General’s Gown Chapter 24

Chapter 24 Blood-like Sunset Part 4

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This small village was located in the foothills of Xixia Mountain. Xixia Mountain was not towering, but slightly higher than the average hill. When it first clears after the rain, the green mountain top would be faintly clouded. However, such an unremarkable mountain range had become the border between Yan and Dongyun. The south of the mountain range was Yan, and the north of the mountain range was Dongyun. The two countries had always lived in peace and seldom had wars. The jurisdiction of the border was also loose. The two of them walked along the mountain path. On the way, they encountered many village women carrying bamboo baskets with shabby clothes, and many young children waiting to be fed were hung on their chests. Yan Changqing was stunned by what he accidentally saw in the peasant woman’s bamboo basket.

Although the small back basket was covered by floral cloth, the black bright stones emerged from the corner that was not tucked. It was clearly temper snow stones! 

Helian Rongchuan turned his head, and saw Yan Changqing staring at the village woman carrying the basket thoughtfully. He smiled faintly, and said, “They all picked up the leaks.” 

Yan Changqing frowned: “Pick up the leaks?” 

“God really can be unfair sometimes. This Qixia Mountain, south of the mountain range belongs to your Yan Kingdom, there are overgrown weeds, and nothing is desirable. But this Qixia Mountain to the north belongs to our Dongyun Kingdom and there was countless temper snow stones in the belly of the mountain. When the Dongyun Kingdom sends people to mine and transport it, it is inevitable that a lot of fragments of rocks would be dropped. The villagers at the foot of the mountains secretly cross the border and pick up these rocks to sell for money to supplement their families.” 

Helian Rongchuan spoke, while moving forward: “Those pieces of temper snow stones, although you can’t earn a lot of money, but you can still buy a few feet of cloth for children and a few buckets of thick rice.” 

Yan Changqing watched silently as Helian Rongchuan walked away.

As the sun faded to the west, the two of them were silent all the way. Unknowingly they had come under a cliff. Yan Changqing couldn’t help but clench his scabbard tightly, and followed Helian Rongchuan not far away. It was quite remote here, and it was silent everywhere. Only the rushing of the waterfall in the distance could be faintly heard. After walking along the cliff for a while, he saw that the path in front of him was getting steeper and steeper, but suddenly it turned. Behind the steep cliff, it turned out to be a huge cave. 

Helian Rongchuan raised his eyebrows: “The things are inside, but does the general dare enter?” 

Yan Changqing asked, “Why not?” 

He said this as he stepped forward. 

There was an exceptional charm in the cave. The stone wall above his head was flat and upon closer inspection, one could see that it was full of traces of knives and axes. He occasionally kicked one or two hard objects at his feet, which turned out to be fist-sized bright black temper snow stones. 

It turned out that this was the mine where the Dongyun people mined for temper snow stones. 

As he walked in, the light dimmed, and Helian Rongchuan stopped and lit a torch. Yan Changqing finally saw what was behind him, and his heart beat quickly. 

Temper snow stones.

Twenty ships of temper snow stones were neatly stacked on top of the stone steps. There were more than twenty steps in the stone steps, and a woman in white stood impressively at the top. At first glance, Yan Changqing thought that there was a village women picking up the leaks. However, the woman saw someone coming, but stood motionless for a long time. 

It turned out it was a white jade statue. 

Helian Rongchuan climbed up to the top of the stone steps, step by step. His two long legs strode up the stone steps, which made it look even more straight and slender. Leaning on the white jade statue with his back, he smiled and beckoned to Yan Changqing: 

“Come on, come up and meet your mother-in-law.” 

Yan Changqing raised his eyes and glanced at Helian Rongchuan coldly, motionless. 

Helian Rongchuan had no choice but to say: “Okay, please, Master Yan, move your feet forward and come up and talk?” 

Yan Changqing nodded slightly, then walked up the steps unhurriedly. 

Now that he was getting closer, he realized that the carving of this jade statue was slightly rough. Whether it was the jade statue’s hemline or facial contour, the carving technique was slightly immature. It seemed that a novice carver had put a lot of effort into it but was not very skilled. However, although the carving technique was unfamiliar, the expression of this jade statue was extremely vivid, especially the face of the jade statue. Although it was not amazing at first glance, it was very gentle and amiable. It seemed as if it was able to speak at any time. 

The more Yan Changqing looked at it, the more he felt that this jade statue seemed to be familiar. Looking at it’s appearance, it was somewhat similar to Helian Rongchuan.

Could it be that this jade statue was really Helian Rongchuan’s biological mother? 

Then why were these twenty ships of temper snow stones here? 

Helian Rongchuan patted the empty seat on the stone steps beside him: “Is Master Yan curious? Then sit down. If you sit here, this prince will tell you.” 

Yan Changqing glanced at him then found a distance of about one foot from Helian Rongchuan and sat down upright. With his waist straight, he stated: “I would like to hear the details.” 

