Sunday, January 14, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 106: A Bandit Accountant, 17.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Seventh Prime

Scene Six: Preliminary Assessment

By the end of the second day, I achieved a reasonable understanding of the town's tax history. I found 284 taxpayers. Their reports were jumbled together in clan and house records. It took a great deal of time to tease them apart. My master table of free men, carved onto five planks of oak, puts each in a row with amounts declared this year and last. By nightfall, I achieved a simple but complete diagram. There proved to be only 58 serfs in Furlingsburg. They are not slaves but neither are they free, as they are not permitted to move elsewhere. By the duke's edict they can't leave the farms on which they work without prior forgiveness of their families' debts. This is as near to slavery as makes no difference but they pay a form of tax as well, which is seven-eights of what they produce. Naturally, none of the serfs produce finished goods. They can't afford the taxes. The price of the raw materials they need is higher than any profit they can make. So all they can do is grow food to survive.

When Sir Ulrich died without an heir, his estate reverted to Baron Ankster. The baron awarded the farms and the serfs on them to Sir Fettertyr. Fettertyr received many such farms in nearly a dozen towns but serfs are no longer enough to make a knight wealthy. Even seven-eights of their farm output is not much.

According to these records, Sir Fettertyr has executed two men in Furlingsburg, both serfs, one for witchcraft and the other for looking at the knight in a disrespectful manner. He may also have killed a Mundredi farmer according to Wilfried, who says that an unapproved farm was burned to the ground last year, three months before the razing of South Ackerland.

Despite the knight's inheritance of serfs and his treatment of free men, the majority of the town's families are rather happy free farmers, craftsmen, and merchants. Many of the Mundredi have looked at their knight disrespectfully and lived. Many have failed in their tax payments, too, as one can expect to discover in an audit. I'm sure that most of the mistakes are honest ones because a full third have resulted in slight over-payments. Mayor Jolli was shocked to discover this. I reassured him that accidental over-payments are normal. He wanted that in writing and so I have provided it for him in a introductory paragraph of the report to Sir Fettertyr.

All of this work on the knight's finances makes me wonder how Sir Fettertyr compares to Vir de Spitze in the eyes of Furlingsburg citizens. Vir has respect among the Mundredi clans and technically, he rules them. Yet many here consider him ruler only of Easy Valley and West Valley and even then, only in name. Their town is considered mostly beyond his reach.

Nevertheless, I have wondered if the citizens here might look to him to deliverer them from oppression? I would say they do. He visited this town more than once when he was a young man. He has friends here. Unfortunately, his contemporaries like Hermann Ansel and Valentina regard him as ineffective, not much more than a bandit. Counter-balancing this is the view of younger men who feel that Vir's defeat of Sir Ulrich makes him a hero.

In the chapel at the back of the great hall of Hammer Clan, there is a picture of Vir under which the word WANTED can be read. Around the edges of the picture, holy symbols have been drawn.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 105: A Bandit Accountant, 17.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Seventh Prime

Scene Five: Wealth, Not Money

This is a place that has at least heard of accountants. Nevertheless, the lack of guild means the lack of a school, Denario wrote in his journal. My assistant, Wilfried, can't write more than his initials. He can't read. He doesn't know how to detect fraud in tallies. He accepts all numbers as they're given even when they contradict one another. From year to year, one farmer increased his herd of dairy cows from 15 to 30 but declared that only 2 calves had been born, none traded or inherited. This raised no suspicions in Wilfried, who never checks the old tallies. It's a stretch to call the man a book keeper when he has no books, keeps no master records, and his main qualification for the job is his birth as a second cousin to both Sir Ulrich and Mayor Jolli.

Tax figures have never been reconciled from year to year in Furlingsburg. Wilfried seems shocked by the idea that someone would do so. I found that out on my first day with him. Now I understand why Friedrich Jolli wants to revise his reports to Sir Fettertyr. He'll improve his relationship with the knight. How can updating the town's book keeping do anything else?

Still, there's a limit to how much we can achieve. It isn't practical to read back further than the last two years of tax payments. Even in sorting out the last two years, I took over the mayor's office, most of the hall outside, and part of another second floor room. My assistant moved shelves for me and brought in new ones so we didn't need to lay down leather belts on the stairs. It's amazing how much Friedrich Jolli stored in these heaps. Toward the end of the day, Friedrich and his men brought in a set of wooden tablets that a merchant had delivered to his house. Wealthy folks visit him at home more than they see him in the town hall. He keeps their records in his shed, apparently.

