Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Eleven 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


Saturday, March 25, 2017

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Eleventh Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow



Sunday, March 19, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 72: A Bandit Accountant, 11.9

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Scene Nine: It Has To Be Done

“You can't be finished already!” exclaimed the mayor. “It's been less than two weeks.”

It was late in the morning. The air was warm. The sky had blown away a single, gray cloud. All that was left to mar the perfect blueness was the sun and a few wisps of white mist. At his breakfast, Denario had learned from Hummel that there was a warm spring at the edge of town. It was just a pool of water next to the stream. But in it, the water fizzed up from underground. The temperature of the water at any time of the year was tepid. Water in these hills that was warmer than liquid ice was a miracle.

Denario had wanted to try dipping his feet or even his whole body in the pool. But he'd had to rush through his work to meet Jack Quimbi during his lunch hour. Denario hadn't even completely re-packed for the trail yet. He wanted to. He felt like he could run all the way to Oggli in an afternoon. But he suspected he needed a letter of transit.

“I agreed to stay until I fixed the tile system,” he said, “and I reconciled the three sets of books. Now I've done all that. I was up most of the night and all of this morning getting the accounts straight.”

“All three? Done?”

“You'll still have two systems running at once but that's no problem now that Senli and Hummel have the right numbers. And they're talking. You've got to keep them talking and checking on each other. That's important.”

“That's ... that's wonderful.” The mayor's words sounded happy but his facial expression had fallen. His smile had become a grimace.

“Is there a problem?” asked Denario.

“You finished so quickly. It's unexpected. Look, I'll need a day or two to verify what you've done. Surely you'd agree that's reasonable.”

“It is but ...” No, this was a trap, Denario realized. This was exactly the sort of thing the mayor of Ziegeburg had said to him. Everything sounded reasonable. But the train of thought ended somewhere bad. “You should come look at the books right away. There are a couple of surprises for you.”

“There are?”

“Didn't you wonder who owed what? It turns out that about two thirds of the traders told the truth. But a third of them didn't. They owe the town quite a lot of goods.”

“That's wonderful!” The mayor rose to his feet and clapped his hands.

“No, it's not.”

“It's not?” Jack Quimbi's expression fell again. Then he seemed to doubt his reaction. “Yes, it is! It's a great thing. We've got food coming to us, I'll bet. And cloth. Maybe some silk? My wife would love that.”

“I'd better explain as we walk.” Denario should have seen this coming. The town leaders didn't understand trade the way Bibbo Clumpi had or the way his Mistress Clumpi did, for that matter.

“But ...” The mayor dragged his feet.

“You'll see that 6 bolts of silk are owed to us in the accounts, among other things.” That was the lure to bring Jack along, he supposed. Sure enough, the mayor brightened his step and followed Denario a bit closer.

At they turned onto Mine Street, they met Vernon Dumm and a farmhand coming the other way. Vernon had worn two yellow shirts today. An older, flimsier one was visible beneath the short sleeves of his newer one. The farmhand next to him was dressed in dark, heavy clothes. He looked about fifteen. His jaw was sharp. His teeth were white. He was a head taller than Denario and, in this land of metals, he carried four wooden slats and a wooden hammer. That was odd but Denario wasn't going to tell these folks their business. The farm boy walked in the careless, precise manner of someone who knew what he was doing.

Denario simply nodded in Vernon's direction. It was the mayor who stopped their progress.

“Vernon!” The mayor waved to the burgher. “We've got a problem, man!”

“I've got a footbridge to repair,” said Dumm. He paused. With a sigh, he gestured for the farm boy to go on ahead. “But I suppose they can do the job without me. What's the problem?”

“The accountant has finished.”

“What? Already?” Dumm put his hands on his hips. His gaze shot back and forth between his mayor and the accountant. Then he frowned. “I'm feeling puzzled, Jack. How exactly is that a problem?”

“It's ...” Jack Quimbi stole a sidelong glance at Denario. He chuckled unconvincingly. “Oh, it's not a problem, of course. Not exactly. It's just ... what were you saying about the amounts owed, accountant?”

“About a third of the tradesmen lied to the town. Now that I've brought all the records together, you can see the true accounting.”

“Aha!” Dumm rubbed his hands together. “Are we rich? Any big debtors?”

“Yes. But that's bad.”

“No, it isn't!” Dumm insisted.

“See?” the mayor said to Denario.

“Being owed little sums is good,” allowed Denario, “especially when it's the local hunters and farmers who owe. But being owed big amounts of material has hurt this town already. It could get much worse.”

“I fail to see why,” said Dumm.

Denario sighed. “I'll show you.”

At the counting house, the accountant ordered a desk and three chairs set up in the front. The chairs posed a bit of a problem. He could see that Olga and her friends were occupying everything available. That meant that Hummel and the guard had to go across the street. Denario told the ladies not to get up, much to the surprise of the burgher and the mayor.

Nevertheless, in a few minutes the staff assembled the desk, seats, counting tiles, and an extra stool. Senli and Hummel brought their recently re-finished scrolls. In fact, they marched them to the desk, heads held high. They knew their books were perfect by now. They'd corrected for the thefts. Mistress Clumpi carried the brand new scroll that Denario had made with them this morning. She also brought a bottle of ink. Senli saw what was missing and ran back for the pen.

“Let's start with the names of the traders,” said Denario. He pointed to the leftmost column on the scroll. “Some of them in the tile system were unfamiliar to Senli and Hummel. But Mistress Clumpi was able to help us.”

He led the town's leaders through the list of merchants row by row and detailed where each one had cheated the town or had been cheated by Vernon Dumm or Mark Haphnaught.

“I can't read any of this,” admitted Vernon. “But I recognize a lot of these names. I had pretty long arguments with a couple of the caravan drivers.”

The burgher gestured vaguely to the scroll.

“I believe that only one of the caravans that you dealt with is still doing business with the town.”

“But we don't know that for sure,” said Vernon. “They may be back.”

“It's possible,” Denario agreed, although he thought there was no chance.

“The remaining caravan is the best one, fortunately.” Denario pointed to the name on the paper. Figures for the caravan occupied every possible column in the row. “It's the one owned and operated by Master Baggophili.”

Behind him, Olga Clumpi hissed.

“He's the one we overpaid. He got double the usual rates!” She crossed her arms as she stepped back from the group. “Then the old crook came back around as fast as he could and got paid double again!”

“Yes, that's about right.” Denario had to smile. So did Senli, he noticed. All of the book keepers had stories to tell about Baggophili and not all of them were bad, either. “You said he was a smart one.”

“He ... if I read this right, those deals were based on lies. So he owes us more cloth than he can carry,” the mayor observed. His finger was on the correct column. “The next time he comes in, we can ruin him.”

“That would be foolish.” Denario put his hands on his knees and braced himself to explain.

“I thought we were coming to this,” Jack sighed. “Why?”

“We can seize his entire operation!” Dumm chortled.

“If you do that, you'll plunge your town into poverty. Look, do you understand your situation or not? Master Baggophili is your most profitable trader by far. He's the only one who brings you cloth anymore.”

“There are other cloth merchants around.”

“They don't trade with you. Some of them didn't make enough profit last year.  Some want money that you don't have, don't they?”

“That's a complaint, yes. They don't like raw ore or even finished brass. They want gold or silver coins. We don’t have those.”

“Well ...”

“Look at this.” Denario pointed to the staggering surplus in the dried meats column. “Baggophili supplies about a fifth of the town's food. If you arrest him, what are you going to eat?”

“But he has to pay!” Burgher Dumm wailed.

“It's my understanding that he has a lot of caravan guards, too. Do you really have the force to take him on? Can you pay the Mundredi army to do it?”

“That would ruin us.” The mayor let out a bitter chuckle. “No offense, Denario, you come from the army. But Captain De Acker and his men eat too damn much and they want too much metal. We'd have to come up with a whole flock of sheep, probably more, and they'd do us out of brass on top of it all.”

“What are you suggesting?” asked Dumm.

“Forgive his debt.”

“What?”

“That's outrageous!”

“Oh, you can let him know that you're aware of what he's done. I've seen this issue arise before. The accounting guild has records of similar situations. I know what will happen. He can't pay. And you can't ask him to pay you off bit by bit, either.”

“Why not?”

“Because Baggophili needs an incentive to return. You can't make it unprofitable for him. Every trip he makes to you needs to be rewarded. That will keep your town successful. In the meantime, you throw him a dinner.”

