Chapter 23 Chance Encounter
Yan Liqiang strolled along the county town of Huanglong County alone. After asking two people for directions, it only took him a little more than an hour to arrive at the county town’s Chaoyang Alley and located the ice shop within.
The name of this ice shop was Chaoyang Ice Shop and it was located in the middle of the alley. Yan Liqiang saw the signboard outside of the ice shop as soon as he walked to the mouth of the alleyway. At the sight of the signboard, he made his way there.
In his past life, Yan Liqiang had once thought that the popsicles that people ate during the summertime were an enjoyment of the modern generation that only came around after the invention of freezers. This had been how he’d thought of it until he watched a cultural relic auction on the television show. Amongst all of the relics they had shown, there was an ancient chest that was used to store ice. When he heard the introduction made by the host, it was only then that he realized that the Ancient Chinese had been enjoying cold drinks and popsicles in the summer since the Tang Dynasty. This instantly made him realize just how uncultured he was.
The ancient people didn’t make ice with a modern freezer. They used saltpeter instead. When saltpeter melts in water, it quickly absorbs the heat in water and freezes. The people of the past used this property of the saltpeter to manufacture ice cubes. They filled up two basins — one big and one small — with water and placed the smaller basin in the bigger one. Then they’d pour the saltpeter in the big basin. By the time the water in the bigger basin had frozen, the contents of the smaller basin would be frozen too.
Things were also the same in this world, only the rich could enjoy the luxury of ice in the summer. Therefore, ice shops only existed in economically prospering county towns or big cities. It goes without saying that some of the wealthy clans, like the Hong Clan in Liuhe Town, had an ice room in their residence for making ice cubes. Yan Liqiang thought back to his younger days. Whenever the hottest period of the year arrived, Hong Tao, who was older than him by two years, would come to school every afternoon with a popsicle in his hand. The popsicle had crystal sugar added to it, which made it all the more impressive, leaving a strong impression on his mind. That impressiveness remained fresh in his memories until today because it was as if a wealthy man had driven a Rolls-Royce to the countryside.
It was summer right now and a little past two o’clock in the afternoon. The cicadas on a few of the old trees in the alley were chirping. The sun glared down over his head, scorching the piping hot ground. A few children were hanging around outside the ice shop, they were hungrily trying to catch a glimpse inside of the shop. The shop assistant of the ice shop, who was dressed in blue, stood at the entrance of the ice shop and was shooing the little children away, just like a scarecrow that drove sparrows away from the rice paddy field. "Shoo shoo shoo, don’t block the entrance. If you want to eat some ice, go ask for money from your daddy…"
As the shop assistant was shooing away the little children, Yan Liqiang entered the ice shop.
The moment he entered the ice shop, Yan Liqiang could feel the temperature drop by a few degrees. The temperature inside was noticeably lower. A cooling wave swept over him and it felt extremely pleasant.
There was a counter in the shop and behind it were a few freezers, wooden blocks that were coated with a layer of tin on the inside.
A man was standing behind the counter. After sizing up Yan Liqiang, he decided that for his age he should be different from those little brats who came here to scam for food and drinks, a smile broke across his face. "Are you here to buy ice, sir? We serve all kinds of ice here, pure ice, ice with crystal sugar or bayberry juice added, we have them all at affordable prices. Which one would you like?"
When Yan Liqiang heard that there was ice with bayberry juice added, he realized that he was salivating all of a sudden. It was a pity, but he knew that the ice that these ice shops sold was at least the size of a basin. A basin worth of ice was enough to supply for a family. Only great clans were willing to make those popsicles that Hong Tao ate in the past for themselves. These small shops would never make small ice blocks that were the size of popsicles because the manufacturing cost was too high. Ordinary children wouldn’t be able to afford them at all.
Yan Liqiang tried his best to put on a pure, innocent smile on his face before speaking to that shop assistant. "Ahem. Do you sell saltpeter here?"
"Come again?" The shop assistant had an astonished look on his face.
"I’m talking about saltpeter, the thing used to make ice. I’d like to buy some!"