Merchants of the right kind can be rich in Furlingsburg. The same is true for guildsmen and for the Mundredi houses, which are usually two to six home networks, all of the homes related by blood or marriage. The town as a whole is great producer of goods even though it lives under threat from Sir Fettertyr as a result.

Perhaps I should explain my thoughts in that regard.

Once I assumed that nobles didn't understand wealth. Now I suspect that they do. They regard it as a threat. The wealthier that their peasants become, the harder it is for nobles to keep them in their place. They blame the immigrant Mundredi but the greater issue is the rise of the caravans and tradesmen. The Mundredi simply represent a convenient minority of free workers to attack. There are many others as well, some of them too powerful for the nobles to confront. Local guilds, for instance, are led by traditional waldi families. They have good connections and fix prices in their favor. They avoid taxes through barter systems. The knights, meanwhile, rely on their traditional lands farmed by serfs. Those lands have not seen improvement in one hundred years. The rest of the barony continues to bring in new technologies such as ox-plows, horse-plows, yokes, clocks, smithies, dams, and irrigation. But not the serfs. The serfs have not changed their methods.

Irrigation in various forms is known throughout the former Muntabi empire. But here, in Furlingsburg, the serfs seem to have been forgotten it. So it was re-introduced by the free farmers. Mundredi clans practiced step irrigation in the Seven Valleys for as long as they can remember. When they migrated to this area, they turned lands once thought to be useless into lush fields of barley, sometimes supplemented by peas or lentils. They've hunted bears and wolves to near extinction, which has greatly endeared them to the better-established peasants. But that doesn't matter to the knights. What I believe motivates Sir Fettertyr, his baron, and perhaps the Count of West Ogglia is that everyone's lands are improving but theirs. The serfs have not adopted the irrigation techniques, according to Wilfried. It's too much work and too little in return for them because the knights take the profits.

I find it strange that the Mundredi immigrants should be so much more productive than the better established citizens but this appears to be the case. Although the Mundredi had irrigation, they otherwise arrived with sub-standard, primitive technologies for tilling, planting, and crafting. Most of them had no oxen or draft horses when they came. They had to till by hand. Yet in only two generations they've created incomes equal to or exceeding the more established peasant families. How did they do it? Does freedom account for any part of it?

There is a particular case I find revealing and troubling.

The Mundredi Sickel clan, according to a leather rope record about twenty years old, once owned a thriving lamp and candelabra business. They imported enough metal to show up in the records of tradesmen. Making the basic wood forms took effort and the brass fittings were expensive. When taxes rose past a certain point, the clan slowly stopped making lamps, candelabras, or indeed any finished goods. Today I can see in their records that they have no craftsmen. They have become simple, peasant farmers like the more established families. They arrived poor, worked their way up, grew sophisticated, encountered a tax ceiling designed to discourage certain kinds of wealth, and settled back into trading and land-owning.

This makes me wonder: are the knights making their lands poorer? It seems possible. Moreover, it looks like a strategy. Even in the distant past, rather than avail themselves of the advances of the guildsmen and merchants, they murdered the most troublesome of those classes. They strove to keep their peasants poor rather than allow greater equality between peasants and nobility.

That brings me back to a suspicion that the nobles don't understand wealth. Despite what I wrote above, I think they only understand money. The nobles don't see how wealth is generated or how it turns into money.

For instance, a look at Sir Fettertyr's tax code shows that he doesn't comprehend bartering. He taxes his peasants as if they deal in cash. Perhaps they once did. If so, the locals are regressing to barter under the cultural influence of the Mundredi and the tax incentives imposed by their knight. The levy on cash holdings is one-eighth per year, a rate that's as ruinous as it is unenforceable. It relies entirely on spies. How else can authorities know who has coins hidden?

When the knight doesn't collect enough cash through the spy network, he simply demands finished goods from each town's tradesmen. There aren't enough tradesmen to supply what Sir Fettertyr and his superior, Baron Ankster, need to support their wars. As a result, the baron increases his taxes year to year. He's created an environment in which no skilled journeymen will move from Oggli to smaller towns, like Furlingsburg, because the taxes on goods in the farmlands have grown higher than in the cities.

I have not made friends with the mayor by telling him that his tax rates are ridiculous. He is on his knight's side in that regard. The guilds in town give him more trouble than any other groups. He feels they need kept down.

One problem with the rates is that services such as healing, book keeping, and tattooing go untaxed because the knights don't seem to know what to make of them while services such as shoe making and milling, which produce tangible products, are taxed highly. Carting is an unusual case in that it is not taxed in towns but suffers high rates for use of the roads between them.

