Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Thirteen Chapters

Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One

Chapter Root Two Squared

Chapter Pi, Roughly 

Chapter Two Pair

Chapter Full Hand

Chapter Half Dozen

Chapter Fourth Prime

Chapter Two Cubed

Chapter Three Quarters of Twelve

Chapter Binary Two

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Chapter Square Root of Gross

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Thirteenth Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 83: A Bandit Accountant, 13.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Scene Six: Geometry by Ropes

After five days of travel in these hills, Denario wrote in his journal, I have seen several examples of tally sticks and find them remarkably consistent. I have drawn examples here of the symbols used.

The split-stick method cannot accommodate a complicated transaction. Yesterday I saw that that one farmer owes his neighbor thirty-two chicks while he is owed six pigs from that neighbor in turn. Even for this simple record with just two entries, the hill folk cut two sticks. What's more, the symbols for some types of livestock can be similar to others. There is a parallel problem with the symbols for clan houses. Despite what the hermit told me, I suspect that cheating goes on.

Tally sticks do not record anything more than debts. For farmlands and water rights, the hill folk rely on oral histories, totems carved in stone, and warfare. Thefts of sheep between clan herds and between houses are common. I have been fired upon twice, each time when I was mistaken for an enemy shepherd. Both arrows missed of course or I would not be writing this entry. 

Everyone fights. Old women casually punch me on the shoulder to test my armor. Even the priests here fight over debts and territories. I was asked to adjudicate in the town of Double Bad on a border dispute between two churches. By popular reckoning, the local goddess is allowed two hundred ells distance from each spire of her church. (There are two, a north and a south spire.) The temple of the local god gets the pond, the well, and the lands west of the water. The border of the pond changed due to a snow melt years ago and the religious zealots on both sides have been fighting since. 

I saw that the goddess's church spires formed formed the two foci for an ellipse that defines the border of her holy grounds. When I drew an example for the mayor, he was glad to pass the problem to me. 

As Oggli accountants will know (most, anyway), the sum of the distances from any point on the ellipse to the two focal points is constant and it is known as the "major diameter." In this case, I knew it should be two hundred ells. The priests of both temples and many followers of both congregations came with me as I measured the bounds with ropes tied to the spires through the windows. They laid rocks and wooden totems along her holy border. There were surprises for everyone, as several private gardens turned out to be within the holy grounds and a church pagoda had to have a stone marker placed in it because it was not built precisely where it should have been.

Eventually, we came to the water. The priests were prepared for this. As it turns out, the goddess's lands now encompass about ten ells of marsh. That is not as far as the rival temple feared, so both holy men gave speeches, as planned, to say that the god had made a gift to the goddess. Then they laid down the largest marker stones in the watery border. A similar gift was made to the god from the goddess because lands once used by her congregation now clearly fell outside her border. 

As all accountants will appreciate, I made sure to get paid in advance. In this case, the priests were not too unhappy so I had the luck of getting fed and paid again afterward. The mayor carved a note on a block of wood for me. He does not have parchment, much less paper. But he composed a letter of transit much like the one I received in Pharts Bad. 

That letter has been useful, so I am glad to have another. 

Denario used the last of his day's ink to darken the lines in his drawing of the churches. He carefully cross-hatched the pond between the structures until the pen gave out. Then put the quill away, shut his journal, and closed his eyes. He pulled up a blanket as he leaned against the trunk of a fir tree to sleep.

The heavens hadn't gone completely dark yet but there was no question of extending the day with a campfire. He'd tried to start a blaze from pyrites he'd been given in Double Bad. He'd failed despite having been shown how to use them. Fire remained a mystery. And without a fire, someone had whispered, the raccoons and wolves would 'get him for sure.' Denario worried about the possibility but there wasn't much he could do. He'd heard a wolf or two howling but none had come close, at least not while he was making so much noise. He'd been troubled by no other beasts.

His everyday challenges came from people, not wild animals. The local hill men shot at him, haggled terrible bargains for his food, cursed him for worshiping strange gods, accused him of acting like a child, demanded that he get their tribal tattoos, and seemed disinterested in math, which they considered the concern of "lowland folk."

Sometimes Denario wondered why Master Winkel had never warned him how many people would try to kill an ordinary accountant. But actually he had, hadn't he? Winkel had lent him the guild log books. Those were full of the deaths of book keepers and accountants. Details had not been spared. Clients became murderous when crossed. That was the underlying lesson that Denario had failed to understand in Ziegeburg, he supposed. And the carnage wasn't limited to small towns. Large cities could be worse. Hadn't Winkel said that the reason he didn't work directly for the Marquis de Oggli was that he'd seen the marquis chop off the heads from his treasure room staff? Witnessing that event had made an impression.

Denario tried to sleep but although his body was tired, his mind was not. He'd gotten himself wound up about geometry. Making his proof to the mayor about the properties of ellipses had gotten him interested in proofs in general. That line of thought led him back to how three must always equal three and how there had to be a formal way to prove it. He wished again for a campfire.

Pine needles, he thought.

Hadn't he heard something in one of the small towns about using pine needles to start fires? Denario had given it a try before but that had been when the needles were damp from an afternoon rain. The ones he was lying on right now were so dry they crackled beneath him like a fire already.

His eyes opened. He turned to his travel pack and dug down to the bottom of it, where the pyrites had come to rest.

In a minute or two, he was ready. He had his bags pushed to the side and his blankets folded neatly behind them. The sun had gone down behind the hills but there was still enough light to see his hands and the fire-starters in them. He took a swipe, pyrite against pyrite. Nothing. There was no spark. He tried it again. He tried it twelve times.

He flopped onto the mat of needles in defeat. Then he sat for a while, head in hands, and tried to think of what he must be doing wrong. The man he'd bartered with in town had bashed one of the pyrites with a piece of flint. The blow had produced plenty of sparks. Denario didn't have flint. There were rocks all around him, though. He'd felt them against his back as he lay on the bed of pine needles.

“What does flint look like?” Denario murmured to himself. It was a dark stone. That's all he knew. But maybe he could look for dark rocks and hope. He started shifting piles of needles with the toes of his boots.

The first big rock he found was nearly white. It was some kind of milky quartz. He found other pieces like it all over the ground. He covered them over and kept looking.

A minute later, he rushed back.

It's not a touch on good flint but quartz works just fine, the fellow had said. Denario hadn't paid much attention. He'd figured that the pyrites were the secret to fire. He hadn't wanted any yokel advice. But now he dug through the pine needles until he found a fist-sized lump. It was a solid chunk of quartz. Parts of the rock were the color curdled milk but other parts of it were rosy, he judged. It was getting hard to tell in the darkening sky.

He didn't have much time before true night hit. He reared back and took a big swing.