“A dinner!”

“And Mayor Quimbi here takes him aside after a bit of wine and maybe walks him down here to the counting house records room. So that Baggophili can see that the mayor knows. And the mayor says, 'Gosh, chum. I understand. It's no problem.'”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Then Master Baggophili will understand that he owes a favor. He'll be extra nice to you for ages … maybe the rest of his life. You’ll probably get your money back eventually. Not because you asked for it. But because you didn’t.”

“By the gods, I think the boy is right.” The mayor shook his head.

“Do you know Baggophili?” Burgher Dumm squinted at him.

“No.”

“Then how come you know so much?”

“I'm an accountant.” Denario shook his head. “Doing business with caravans and shippers was part of my training.”

“Burgher Dumm,” said the mayor. He rose from his chair. “I'd like you to talk with me for a while. Let's stroll on over to that bridge you're repairing.”

Mistress Clumpi watched them go.

“They're going to be a problem,” she said. Her arms crossed over stomach like a shield. She gestured to the men with a tilt of her over-large chin.

“The mayor? Or Burgher Dumm?”

“The two of them together. They don't want to see you leave town, I'll bet. Especially after what you did to Mark Haphnaught.”

“What did I do to Mark? Oh. Oh, yes,” he said before he could think to stop himself. “That.”

Olga folded her arms.

“You're angry,” he said. “I can understand it. But I didn't do much, really, and that was only acting in self defense. He might have killed me.”

She relaxed. “That's probably true. I forgot for a moment. I don't doubt you were in danger. But still ... it looks bad. He's old. And well respected. Don't you care what happens to him?”

“I do. I hope he gets well soon.”

“That's a start.”

“Look, I can see this is bothering you.” Denario rose. “Do I look presentable?”

“For what? You're not fit to go to church.”

“I meant to pay a call on Mark Haphnaught's home.”

“His son might try to kill you. He's sergeant of the city guard.”

“He might.” Denario sighed. He checked himself. No, there was no other way. Every situation that he feared was one he had to confront. Anything less would look foolish to Vir. He opened his hip bag and put a hand on his darts just to make sure they were in easy reach just in case. “But still it must be done.”

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 71: A Bandit Accountant, 11.8

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Scene Eight: A Pattern of Bartering

The sun turned red.  Purplish clouds sneaked up over the mountains to the south.  There was still enough light for Denario to see the colors of the tiles.  He was surprised to notice a repeating pattern in the beginning of the string he was holding.

Hadn't he seen a repeat in the previous string?  Here it was again.  The beginnings of each tile sequence held repeated colors much more often than in the rest.  In fact, Denario didn't think he'd noticed any repeated colors in the last half of any string, not even in the short ones.

That made him think of Philip Dummpi, who spelled his name with two m's.  Why two?  Was that really necessary?  The question had occupied Denario's mind for a moment as he'd written.  Now he had a different question in mind: why repeat anything at all?

He knew a lot about how old Bibbo had thought.  The man had been devilishly efficient.  Instead of saying that a man was owed 64 pounds of copper, Bibbo would have written 16 once followed by a multiplier to indicate "times 4."

He didn't repeat anything if he could help it.  So why did he have repeating patterns in the beginning of his strings?  Past the first 16 to 24 positions, there were almost no repeating tiles.  In those 16 to 24, there were repeating patterns in about half of them.

“Hummel, can you hand me your scrolls for a moment?”

“Yes, sir.”  The little man shuffled off to get the parchment he'd rolled up and put away.  “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“The names.  Have you got the names spelled right?”

“I think so, sir.  Some of the traders were very specific about that.”  Hummel found his scrolls.  He minced back to the front desk like someone still working out how to move without chains.  “They said that Bibbo Clumpi had been very precise about everything, including their names, and that's the way they liked it, too.”

“Senli, may I have yours?” he asked without looking.

“She's gone to help Mistress Bobbins make us a dinner,” said Olga.  She put down her bowl of bulgar soup.  “I'll bring it.  And yes, my husband was a very precise man in general.”

“He was a genius, Mistress Clumpi.  Have I already told you that?”

“You've said 'brilliant,' 'wizard-like,' and 'dastardly clever.'  I'll add 'genius' to the list.”

“Sorry for the 'dastardly' part.  I think we've fixed most of these amounts.  The  beads that aren't red or black seem to indicate the type of debt.  I've got a chart.  Green is vegetables, mostly onions.  Blue is stone.  The dotted beads mean linens.  But the identification of debt owners looks like it was from memory, I'm afraid, and that's been tough to deal with.  Sorry about the 'wizard' part, too.  I've known some wizards.  They mostly weren't as smart as Bibbo.”

That got a crinkled smile from Olga.  “Apology accepted.”

“You've known wizards?” said Hummel.  “They keep to themselves in Muntabar.  I never saw them.  What are they like?”

“Very full of themselves.  Still, for people who can throw fire from their hands or turn other people into frogs, they're nicer than you'd think.”

“Like witches,” said Olga.  She came over with Senli's wrapped-up scrolls.  “I was always sorry this town turned away witches.”

“Really?” Denario didn't have a good impression of them from the tales he'd heard.  What’s more, most churches seemed to fear them and Olga was devoted to her church.  Logically, she should loathe them.

“Oh, they aren't decent folks, not like priests and priestesses.  But still you need a few around, you know.  They're useful.”

“Like accountants?”

“Are accountants useful?” she jabbed.  She smacked him on the head with a roll of parchment.  When he didn't react, she placed it more gently into his waiting hand.

Denario had only known her for a few days but he didn't take offense, as he might have done earlier to such a remark about accountants.  He knew that Olga Clumpi couldn't spend more than half an hour at a time being nice.  The complaints and the teasing remarks seemed to leak out of her even when she was on her best behavior.  Her friends had grown used to it, apparently, and sparred lightly with her from time to time.  Edna Bobbins had whispered to Denario that her friend Olga needed a roaring argument from time to time or she felt like no one was paying her enough attention.

Life with Bibbo must have been a multi-decade battle of wits.  And both sides had been heavily armed.

“I'll make myself useful with these tiles for a little while more,” he allowed.  As he checked the patterns against Hummel's ledger, he continued, “You did a nice job dealing with that man from False Beard, by the way.”

“I'm not sure if he was really owed that much.  But I see your point about how we have to pay up to keep them coming back.  And he did have two oxen to sell.”

“Mmm.” But Denario had stopped paying attention to the conversation.  He suddenly felt he was close to an understanding.

He stared at Hummel's parchment.  He stared at the strings.

Something about the patterns seemed similar.  A few minutes later, he got it.  The revelation came like a lightning strike.  And the shock made him try to stand up.

In Denario's hand was a string of red, blue, green, orange, white, yellow, purple, and plain brown tiles.  The pattern of colors in the first twelve was: blue, purple, blue, red, blue, yellow, red, blue, yellow, purple, red, yellow.  Then came four brown circles.  But it wasn't the repeat of brown tiles that was important.  It was the repeated pattern of red, blue, and yellow.  That pattern, he realized, could be the letter 'm'.  No, it had to be.  He knew it because if that was true, the entire pattern would match the name Dummpi letter for letter.

The beginning of each string was a code, not a calculation.  The code stood for the name of the trader.  That meant Denario could read the tile system – all of it, not just the types and amounts.

String of tiles in hand, he tripped over his stool.  He fell backwards on the dirt floor, hopped back up, and started skipping around the room.

“Ha ha ha!” he shouted to the stares of Hummel and Senli, who had apparently returned from her new home.  Denario ran to find Olga outside of the front door talking with her friends.  “Mistress Clumpi, your husband was a genius!”

“You've said that al ...”  She stopped speaking and stared.

He grabbed her hands and twirled her in a circle.  But he remembered to be gentle about it.  Then he danced with her for a moment before he pushed him off, looking like she'd remembered her dignity but was otherwise pleased.

“You solved it, didn't you?”  She gave him her hands-on-hips turtleneck expression but with a smile on it.

“Dance with me!” said one of Olga's friends.  And Denario did.

“The first 16 tiles on each string is the name.”  His voice sounded to him like he was singing.  And why not?  He let the older woman steer him.  His feet felt light.  The string of tiles, which was the account for Philip Dummpi, bounced in his hand as he swung around.  “Sometimes it's only part of a name.  Sometimes it's a name with some brown tiles after it for padding.  But it's always a name.  Always.  And now I can read the names.”

