The Mountain’s Bounty

Remnant: Book of Xiandol Chapter 5

The Sing Mountains stretched almost the entirety of the land of Callia, from the icy north sea to the humid forest of the south. The craggy range and rough foothills were of little interest to the Kingdom, nor the people living within it. Though iron of good quality was of great desire and limited quantity, brief surveys of the granite outcroppings revealed that little was available in easily accessible regions. The Kingdom managed to seek out a feasible source of the ore from the bogs not far from the capital’s coastline, but those choosing to go behind the Enforcer’s back would eventually stumble upon an unorthodox method for unearthing bits of the raw metal.

Herzeg was a weathered, scruffy trader who had grown tired of taking advantage of the people who lived in the towns about Xiandol. In one of his short stays in the capital to pick up supplies, he came across a strange woman and her husband who tipped him off to a location in the mountains where he was likely to make it big with only a slight amount of work, as well as work under the nose of the Kingdom. In exchange for the information and some of the riches, Herzeg was to gather men for the operation and lead them, including the strange woman, to the promised site. The weathered man agreed.

The woman, revealing herself as one of mage blood, displayed her aptitude toward the stone, the power she held able to seek out and unearth hidden ores where they lay. Herzeg and his group had since taken up camp upon one desolate stretch of the mountainside. The first snow of the approaching winter had yet to come forth over the peaks, but the cold wind blew nonetheless. From the high elevation of the mountainside crevices, they were able to take in the vast expanse of the Xiandolan lowlands, but their gazes remained pointed to the rock faces instead.

Serinda was the mage’s name, a woman with raven hair, who had married a forge master in the capital and hid away from the other magi of the sanctum. With her powers, she had managed to make headway through the fault lines of the mountain’s face, and come across the reddened stains of the desired ore within. From there, the workers would take to the chunks of fallen stone to pry away at the veins hidden inside.

The clangs of dull metal against the stone echoed about the tall ridges to either side of the mountainside gully. Herzeg maneuvered over the uneven ground and loose rubble. “We need four more bucket-fulls of the raw stuff if we want to keep up production.” He directed loudly, kicking through scraps. He gazed down the valley to the flatland below. The meager river below was more dried banks of mud than flowing water, a result of the poor amount of rainfall during the seasons previous. Beside it was the group’s primary camp, where the haphazardly constructed bloomeries were located, built to refine the rocky ore they had been collecting.

Up one of the tight slopes, the mage was seeing to forging more cracks and separating another section of outcropping. Above her, on either side, a pair of men were forcing wide planks into the forming crevices to leverage the rock outward when the woman was out of the way. “Outta the way!” One called down.

Serinda ducked in the opposite direction and danced up another heap of loose granite. The workers leaned into their levers and pushed the rock outward, shattering bits of it away before the mass tumbled apart and spread its remains over the land below. Herzeg joined the workers as they shuffled the rubble further apart, eyes trained to search for any signs of ore. The boss, himself, took to picking up individual shards of the granite to judge the quality of the finding. “Nothing.” He glanced up to the sky, where the cloud cover and shifting sun were beginning to bring the land to darkness. “Grab up what you have on you, and let’s head down!” He ordered loudly down the piles of rubble.

With the bounty for the day collected up in buckets and pants pockets, the workers made the trudge down the steep and uneven paths to the dirt ground below. The mage joined by his side. She wore plainclothes, so as to not stand out from the others, but the lack of signs of physical labor upon her body hinted at her origins of the capital. “Herzeg, we need to move some of the good soon.”

The leader huffed and adjusted his grip on the meagerly-filled bucket. “Unless you want to trade in unmarked billets, you’ll have to wait.”

Serinda folded her hands under her arms to save them from the growing cold. “My husband and daughter in the capital won’t be able to eat if I’m not able to send them coppers.”

“Your husband needs to find someone with the tools to replicate the King’s seal like I’ve been saying.” Herzeg shrugged and shook his head apathetically.

“You know anyone like that would be in the Keep’s filthy pockets. We would be reported.”

“Then you can wait for the others to get back from their rounds and share what they were able to trade for.” Herzeg sighed. He passed the bucket back and forth between his arms to offer a break to his muscles. Inside the camp, the few other workers were fiddling with what remained of the previous day’s diggings. The women were tending to the fires and stew pots upon them, or bringing up buckets of water from the meager flow of the nearby river.

The temporary settlement had one primary purpose: to take the raw ore and rock from the mountainside and turn it into sufficiently pure samples of iron. The metal would then be smuggled and traded off for those desperate for tools or weapons for a cheaper price than the capital charged. The mud from the riverbed served greatly in building up the stout earthen pipe ovens that had been constructed by the men to separating the slag from the pure metal. Herzeg approached his forge-hand, who was attending to the spent coal and glowing embers at the base bloomery. The ore inside glowed and shifted into bubbly puddles of stringy semi-molten metal at the open base. “Get much today?” Gul asked as the leader deposited what was brought with him.

A few of the workers followed up with their own hauls of rough stone, containing the traces of ore, and dumped them on the meager pile. Herzeg ignored the question, instead looking about the tents of the camp. “Where are the brothers?”

The forge-hand shrugged and wiped his hands of gray ash and soot. “Still not returned.”

Herzeg shook his head and looked to the west. “They should have been back this morning, if not yesterday.”

“People are probably wary about buying unmarked iron.”

The leader shook his head and stared off across the land as it slowly became enveloped by the encroaching fog from the west. “It’s the end of the season; the townsmen have their coppers, and their tools are likely all but worn from being worked all season.”

“Quite.” Gul wiped his brow. “I doubt they’d run off, either. The younger one still wants to make cozy with your mage.”

Herzeg let out a singular laugh. “Not a chance.” He remarked loudly as he caught sight of the woman trudging by.

Serinda placed herself on the edge of the settlement and looked off across the vast flat land. “And if they happened to be captured?”

“The enforcers are all holed up already by this time of year.” Herzeg huffed.

“Those two likely headed all the way to Rallig, just as you suggested.” The other man recalled.

Herzeg bit his tongue and stomped the matted grass loudly. “Why? Why did we trust those two to head off on their own?” He turned back to the camp and the few people within earshot. “This’ll have to be the last night here! First sun, we pack up and move- up north!”

The others about the settlement huffed and suddenly redirected their efforts back to their tents and the other temporary fixtures set about the camp. Gul kicked dirt into the embers of the fire to stifle the burning, causing light smoke to begin pouring out from the earthen flue. “Not at this rate. We won’t be able to move all this material, sir.”

Herzeg fumbled with the crate of tools nearby, extracting from it a short spade. “Wrap what we have in some canvas, we’ll bury it in the mud at the riverside. It’s better if we don’t get caught with it on us anyway.”

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