When the quartz met the pyrite, there was an explosion of sparks. Denario gaped. Hot bits of pyrite flew everywhere. One of them settled on the dry pine needles and began to smolder.

“Ha!” he shouted. He began to giggle like a maniac. Fortunately, there was no one to hear him. His feet did a little dance. He crouched down low to the pine needles and smashed the quartz into the flint again.

“Fire! Fire!” One of the sparks landed on a bed of dry needles. The needles immediately began to burn. Excited, Denario knelt down and blew on the embers as he'd seen many of the Mundredi do when they wanted to encourage a flame. “Hah! Finally.”

The diameter of charring pine needles grew. In a minute, with carefully applied long, slow breaths, the embers expanded into a broad flame. Denario began to relax. He'd done it. He'd made a fire. Tonight he would be warm. Even better, he'd be able to see. He could get back to mathematics. He could work all night if he wanted. That was the best part.

He spotted his accounting bag. It was a little too close to the burning pile of pine needles for his comfort. He plucked it by the strap. After watching the fire for a moment, he gathered his other bags. He grabbed his blankets, bow, buckler, and spear.

“Uh oh.” With all of his possessions in hand, he gazed upward at the dry pine tree. Flames from the pine needles on the floor beneath leaped to the lower branches. Denario suddenly realized that the needles, inches deep and dry almost all of the way to the ground, were too good a fuel. He saw no way to stop the burn.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 82: A Bandit Accountant, 13.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Scene Five: Accounting by Sticks

“Well now, that smells wonderful and awful at the same time,” said the hermit. He stood well away from Denario and scratched his armpit.

“Sorry, Mister, uh, Chains,” Denario replied. It was struggle to remember the hermit's name, particularly as it had the air of being made up. “The bag doesn't have enough compartments to keep everything separated. Sweet herbs have mixed with the savory. Do you want to trade?”

“Trade spice? Or food?”

“Anything, I think.”

The fellow that Denario assumed was some sort of hermit wore a pain brown tunic that had seen better days and probably better years and, in fact, probably better hermits as well. It looked like he was the last member of his church and had inherited the traditional garb. The brown burlap was cut too large but the sleeves were too short. The hemline didn't cover the man's knees. The holes, front and back, were badly patched.

The fellow wrinkled his nose often in the span of their brief conversation. He apparently didn't think much of Denario's smell, which was to be expected. At the Kaufmann's house, Denario had scrubbed himself down and changed his clothes. But when he'd lifted his mail shirt over his head, he'd been shocked to find bits of blood on the iron rings. And his back had felt wet. He was bleeding. Why? It took him a moment or two to work out the reason. Iron rings had pressed through the cheap farmer's shirt he'd been wearing. He needed a tougher shirt underneath.

As a result, Denario had chosen a heavy linen to protect him from his armor. It kept him warm beneath the mail and the leather hauberk. The linen kept him so warm, in fact, that he stank of sweat in a matter of minutes and kept on stinking more as he walked.

He wasn't planning to change out of his armor until he got to the creek. He hoped the other hill folks he met were as tolerant as the Kaufmanns. That wasn't likely, if Mr. Chains was a fair sample. He kept sniffing as if he couldn't believe how bad things smelled.

The hermit's eyebrows were really one eyebrow. His black and grey beard merged into his hair without a noticeable difference in color or thickness. His bare arms bristled with dark fur. He wore a holy symbol around his neck, a crescent of some sort. It was probably for a harvest god who Denario didn't recognize.

“We don't get many wizards through here, just one or two a year.” The man pointed blue stone coin to the chain around Denario's neck. It seemed as strange to him as his holy symbol was to Denario.

“I'm ...” Denario struggled to explain himself. “I'm something like that but I don't do magic except for numeromancy. That's magic with numbers.”

“Is that yer trade, then? Numbers?”

“Yes. I'm an accountant.”

At that, the hermit chuckled. “I've heard a song about an accountant.”

Denario thought about that for a moment. Even this fellow all alone, miles away from any city or town, had heard the Mundredi ballad. It seemed there would be no escape from it. Denario looked at his map. Then he looked at the stranger. Then he howled. He didn't know why he did it. The wail just burst out of him in a flood of loneliness and hopelessness.

“Oh,” said the hermit with a nod of understanding. “So that was ye, was it?”

“Hooooo,” Denario agreed, not quite able to speak.

“If it's any consolation, my neighbors know the whole thing to the end. And they said the song has a bit of numbers in it. They never knew numbers was so useful.”

Denario took a deep breath. He took another, slow one and started to feel better. Then he shook his map, which he realized was mostly imaginary, and tried to guess how long his march would take.

“What is this hill called? The one I'm on, I mean,” he asked.

“Yer on Crumbling Bluff. The next one yer facing is Knob.” Chains gestured with hairy fingers to east. “Then comes Brushfire, then Flint.”

“You seem to know quite a lot of geography.” Denario fumbled into his bag for the rod of graphite, antimony, and sulphur. That was his best instrument for drawing. What he found was a pen nub with some ink left in it. He used it to scribble the hill names onto his map.

“I gets around.”

“Would you happen to know where I can find No Map Creek?”

“Never heard of it.”

Denario sighed. As he dropped the pen nub back into his bag, he realized he had at least a week's worth of foot travel left. But that wasn't so bad. He liked having the time to think and write about math. His armor and equipment didn't bother him as much as they had a month ago. He closed his eyelids and rested. After a minute, he decided to ignore the hermit Chains as politely as he could. It had been a long morning.

When he opened his eyes, though, the hermit was sitting on the ground near his feet. Denario closed his eyes one more time but it bothered him to be rude. Despite his concerns about not carrying food for two, he offered to share his lunch.

Chains hopped to his feet. It was what he'd been waiting for. Fortunately, he was content with hunks of cheese.

Now that he'd gotten the idea that Denario was some sort of priest of numbers, Chains gave him a lecture on his use of tally sticks at his old job. The hermit had kept accounts on sticks for all of his life. Some of that time had been spent in a temple where he'd helped keep the records. Carved sticks represented the only advanced math known to Mister Chains. In the hermit's opinion, all other forms of accounting were trickery. He didn't trust things that were written down. Words could be changed. A stick, he felt sure, could not be faked.

“But accounting isn't ...” Denario restrained himself. He made a gift of his last sausage as he reconsidered his words. He'd been about to say that accounting did not include split debtor sticks. Winkel would have proudly stated that. It's what every accountant in Oggli would have told a country bumpkin like this one. Accounts were complicated things, written down or, in rare cases, recorded and manipulated mechanically.

“Tell me,” he said as he tried to shift the clock-gears of his mind with mixed success. His emotions went thunk, chunk, what would others say? He plunged on. “When you split a tally stick, how do you tell who is the banker and who is the debtor?”