Everyone laughed a little, whether in relief or in sheer joy, it was hard to say.  Much to Denario's surprise, the small crowd began a formal dance.  There were five older women, a farmer who was son to one of them, and even Hummel and Senli joined in.  Somehow, everyone picked a partner.

Hummel allowed himself be to led by Mistress Bobbins.  Senli choose to spin around for a minute with Olga.  A round of giggles spread through everyone, even the farmer, who said something funny to his mother and set off another round.  Everyone laughed for a whole minute, at least, although Olga cried a little as she did so.

She stopped and gave Denario a hug.  She mumbled something about her husband that Denario couldn't understand but he didn't really need to.  He knew she wished Bibbo were here.  Denario did, too.

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Nine

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 70: A Bandit Accountant, 11.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scenes Six and Seven: Hidden Tiles

The rest of that day saw only a single trader arrive at the counting house. His name was Phillip Dummpi and he brought no goods with him. Instead, he wanted to know if Denario was ready to pay him the brass he was owed. He'd heard something about the attempt to decode and correct the store accounts. Denario responded that he was working on it. He asked how Phillip spelled his name in case it became important. Then he dutifully wrote down the amount that the man said he had coming to him.

The remainder of Denario’s time was spent restoring and decrypting the system of strung tiles. He had plenty of help from Olga but still he couldn’t finish before dark. After another potato and cheese dinner, he fell asleep at his desk. He dreamed about counting things by colors and in groups of fours and eights.

He awoke in the dark and raised his head to find two green squares stuck to his cheek. His head had fallen to the desktop. After a moment spent comprehending what had happened, he pried the pieces off. Around him, he saw only darkness. All of the candles were out. Everyone else had gone home. Someone had put a blanket around him. That had probably been Mistress Clumpi. Despite her fearsome reputation, she had been more than decent to Denario so far. He’d made her slog along with him for far too long today, he thought, but he didn’t know what else to do. He couldn't work any less. He hadn't arrived at a solution.

He rose and dragged himself across the alley to the equipment house. On his way, he stumbled past two slaves asleep on the floor. One of them was the heavily-tattooed fellow from the night before. Denario decided he'd better set up snares on the steps to his loft. He was too tired to do all six so he set three in place and hoped for the best. Really, he was worried that he might sleep through the noises made by an intruder even if one got caught. He felt likely enough to remain unconscious with a fire in his room. He set the remaining trap pieces in a pile behind the door in the hope the clatter would roust him or at least alarm an intruder.

When he dozed off, still in work clothes, he dreamed about his counting house in Oggli. He could see his apprentices in a view as if from above. They were running. They were trying to get away from Curo. Denario's partner journeyman was chasing the boys through the halls while wearing a strange, dark brown robe. Curo looked more like a monk or a Muntar merchant than an accountant.

Denario awoke at dawn. As he rubbed his eyes, he reminded himself of his dream, lest he forget. He was sure it was an omen. Things were falling into disarray back home. He needed to get Oggli and help Curo restore order in the house. He needed to guide the younger boys.


“You're still here?” Senli said when she walked into the Pharts Bad counting house. Denario sat on his stool at the tile desk.

“No, I slept.” Denario had realized that sixteen of the green tiles and five of the purple tiles had to be out of place. So he was setting them to the side in careful rows. When Mistress Clumpi arrived, he could go over their placements again. But he glanced up and noticed the suspicious look he was getting from his book keeper. “That is, I went to my room above the mining equipment. How about you, Senli? Twice yesterday I went to speak to the mine supervisor about you but both times he had to run off to the mine.”

Senli scowled. “He almost never goes into the mine. He’s avoiding you.”

“Me?” Denario touched his hand to his chest.

“Well, the things you've done, you know ... you have a reputation around town.”

“Do I?” Now that he thought about it, there had been an awful lot of folks who had waved to him as he walked the streets in the last day. He hadn't known any of them, really. He'd just assumed they were friendly.

“Did you really go pray at Small Gods last lunchtime?”

“Just to leave a small offering. Wait, who told you?” More to the point, he wondered why anyone would care. “Now I'm getting confused. What does this have to do with the mine supervisor?”

“Edna Bobbins took me in last night.” Senli treated Denario to a pleasant smile. She had good teeth, he noticed. She might have lived a hard life but she was still in good health.

“She's one of Olga Clumpi's friends, right? She has a limp. And she came to give us buttered oatmeal, which was awfully nice.”

“Yes, Edna can't get around so well. It could be a convenient arrangement, me staying at her place. I'll get to sleep in her son-in-law's old room. In exchange, I'll keep the place clean, lift a few things she can't, and maybe do some cooking. Although she likes to cook, so I might not do much of that.”

“It sounds ...” It's sudden, he thought. Olga Clumpi might not be acknowledged as a town leader but she seemed to have some power to exert nonetheless. She'd made a difference in Senli's life.

“It's wonderful.” The book keeper nodded in agreement with her own assertion.

Then Denario felt guilty for not doing more himself. He'd paid attention only to the tile system for the past two days. In fact, he'd been entertaining the idea of strolling up the street to the Clumpi house to wake Olga. That seemed ridiculous now.

When Olga did arrive, quite late and looking tired, he got up and gave her his chair. She called him a nice boy. He got her a cup of tea and it wasn't long before three of Olga's friends showed up to offer them hot breakfast. The group didn't include Edna Bobbins, he noticed. He snuck a look at Senli. She stared down the street toward Edna's house.

But Mistress Bobbins showed up in due time. She wobbled a bit on her cane and sat like she didn't intend to move until lunch. Hummel followed soon after in bare feet. His legs looked wet to his knees and he mentioned that the bath was great. That got Denario's interest for a second but he'd re-involved himself with the tile system so he didn't ask any questions. He only wondered about the way he must smell after sleeping in his armor for days. Just because no one had complained yet didn't mean he was a daisy.

By lunch, Olga pronounced that the tile system was 'as good as it's going to get.' That meant that the final hurdles were up to Denario. He would clear them or not.

The accountant stood and stretched. His book keepers had taken a shipment of copper from the mine supervisor this morning. It reminded Denario of how he needed to talk to that man.

“Don't you get a hot lunch from the miners, Senli?” he asked. She and Olga were busy weighing copper sheets. Behind them, Hummel and the part-time guard were re-stacking the accepted copper.

“We can.” Senli stood as if his question was, to her, an order.

“Oh, I was going to make something,” said one of the old ladies. She set down her knitting and started to rise. It was Mistress Bobbins.

“No, no, the mine owes us a few lunches. And I've been trying to catch the mine supervisor. He can't miss his meal, can he? So I can talk to him and bring back some food.”

The old women frowned and fretted about this. They didn't seem to like him doing a chore even remotely related to cooking. But Hummel and Senli smiled at the idea, he noticed, and that made up Denario's mind. He hitched up his pants, slapped on his short sword, and set off.

On his way, he wondered if the fact that he wore armor so often had gotten the miners to worrying. If so, he should find a way to put them at ease. He could dress down a bit. Of course, the miners should have been able to tell at a glance that Denario was harmless but you never knew how mangled the telling and re-telling of the adventures of the Mundredi army had grown.

Overhead, the sky was cloudless. It was almost too bright to look at except around the horizon, which was all mountains anyway. The road to the mine had turned dry and dusty. Denario was glad there were no mules or other pack animals on it with him. He followed the trail until it narrowed and turned up a rise. There, it widened out again into a clearing northeast of the mine entrance. Six rows of long benches sat on the prominence. A hundred men could have sat all together to eat. There were forty-four of them today. Denario glanced under the tables and counted quickly. Thirty-eight pairs of ankles wore leg irons. Six were free men.

The head miner was not a large fellow. None of the free men were. They sat at the head of each table but they didn't look completely in charge. In Oggli, the headmen on any manual labor jobs would have been muscular enough or just evil enough to strike fear into the hearts of the workers. Here in this mining town, the leaders talked shop with the slaves about the 'north seam,' the 'banded seam,' and the 'dubious revetments,' whatever those were. Behind the benches lay a pile of wooden shovels and pickaxes, edges carved from bone. Denario was startled by the sight of those picks. The tools would have been made of better material almost anywhere else in the world.

