small bottom. It was used for measurement. During trades between tribes, they would use this cup as a unit of measurement. However, if the tribes were too far away, they’d make more of these cups with salt placed in them. Then they’d trade with the salt still in these cups. On some level, this was basically a type of currency. That was why the tribe was strict in maintaining their hold on the salt mines. Years ago, they had forced themselves in on getting a share of the salt through battle too.
When Susha left, Wacha asked, “Chief, what would you like to know?”
“Shao Xuan wanted to ask about the salt mines.” Zheng Luo brought two stools and sat with Shao Xuan.
“At the salt mines, in the beginning, the Fox and Shen Forest people showed restraint in their attacks right?” asked Saho Xuan.
“Yes, that’s right.” Although he almost died, he still knew that the other party had shown restraint. If they really wanted to kill everyone, there wouldn’t be so many of them returning alive.
“A few days before the incident, were there any odd movements on the Fox and Shen’s side?”
Wacha shook his head in pity. “I did not notice.”
It was not because Wacha wasn’t observant, they were just too careful. The guards at the salt mines consisted of five tribes, neither tribe trusted each other easily. Since Flaming Horn and Taihe had trade relationships, they sometimes communicated a little. As for the rest, they did not talk much. Plus, every tribe’s guards were stationed in different parts of the mines. Under normal circumstances, they would not set foot into other tribes’ territories.
Zheng Luo had also asked them for any useful information. “That is why it must be something very important inside. The person who discovered it was afraid more people would find it, that’s why he hid the secret.”
Shao Xuan listened to Wacha’s detailed recount of the incident, then excused himself.
“Chief, Elder, we must get the salt mines back as soon as possible! We cannot delay this until winter!” He was familiar with the Fox tribe and deeply understood how cunning these people could be. The longer they waited, the worse the situation would become. Then they might lose the salt mines forever.
“Don’t worry. Just rest. I’ll bring my men and Taihe’s men out to meet the Mountain Wind people. We’ll discuss. If we decided to declare war, we’ll still attack even if it is snowing,” said Zheng Luo.
As they left Wacha’s house, Zheng Luo asked Shao Xuan, “What do you think?”
“The same as my previous guess. The Fox and Shen people’s actions at the beginning and recent behaviour were incongruent. The second time, they did not show mercy and even recruited many tribes for reinforcements. It is obvious they planned well. The mines must be heavily guarded now,” said Shao Xuan.
“That was why the Mountain Wind people suffered badly. They were very confused in the beginning and when they returned to the mines to investigate, they realised Fox and Shen had a complete change in attitude. Of fifty people, only ten returned. Mountain Wind is furious this time. In the past, they rarely left their village during winter but just because of this incident, I believe they’ll declare war even if it means fighting in a snowstorm.” Zheng Luo sighed but his eyes were determined. “No matter what, we must take the salt mines back! Shao Xuan, rest up. Come with me tomorrow.”
When he returned, Shao Xuan slept well. He finally completely relaxed here in his home and all fatigue was slept off.
The next day, he wrapped the sword Gongjia Heng fixed in leather, then brought with him some necessities.
Zheng Luo was already waiting. Other than Shao Xuan, there were Duo Kang and forty other warriors. Guang Yi remained behind to guard the village, reinforcing defences with the patrol team to prevent ambush attacks.
After leaving the village, they waited a while. Fifty people from Taihe finally arrived, led by the chief. This time, the meeting of three tribes would be attended by all three chiefs.
“How are the Mountain Wind people like?” Shao Xuan was not familiar with this tribe. Other than this incident, Flaming Horn did not meet them much and he rarely heard of them.
“Mountain Wind? They’re a bunch of people who think they’re birds,” answered Duo Kang, his description short but his tone mocking.