“If ye mean who does the owing, that's easy.” Chains wiggled his butt happily into his patch of ground beneath Denario's rock. He cuddled his sausage in both hands. “Ye make a cut near the bottom of the stick. That takes a special knife with teeth.”

“A saw?”

“That's the name. Just a little saw and a little cut only halfway through the wood. Then when ye make the split of the tally, one half of the account is shorter than the other. See? The longer part is called the stock. The stock goes to the lender. The shorter part is called the foil. That goes to them what owes.”

“The debtors. So the debtor gets the short side, which fits into the long one exactly at the notch. Don't debtors try to cheat by losing their sticks?”

“They do. I can see that you're wise for a young man. Many folks try tricks like that. But the tally stick is full of the tribe markings, clan markings, and house markings. The lender side gets the clan and house marks of them that owes.”

“Ah, I see. And the short stick has marks for who they need to pay.”

“God marks, too,” Chains said in hushed tones. “Signs of them gods what will take revenge on cheaters. That's the important thing.”

His fanatically-wide eyes alarmed Denario enough that he had to glance away for a moment. Chains seemed to be a man with complete faith in the gods. It gave intensity to his alone-in-the-world strangeness. After a pause to sniff the sausage in his cupped hands, the hermit pushed his face up against his palms and ravaged the meat. He drove flecks of pork by-products into his beard.

After their lunch was finished, the hermit mentioned that he knew where there was safe water. Denario needed to fill his canteens, so he packed up and followed Chains about two hundred yards downhill to a muddy spring that Denario would never have known existed. It was surrounded by bushes and underbrush.

Inside the canopy of juniper and maple boughs, the tent-sized oasis was dark as dusk. Denario couldn't have found the water by himself even knowing it was there. The pool had collected in rocky cleft at the base of a two-year sapling.

Although it didn't look good, the water tasted fine. Denario patiently filled his bottles to capacity.

“I've been thinking about your tally stick system,” he ventured.

The hermit smiled. His eyes glowed like distant moons in the shade of the hollow.

“The carved debts are very nearly money. Do you know money?”

“Like ... carved pieces of copper? Or gold?”

“Yes, like that. They can transfer from person to person easily. That's an advantage of money. But the tally sticks come close. They mark how many sheep or goats are owed ...”

“Or pigs!”

“Or pigs or other things, yes. But the debt has to stay in the same house or same clan. It can pass from father to son but not to anyone outside outside the clan.”

“Not outside the house,” grunted Chains. “Debts are personal.”

“Yes.” Denario didn't want to upset the hermit with strange ideas. Anyway, Chains was right. Debts were personal things. Master Winkel had never been comfortable with the way they were passed around like money in Oggli.

As they strolled out of the wooded area that surrounded the spring, Denario ventured, “Do people try to cheat with the tally sticks?”

“How?” The hermit raised his furry eyebrows. They formed an arch through the middle of his forehead.

“If a debtor loses his half ...”

“He's pretending.”

“This time I mean if he really loses it, maybe in a fire. Then he needs to keep it secret. Doesn't he? If the lender knew he'd lost his half, the lender would cheat by adding more marks.” Denario hesitated. The hermit had crouched his shoulders. He looked uncomfortable with the idea. “Unless the gods stepped in, of course.”

“Yes!” Chains stood straighter. “The gods can help. Yer wise for a young man. Did ye really leave a wounded man on the ground and rush to help yer captain?”

“Eh?” It took Denario a moment to realize that the hermit was referring to the humorous ballad he'd heard. “Yes, something like that.”

“Wicked of the man to come back at ye after ye let him live.”

Denario touched the scar on his head. The hermit's gaze rose to it.

“I'm not much of a fighter,” Denario admitted. “I didn't think much about it. Most of my life, I've thought about math.”

“How ken ye say ye think about math when ye know nothin' much about tally sticks?” Chains wailed.

The hermit followed Denario for almost two miles. He kept describing tally sticks and quizzing Denario on what he'd just said. It made Denario worry that he'd made a serious mistake in feeding the man. In his travel bag he kept no more than a few days' worth of food. If he had to supply nourishment for a fellow drifter, they'd both go hungry by the dinner after next.

Fortunately, Mister Chains disappeared in the late afternoon.

He'd been marching behind the accountant. Both men had fallen silent. Denario had twice proved that he understood the spacing of symbols on local tally sticks. There seemed to be nothing more to learn. As they reached a furrow of land between two hills, Denario heard a rustle in the brush. He stopped and turned to ask Chains what it was. But there was no sign of the hermit. Up the hill they'd left, a grove of poplar and juniper trees stood. Chains could have been hiding there but Denario couldn't figure out why he'd bother.

The accountant spent a few minutes making sure that his unwanted guest hadn't fallen down and hurt himself. He pushed aside weeds with his bow and his spear. No one seemed to be lying on the ground. In a few minutes, he decided that Chains must have wandered away a while ago without saying goodbye.

When Denario turned back on track, he marched only a few yards before he managed to startle a ring-necked peasant. Its body was brown and white and its head, above the white ring, was as green as the grass. It hunched down to hide rather than take flight. He grabbed his bow and tried to string it. But he failed the strength test again. He lost his grip. The recurved end of the bow sprung back and smacked him in the eye. His bowstring flew up in the air. A second later, Denario tripped while grabbing for the falling string.

When he arose, oddly enough, he discovered that the pheasant had fluttered only a few feet away. He lunged after it. But his swipe with the bow missed. He tripped again. The bird took off and kept going.

He resolved to find more work as a math teacher. He wasn’t ready to live as a hunter.

Next: Chapter Thirteen, Scene Six

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 81: A Bandit Accountant, 13.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Scene Four: Journal Entry; Looking for a Creek

Denario wrote in his journal, 6,452 steps since breakfast. I’m exhausted. And I’ve been terrorized by a huge animal with antlers, called a ‘deer’ by the locals but it must have been three times the size reported. Then a pair of rabbits charged me and drove me upslope for half a mile. Other accountants never mentioned things like this in their journals.

At least the mountains aren’t as noisy as the farms. Coming out of Zeigeburg, I prayed to the gods to strike down every songbird. There aren’t many in the cities. In the wilds, they’re everywhere and they never shut up. Sometimes I wonder why no gods answer my prayers. Doesn’t the singing annoy them too? 

I’m getting better at hiking. Except for tree branches. They grow at the exact height of my right eye. At least, they have on several occasions.


Denario had spent two days on foot from Ziegeburg to Hogsburg. He'd spent four days chasing armed warriors in the hills. He'd seen thirteen sunrises with a quarter of the Mundredi army as he patrolled the countryside. Finally, he'd worked for three weeks and two days more in Pharts Bad to solve their book keeping problems.