From the talk, though, he could tell that the supervisors knew how to run a mine. That was so practical, it would have seemed amazing in Oggli. There, the noblemen in charge had no idea how to do anything except tend to their horses and weapons. They gave orders. Sometimes they gave them to competent people and sometimes not. They couldn't always tell the difference but that was how things worked.

It didn't take long for the mine supervisor to spot Denario, even though his back was turned. The slave next to him tapped his shoulder and pointed as the accountant approached the lunch bench. The supervisor lurched to his feet. He tossed down his bowl.

“Something wrong with the shipment this morning?” he said. He wiped his hands. Then he rubbed his mouth with his sleeve. Senli had been right about this fellow, Denario judged. He looked nervous. “We counted it twice. Almost three times through, really.”

“No. This is about what I've mentioned before.” Denario stopped a few feet away. He watched the alarm in the eyes of the miners. No one seemed to know what he was talking about, not even the supervisor. “I said I'd check on the pay records for my book keepers. Now is a good time.”

“My log books?” The free man looked down at the ground for a moment. Then he nodded and, with a gesture, led Denario away from his slave crew. “Are you in charge of my records now, accountant?”

“No.” Maybe he should have asked for that job, too. But if he understood correctly, it wasn't a duty that the mayor could assign to him. “This is counting house business. I'll enter the pay for Senli, Hummel and Olga if it's not marked down.”

“But ...” The man stammered for a moment. “Look, I tried to do all this before. The mayor and the burghers said that it was town business and I'd get in trouble ...”

“You know that I've already made my agreement with the mayor.” Denario stepped in front of the man. He wasn't leading Denario in the right direction, which was to the mine office. “You know this is approved.”

“But the burghers ...”

“If any of the burghers have a complaint about this, ever, you just send them to me, understand? Ever.”

The man's jaw dropped for a moment. But he closed his mouth and turned. He started leading them toward his two story shack at the bottom of the slope. For a long minute, he was silent. Denario couldn't think of any small talk to lighten the mood, either. He doubted the man would be interested in learning about base 4, base 8, or base 16 mathematics. Or about the limitations of doing base 16 math without 16 different colors of pottery glazes.

“Is it true?” The mine supervisor cleared his throat. He glanced sideways at Denario. “True about Burgher Haphnaught I mean, sir.”

“Did Haphnaught have a problem with paying the women?”

“Yes, sir. He and Burgher Dumm both.”

“I'm going to enter those records. I'll sign my name to them in case you're worried. And then, after I bring lunch to the book keepers, I'll pay a visit to Burgher Dumm.”

“Not to Haphnaught?”

“Burgher Haphnaught isn't feeling well.”

“Oh, yes. That's what I'd heard. Exactly.”

What have you heard? Denario wondered. But there was no good way to pose the question without opening himself up for another round of hints and queries about what had happened that night on the stairs. He felt reluctant to go into detail. It could only turn the town against him. But in the end, Denario broke the silence. It happened because he thought about his boys in Oggli and how they were faring. He couldn't help wondering about the miners, too. They were slaves, like he'd been once, and they might welcome an attack on the town. They might think it meant freedom for them.

“If the Raduar army finds Phart's Bad,” he said, “how will your men react?”

“We've talked about it,” admitted the supervisor. “But the men get three meals a day, fourteen holy days off a year, and an hour rest during each shift as it is. If the Raduar soldiers don't slaughter the lot of them, they'll be lucky not to get worked to death in a few months by their new owners. All of the slaves know it.”

“Even the Raduar slaves?”

“They weren't born slaves. They're here for a reason, each one.”

“Ah.” They were criminals, then. Maybe a few were supposed to be already dead but had been sold into slavery by priests who took bribes to excuse them from being sacrifices.

“How about you, sir? I hear you're headed off toward the Ogglian army. And you're going through the border territories with the Raduar.”

“Yes, well, I've got apprentices. They need me to get home to them. You've got to take care of those you're sworn to, after all.”

“Some don't.” The supervisor sighed as they reached his heavy, leather door. He swung it aside. “But you do, it seems. Go ahead and mark the ledgers. You will be sure to sign, won't you?”

“I said I would.”

“Thank you, sir.” His voice sounded husky. This had been a difficult issue for the mine supervisor. Unlike Denario, he was not on a mission. He wouldn't leave town. He had to stay and deal with the consequences of Denario's actions.


Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Eight

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 69: A Bandit Accountant, 11.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene Five: Aha

The morning sun had turned from orange to yellow when Burgher Dumm showed up to the counting house. The air was brisk but with the promise of a warm, spring afternoon ahead. That was fine because they were overdue for some better weather, to Denario's mind. Instinctively he put a hand on his sword as he noticed the burgher’s approach.

Vernon Dumm hadn't bothered to bring a weapon. He wore the same breeches as before. They didn't have room to hide a dagger, not with the way his belly filled them out. He'd put on two fresh shirts, both dyed a pale shade of green. His mood and his manner of dress seemed improved from yesterday. In fact, he looked spry and well rested. His lack of cudgel seemed a bit suspicious to Denario but he found it hard to demand that the burgher go get one.

“Can you tell me who owes what, yet?” said Dumm as he got within speaking distance. This seemed to be his version of teasing. He put his fists on either side of his great stomach and waited although he clearly didn't expect an answer.

“As a matter of fact, I can tell you that one trader is owed two hundred fifty pounds of copper,” Denario answered. He took his hand off of the hilt of his baselard. He indicated the relevant string-counters. “I'm sure the orange round tiles are the copper markers. Types are separated by a double set of black beads, see. Another trader owes us sixty bales of wool and one hundred twenty rabbit hides. I don't have the names of those traders figured out yet.”

“Really?” Vernon's hands dropped from his sides. “That's ...”

“Better than you expected?”

“Yes. Well, I mean no offense by it. Your captain said you were good. But Olga Clumpi herself told me that the job was impossible and she ought to know.”

“You had your talk with Olga?” Denario's voice dropped. The old woman was eating breakfast with Senli not far away.

“Yes, me and Mark Haphnaught both. We got an earful back from her, as we expected. But she seems happy to keep matters quiet as long as she’s got a job.”

Denario glanced down Mine Street. He'd expected to see Haphnaught walking over here long before Dumm.

“Where is the other burgher, anyway? Why isn't he with you?”

“He's ...” Vernon Dumm rolled his eyes. He leaned his weight one direction, then another. He seemed embarrassed but he forced himself to appear business-like. “I suppose you’ll find out anyway. Burgher Haphnaught is indisposed.”

“Indisposed. Do you mean he's sick?”

“In a manner of speaking.” He rocked on his heels again.

“What manner of speaking is that? Was he well enough to come to his door?”

“No. His youngest son comes off guard duty at sunrise. He let me in. Mark was in bed. He said his arms hurt. His face looked bruised, too.”

“Aha,” said Denario. “I mean, that's awful.”

“Yes. I know what most people will think.” Vernon nodded. “It looks a bit like he and the wife were fighting again. They do that from time to time. But it's been years since they've had a row anything like this serious. It's not good for them, not at their age.”

“Or he could have had a fall down the stairs,” Denario suggested. He watched Vernon's face carefully to see if the man was hiding his knowledge of last night.

“His house has one story,” replied the burgher without missing a beat. He seemed to regard Denario as slightly daft for suggesting it, nothing more.


Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Six

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 68: A Bandit Accountant, 11.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene Four: A Bump in the Night

“What?” Denario sat up, startled. The room was so dark that he could barely see his hands on his sword. It was the middle of the night.

He immediately regretted saying anything. He was sure he must have heard a noise. Yes, there it was, a board that creaked. The sound came from outside his bedroom door. Was someone on the stairs? He held his breath and listened.

Another creak. Then, abruptly, there was the noise of a stumble. Someone muttered a curse but too softly for Denario to hear the words.

Alarmed, he pulled his baselard from its sheath. The blade made a noise which, after a moment of consideration, Denario admitted might not be all that bad. Did he really care if someone knew he had the sword drawn? He didn't want to fight. That would probably mean he'd die, given his lack of skill. He'd be safer scaring off the intruder.

On that principle, Denario rolled out of bed. He didn't care about the loud thump he made when his boots hit the floor.

