60. River Mine (II)
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The River Mine was completely different compared to the northern mining field. This one was located next to a slow-moving river, along the rocky riverbank with vertical cliffs that rose up to two stories tall. Instead of open-pit mines, they utilized underground tunnel mines like Gray was used to.

Jade was probably found washing down this a long time ago and traced to this location. From the number of tunnels, the mine had been in operation for many years. Most of the current activity was coming from the downriver tunnels while those upriver were old and abandoned.

“Gather round, gather round!” A loud voice traveled over the caravan.

Everyone, including Gray, followed the voice to an open area along the river bank. There were around sixty people. The mounted warriors did not join them and instead took up guard posts around the mine.

The miners gathered in front of a man who was tall and well built. He was almost as big as Gray but with a wild mane of black hair and a full beard.

“Greetings! My name is Foreman Kang, I am in charge here. I see some familiar faces and some new ones. For those that are old workers, welcome back. For the newcomers, you’ll find that the Jade Hill Mining Company does things a little differently. Since we are mining underground instead of over a wide area, the normal claim rules don’t apply. Nor will you operate in large mining gangs as it causes too much chaos.”

“Instead, you all will have to form small teams of five. Space in the tunnels is limited and five is the most efficient and productive team size in the tunnels. You will work in your team and you will share profits with your team. Each team is allowed to claim a section within the tunnels or create a new section after consulting me. You will turn over jade or spiritual stones to me and you will be paid at the end of your one-month rotation when you return to town. We’ll provide food, tools, as well as anything else you require. All you need to do is mine!”

“Now, let’s start forming teams. During your trip here, you newcomers may have gotten to know one or two of the old-timers. I suggest you join them as they can help you get started quickly. Alright, that is all. Go!”

People started shuffling around, looking to group up. Krish, who was beside Gray, gave him a nudge and a slightly embarrassed smile.

“So… a team, huh?” Gray said.

“Yup, want to join us?”

He considered the matter. Being forced to team up wasn’t ideal. His mining secrets couldn’t be revealed to others no matter what. However, he liked Krish and his sons. It wasn’t the worst thing in the world if he joined their group. He just had to get some guarantees from them.

“How much do you earn in a week?” He asked.

“Hmm… a week is hard to say but in a month, usually over fifty silvers. Sometimes close to a hundred silvers if we hit a good spot.” Krish replied.

That was more or less what Gray expected so he pulled the man to the side and said in a low voice,

“We can form a team but I have several conditions…”

After talking briefly, their mining team was formed with Gray, Krish, and his three sons. Krish’s previous team had two other people but since he was bringing his third son this time around, they left to find another team. A loner like Gray was perfect for them. For Gray, he didn’t really care who he worked with as long as they did as he said and didn’t break the rules he laid down.

Krish led them to an old, depleted mining tunnel up the river. The insides had been converted into lodging for the miners. Sleeping quarters for each team were constructed out of the maze of tunnels using rocks and debris. They found an unoccupied one and claimed it for themselves.

“Listen up.” Krish said, addressing his sons, “Gray and I have come to an agreement.”

“What’s going on, dad?” Kabir asked.

“Gray is the master of his own mining company, the King’s Mountain Mining Company. We’re going to work for him.”

“What, why!” Kifat asked, glancing at Gray suspiciously.

“Shut up!” Krish said, his tone leaving no room for argument, “By joining, we will all be paid a base salary of fifty silver per week for the duration here. He also won’t care about any jade or spiritual stones we dig up ourselves. The only rule we have to follow is that we leave him alone when he mines and give him complete privacy. We’re not allowed to ask questions or tell others about our arrangement. Master Gray likes to work alone and we will respect his wishes.”

Kifat looked like he still wanted to complain but the eldest Kabir elbowed him, “Shut up, fifty silver is way more than I can earn in a week.”

“Fine, fine! That hurt, you asshole.”

Krish clapped his hands, “Looks like we’re in agreement!”

He looked at Gray who fished out two gold coins. There was nothing better at sealing a deal than money.

“Thank you, Master Gray!” Krish said with a slight bow.

“Don’t call me that in front of others. You’ll still be the team leader.” Gray said.

Krish nodded turned his sons, “Right you lazy bums. Get your stuff in order and let’s get to work.”

They unpacked their baggage, made their beds, and got ready to mine. Gray did the same and unwrapped his shiny, brand-new pickaxe which he had been hiding in his pack.

“That’s a foreman’s pickaxe!” The youngest, Kirit, exclaimed when he saw the item.

“Shit, it is!”

“Can I touch it?”

The three sons all gave Gray envious looks. A foreman’s pickaxe was a luxury that common miners could not hope to afford.

Before Gray could say anything, Krish slapped them across the head. “What did I just say? Don’t ask Master Gray about such things! Let’s go!”

Krish took the lead, his sons following obediently behind, with Gray bringing up the rear. They left the mine with the sleeping quarters and entered the newest mine that was the farthest downriver. This underground mine was way bigger than any mine in the King’s Mountains. It comfortably held the roughly six or seven hundred miners with ample room to spare. It extended downward by more than ten levels and had a myriad of side tunnels that twisted and turned as they followed the trail of jade.

They stopped to grab tools provided by the company and headed deeper. They descended to the fifth level and claimed an exploratory tunnel that went a sideways direction.

As the father and three sons went to work, Gray picked a flat patch of earth and took a nap. This was a part of their deal. He wouldn’t bother with anything during the day since he had to save his energy for the evening.

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The completed Book 1 with 105 chapters is available for download in Ebook and pdf format on my Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/kigreenwriting

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