On top of learning much about the area, I met an excellent ink maker. From him, I learned that tattoo artists are among the wealthiest of Mundredi men. They can accept money and pay no taxes. It was a surprise to me to find that there are women working as tattoo artists as well. My ink maker spoke highly of them. Such women are wealthy and respected. They touch the bodies of other women and it is considered a sacred trust. They are lent in a cautious way from clan to clan when there is a need, such as there seems to be from time to time.

The ink maker and I tested his products on an edge of vellum scroll. They do not produce the cleanest or darkest marks but his pigments will do for the final draft. For the early work, I returned to carving my math in the dirt and in wooden planks. I'll scrape the vellum clean later and use it for the letter to Fettertyr.

I asked Friedrich if I should write to Sir Fettertyr about the corruption in Ziegeburg. I thought Friedrich might be against revealing the problems of another mayor.

'Write, write,' he said. 'Tell your story. Anything to distract from Furlingsburg.'

So I composed a short, formal report on the taxes in Zeigeburg in addition to my other duties.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 104: A Bandit Accountant, 17.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Seventh Prime

Scene Four: A Philosophy on Hanging

The mayor's office in Furlingsburg stood on a polished, stone floor. At first glance, Denario saw nothing unusual about it. Then he thought about how long it had been since he'd seen tiles. There had been no granite flooring in Phart's Bad despite its quarries, nor any in North Ackerland despite its sophisticated churches, nor even in Ziegeburg despite its wealth and its long history as the outermost town of the Ogglian empire.

Here in Furlingsburg, the tiles had been laid in a regular pattern of shades. Denario thought that an accountant, a geometer, or a mason must have been brought in for it. An untutored man would have had to perform a great deal of trial and error to achieve, in all probability, a useless failure of a floor. An inexpert floor would have needed redone. It was a project that could take a hundred years to complete on even a small building like this one. So amateurism was possible but Denario thought a hired hand was more likely.

He didn't discount the possibility of both mixed together. The area had hidden geniuses, folks who could work out mathematical rules and produce usable structures. The pattern of tesselations in the design, for instance, looked like a single person's inspiration. It used hexagons, which laid together naturally. Every seventh hexagon was particularly dark and it was surrounded by lighter hexagons. As geometry, it wasn't too hard. As an achievement by a self-taught tradesman, it was amazing, a leap above everything else in the area. The floor was mostly level and the roof had a small dome. At the apex of the dome hung a straw sculpture of a man. The figure seemed to be an homage to the local harvest god.

“Is that Eleus up there?” Denario asked the footman.

The young, blonde-haired fellow halted and gave him a funny look.

“I thought even us waldis knew that one. It's the hanged man. He's a magical thief who came in on wings and stole from the harvest. Eleus set a trap, caught him, pulled off his wings, and hanged him. It's a strange story.”

“Seems straightforward enough,” said Denario although he worried it might be a reference to Melcurio. There weren't many thieves or tricksters with wings.

“It's odd because the thief laughs when he's hung. He's a funny man. And he doesn't die in any of the three endings that I know. In one version, the thief tricks Eleus by pretending to die but, when he's cut down, he grabs his wings and flies away. In another, the thief begs out of the hanging by offering to protect the crops. He gets bored after a few years and forgets. Then Eleus hangs him but the thief doesn't die, so he's sent back to his guard job.”

“And the third version?”

“That's the right one!” boomed a hearty voice. A beefy fellow of middling height strode forward. Two other men hung behind, one on either side, so Denario judged immediately that this was the mayor. “I was there. I should know. I'm Friedrich, by the way, and you must be the accountant with the foreign sounding name.”

“Denario, yes.” He stuck his hand out gingerly because it seemed he was about to be the object of either a shake or a hug. He got both.

The mayor rattled him with a handshake that treated his finger bones like dice. Then came a smothering embrace. Finally, the mayor pounded him on the back and let out the sort of comfortable laugh that men got when they genuinely enjoyed the presence of other people. He leaned back and his gaze fell to the blue coin on the chain around Denario's neck.

“Hah!” His eyes glinted. “Everyone talks about it but no one will tell me why it's important. Is it a token of accounting?”

Denario put a hand to his chest. He considered for a second: was he being employed already? He might already be working for the mayor. If so, he was in a tricky situation. He wanted to lie to protect Vir but he'd taken an oath to his guild, too.

“Am I your accountant?” Denario asked. “Is that decided?”

“Yes, I've already paid a fee to your clan and I need you to sign our tax scroll.”

“Then, no, sir, the coin is not about accounting.”

Friedrich's eyes narrowed. “Interesting. Of course, I already know about the coin. It's some sort of thing from the valleys. The clans are all superstitious about it. I just wanted to see if you'd lie to me. And if I'd said you weren't my accountant, you would have told me something else, wouldn't you?”