Someone else cared. A second later, there was a gasp from behind the door. That was followed by what could only have been the clack and clatter of a large man falling backwards down the stairs. It lasted for a second or two and ended with a bang against the bottom board. At least the intruder didn't fall head-first off of the second floor, Denario thought. Then he'd have a dead body on his hands and a lot of explaining to do in the morning.

“Ooow!” The cry of pain had been knocked out of somebody. Was that the voice of Vernon Dumm? Denario couldn't tell.

The clatter woke the mines slaves.

“Shut up!” shouted one in a thick accent.

Another called out, “Who is it?”

Denario didn't see any point in staying in his room. He lifted the latch and swung open his door. His sword tip remained at eye level as he moved. That part of his training had been effective, it seemed. He had the reflex. No one rushed in to attack him. There wasn't a second intruder, as Denario had feared for a moment. All the action sounded like it was taking place downstairs. Rag blankets, furs, and straw beds rustled. The bottom stair board creaked as someone rolled off of it.

“It's the middle of the night!” complained the slave with the accent.

“Are you all right?” said a third, more thoughtful voice.

With a horrible groan, the person at the bottom of the stairs started to move. He dragged himself across the straw-covered dirt floor with a heavy, limping gait.

“I'm coming down!” Denario shouted. Powered by fear, his voice sounded like the bellowing of a bull – or maybe a bit more like the bleating of a newborn calf for its mother. His words came out with a lot more volume and a higher pitch than he'd meant. His throat felt as tight as his arm muscles.

He was so nervous that he stepped into his own trap.

When the loop of twine slapped him on the back of the leg, he let out such a curse that the intruder downstairs, whoever he was, began to run. It wasn't that Denario had been hurt. His ankle had twisted a little but no more than that. Instead, it was the thrill of fear making him loud again. How could he have been so stupid? He'd almost tumbled down the steps himself. He was lucky that he wasn't any better at setting traps.

Vir had shown him how to make a holding snare, a flip snare, and a trip snare but this was the first time that any of Denario's traps had worked. And now this, nearly the second time, had happened with him as the victim.

His left hand trembled. He hastily yanked out the remaining snare anchors on his way down to the equipment room. There was one anchor that he couldn't budge because its hook had gotten caught. He ignored it.

As he came to the last step on the staircase, a light flared. One of the slaves lit a rag torch.

He stopped as his eyes adjusted. The thin slave, who had provided the firelight, had already clambered to his feet. In the other corner, a chubby, stoop-shouldered fellow was rising. Still on the ground, shielding his eyes from the light, lay a man with more tattoos on him than Denario had ever seen. Those included a slave tattoo on his left cheek.

“What happened?” asked the chubby fellow. Even at full height, he was shorter than Denario and that didn't happen often.

“Intruder,” said the man next to the mining cart before Denario could open his mouth. He gestured to the accountant with his torch. His words proved him to be the source of the belligerent accent. “So ... you're wearing armor and a red vest underneath. You're the Oggli man we've heard tell of?”

“That's right.” Denario nodded. He ignored the knowing smile. He knew that 'Oggli' sounded funny but just now he didn't care.

“You're the one what got the book keepers paid?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Denario gestured to where the intruder had fallen. “Someone was just trying to sneak past you to do who knows what. Probably something bad. And you're thinking about pay?”

The standing slaves cocked their heads. The one on the floor grunted and rose to his feet.

“Folks don't like that.”

“What folks?” Denario raised his voice. The slaves backed away. Abruptly, he realized that he must look threatening. He turned his baselard around. It took only a moment of awkwardness to get it sheathed.

He turned toward the front cargo doors of the equipment room. Maybe there was still time to chase down the intruder. But then what? Was he going to attack someone in the dark? Maybe kill a grandmother by accident who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

He sighed. He turned back to the miners.

“Why? Why don't folks like it?”

“Yer paying women. That’s the big problem. Could be that's why you got a visitor tonight.” The thin man shuffled forward at step. “It weren't us, ye know. Not one of us.”

He got lots of nodding from his fellows about that point.

“How can I be sure?” The idea hadn't entered Denario's head until now but it had a certain appeal. A slave only needed to run to the front door, which was still open, make some noise, and creep back to where he'd been. The thin one could have done it.

On the other hand, all of the slaves rattled when they moved. Denario glanced at their ankles. Each man had brass fetters attached to keep him from running away. The chains between the footcuffs were thin. The links were dirty with red and gray shades of mud. Surely these slaves could have broken out with their mining shovels or picks. But why would they bother? Where could they go?

More to the point, how silently could any of them climb stairs with those chains on? Denario had to guess that it wouldn't be easy.

“None of us owns a cudgel,” said the thin one. He gestured to a spot on the ground next to the stairs. “They don't let mine slaves walk around with something like that.”

Denario knelt to touch the dark shape. It was a wooden mace about two feet long with a knob at the end. The material had been seasoned until it was as tough as iron. It was not the sort of thing brought by someone with nice intentions.

“Who carries a cudgel?” he wondered.

“That's for the foremen and aldermen.”

Denario scratched his head. “What's an alderman?”

“He means the burghers,” corrected the short, round fellow. He indicated the man with the accent with a jerk of his thumb. “He's a foreigner, like you, so he don't know nothing. Like you.”


Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Five

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 67: A Bandit Accountant, 11.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene Three: Made His Bed

By the end of the day, he’d gotten the counter strings about half of the way restored according to the sometimes tenuous memory of Mistress Clumpi. Exhausted after the reconstruction process, which included re-stringing over a thousand tiles, eating a three-potato dinner at his desk, and re-stringing hundreds more, he rubbed his eyes. He rubbed them again. Finally he noticed Olga Clumpi as she donned her shawl. He understood what time it had to be. He'd kept everyone up too late. He told Olga to hold on. That gave him a moment to shake hands with his book keepers and bid them good night. Over the widow's faint protests, he walked her from Mine Street to Willow Street, up to her front door.

When he returned to Mine Street, he saw that the lights in the counting house had gone out.  He couldn't blame them. He steered himself toward the equipment building for the climb up the narrow staircase to his loft.

His bedroom sat above a utility room for mine tools. It held mostly wooden beams, shovels, and pick handles. The beams had been stacked with rocks wedged between them, perhaps so the wood would dry faster. Normally, no one else stayed there. But this night, he saw that someone had moved a dusty mining cart to one corner of the floor. A gangly fellow had fallen asleep there on piles of dirty rags. Two more men had made rag beds in a different corner. They were mine slaves, Denario supposed. He felt a twinge of regret about going up to his fancy room full of downy linens but there was no sense in waking these men to apologize to them. Anyway, he needed to sleep.

He marched up and laid himself down on his covers. He felt rested, full of food, and reasonably warm. But the clues he’d uncovered in the afternoon had set his mind to whirring like a set of gears broken from their shear pin. His thoughts spun out idea after idea. He discovered that he'd memorized the color counts. His mind kept manipulating tiles in his imagination as if they were cold and smooth in his fingers. He shuffled them around in a waking dream. He was getting so close to a solution, he could almost taste the bitter glazes in his mouth. Bibbo had certainly assigned a number to each type of goods: furs, straw, feathers, beets, potatoes, and so on. Denario had been able to chart out some of the types already. Bear skins looked like a number nine. But where had that thought come from? It had made sense only moments ago. Now he questioned his logic.

After a few minutes in the dark, he sat up and re-lit his bedroom candles. He got out his accounting log and made notes about what he’d learned of base 16 mathematics. For one thing, base 16 had many common divisors that people used every day like 2, 4, and 8. But it lacked the divisor of 3 that was an advantage to base 12 systems. From that, Denario deduced that Bibbo Clumpi counted in groups of 4s and 8s when he was young. Olga Clumpi called them 'quads' and 'tets,' which indicated that Bibbo hadn't been alone. A farmer trading turnips and potatoes for furs had used those terms, too. It made Denario think that local farmers, however few there were, must have started the practice ages back.

Denario tapped the nub of the pen against his lower lip, a bad habit. He wiped his mouth, which blackened the back of his hand, and flipped the log pages to old Master Winkel’s description of the Tomaru system. He added his own annotations from what he'd learned while working with Senli. That took him half an hour.

When that wasn’t enough to let him sleep, he dug out his sword, spear, and buckler for some practice. The mindless repetition felt good. He hadn't realized how much his legs had cramped from disuse until he stretched them for a bit.

Part of him was dimly aware that he stank. At some point soon, he would need to go down to the town's spring and bathe no matter how cold the water was.

