Why did the tribesmen take salt so seriously?
Without salt, one still could survive. However, it became a necessity when there was salt.
It didn’t matter if it was this side or the other side, the tribe believed salt made them stronger. It aided in a healthy body and mind, was a gift from the heavens and life was only worth living with salt.
Tribes fought over territory, prey and many matters, salt was one of them.
Wacha said this salt mine was discovered centuries ago. The first people who discovered the mines could not secure it for themselves, and the entire tribe suffered for it. They had to move to the cities in the end. They had no choice. They could not fend off other tribes and to prevent even more attacks, they had to run.
After that, the salt wars escalated. The Flaming Horn tribe did not want to let this piece of meat go either, and in the end squeezed everyone out, taking a spot for themselves. However, even with their strength, it was impossible to keep it for themselves. They were a small tribe of less than one thousand. Them being able to take a spot as attributed to their own capabilities and Taihe tribe’s help. The Flaming Horns had always remembered this favour and that was why Taihe and Flaming Horn maintained trade relations all these years.
As the centuries passed, the fight over salt never stopped. However, the five tribes remained in their spots, as if they had united in the frontlines so no outsider could even set foot inside. With such a unanimous decision, it looked to outsiders like the five tribes had some agreement. In reality, there was a secret.
The number of tribes owning this place must not increase!
“That salt mine is a treasure trove!” sighed Wacha. This was also why he insisted they must take back the mines.
“Elder, have you heard of the Chilu people?” asked Wacha.
Chilu? Shao Xuan thought for a moment and nodded. “Yes but I only heard someone mention their name in the city. I don’t know much.”
The Chilu tribe was a tribe that believed salt was sacred. They had many legends involving salt. They claimed that their people were the first to discover salt- one of their ancestors had seen a peculiar animal, who led him to a lake. Then, he encountered a mystical presence. A salt lake.
The totem of this Chilu tribe was that peculiar animal called a ‘Salt Beast’. Till today, no one had seen such an animal and many accused the Chilu people of making up stories. However, the Chilu people strongly believed in its existence.
No one knew if this was true. However, when the great six tribes rose and built cities, becoming aristocratic slave masters, it brought changes to other tribes too.
Chilu tribe’s salt lake was taken and conquered and they were not able to take it back from the great six. The entire tribe scattered. The scattered Chilu people entered the cities, sometimes helping the aristocrats process salt. This became their livelihoods. However, a few years back there was news of the aristocrats finding a salt spring and sending some Chilu people there to build a city. That place was called Chilu City and a very busy place too.
Of course, Wacha mentioned the Chilu people’s history for a reason.
“The salt-making process of the Chilu people was as important as the Gongjia family’s art of craftsmanship. They are well-known among tribes, even slave masters hired them for salt. The salt they make is expensive and mostly for aristocrats. Other people would have to pay a fortune for it.”
Shao Xuan understood. It was just like Ji Ju’s famous golden grains.
“However, other than the five tribes, including us, who had taken over the salt mines, no one else knows that the salt from the mines does not even need complicated processing! Our salt is of way better quality than theirs!” Wacha’s face beamed with pride, happy that his own tribe had such a precious resource.
That was why the salt mines were rarely talked about. This was to dilute its presence, so fewer people knew of it. More than half of the tribesmen here did not even know what it looked like. They were all told that they should never trade their salt with outsiders. Outsiders were all directed to the specialised team for salt trading. The tribesmen had always followed this rule.
Not just Flaming Horn, the other four tribes, Fox, Shen Forest, Mountain Wind and Taihe all did the same. It was a well-kept secret.
High-quality salt could be sold at a high price, sometimes the equivalent of a kick at the famous Chilu people. They were able to exchange for more goods at the great six cities. However, this was a dangerous business too.
If they sold more of it, such a good thing would be targeted by the great six. Based on their past behaviour, they would definitely interfere and take the salt mines for themselves. And the Chilu people would be at the frontlines! That was why the five tribes had to keep it a secret!
That was why after discovering the true properties of this salt, all five tribes unanimously agreed to never let a new tribe in, and never tell anyone of this.
As for trades… Well, within one salt mine, there was still a difference in salt quality in different parts.
“The salt we mined from the cave ceiling are all kept aside. Those are good salt, all left for our own tribe’s use. After mining, we send them back to the tribe in secret. No one knows that it’s different from the rest.”
“The salt from the cave ceilings is the salt we usually eat?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Yep. Have you noticed they’re a little red?” asked Wacha.
“Yes, I have.” Shao Xuan had noticed the salt he received was different from what he was used to. However, it tasted good and everyone was using the same kind so he did not think much of it. He didn’t know there were many secrets in the salt.
“The salt we mine has a stronger taste and aids in physical strength compared to the Chilu salt or the salt from the new salt lake. When we roast meat, we only season with salt and yet it’s delicious enough. Your mood would be lifted with a taste! We have noticed that warriors did not eat as much unseasoned meat. We once tasted some salt from Anba City but it still doesn’t taste as good as ours! We sometimes trade to get some lower-quality salt from outsiders as cover.” Wacha thought the tribe was smart in not attracting attention and even using a cover.