Time had slipped by. A journey that would have taken him eight or nine days by coach had grown to over a month. Worse, he hadn't made much progress. On the map, he'd moved south and east and that was good. But he'd covered no more than the equivalent of two days' coach travel along the Riggle Kill. He'd spent much of his time earning food.

This morning's march out of the magic of Tree Stump brought him another two hills eastward in the chain. But the rises were small and close together. Most of his progress had been vertical. It wouldn’t look like much when charted. He perched on a fat rock to consult his maps after his noon meal. Unfortunately, his most recent, hand-drawn map was largely guesswork. He fretted about how little he knew of the lands between him and No Map Creek.

The Kaufmanns, because they were such nice people, had tried to help him find the creek. Among their half-dozen magical knick-knacks was a scrying bowl. Hadewig could make it imitate a crystal ball by filling it with holy water. As long as the surface was perfectly calm, she could see distant places with it.

“There's no creek,” she told him.

“There's got to be one.” He pointed to the blank areas in his map. “Vir said it was in here somewhere in the hills between the Mundredi and Kilmun territories.”

“That's the chief of the Mundredi, Vir de Acker?”

Denario nodded.

“Well, he ought to know. If the water originates along the eastern border of his lands, it must be on the edge of West Valley. But there's no stream that shows up there. Every time I try to look at where it should be, the bowl goes all wobbly.”

They kept at it for an hour. Then, to prove that she knew what she was doing, Hadewig took a the spare drawing compass from Denario. It was the one he hadn't unpacked since he'd left home. She used it to tune her bowl to Denario's counting house in Oggli. After about a minute of work, she let Denario see. Sure enough, he could spy down on two of the rooms and a hallway in his home. He felt like he had a view of the place from the rafters except the clarity of vision was better. The walls didn't get in the way as much as they would have in real life. The magic of the bowl let him see through the top two or three feet of each interior wall if he concentrated.

In Oggli, everyone had left for the morning already. They hadn't been gone long. There were unwashed dishes sitting next to the kitchen tub, which was half full of water. A plate of food had been left to dry for at least a day. There were papers and parchments strewn about. Some of books were missing from bookshelves. Scrolls were missing from their slots but most of them had been laid out on the desks and pinned down with survey weights and stones. Good.

The counting house had seen a busy morning, apparently. Clothes had been tossed about, some of them positively kicked from the apprentices’ bedroom into the hall. But Denario had been gone for all winter and, after that much time, he was relieved things didn't look worse. Maybe the cleaning chores had gone downhill a bit but that wasn't so bad. It was a sign of strength, for sure, that there was enough work to be done to make Curo drag everyone from the counting house, even Mark and Guilder.

“But still no sign of No Map Creek,” Hadewig had said after she tried again.

She and Jake had given Denario a pouch of cooking herbs before he left. They told him about their neighbors on the lesser hills and advised him to barter for dinner whenever he could. They also mentioned that he might meet a few magical deer, mostly gold in color, and some werewolves, nearly black.

“Are you saying to watch out for wolves?”

“No. These are bigger than wolves. But you won't see them. The moon won't be right for days. You should always make sure to talk with the locals as you go along, though.”

“Of course.” He'd been planning to do that anyway. But how could he bring up the subject of 'have you or any of your friends turned into wolves?'

“Oh, I almost forgot,” said Hadewig. She reached up to a jar on her top shelf. “I've got one last herb for your pouch.”

She handed him a few sprigs of dark green leaves with dried, purple flowers. Denario recognized it from the apothecary on South Street in Oggli and from the Poisoner in Ziegeburg, too. This was wolfsbane. The way the dark green stem curled, he felt sure this was the magical variety. Hadewig's father probably supplied it to the wizards. Now Hadewig made room in his spice pouch and tucked in the sprigs. She pulled the leather drawstring shut with a smile.

That was why, in the middle of the day as he studied his map, he kept his spice pouch open by his side.

Next: Chapter Thirteen, Scene Five

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 80: A Bandit Accountant, 13.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Scene Three: A Math Tutorial

The inside of the animal doctor's barn looked dark even in candle light. Denario spent two evenings in the place as he worked for Jake and Hadewig Kaufmann. The barn’s decorations were odd. The inhabitants were, too. Aside from the knocker-fox, there were two pigs, a milk cow, a calf, a rather elderly dog, four goats, and a colony of flying frogs. There were bowls of water nailed to the walls of the barn. Many of the bowls rested high up near the rafters. All of them needed refilling daily. The job had to be done a certain way, too, or the flying frogs would die. Jake handled most of it by himself but Denario helped with the ladder and filled the occasional bowl under Jake's watchful eye.

The flying frogs were obviously magical but otherwise they weren't impressive. When they puffed themselves up and stretched their warty, green wings, they almost reached the size of ordinary bullfrogs. They needed to swim in a bath at least once an hour. That meant they couldn't fly far from the barn. Jake said there was only one spring on the hill and he'd built his house next to it. So the flying frogs couldn't find enough water to live elsewhere in the countryside. Even with the barn door open in good weather, most of the frogs had the sense not to leave.
Last fall, Jake had followed a female as it tried to migrate. In less than a mile, the frog had reached the edge of the dense background magic. There, her wings shrunk. She fell out of the sky. The fall nearly killed her.

“They're odd creatures,” Jake said as he added water to the bowls. “Right now, they and the knocker-fox are the only magical animals I've got but I've enjoyed raising them. I'm building a separate barn for baby griffins. The Oggli and Angrili Wizards' Guild is willing to pay me handsomely to try to farm them.”

“Do griffins really hatch from jeweled eggs?”

“Oh yes. Nowadays, people are hunting their nests a bit too fiercely. Griffins are getting scarce. It'll be good to raise some in captivity.”

Something in Jake's manner made Denario think that he had already planned to 'lose' one or two griffins to the wilds. The wizards would get the eggs and the profits, of course, but only so that Jake could continue his work creating more griffins.

The knocker-fox, as its name implied, was possessed by a friendly human ghost. Jake thought this one had been a wizard who had borrowed the fox's body, gotten over-involved in acting like an animal, and foolishly let his real body die.

“Early on, I tried a lot of names with him,” said Jake. He gave the fox a pet as if it were a dog. “He responds well to Dedric. I think that must be close to his human name.”

“Poor fellow,” murmured Denario. He started to pet the animal but hesitated, a bit frightened by its apparent smile.

“Not really.” Jake pointed to a small, black form thrashing in the straw on the floor. “He gets a lot to eat. In fact, he almost ate Hadewig's cat last year in a fight about who got to have the fallen tadpoles. But they've come to terms. Dedric gets first pick.”