"We sell ice here, not saltpeter!" The smile on the shop assistant’s face faded. If it wasn’t for the smile on Yan Liqiang’s face, he would probably have been chased out of the shop right now.
"I know. I just want to buy some. Is that possible?"
The shop assistant firmly shook his head. "We don’t sell saltpeter here. Why don’t you go try somewhere else? Besides, the shopkeeper isn’t here and I’m not in the position to make any decisions..."
"Do you know where I can buy saltpeter?"
"I don’t know either!"
While they were talking, another customer came in. The shop assistant immediately ignored Yan Liqiang and went off to attend to the customer that had just arrived.
Seeing the look on the shop assistant face, Yan Liqiang knew that this negotiation was probably not going to work out. He rubbed his nose and walked out of the shop.
Yan Liqiang wandered around in the county town of Huanglong County for the next few hours. He hadn’t expected that buying some saltpeter would turn out to be so difficult.
He visited all three ice shops, but none of them were willing to sell him any saltpeter. What drove Yan Liqiang a little crazy was that saltpeter had an extremely limited amount of use, so in the entire county town, besides the ice shops, he didn’t know where else he could get saltpeter.
Fortunately, Yan Liqiang had strong communication skills. Although he couldn’t buy any saltpeter from the ice shops, he managed to find out a bit of useful information. He learned from a shop assistant working at one of the ice shops that a trading store that purchased fur had supplies of saltpeter. It was located a the major trading town, Shiqiao Town, which was right outside of the county town.
Yan Liqiang racked his brain and recalled that aside from making ice, saltpeter could also be used to tan leather. Since that trading store in the Shiqiao Town accepted leather, they probably supplied raw materials for leather tanning, like lime or saltpeter.
By the time Yan Liqiang exited from the trading store in Shiqiao Town, it was late in the evening and the sun was about to set.
The saltpeter in the trading store was sold to customers wholesale. Those clients usually bought tens or hundreds of jin every time. When he went into the store asking for a jin of saltpeter, he was nearly chased away by the staff as they thought he was fooling around. In the end, only when Yan Liqiang fished out some silver, did the shop assistant skeptically sell a little to him. However, since the price of two maces of silver was considered to be a ‘sky-high price’ for saltpeter, he only bought one jin.
Walking out of the trading store, Yan Liqiang touched the few taels of saltpeter in front of his chest and let out a long sigh. This time, he had only bought a little bit just to see if he could create gunpowder. If he could, he’d naturally find a way to get his hands on more saltpeter in the future.
He raised his head to look at the sky. It was getting late. It wouldn’t be good if he returned to the Weaponsmiths Quarter too late and made Qian Su worry.
With that in mind, Yan Liqiang made his way towards the public square that was not too far away in the heart of the town.
Shiqiao Town was indeed a major trading town. Amongst the visitors, there were particularly many customers and merchants that were coming and going. The public square in the heart of the town was surrounded by stores and inns and there were also street stalls set up along the public square, selling some herbs and other miscellaneous items. There were also carriage renting services provided.
Yan Liqiang had just walked to the public square and was about to flag for a carriage when he saw four rhinodrake steeds charging into the public square mountain like the wind along with their horsemen. One of the horsemen leaped off the back of his steed while another one instantly retrieved a gong from his saddle and stuck it rapidly.
In his past life, if one wanted their posts to be noticed or shared on online forums, then they’d only have to sticky their posts or request for internet celebrities to reshare it. However, there was no internet and there were no forums in this world. Although he heard that there were newspapers in the big towns, Yan Liqiang had never seen any. Other than the authorities who could post up various announcements, if one wanted to make any public announcements, hitting the gong would be the quickest way to attract attention in a crowded place.
Sure enough, the four horsemen who rode to the public square on their rhinodrake steeds managed to gather a large crowd of people from around the public square within just the blink of an eye.
Since it was happening around him, Yan Liqiang squeezed himself into the middle of the crowd to be a part of the bustling scene, curious to see just what those two wanted to do.
Among the four horsemen, one was a little older in age while the other three were quite young. Judging from the attire that the older man was wearing, he seemed to be a steward from some great clan while the other three seemed to be guards of some sort.