To the tribesmen, it wasn’t just meat, it was like eating power! Salt was important.
“So the salt from the ceiling is for us. What about the rest? For trade?” asked Shao Xuan.
“Yes. We trade salt mined from other parts of the cave. Although the quality is still fine, compared to the ceiling, it’s not that good. Some parts produce even more mediocre salt. We sell this to other people.”
The tribe would always keep the best for themselves, then sell the lower grade goods to other people.
The four tribes were the same, especially with the salt mined near the ground. They would not even keep one piece for themselves. All five tribes had the same thought.
That was why other tribes never knew how good their salt was. These tribes would take the salt they bought here to the city to sell. And other people would not think much of it too. There were more salt lakes being discovered anyway. Although most of them were conquered by the great six, some still fell into the hands of other tribes. The great six did not bother to venture deep into the forest just for a salt mine.
As for this incident, Fox and Shen used salt to attract allies. These salt they offered were the medium-grade ones- they still did not leak the secret.
“Oh, I don’t think you’ve seen how raw salt looks like.” As Wacha spoke, he reached his hand to his waist and fished out a small pouch he carried with him. There was a small corked bottle made of beast bone as big as a palm.
Wacha pulled out the wooden corked and poured a little on his palm.
When the bottle was opened, Shao Xuan first thought the piece of salt was meat! It looked like marbled meat, perhaps due to a melting effect that gave it a soft look. It looked like a piece of meat!
“That’s… salt?!” Shao Xuan peered curiously. Up close, there was a hardness to its structure, like crystal. Fresh salt crystals from the cave would have a harder look compared to these carried by Wacha.
Wacha looked at the piece of salt passionately. “This is what we mined from the ceiling of the mines. After cooking, the colour will fade and look like the salt you use. However, us guards usually just use this one. We don’t process it. Two days before the incident, I put a small piece of fresh salt in this bottle. I wanted to use it for boiling soup with my brothers.” As he spoke, Wacha’s passion disappeared as he recalled the incident.
Most warriors carried salt with them, some parrying entire chunks of it. Salt mine guards like Wacha carried chunks. Other than using it in herbal medicine, sometimes, after exerting a lot of energy, they could add a little salt to water and drink it. Not sure what scientific explanation this had, but they did it based on instinct and their body’s needs.
Hunted prey would be marinated in salt too. The meat would not rot easily and if air-dried, they could be preserved even longer.
Some tribes that specialise in weaving and dying fabric would purchase low-grade salt on purpose because their dyeing process required salt. The outcome was expensive fabric sold to slave masters in the city sold at high prices.
To the tribes, salt was in every part of their lives. That was why conflict over salt was an age-old issue. Even without the fire crystals, Flaming Horn would still plan to take the salt mines by force.
“Elder, when you arrive at the salt mines and take it back for the tribe, you’ll see more salt. When we sleep in the salt caves, we often dream about chunks of these.” Wacha carefully put the salt chunk back into the bottle and licked his palm. He thought of something and suddenly said, “I dreamt of fire crystals last night but I’ve forgotten most of it when I woke. I think if we continue digging down from the cave, we’ll see fire crystals.”
First, they dug on the same level as sea level. Then, when all the salt was mined, they dug downwards. The Fox tribe did things differently. Maybe they dug downwards without exhausting the top levels first.
Shao Xuan thought this was possible. At Bat Mountain, other than the fire crystals he saw at the cave, the rest of it was deep inside the mountain.
Perhaps the salt in this mine was different because of the fire crystals. There was so much salt. How much fire crystals were there?
“The chief said to move in three days right?” asked Wacha.
Due to his injuries, Zheng Luo did not want Wacha to come this time. He did not invite Wacha to the meeting and kept the weapon meant for him. Zheng Luo would give it to him when he recovered.
“Yeah. In three days, we will leave with the Taihe tribe.”
Wacha scratched his head. He did not want to miss this. “I’m going to talk to the chief. I’m mostly recovered, I can definitely go with everyone in three days!”
Wacha hurried up the mountain but Shao Xuan did not follow. He walked to the duck house.
Pushing the door open, Shao Xuan saw the fat duck covering eggs with its wings. These eggs must be quite hardy or this fat duck would have crushed them already.
Shao Xuan talked over, ignoring the duck ruffling its feathers aggressively. “Lift your wings. I want to see how many eggs you’ve taken.”
The fat duck did not move, it was hesitant.
“I’m not taking them, I just want to see how many,” said Shao Xuan.
The fat duck retracted its wings begrudgingly.
“Get up and stand aside. You’re blocking most of the eggs, how can I see?” Shao Xuan gestured to the side.
The fat duck moved unwillingly.
Shao Xuan counted. Thirty-one eggs. They varied in colours and sizes, all from different nests. However, they were all taking so long to hatch. The rest of the eggs outside were already hatched into ducklings.
“Work hard and they’ll hatch soon.”
When he stepped out of the duck house, Shao Xuan realised snow was falling lightly.
Snow came early this year. He hoped there would not be a snowstorm on the day of battle.