The thing that was writhing on the barn floor turned out to be a tadpole. The fox took an interest in it. The slimy creature must have jumped from its bowl. Maybe it had tried to fly. It was a rather large tadpole with legs and wings. When it saw the fox coming it tried to burrow into the straw. The fox put a paw down and stopped it in a rather human manner. Then it sniffed.
A pale orange cat appeared from the shadows. It turned its head away as if uninterested in what the fox was doing. It peeked, though, as the fox snuffled into the inches of straw and clacked its jaws. The fox had swallowed the winged tadpole in one bite.

“It's funny how the frogs let the fox and cat do that,” said Jake.

“Can they stop it?” Denario glanced up to the rafters, where a dozen frogs perched. One of them turned its lazy gaze downward.

“They can stop the cat, yes. Roughbottom doesn't want to incur the wrath of the adult frogs. But they don't seem to mind when he eats a fallen tadpole or even a frog that's been injured in a mating fight. If it's dropped to the floor, they don't care. But if Roughbottom climbs high enough to approach a bowl of eggs or tadpoles, the frogs dive at him. They've knocked him off the perches more than once. I think he's learned his lesson.”

“They wouldn't be so aggressive with the fox.”

“No, they wouldn't. Partly because the fox can eat them out of the air. He does it when they fly too low. But mostly because, unlike the cat, he can't climb.” Jake put a hand over his belly and laughed. Denario shook his head. He hadn't thought that out.

“In the wild areas, flying frogs can grow quite big.” Jake turned with his watering can raised high. He poured water into a bowl with elaborate care. “With enough magic, the frogs grow too large for even a fox to bother.”

They worked for over an hour on the frogs. Denario mostly held the ladder and fed the droopy-eared dog with a set of snacks that met Jake's approval. Denario also learned to use a pitchfork well enough to nearly kill a goat when he dropped it. After that incident, Jake stopped asking him to feed the big animals.

Finally, they finished. Jake climbed back down from the rafters. He wiped his hands on his trousers and picked up an armful of clover and hay that he had de-glued with his magic rock. He let the goats come over and eat some out of his hands.

“They certainly seem to like you,” Denario said, a bit jealous.

“They know me. And I suppose they sense that you aren't comfortable around them. That's why they shy away from you.”

“And because of the pitchfork.”

“And the pitchfork, yes. Again.” Jake rolled his eyes. Denario saw his point. The accountant had encountered problems with farm tools during the previous night’s work, too. “It's funny how awkward you are with long objects. I've seen how badly you practice with your spear. At first, I didn't quite believe you when you said you weren't a warrior. Not that I thought you were a liar exactly but I thought you might be unduly modest. Now I understand better.”

Denario sighed. There didn't seem to be much to say about the issue of combat. He knew he didn’t have much physical talent. However, there was no denying that he needed to hone his meager skills since he would depend on them to keep his body intact on the long walk to Oggli.

“You can't even string your bow,” Jake continued after a pause for thought. “It's good of you to keep trying, though.”

“I'm doing what the chief of the Mundredi told me to do. I'm not confident enough in my skills to disregard his advice.”

“You shouldn’t be. Now that I’ve met your acquaintance, I like you well enough to hope you never get into an actual fight. As you told us, you’re no warrior. But as a math tutor, you're wonderful. Hadewig and Tabitha are very happy with your lessons. That’s saying a lot for Tabitha. And you’ve done more, of course. I have to thank you for making that book of math practices for my daughter.”

“You're welcome.” Denario nodded in acknowledgment. “It's almost done.”

“You mean there's more to come? It looks quite good already. You're an amazing artist. The shapes you draw are perfect.”

“That's just a matter of having the right tools.” With a protractor, straightedge, and compass, Denario could draw almost anything. With a free hand, he was awful, not an artist at all, but that hardly mattered for a children's book.

“Your writing is incredibly precise. I've seen you making entries in your professional journals. You write in them quite a lot.”

“I've been concerned with odd questions about math. One of them, I'd have to say, I don't think anyone's formally ever asked before. It’s a question that came up when I was talking with the Mundredi war chief. Maybe there's no chance of me working out an answer but I feel bound to try. Math is my hobby as well as my profession.”

“Admirable.” Jake nodded. His agreement came as no surprise since he also was a man whose hobby was also his profession.

Denario subscribed to some interesting theories about geometry that he wanted to prove. The most important was that there was a way to approximate division by zero by using numbers that were really, really small. He drew thin rectangles inside of circles to do his basic calculations. He’d been working on that since he was nine. But the latest question to occupy his mind originated with the comment from Vir, “One apple isn't the same as another apple.” The chief hadn’t known it but he’d struck at the heart of mathematics. The axiom of x = x was a basic rule. And where did the basic rules come from? Was it possible to prove that any of them were correct? An Oggli native named Gauss had proved the assumption of primitive polynomial equations about a century ago. His name was famous in math although all he had done, in a formal way, was show that the integer coefficients of the product of two primitive equations would never be evenly divisible by any number greater than one.

It was the formal logic that had impressed everyone. Denario hoped he could use the same formal system to prove that numbers themselves were real. They had to be, he thought. But what was it about a number that gave it logical certitude? An apple wasn't the same as another apple but the number three was the same anywhere at any time. The quantity of something was a universal property. Denario had become determined to work out why.

“Might be worth taking to an engraver,” Jake muttered as he opened the barn door.

“What would?” Lost in thought, Denario hadn't followed whatever Jake kept on about. He numbly followed the animal doctor through the path in the dried glue.

In the house, Jake hugged his wife and endured squeals and squeezes from his daughter. She was always happy to see him even if he'd only been gone for a few minutes. He walked straight to the desk where Denario had made his math lessons pamphlet. Gingerly, he moved aside the protractor as if handling a rare and particularly fragile egg. Then he thumbed through the drawings beneath.

“Still a few blank pages left, I see,” he said at the end.

“Enough to do adding by tens, I think.” Denario glanced to Hadewig. “If that suits Tabitha. She seems to have the idea of adding the smaller numbers.”

“She's been at it all day,” said Hadewig with a mixture of exasperation and pride. “She won't leave me alone. It's a good thing Jake made her those wooden blocks this winter. She can count with them and let me bake.”

Although Denario slept in the barn as far away from the frogs as he could get, the Kaufmans fed him at their table. Their time alone must have seemed a bit too much because they sat on the edges of their seats for Denario's stories, even the ones about math.

“You know, a farmer on the next hill east sang me part of a story about an accountant,” Jake said as he wiped his hands on a napkin. “It sounds a bit like your adventures, only funnier.”

“It is me,” Denario sighed.