Helian Rongchuan saw him acting cold, but was not at all annoyed: 

“Where did we speak to in the previous story? Oh yes, it was how the ill-fated woman made a living. Heavens truly never bars one’s way. The woman gritted her teeth and cried all the way through Qixia Mountain on the way back to the village. Occasionally, she saw Dongyun people extracting the cave where the temper snow stones were. Transporting them, the carriage that held these precious stones came and went, and a few pieces would be left behind. So in order to survive, the woman sneaked over to Qixia Mountain every day shortly after giving birth to the little boy, and followed the carriage secretly, picking up the leftovers. Afterwards, she would sell them for money.” 

“One turned to ten, ten turned to a hundred. There were many poor women like her in the village where she was. So the woman kindly brought these poor women and their children who can already walk to go pick up the leaks together. But with so many people following behind the carriage, how can they not be discovered? The officials mining the ore soon found them. They should also be considered lucky as the official didn’t hold them accountable for the crime of selling snow temper stones secretly. On the contrary, he was willing to give them errands so that they could earn money from their own labor.” 

Yan Changqing frowned slightly. He had a bad premonition about the direction of this story.

“The woman was naturally very happy when she heard that and she even brought her own son. The official arranged for them to take things to set on fire and to go to the cave to conduct fire explosion excavations. What is fire explosion? It was to heat the rock wall in the cave, and then pour cold water. The rock was hard, but it would split open between the sudden cold and heat. Then hit with an axe, one can mine the temper snow stones. It sounds simple, right? That woman thought so too, so she and other poor women happily agreed to this job.” 

Helian Rongchuan spoke unhurriedly, but the smile at the corner of his mouth gradually disappeared: 

“It’s just that, the kind official didn’t tell the poor people that using the fire explosion excavation to retrieve the stones, that although it was extremely efficient, it was also extremely dangerous. If one was not careful, one may cause a cave-in. Therefore, in every cave that excavates the snow-hardened stone, the fire explosion excavation workers are the ones who earn the most money. The official, in order to swallow the money that was sent, would use a very low salary to cheat these poor women to replace those fire explosion workers.” 

Helian Rongchuan turned around and looked up at the jade statue. At this angle, his slightly long hair between his forehead just blocked his eyes, and he couldn’t see his expression clearly. Following his eyes, Yan Changqing noticed that, less than a step behind the jade statue, there was a deep pit several thousands of metres deep. The pit was filled with layers of black boulders. Like a silent tomb. A black tomb built of rough temper snow stones. 

Yan Changqing only felt his heart sink. He understood something instantly. 

The hardships of beginning an undertaking of the village women, the heavy bamboo basket bending their thin shoulders, yet they still clasped their children’s little hands tightly, with hope for life. Step by step, they would walk into the dark cave.

A thin little boy, barefoot and staring with big dark brown eyes, looked at the low and depressed stone wall as he walked. 

“Mother, I’m scared.” The little boy held the hand of the woman next to him tightly. 

“Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid. When we finish today’s work, we will have money to buy food. Mother will make you elm money to eat, okay?” 

The temptation of the elm money was too great for the little boy, and he swallowed his saliva, gritted his teeth and continued to move forward. 

The more they went, the darker it got in the cave. Only the torches were left to shine brightly and darkly on the yellow and thin faces of the poor women who were walking forward, just like female ghosts going to h*ll one by one. The little boy’s legs and feet were soft, and the words he said came out as a cry: 

“Mother, I…I’m still scared.” 

The woman hesitated for a while, sighed, then squatted down to take the small basket behind the little boy. Her calloused hand gently rubbed the little boy’s hair, and said: 

“Then you go back and wait for your mother at the entrance of the cave. Don’t run, okay?” 

The little boy’s eyes lit up: “Okay! I’ll be good, and wait for mother to come out and give me buns!” 

The little boy was relieved and ran out towards the white light at the entrance of the cave. The faint flame behind him dimmed, and the woman’s slightly haggard smile was gradually swallowed by darkness. 

The little boy was so afraid of the darkness in the cave that he didn’t even look back. 

Not even a glance.

“Master Yan, do you know what the sound of a landslide is like? The sound is so loud, it’s as if it is going to split the whole mountain apart. For a moment, you can’t hear or see anything. You just feel the blood all over your body as if it wanted to spray out from one’s eyes, nose and mouth. A scene of blood red. But you can’t move. Like you are buried under a huge boulder, you can only watch.”

Helian Rongchuan’s mouth had a faint sad smile. His tone was still calm, but his fists were clenched so tightly, his nails were embedded in his palms, revealing white bones: 

“Watch and unable to do anything.” 

Yan Changqing turned his head and watched Helian Rongchuan’s face quietly. There seemed to be a dim light floating in those black mercury-like eyes.

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