Even after the exercise, he couldn't sleep. Denario thought about the traps he'd set on the stairs two nights ago. He'd neglected them since. Rationally, he was sure he should be more careful. There were strange men downstairs, after all. He knelt to his travel pack and located his remaining snares, which he'd wrapped neatly, cords around the pegs.

He unrolled all four and tested them. The straps were thin leather, not twine, and they felt strong. Two of the snares had been a gift from Alaric. The other two had been spoils of the battle, part of the common pile the men lugged to the nearest fort. Vir was the one who had insisted that Denario learn to use them. He'd meant for the accountant to keep in constant practice. 'These saved me when I traveled alone,' he'd said. 'Ye need te learn the way.'

The captain hadn't volunteered a story about how traps had saved him.  But it wasn't hard to imagine. The Mundredi peasants seemed willing to rob anyone they deemed weak. The knights in the Ogglian lands weren't much different. Only in the larger towns and cities did the rule of law exist. A traveler alone in the wilderness might starve or suffer attacks by men or animals.

Denario felt there was a chance that the slaves downstairs would creep up to steal from him. Moreover, he doubted they'd stop anyone else from doing it. Denario didn't trust the look he'd gotten from Vernon Dumm. He might come up to do thieving or, more likely, worse. If anyone seemed ready to do Denario harm, it was that man.

The accountant had borrowed extra anchor pegs from the equipment on the floor two nights ago. They'd been lying in a heap of old mining equipment. They'd looked like they might have been used as tent spikes because they had pre-drilled holes for rope. Also, they'd been carved with hooked tips he found useful. Not far away from the spikes, he'd found larger, bent sticks in roughly the same color as the wood of the staircase. He'd wanted those pieces to rock back and forth without breaking and they'd seemed to do the job. That was how he'd set his traps. He still had some spare parts.

He pulled a few parts from the his scrap pile next to his door. He tested the bent pieces by stomping on them. Perhaps they didn't rock as much as he'd like but they didn't break. He tied cord loops to those sticks so that when someone stepped on one, it threw the loop over their foot. And when they took their next step, they'd discover that the anchor kept them from pulling away from the twine.

Tools in hand, he scurried to the top of his staircase.

It took maybe ten minutes to set the additional traps. He tried to watch the shadowy figures of the sleeping slaves beneath him in the gloom. It was impossible, even by the light of his candle. If they'd been awake, they would have heard him. They gave no signs of being disturbed, though, not even when he wedged the anchor pegs between the boards of the steps.

When he was done, he had some energy left and some extra pieces, too. He dropped those next to his bedroom door. He'd already trapped each of the top six steps. That was more than enough. Besides, he had started to feel tired. Maybe it was the sense of protection at work. A calmness crept over his limbs. He pressed his cupped left hand over his mouth as he yawned.

If someone stepped on a stick, the loop would catch them about half of the time, he guessed, and it would make them stumble. Denario would hear it and wake up. At the worst, he ought to hear the wood rockers snap if that's all that happened. He would have liked to tie a different type of snare to the railing but there was no railing. The steps were steep, not much better than a ladder. As he sat down on the bed, he envisioned what he'd done. He felt a brief twinge of worry that someone could trip and fall a long way down.

But his spirits settled. He closed his eyes. He knew that no one had visited him except one Mundredi soldier on his first morning here. This looked like a harmless precaution. Besides, as he sunk deep into the feather mattress, he realized he didn't want to go to the bother of rolling out of it.


Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Four

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 66: A Bandit Accountant, 11.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene Two: Facts Discovered

“I thought you weren't any closer to figuring out Clumpi's system,” Hummel whispered, much too loudly for Denario's comfort. All of the mule drivers and book keepers had watched the confrontation with Burgher Dumm. Some of them had been keeping a close eye on Denario since. They probably wanted to overhear something to their advantage.

Outside, the clouds had fled. The sun climbed alone into a gray-blue sky. In the counting house, the shelves and stacks had been cast into shadow. Denario ordered the cargo doors opened to relieve his mood. It had taken him more than a day to notice that those doors existed because two boxes of turtle shells had been stacked in their way. Next to them five bales of raw wool also blocked the view. Denario had to help Hummel and the guard shift everything to get the place opened up. They discovered that lowest bale of fleece had gotten wet and started to go bad. But the reward for their work was plenty of light in the counting house. It made Denario feel better about his job.

That the large doors hadn't been used in a month, apparently, was depressing. It meant no caravan had brought in large barrows of supplies to the town for that long.

“I didn't even look at the tiles yesterday,” admitted Denario as he puzzled over how such a wealthy town could have gotten itself into such a dangerous situation. “But I'll start right now.”

The transactions with the muleteers had finished. Denario walked past the last mule driver and a fresh stack of otter furs on the way to the tile desk. The driver nodded to him. Denario nodded back rather absent-mindedly. Behind the trader, at the back desks where the scrolls and candles were kept, Keeper Senli had taken the opportunity to instruct Mistress Clumpi on the mechanics of penmanship. It wasn't easy. The quill was old and the ink was lumpy. Nevertheless, Olga and Senli entered records into a Tomaru scroll. Senli seemed to be a patient teacher, which was good considering the disposition of her student. Olga gave turtle-necked, hands-on-hips scowls to the marks she'd made on the page.

Denario didn't want to disturb the women, not yet, so he sat in front of the tiles at the edge of the bright sunlight. He made a quick recount of the colors and shapes of clay pieces. All of them had holes for stringing, of course, but most were square. A few had been cut into rectangles, probably also meant to be square. Others were flat discs. Still rarer types had been shaped into beads.

The beads were always black or red, never any other color. That was Denario's first clue.
“Hummel, did you talk to whoever made these tiles for Master Clumpi?”

“No, sir. I hear the man was just a farmer and part-time potter. He lives out of town, I think.”

“I'll bet Mistress Clumpi knows him.” It was odd that someone hadn't thought to talk to the potter responsible. That was a symptom of how this town worked. If a task wasn't convenient, it got put off. And certainly the burghers hadn't made it easy for Senli or Hummel to travel. A woman with a visible slavery tattoo had to worry about walking practically anywhere.

Denario had seen businesses in Oggli operate in a similar, lazy fashion. But unless those people were related to the marquis or some other noblemen, they didn't act that way for long. Instead, they went out of business. Master Winkel had listed those failed operations in his accounting logs along with the reasons he thought they'd gone bankrupt. Here in Phart's Bad, where there were no other mines, only one cobbler, one tailor, and not many farms, the only businesses that had to survive any competition were the caravans and the smiths.

It was no surprise that the Mundredi army got their best bronze spear points around here. The copper smiths had to be learning from one another and competing fiercely to acquire the best materials and techniques.

“Why aren't you moving the tiles, master?” asked Hummel. He wasn't even pretending to work. That was all right by Denario, though. He didn't want his book keepers doing fake work just to look busy when he was around.

“I'm counting the pieces again. I've got some ideas, given the numbers, but I don't want to disturb anything.”

In fact, Denario did move the tiles and strings. But he shifted them carefully, always restoring anything he'd displaced. Hummel watched for a while. But for a quiet man, he didn't have much patience. He soon turned his back and began to re-stack the otter pelts. Meanwhile, Denario kept a tally in the dirt of the various types of shapes and colors he encountered. In about two hours of careful work, he got to a point where he felt able to match the tile types to categories in the counting house inventory.

The basics fell together more or less at once. It started with a sense that the beads were operators instead of counters. From there, his guesses led logically to a series of vague conclusions that he couldn't prove. But he was sure he was generally right. When he felt himself getting confused about the details, he drew a chart:

          black beads = addition
          red beads = subtraction or sometimes a debt
          disc tiles = multipliers
          yellow square tiles = one
          green square tiles = two
          blue square tiles = four

“Mistress Clumpi?” he called. The old woman had finished her writing lesson. A friend of hers had come by with applesauce for lunch so she had just dug in. “Did your husband ever count by eights? Or maybe sixteens?”

“Sixteens, yes. He called them hexads.” She wiped her hands on her apron. “I don't know if he counted by them but he liked the number.”

“Hexads? I don't know that word. Maybe he invented his own term?”

“Yes.” Olga groaned for a moment as she got up off of her stool. She ambled toward Denario. “He liked the old tongue. A lot of his words came from that. But he shortened them when he used them in his math.”