Jake howled. His wife joined in the laughter too, although she'd only heard the ballad third-hand from her husband. Their daughter laughed because everyone else was laughing. Together, they cajoled Denario into telling the details of his battles and of his accounting. They thought it was wonderful that the bards of Phart's Bad had written an saga for him. It made him 'official' in their eyes and also teased their vanity about Oggli being a city that produces great men from great guilds. Laceo had to admit he was grateful that the hill folk were paying any attention at all to math but he found it depressing that the story of his misadventures had already spread out ahead of him on his journey to Oggli.

“Don't worry, Denario.” Hadewig put a kind hand on his elbow. “You're the first accountant these folks have heard of. And you've represented your counting house very well, really.”

“If we get back to the city before you, we'll put in the good word.” Jake forgot the napkin and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. He ignored his wife's narrowed gaze.

“My father dotes on Tabitha,” she said after she sighed and visibly decided not to criticize her husband. “We'll show him your book for her.”

After Denario finished his second bowl of leek soup and devoured a loaf of Hadewig's fresh bread, he got up and grabbed the math tutorial booklet. Tabitha had announced that she was sleepy. She'd pulled on Denario's shoulder and said wanted a story. It was odd that a child would want him to read math lessons as if they were entertainment but Denario was willing. He sat next to her bedroll on the floor. He pointed to the drawings as he turned each page. Tabitha clapped when he reached the line about two ducks plus five ducks.

“Seven,” she said, eyes closed. Hadewig and Jake beamed. “Two big ducks. Five little ducks. Seven ducks.”

For a moment, Denario wondered what it might be like to be a parent. He dismissed the idea as outlandish. As it was, he had more than enough responsibility on his hands with five apprentices. He hoped Curo was reading math lessons to the youngest two, Guilder and Mark. If Curo didn't do it, he doubted Sheckel or Buck would take over the job. Maybe Kroner would. He could hope.

Finally Tabitha fell asleep. Denario managed to pry the corner of the booklet from her hand. He rose from the side of her bed and whispered, “I'll finish this tonight.”

“Just as well,” Jake said. He didn't bother to lower his voice much. “You'll be gone tomorrow.”

“You're kicking me out?”

“No. Can't you smell it above the scent of dried glue? It's fixing to storm tonight, a real rain. It's going to wash away the residual magic.”

Denario sniffed. His nose wasn't as trained as a Seven Valleys native, not even this rather non-native native. But Jake hadn't been wrong about weather or animals yet. So he checked his travel bags before he sat down to Hadewig's desk and lit a tall candle. Then he got back to his work.

Next: Chapter Thirteen, Scene Four

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 79: A Bandit Accountant, 13.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Scene Two: Strange Snow

Around the time Denario crested Tree Stump hill, he was mentally reviewing the tax accounts for Ziegeburg. There was no particular reason to do it. He had written the story of his findings in his log book already. He just enjoyed re-thinking the math.

Years ago at a temple in the town of Flieshopphen, north of Oggli, Denario had stopped with a team of accountants and surveyors from the Count of Oggli. The monks there had advised everyone to empty their minds. That was supposed to be better for noticing the world around them. Master Winkel, the survey leader, had responded that an empty mind was fine for someone who had nothing to do. An accountant always had work. He'd told Denario to keep on thinking about math. So he always did.

And in his idle time, Denario wondered about math, geometry, and business. He liked to test his cleverness and his memory. The light was waning as he marched across the flat hilltop. Denario counted his steps. He counted the flower buds among the grasses. The rest of his thought process drifted along in the Ziegeburg work:

7,342 in silver and the emperor gets 10 percent ... 

Wind rushed through a meadow of heather downhill from him. It cast the scent of the heather into his face.

That’s 734, no, 735 actually, forgot to round up ... anyway, it's too bad there's no emperor anymore because he won't get his share ... 

Beyond the meadow, a hedge bush trembled. Denario could smell a hearth fire, too, but he'd smelled other distant fires and he hadn't seen a soul all day. He put his hand on the hilt of his sword. For a moment, he listened to the noise of bushes. Vir had taught him that habit.

Plus ten for the traditional tax collector fee, which in Ziegeburg goes to Burgher Figgins, so that’s 745 ... 

The wind felt glorious and cool through the vents in his hauberk. A snowflake drifted down no more than ten feet in front of him. He was surprised. Protected by layers of crude armor, he hadn't noticed that the weather was harsh enough for that. He felt warm and safe. Nothing moved except the heather, the bushes, and Denario. He removed his hand from his sword.

Take away 742 ... that’s 6,600 minus 3 ... 

He tromped through the heather. Not a bird or rabbit bounded away from him. Odd, he thought. He hadn't seen many animals.

That meant 6,597 minus the duke’s share ... the duke gets the emperor's share and his own ... except the count skims a percentage off of the top ... 

Even as a child, Denario had found that he could carry out quite complex equations and sophisticated steps in logical philosophies while remaining intensely aware of his surroundings.

Another few snowflakes drifted in. He smiled at them. In his third travel pack, strapped to his pack, he had a roll of furs wrapped around a tiny bolt of linen. He could withstand a blizzard in his gear, not that he would face one. It was spring. This was just a gentle dusting of a hilltop.

As he reached the end of the meadow and headed downslope into a thicket of trees, the snow changed. It blew hard down the back of his neck. It started sticking to the ground.

He moved his spear from his left hand to the right. That is, he tried to switch hands. He couldn't. The shaft of the spear stuck to his glove.

“Aaah,” he grunted. He tried again. He wanted to use the butt of his spear to steady his scramble down the muddy patch of slope, except now it was becoming a snow-covered muddy patch.

He crouched and knelt to look at the pale swath of ground. The snow on it wasn't melting into water. It was turning into a sort of thick, white glue. He stood and managed to move the sticky spear from his left hand to his right. It nearly took his glove with it. He studied the palm of his glove. It was covered in what seemed to be glue.

He sniffed at the white stuff. It was, in fact, glue. All of it was. Flakes of glue were tumbling out of the evening sky. Damn it! The gods were mad. Or maybe he'd simply wandered into a high-magic area.

“Stupid!” He smacked himself in the forehead with his left hand. That stuck his left glove to his face for a moment. He started to panic.

“AAAaaah!” he screamed. He tried to wipe the glue from his left eye with his sleeve. But his sleeve was covered in glue. “Damn!”

He realized that he could still see if he left his face alone. He only needed to stop wiping himself with the insidious, magic snow. He ripped the glove away. He forced his arms to his side. But he was twitching. He found it hard to hold still. And in a few seconds he realized that holding still might be a very, very bad thing to do. How much magic glue could fall on him here? He didn't want to find out.

He started to run. He tried to find thickets of tall trees. He ran from cover to cover as best as he could. In a few minutes, he'd reached the relative safety of a pine grove. But the snow blew down his back in gusts even here. Did he want to hide under these boughs from the worst of the storm? Not really, he guessed. It would be bad enough to get snowed in. It would be worse to get glued in. He sniffed again. Over the smell of the glue there was the campfire that he'd noticed earlier. It was close and it would provide shelter. It had to. Anyone living near a high magic area knew what they were doing. He'd better find that person soon.