“I might have.” Denario touched his lip as he thought about his answer. “The coin means a lot to the Mundredi tribe. And I owe a lot to the man who gave it. But my guild swears to honesty.”

“Huh. Honesty. They say the gods reward it but I don't know. Our folks have been straight with Sir Fettertyr but he hasn't come to talk to me. His sister hasn't come through in half a year. She used to stop by every month. His squire delivered the mail, upon a time, but not anymore. I've only had two messages from Fettertyr, both orders handed over by peasant men, and they're not reasonable. I can't just turn a hundred folks out to starve. Jack, tell him the third ending of Eleus and the Hanged Man.”

“Me, sir?” The young footman pointed to himself like the wanted to dodge his own finger.

“I want to hear a young man's view of it.”

“Well, I ... uh, don't believe it the way older folks do. It's what we're taught.” He turned to Denario and lowered his voice. “In the version my priest likes, the thief turns out to be Eleus's son.”

“So he's a god of some sort.” Denario rubbed his chin. It sounded again like Melcurio might involved.

“Demi-god. Anyway, Eleus follows the law and hangs him. But then he lets the thief, his son, fly away afterward with a promise not to steal from the harvest. His son is so grateful that he comes back to protect us. He gaurds our harvests for years at a time. But he always gets bored, see. That's why sometimes we get plagues of mice and rats in the grain silos. When my dad was young, we had some sort of beasts come through with noses as long as a man's body. They grabbed trees and shrubs with their noses, he says.”

“That doesn't sound right.” Denario would have heard about such beasts if they were common.

“All the old men say the same thing.” The footman shrugged. “Anyway, they busted the grain silos open and started to eat everything. Some flying men came and shooed them away toward the west. We figure that was the hanged man and his brothers.”

“And I was there!” Friedrich roared. He raised his arms. “One of those great, lumbering beasts grabbed a man with his mighty nose! Well, don't look at me like that. I know it sounds incredible. But it's still true. That thing tossed a man like you might toss a child.”

“It doesn't ...” The beasts sounded impossible. Picking up shrubs and people with noses? But maybe it wasn't any stranger than a hippogryph or a flying toad. When enough magic was involved, Denario was prepared to believe anything could happen. Suddenly the flying men sounded to him a lot like a group of rather ordinary wizards. Maybe they dressed in trousers when they flew. Maybe they couldn't keep their pointed hats on when zooming about in the sky, either, so people might be forgiven for not understanding what they were. Men didn't normally ride broomsticks. But the dwarfs in Baggi sold them to everyone, not only to the witches.

“Two years ago, Sir Fettertyr himself came through for the first and only time. It was to re-approve my appointment. He said I had to re-take my oath as mayor in front of my people.”

“What does this have to do with …?”

“The damn fool approves of the Hanged Man! In front of everyone, he said he likes the death penalty for thieving. He wants to hang anyone who steals from him and told me to hang as many thieves as I could. He implied that half my cousins are thieves! Then he had me murder a poor man at the north gate of town just to show him I was serious. Now, I'm all for killing sneaks of course but the Hanged Man stands for something different around here. If Ulrich and Fettertyr had understood that he means leniency, they'd have tried to ban him and maybe even ban Eleus. Then we'd have had a bloody battle on the spot.”

“Is Fettertyr harsher than Ulrich?”

“Yes. Ulrich was a bully and a rapist but it came naturally to him. Fettertyr works at it. He makes sure to kill a peasant wherever he visits. He thinks that way everyone will know he's serious. The Mundredi are too smart for him, though. They keep their distance from anyone on a horse. So it's his loyal serfs who the knight kills most often.”

“Can't he tell the difference?” Even as Denario asked the question, he knew the answer. He'd told the Mundredi himself, several times, that the nobility can't be bothered to understand the lower classes.

“Hah! Fettertyr sent his first written order to me after he killed all those folks in South Ackerland. He said I was to refuse anyone entrance to the town except him. Well, we can say we did it as soon as we got the order because those folks were already here from South Ackerland. I wrote back and told him, sure, we'll close our gates.”

The coin got me in despite the mayor's orders, Denario thought. He wasn't entirely surprised. He had to figure it had gotten him into at least four towns already. He'd been counting.

“Fettertyr's second order was to raise our taxes. We'd already sent everything we could. Or so we thought. Thankfully, he didn't want our grain. He demanded our animals and metals. He said we owed him four hundred sheep. Four hundred! That's more than we've got in the farms around town. I had to say that. We sent half of what we had, I think, with his troop of armed guards. We told him it was all. But he had spies in South Ackerland and I'm sure he's got them here, too.”