“That could account for two of the three the missing colors.” Denario stared at his chart, which appeared to make sense. His guesses had been on the right track and he thought he could make another, too. “Did he compare hexads to tens and twelves?”

“Sometimes.”

“He must have been very sharp.” In fact, the man must have been doing his accounting math in hexadecimal and translating it into decimal or duodecimal when talking to the caravan drivers, all of whom worked in base ten or twelve according to the slave book keepers. “Very sharp, indeed. He did all of the math in his head?”

“Bibbo couldn't write much.” She wrung her hands. Although she seemed encouraged, it was obvious that she felt confused by the line of questioning. She seemed a bit tired, too. Denario didn't feel he could offer her the rest of the day off but he wouldn't give her heavy work this afternoon.

He added to his chart,

          red square tiles = eight
          purple square tiles = sixteen

There were fewer purples than reds. Reviewing his results, he realized that he'd gotten ahead of himself. He hadn't even started to restore the system. But he was pretty sure he was on the right track about the basic scheme. Without these guesses, nothing else he did would matter anyway. He could puzzle out the state of the tiles on the strings with Olga in the afternoon. For the moment, he needed to come to a decision about whether the proportions of colors suggested connections to the inventory, signs for the traders, or tally marks – and the verdict seemed to be tally marks. A yellow tile didn’t indicate ‘one otter fur.’ It meant one of anything. All of the colors were numbers or operators and they were all part of a base sixteen accounting system.

“Do you need me?” asked Olga. “Only I want to get back to my sauce. And it looks like you already know what you're doing.”

“I've made a start. I'll need your help after lunch.” Denario smiled at her. “You see, I really need you. I can already tell there's a problem about these values if I'm right about your husband's method. And I'm pretty sure I understand the basic method.”

“So what's the problem?”

“Well, if no color belongs to any particular trader, how did Bibbo keep track of what account strings belonged to which trader? Did he say anything about that? Would you have any idea?"

She shook her head.

“And if each tile stands for a number, how did Bibbo know what kind of thing he was counting? How did he know someone had contributed sixteen bear skins but not sixteen pork bellies?”

“Maybe he just remembered.”

"That's what I'm afraid of," admitted Denario. It seemed all too likely.


Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Three

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 65: A Bandit Accountant, 11.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene One: Facts Explained

Morning brought a crisp feel to the air. Denario sniffed. It smelled as if there should have been a frost. But it was probably too late in the spring for that. He kicked and rolled out of bed. After he dressed, he descended his lonely staircase, careful to miss the snares he'd set before. The sun hadn't quite risen. There was barely a blue-gold glimmer over the eastern mountains. Yet when he reached the front door of the counting house, he found that the place was already bright. The book keepers, both of them, had risen to build a stove fire and light candles.

“Good morning, Master Denario,” said Senli in a clear, almost cheerful voice. Fire cast a warm glow over the shelves, stacks, pots, and tables.

A minute behind Denario, Olga Clumpi reported to work with two of her friends in tow, both elderly women in thick, wool cloaks. They'd brought steaming bowls of hot porridge for breakfast. Senli was so touched that she didn't know what to say. She made a complicated and confused curtsy. Or was it a bow? Hummel stared at the bowl and spoon they'd placed in his hands, bewildered. Maybe no one had fed him breakfast before.

The older women never stopped talking, although the subjects weren't related to accounting. Often it was about the weather, their knees, or the lax morals of young people. They seemed determined to help Olga get off to a good start. However, they had their opinions on creature comforts, too, and they didn't think much of the spices in the kettle Senli that had hung above the fire to make tea. They'd brought their own and added them to the mix.

Mistress Clumpi had worn a severely plain, off-white dress, sensible shoes, a shawl and a headdress. She'd brought a matching shawl and headdress for Senli. As soon as he saw them, Denario understood the effect she'd intended. Unlike the weather or the old ladies' knees, this was an area in which he could take action.

“Keeper Hummel,” he said. He motioned for the little man to get up from his desk. “I understand there's a tailor in town. Do you know where he lives?”

“Yes, sir.”

Denario put down his porridge on the edge of Hummel's desk. He grabbed a scrap of parchment and began writing a note.

“Hurry over to his place and buy us both shirts that are the same color as the women's shawls and headdresses. If the man makes hats or skull caps, buy those. They need to be of the same color, too.”

“But ...”

“I don't know how I'll make it work with my Ogglian guild reds but we'll find a way.”

“But people will see me without my chains!”

“That's right!” Denario pushed the note into Hummel's sweaty hands. As a concession, he added, “Show the note if anyone gives you trouble. And tell the tailor to come on over to get the best pick of his trade items.”

“Yes, Master Denario.” Hummel bobbed his head. He stumbled out the door, full of butter and oats but seemingly not too tired or terrified to carry out his simple deed.

That was how all of the book keepers came to be in uniform before the burghers arrived. Denario and Hummel had just changed into their off-whites. Even better, two muleteers had arrived with otter furs to trade for tin. That kept everyone busy with the basic counting and judging. Olga Clumpi was in the midst of her first official negotiation for the town when a short, heavy-set man poked his head in the the main door.

The book keepers stiffened. They didn't like the burgher. Denario recognized that the strong-jawed, double-chinned visage belonged to the man who had been introduced two days before as Vernon Dumm. After a brief apology to the muleteers and Olga Clumpi, who didn't need him, Denario marched over to meet Dumm.

Whereas Hummel looked smaller than he was, Dumm seemed bigger. He matched the height of the book keeper, no more, but something about his presence took up a lot more room. He wore layers of heavy linen over his torso. His breeches looked plain, not much more than sack cloth. His cloak had a hood but he'd pulled it off to reveal his severely short hair. His head was shaped like a brick. He saw the accountant coming for him and stepped into the room like he was ready for a fight, arms at his sides, cloak pulled back to reveal a sheathed dagger at his belt.

Denario didn't blame him. He'd worn his baselard today in case he faced something like this. But smiled at the tiny blade Dumm had chosen.

“Burgher Dumm,” he said. His eyes swiveled to the right as a tall figure stepped in behind the first man. “And Burgher Haphnaught, I see. I gather the mayor had a chance to talk with you.”

“Accountant,” said Burgher Dumm. He hesitated, unsure of how to respond. He gave the appearance of someone who had come with a prepared speech but had forgotten the lines.

“Master Denario,” rumbled the deeper voice of Mark Haphnaught. His pale, spotted face was crowned with grey hair. His eyebrows were as fuzzy as milkweed. He turned his stern look on his fellow burgher but not on the accountant or book keepers.

“Oh, right.” Vernon tugged on his pants to pull them up over his impressive belly. “I understand you've discovered thefts from the warehouse.”

The boldness of the words made Denario step back for a moment. Just a few months ago, he wouldn't have had anything to say to a man like Dumm. Was the burgher going to pretend that he hadn't taken anything? Was he going to blame the thefts on the book keepers? That would be ridiculous. A bark of laughter escaped Denario. His reaction surprised the burghers.

“Oh, yes. I know who took what,” Denario motioned Vernon Dumm toward a stool. He gestured to burgher Haphnaught, too, who seemed strong and alert but was in fact the first grey-haired man that Denario had met in the last twenty or so Mundredi towns. Old men and young women were both in short supply in these valleys. “Everyone else knows who took things, too.”

“Who knows?” demanded Dumm. His voice dropped from a shout to a whisper. He grunted and took the seat offered to him. “Who's heard what you've been saying?”

This was a question Denario had thought about during the night. He knew his answer.

“Everyone important to you,” he said. “The mayor, of course. The mine supervisor. The other town leaders know. Our book keepers are aware, obviously, including Mistress Clumpi.”

“My gods!” The stout man scruntched lower on his stool. He was nearly spherical for a moment. His fingers went to his neck as if he were thinking about being hanged. “And wait, wait. Olga Clumpi, she's a book keeper now? She's certainly not a town leader. That woman can't keep a secret.”

“I expect … not.” Denario drummed his fingers. “Well, that's your problem. I suppose a polite talk with her might be in order. Very polite, you understand.”

“But ...”

“You did give a gift to her church, didn't you?”

“I gave to all the churches and temples this year.” Vernon looked to his senior, Mark Haphnaught. The elder burgher's face remained stern. “Every burgher gave something.”

Denario nodded. “It might be good to remind her of that.”