He kept running in the direction of the smoke. He tried to stay under the trees but the glue landed on his hat, his jerkin, his gloves, and everywhere else. It kept finding him. He wondered: since it was magical could it be trying to get him?

Finally, he came to a clearing. About fifty yards away stood a log hut. There was a barn behind it and a chicken coop to the side. The hut had windows, shutters closed. Light came through the slits of the shutters. Beside the house was a patch of mud that led to the barn. Not much glue had fallen there or someone had removed a part of it.

“Rrrrrraaah!” He sprinted as best as he could but he wasn't fast even in the best of circumstances. He'd been figuratively running in glue his whole life. Doing it literally was worse than he could have dreamt. He worried that if he slowed, his boots would lock in place in the inch of paste that covered the front yard.

He worried about trampling the spring crops these folks had planted but surely the wheat stalks were dead now, just as he would be if he fell.

Naturally, he slipped and fell. A window on the cabin opened. Denario glanced at it and saw a silhouette there, perhaps a woman's face. And in the moment of his distraction he stepped into a hidden pile of manure. That sent him to the ground in a splash of brown dung and white mush. The packs, the spear, the sword, his armor, the buckler on his back, and everything else conspired to drag him down, including the adhesive between him and the ground. But he got up. Covered by mud, dung, grass, snow, and glue, he rose and kept running.

“Aaah!” he screamed as he reached the closed front door. It was a good oak one, almost rectangular and cut from a single tree. “I mean, barn! Aaah! Can I take shelter in your barn? Please!”

“Go ahead,” said a woman's voice. Then the door pulled open. A matron in a gray dress and her husband, dressed in overalls and rain gear, stared at him. “It's still glue?”

“Aaaah! Yes! I mean, yes.” Denario lowered his voice.

“Come on in. We have a magic scrub for that.”

Denario stepped into the middle the doorway. He stared at the patch of bearskin carpet beneath him. He dripped a spot of glue onto it.

“Are you sure?” he said.

“He's small enough,” the man, who Denario had first take to be a farmer but who had all his front teeth, a solid jaw, and the speech of a somewhat-educated man. He waved a gray, shiny rock over Denario's head. “And he's not a murderer.”

“Really?” Denario swallowed. “Look, I need your help. But I don't want to deceive you. Your rock is broken.”

“The shaman says it's fine. But from what you're saying, I guess you've killed.” The big fellow didn't seem concerned. In his rain gear he looked a bit like a priest. Maybe he was one. That would be an explanation for his living out here. “Was it self-defense?”

Denario nodded.

“Get in here!” the woman suddenly shouted. “You're letting in the glue!”

That was a sentence Denario had never expected to hear in his life but it made perfect sense. His legs obeyed her. She shut the door behind him.

He stood and dripped on their patch of bearskin for a minute while they studied him. He knew he had to look pathetic, mostly. On the other hand, he worried how the baselard and spear would seem. This farm couple probably couldn't tell at a glance that Denario was incompetent with his weapons.

The woman giggled. She tried not to show it. She hid her smile behind an open hand.

“Sorry.” She blushed. “I think you are the shortest and skinniest warrior I've ever seen.”

“You've got an Ogglian accent!” Denario exclaimed as he realized it.

“So do you!” The woman and her husband recognized at the same time. The big fellow spoke like someone who'd had a formal education in the city. He grinned as he clapped Denario on the shoulder. Then he made a disgusted face. He'd smacked the dung and glue. Some of it had spattered onto his beard.

“I'm an accountant, actually.” Denario decided not to tell him about what was in his beard. “I'm a member of the Oggli and Anghrili guild.”

“With a shield strapped to your back?” The woman chuckled openly.

“You are on the worst assignment ever,” her husband agreed.

Priest or not, the man in the raincoat knelt as if to pray. When he arose a few seconds later, the gray stone was gone and he held a black stone in his right hand. There had to be something magic about it because whenever he waved it over Denario, the stone glowed a purplish-green color. And everywhere it went within a few inches of Denario's skin, it made the covering of glue and snow disappear. In a moment, Denario's shoulder was clear except for a few spatters of cow dung.

“That's amazing!” he said.

“It's what lets us live in a high magic area like this one,” the man said. “Otherwise, we couldn't keep any animals or grow most kinds of food. I'm Jake, by the way.”

Introductions were made all around while the cleansing process went on. The woman's name was Hadewig. As Denario listened to her talk a bit more, he realized that she had to come from Oggli's 'new rich' class – not the nobility but the merchants, tradesmen, and even wizards who had done well in the past generation. The 'old rich' families grumbled about their presence but they paid their taxes in full so the count loved them. He let the merchants start schools. Even girls could go to school in Oggli. From the words she used, Hadewig revealed that she'd been one of those girls.

“And here she is,” Hadewig said. Denario glanced to his left. The woman had been talking about someone and Denario had been paying so much attention to her mannerisms and idioms of speech that he had to mentally catch up with her meaning.

It was her daughter to whom she pointed. This little three year old girl was the reason the family had come to Tree Stump Hill.

The girl wore a green dress. Her wide, curious eyes were pale blue. And she had a river of mucus streaming from her nose to nearly her chin. She looked perfectly normal for a toddler.

“Are you an elf?” She took her fingers out of her mouth to ask the question. Her hand glistened with mucus. For once, Denario wasn't worried about a child touching him. He was clearly as much of a mess as she was, probably more.

“No, sorry.” Were elves good magical creatures or bad ones? Denario wasn't clear on that point. But he was pretty sure that if he'd been one, someone would have mentioned it. “I count things. I make calculations. And I draw pictures. I do geometry. That's lots and lots of pretty pictures.”

“Huh.” She stuck her fingers in her mouth again.

“Do you count things?” he asked hopefully. He was never sure where to start with children. But if the girl had an interest in math, he knew he could get along with her somehow.

The girl shook her head no. In case she was lying, Denario glanced at her mother. Hadewig didn't notice Denario, however, as she was too busy casting a concerned gaze upon her daughter. It looked like she had neglected Tabitha's education here in the home or parts of it, at least. That was normal for a girl child. Nevertheless, it might not seem acceptable to Hadewig.

“Hey, uh, Denario. Spread your arms and legs a bit more,” requested Jake. Denario moved without worrying about the glue so much. The magic rock kept doing its work. He could tell that anything that dripped from him would be easy to clean.