At this very moment, regardless of the older steward or the three younger guards, they were all drenched in sweat and had panic-stricken looks on their faces. The three younger guards seemed slightly better than the older steward, who was panting with a pale face.
"Isn’t that person the steward of the Lu Clan? What is he doing?"
A merchant at a street stall beside Yan Liqiang asked the person beside him in curiosity and Yan Liqiang just so happened to hear his question.
The Lu Clan. Yan Liqiang had vaguely heard of them before he came to Huanglong County. Huanglong County had a great clan that went on for a few hundred of years and that was the Lu Clan. But Yan Liqiang had no idea if this Lu Clan that the people around him were speaking of was the same Lu Clan. After all, there were plenty of great clans with the surname Lu in Huanglong County.
Seeing more than a hundred people had gathered around in an instant, that steward took a few deep breaths and calmed himself down. He raised his hand and the guard that was hitting the gong abruptly stopped.
Steward Lu cupped his fist in the other hand towards his surroundings and scanned around before speaking up loudly. "My fellow folks and friends, I am the steward, Lu Wenbin, from the Lu Residence on Mount Lianhua. Some of you may know me. I’ve come here today to seek help for an emergency. Does anyone of you have any secret techniques that are capable of saving a drowned person? A child in the manor on Mount Lianhua drowned earlier today, so I have especially come to seek help!"
Steward Lu scanned through the crowd with hope in his eyes, but everyone was completely silent. No one was able to make heads or tails of this whole thing and Yan Liqiang was also puzzled in his heart. It was simply too strange for them to actually come here to seek help when someone had drowned in the Lu Clan.
"Steward Lu, if a child had drowned in the Lu Residence, you should quickly look for a physician. For a clan that is as rich and powerful as the Lu Clan, they can easily find any physicians. So why is it that you have come here?" Someone among the crowd finally asked aloud the question that was on everyone’s mind.
Steward Lu went silent for a few seconds before speaking in a sharp tone. "We have done that. The best physicians from Huanglong County and Pingxi Town are all currently staying in the Lu Residence. It’s been somewhere from six to eight hours since the child drowned and the few physicians couldn’t do anything to save him. We have only come to seek help from everyone since we are running out of options, hoping to find any secret techniques that we can try. If we manage to rescue that child, you will definitely be well rewarded by the Lu Clan. If the child cannot be rescued, the Lu Clan will not blame anyone either…"
Everyone around instantly understood the situation upon hearing the explanation. The Lu Clan had hired the best physicians in the Huanglong County and the capital city, but they couldn’t save the child. According to Steward Lu, six to eight hours had passed so this meant the child that drowned had already stopped breathing for six to eight hours. There are only twenty-four hours in a day. Six to eight hours would mean that more than a quarter of the day had passed and the child was already long gone. If even the best physicians that the Lu Clan could afford to hire couldn’t do anything, who else could?
The art of reviving the dead was nothing more than a legend. The child had drowned and so much time had passed since. How could he possibly be saved? He reckoned that the Lu Clan sent their steward out to try their luck in finding even the smallest of chances, as a last resort since they had run out of hope and couldn’t find any other way.
When the surrounding people heard this, they immediately shook their head and dispersed. Although whatever great reward that Lu Clan could possibly offer might be drool-worthy, no one was capable of bringing the dead back to life. Even if they went there to try, it would just be a waste of time and they might even get into trouble for fooling around without any ability.
The people who had walked away were discussing in soft voices. They were all wondering which child from the Lu Clan had drowned for there to be such a panic among the Lu Clan.
Looking at the crowd that was dispersing, a look of despair and disappointment appeared in Steward Lu’s eyes as he lowered his head helplessly...
At this moment, Yan Liqiang muttered to himself then went directly in front of Steward Lu. "Steward Lu, perhaps I can give it a try…"
Steward Lu instantly lifted his head upon hearing Yan Liqiang’s voice. The moment he saw that it was a plainly dressed youth fourteen to fifteen years old standing before him, he froze with a shocked expression on his face...