“The mayor,” harumphed Haphnaught as if reminding the other man of his lines, “seemed to feel that the town was in danger. Can you prove that?”

“Easily enough.” Denario motioned toward the negotiation between the book keepers and the muleteers. All of the people involved had been sneaking looks at him anyway. It wasn't hard to catch Senli's attention. “Keeper, will you bring the new scroll I started yesterday? Also another stool to rest it on would be welcome.”

It only took a few minutes for Denario to explain, as he'd done last night, precisely how the town had been driving away business. He showed the two burghers what the consequences would be. Everyone else could overhear, of course. Even the counting house guard, who Denario had bribed with soup from Mistress Clumpi, listened in. The burghers seemed shocked at first. But their dismay turned quickly into anger – with each other, with the rest of the burghers, and with the accountant. Denario had to repeat himself to be heard over their bickering. He named the caravans that had gone missing. He took the burghers on a walk through the inventory so that they could see for themselves the lack of food stores.

Really, they should have seen this coming. Only their sense of denial, of believing things would always be the way they'd been, had kept them from seeing the trends.

After they returned from their walk-through, Denario sensed that Burgher Haphnaught was still skeptical. He didn't have a chance to reiterate his case, though. The mayor, Jack Quimbi, staggered in through the front door.

“Mayor? You look awful,” Denario said as he strode over to greet Jack. He stuck out his hand before he realized he was being a bit too honest. “I mean, awfully tired. You look tired.”

“I didn't get much sleep last night,” the mayor mumbled. “First there was you. Then I spoke to a few burghers. Later, the gate guards woke me to say that they turned away some strange armed men at the gates. They didn't even recognize the clan signs on those fighters. The tribe markings were all Raduar. One of them looked sick.”

“That's bad.” Denario's memory flashed back to the injured Raduar he'd seen. There had been no prisoners, no quarter, but there had been reports of a few escapes. The traitor Piotr was among them. “But it's not unexpected, surely. Vir did warn you.”

“Finally, they woke me before dawn to tell me that they'd seen a caravan go by.”

“That's good news, then.”

“No! It's bad news. Why would a caravan drive past us?”

“Because you've been cheating them?”

That made for a long look between the mayor and the burghers. No one seemed happy with anyone else. On the other hand, no one was drawing a weapon on Denario at the moment.

“That could be it,” the mayor allowed after a while. “The guards said the caravan looked headed to Timberburg.”

“What have they got in Timberburg?”

“I don't know.”

“Granite,” grumbled Haphnaught. “No copper.”

“Oh, I've heard they have copper,” interrupted Vernon Dumm. “Of course it's ours, really. It's the scrap ore that we let sit out. We even paid some mule drivers to dump a bunch of it outside of town.”

“Would anyone in Timberberg know how to turn that kind of scrap ore into a useful metal?”

“They might. We've had any number of copper smiths and tin smiths come in. Half a dozen, at least. Not all have stayed. We can't employ everyone.”

“So there must be smiths in nearby towns. They probably buy from you. And some of them know how to use the scrap ore. Has there been a lot of scrap?”

The mayor nodded glumly.

“Maybe we should go to war with Timberburg?” suggested Burgher Haphnaught. He rubbed his gray-stubbled chin. “That would keep them away from our scrap heaps. I don't know how hard our men would fight, though. We need a mayor who's tough enough to lead them.”

Quimbi paled.

“Wait a moment,” Denario interjected. “As the Raduar and Ogglian forces are closing in, you want to fight with your neighbors? How long would be before someone from a smaller town got the idea of pointing those armies toward Pharts Bad?”

“What proof do we have that any armies are headed this way?” said Haphnaught. “That's just your say-so. You even admit that you haven't seen them yourself.”

For his answer, Denario knelt and drew in the dirt. It didn't take him long to re-create a map of the seven valleys. His problem was that none of the three men had seen a map before. He spent a long time explaining that it was 'like what a bird would see from high above.' Even then, only the mayor seemed to understand the concept.

The accountant tried to use words and numbers to help him. He drew tally marks for the Raduar soldiers, who he put at 280 strong based on what Vir described.

Baron Ankster of Cumbria had at most twenty knights devoted to razing the Mundredi villages, Denario was pretty sure. Those knights came with four or five men at arms each so Denario put their number at 120. They were better armed, of course, than anyone in the valleys, but at the moment their numbers were small. After the Faschnaught war finished, such men-at-arms would become available in the thousands. The knights fought from astride their horses, too, which made them unstoppable except by Vir's trained spearmen. Even then, Denario guessed that the fatality rate among spearmen had to be high.

“So the Raduar are marching to the northeast now?” the mayor pointed to where tally marks had spilled over into Hard Valley. Denario wasn't sure how far the Raduar army had progressed against the Tortuar tribes there.

“Are those bumps you drew supposed to be mountains?” complained Dumm. He put both of his hands on his head. “I don't understand any of this.”

“Well, I don't understand this drawing either,” spat Haphnaught as he crouched down to speak louder to Denario. “But I do know what you said, accountant. Those armies may never get here.”

“That's possible. But I think they will. If they do, you'll have warning. You'll start meeting a lot of refugees first.”

“We're already getting refugees.” The mayor tried his best to use a threatening tone of voice. He glared at Dumm and Haphnaught.

“More of them, maybe? And you'll see scouts.”

“Like last night?” quipped the mayor.

“Well, I already said I think those troops will make it here. You're too rich a target to be ignored.” Denario stood and turned to the burghers, arms outstretched. “But I'm sure, too, that you've got time. From Vir's description, the armies are still distant. Vir's worried about Phart's Bad. But he knows there's time to act. That's why he brought me here.”

Denario was never sure how the two burghers got into an argument. It wasn't anything that Denario had said, really.

They'd talked about how the Ogglian army seemed to be looting caravans. No one seemed too upset about that. Then Dumm tried to blame Haphnaught for their bad relations with the caravans. He thought they should have been willing to come to Phart's Bad despite the looting. The older man turned the accusation back around and said that Dumm had mis-handled the counting house math, had gotten greedy with the merchants, and had been too weak at managing his home life, which had led to 'foolishness' about an extravagant bedroom. The mayor seemed delighted by their falling out. He clapped as Haphnaught scored his points.

A few minutes into their argument, another burgher arrived. He was no taller than Dumm and a good deal less heavy. With him came the mine supervisor, a wiry, dark man who saw what was going on between Dumm and Haphnaught and excused himself to get back to his work. Denario got the impression that the mine supervisor would have cut off a limb to escape. Hadn't he been the boss here before Denario? He should have been curious to stay and see the new boss at work. He obviously regarded the contentious burghers as a source of danger.

“This all started with you, Vernon,” said the other burgher and, at that point, everyone started to blame Burgher Dumm. They talked so fast that Denario couldn't completely follow their conversation. In a minute, Dumm was looking for someone else to blame.

The burgher's gaze fell on Keeper Senli for some reason. Last year around this time, Denario would have frozen in the knowledge that something bad was about to happen. But with a year of help from Curo, Pecunia, and more recently Captain Vir, Denario finally understood that he needed to step forward. He positioned himself between Dumm and Senli.

Red-faced, the burgher yelled at Denario for a minute. It wasn't as bad as Denario had feared.
“And this didn't start with me!” Dumm continued. “This started with your book keepers. If your folks had known who owed what, the town would never have gotten into this mess.”

“I'm sure that's true, Mister Dumm.” Denario resisted making a holy symbol over his chest. Technically, he was lying. But still it could be true. If Dumm and Haphnaught hadn't felt cheated by the first few caravans, they might not have behaved as badly afterwards. And they wouldn't have felt so cheated if they'd known the amounts owed.

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” The portly man rested his fists on his hips. He took a deep breath. Now that Denario had agreed with him, he'd lost his momentum.

“We'll fix our end, Mister Dumm.”

“When? When will you tell us the truth? You should tell us all of it. Can you even tell me yet who owes what?” A snort of derision escape him. He gave a knowing smile. “Of course not.”

“We will. I'll have the counting house straightened out within the week. Whether you burghers get the town straightened out is up to you, Mister Dumm.”

The burgher started to say something in anger but he caught the looks from his fellow town leaders. He shut his mouth. After giving them a defensive, worried grimace, he turned and stomped off down the street. droplets spilled from his beard. They splashed onto the dirt floor by his feet.

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Two