When the job was halfway done, Jake handed the rock over to Denario, who immediately cleaned up the mess he'd made on their floor. That removed a burden of guilt from his mind and met with nods of approval from Jake and Hadewig. The toddling girl, however, backed away from the rock as if she knew it too well and didn't like it. Was there something bad about its magic or was there something wrong with the girl?

“You know, I don't understand why you're here for, uh ...” He hesitated as he cleaned his boot. He searched for the name he knew that Hadewig had mentioned.

“Tabitha,” Hadewig supplied.

“Your girl looks fine. Very healthy. And you both seem so educated ...” He didn't know how to finish.

“She has a problem.” Her father walked over to Tabitha and took her hand.

“It's her stomach,” clarified Hadewig although that didn't help Denario much.

“Hadewig's father is a magical supplier of sorts,” Jake continued. “He works for wizards. Does quite well, too. Back when Tabitha was young and sickly, we took her to a few doctors. No luck. She wasn't growing. She couldn't take anything other than mother's milk. She was growing thinner and thinner. We thought she'd die. But Hadewig's father took our girl to a wizard who said she had a magic deficiency.”

“Is there such a thing?” Denario wondered, perhaps rudely.

“That's what I asked. But the wizard said that Tabitha needed a bit of steady magic to help her digest food. In the end, he was shown to be right. The problem was in our daughter's stomach.”

“My father traded something to have us sent out here,” Hadewig said.

“He didn't say what, exactly.” Jake scowled. He apparently didn't like to be in debt to his father-in-law. Denario didn't understand the feeling but he'd seen it before in married men.

“So we came out here to where there's a natural, magical background radiation. Tabitha has been fine ever since, as you can see.”

Denario crouched to eye level with the girl as he brushed the glue from his other boot. She slunk behind her father's leg to avoid him, though.

“Every now and then,” said Hadewig, “my father sends us back home to see how Tabitha handles it. She's getting better. In another two years, the wizards say, she'll be ready to stay in Oggli.”

“Oh really?” Denario immediately saw the possibilities. “That's where I'm headed. When do you go for a visit next?”

Hadewig turned her grimace on Denario. He got the impression she used that look a lot. But she didn't answer. On the other side of Denario, her husband shook his head.

“It's done by magic,” he explained. “It's just us. And we don't get any warning.”

“Ah.” Denario slumped for a moment. Then he resumed his self cleaning. He'd dripped a spot of white glue on the rug. The glowing black stone wiped it out. It didn't feel particularly magical although it had a different texture from most rocks that he'd held. It was irregular and raw. The edges were rough and occasionally jagged but it was smooth in places, too, as if it had been melted. It was heavy, like metal ore.

As he crouched, he stole a glance at Tabitha. The little girl had inched into the open. She kept one hand firmly wrapped in her father's raincoat.

“Have you seen an elf?” she asked him.

He shook his head.

“I have,” she announced.


“Not quite,” explained Hadewig. She wiped her hands on her dress, an action that naturally resulted from touching her daughter's cheek. “She's seen some things, though. That's why she's on the lookout for more. Jake is an animal doctor. He keeps pets. He's got the cutest little knocker-fox in the barn. In fact, I met Jake when he took such wonderful care of my kitty, Mister Roughbottom.”

“And is Mister Roughbottom ...?”

“Oh, he's still with us. The wizard sent him here and he doesn't get to go back. Roughbottom stayed inside all winter, poor thing, but now that the weather is nice he's decided he can live out in the barn. The knocker-fox has learned not to eat him and there are mice that the dogs and fox can't hunt, most of them not too magical. Those are perfect for a cat.”

“Roughbottom caught a mouse that changed into a little man, though,” Jake sighed. “We decided to let that one go. It was probably a gnome but thankfully not one of the powerful kind. I don't think it cast a curse on us or anything.”

Denario finished his second boot. He stood and prepared to clean his hat and his neck. He hesitated as he wondered how to reach around between his shoulders.

“Don't worry about doing your head,” Jake said. “The stone won't hurt the magic you've got up there. It only sops up the raw, natural stuff and not even all of that. Magic snow and goose down are the best things for it.”

“Goose down?” Denario had been about to ask why Jake thought he had magic in his head. But the question about weather was what came out of his mouth.

“Yes, we had a snowstorm of goose down this winter. It was awful.”

“It sounds rather warm,” Denario ventured. It would have been an improvement over glue.

“Everyone thinks that.” Jake's shoulders slumped. “It nearly killed the pigs and chickens. Nearly got me, too. I had to work with a mask on. It was lucky that I had the pens and stalls already built in the barn.”

“He sneezed for hours!” Hadewig put a hand over her heart. “Let me tell you, it was no fun for any of us. Tabitha and I were in no danger, I suppose, but it didn't feel that way. We stayed locked in for two days.”

“Finally, a rain came.” Jake nodded. He daughter tugged on his coat and, absent-mindedly, he lifted her up. “I expected it to just tamp down the stuff. Come morning, though, the down was gone completely.”

“Raw magic,” his wife snorted. “It never lasts. Not like the real stuff. That gets made by wizards and stays where it should.”

Jake turned his shoulders for a moment. It was apparent that he didn't want his wife to see him roll his eyes. But Denario noticed and agreed with Jake's sentiment. Hadewig was a smart woman. However, her excellent impression of magic was based upon her father's business and the reputable wizards involved in it.

Denario's impression of magic came from rather rascally wizards and their badly made trinkets. Those made magic seem untameable. Magic did not really stay put and do what wizards told it. It took on life of its own. A finger that a wizard magically re-attached to an axeman might get into bad moods. It might not cooperate in holding the axe. That was dangerous for everyone.

All in all, limbs coming to lives of their own was why soldiers avoided asking their wizards for medical assistance. Magic couldn't be trusted. That was why Denario paid close attention to the magic he was doing at the moment. He finished cleaning his hat. The dark lump did whatever it did to make the glue disappear. He checked it and made another pass to catch a lingering stickiness.

“Don't trust it now?” Jake murmured. He must have noticed the concern on Denario's face.

Denario glanced at Hadewig.

“It's working very, very well,” he said despite his sense of wariness about it. When he finished a few minutes later, he heaved a sigh of relief.

“Looks like you're here until the glue fades.” Jake accepted the dark, magic rock from Denario's outstretched hand. He ran two fingertips over its rough edges. Then he flipped it from his left hand to his right and slipped it into a pocket on his rain slicker.

“I don't suppose you need any accounting done?” Denario asked hopefully. He wanted a way to pay for his stay.

“You could help in the barn,” the animal doctor said with a smile.

“No, Tabitha needs a math tutor.” Hadewig put her hands on her hips. She seemed shocked by her husband's idea. She'd had hers first, probably.

“You could tutor our daughter, of course.” Jake sighed. “And maybe help a little in the barn. Just a little.”

Next: Chapter Thirteen, Scene Three