“Won't the spies tell him you have sheep left?”

“That's a worry, yes. Some of the folks, bless them, don't think Fettertyr is serious. They're not hiding their sheep from their neighbors very well. If I can find out they held back from him, Fettertyr can, too. Then it's my neck in the noose.”

“Can't you just send him more sheep and claim you found them?” Denario almost suggested that the mayor have someone hanged as well. That seemed like a bad idea to put into the mayor's head. The only person around here who wouldn't be missed was Denario.

“It's worse than that.” Friedrich raised his meaty hands. He seemed to suddenly remember that his henchmen were listening in. With an expansive gesture, he turned on them. “Hob! Will! Jack! Get out of here. I'm talking business.”

He windmilled his arms. His men bowed, except for Jack, who had already turned his back and started out the door before his master finished speaking. Mayor Jolli waited, fists on his hips, as his men left and closed the door behind them. He remained where he was until their footsteps faded down the hall. He tapped his foot for a few seconds more until he heard a second, farther door slam shut. Then he held still a while longer.

“Right, then,” he whispered. He invited Denario to follow him with a conspiratorial gesture, palm up, fingers curled in. Through a darkened doorway they went.

Behind the crude, narrowed arch, Denario found an equally narrow hall. In fact the walls were so close that the mayor's frame didn't fit. Friedrich had to walk with his body turned at an angle. He looked a bit like a swordsman as he proceeded. That was the type of gait it took. But he kept up a quick pace. It was apparent that he'd been navigating this semi-secret hall for years.

At the end of the corridor, which had no candles or other sources of light, lay a closet with hooks. A vent at the top of one wall let in the sun. At the back of the closet, past the hooks, brooms, lances, axes, and mops, was another door to what must have once been a secret room. This was the mayor's real office, about twenty-five feet from the fake one.

How odd, Denario thought, for anyone to even attempt have a secret room in a public building. Friedrich Jolli didn't seem to take the clandestine architecture seriously. He'd left his doors and curtains open. He'd also pulled wide the tiny window at the top of his office. Whoever had built this place had wanted to avoid notice but Friedrich didn't seem to care. This was the type of room, Denario decided, that had probably served its creator well. But generations had passed since. Dozens of people, surely, knew about the secret room. Maybe even Sir Ulrich, when he was alive, had known. Whether Sir Fettertyr had been told was anyone's guess but Denario doubted that the mayor of Furlingsburg could imagine he’d escape his knight's wrath here. No, Friedrich understood that had to appease his lord.

Although it had been designed to be small and hold minimal supplies, under Friedrich's control the office had sprawled out into the closet. It threatened to throw more junk into the corridor. Surfaces had been brought in and stacked high to reach the available vertical space. There were chairs, tables, shelves – Denario was suddenly aware that he hadn't seen more than one shelf per room in over a month but here there were eight – boxes, overturned buckets, a slice from a tree stump that had been rolled up the stairs by someone quite determined, and two unmatched stools. On each surface, something vied for Denario's attention. He saw bags of money. He saw strings of counting beads. Beneath the ropes of beads sat clay tablets. Scrolls fitted into shelves and gaps. Against the walls, he noticed planks with tally marks. On some of the flat surfaces lay debtor split-sticks. The sticks were everywhere, even on the bags, bricks, wax slabs, scrolls, and tablets.

“Amazing,” said Denario. This wasn't as good as the home libraries in Ziegeburg, many of which had actual books, but to an accountant it felt like a return to civilization.

“The place is a mess, I know.” Friedrich swept a debtor stick from his chair onto the table to make himself a seat. “First, old Sir Ulrich burned down a church. Worshipers saved what they could. Ulrich torched another. More stuff came in. Then he died, of course, in that battle at River Thal. I thought that would put an end to the burning. But Fettertyr came along and sacked a temple. Ugh, we got more stuff. Fettertyr razed South Ackerland. Again, folks saved church records that weren't destroyed. It's made my office into a library. Of course, this is probably nothing like what you're used to working with. Nearly all of the tablets are in unreadable, Old Old Tongue gibberish. But the clergy say they've got god marks and we mustn't destroy them.”

Denario tried to find a seat. He picked up a clay tablet from the tree stump and stared, fascinated. He saw the goat-with-a-tail sigil for Glaistig. When he set that down, carefully because it was heavy, his fingers moved to the next on the stack. This one, near the bottom, showed the forked-lighting mark of Leir.

“I see what they mean.” Denario nodded. He moved through the stack, hoping for a glimpse of Melcurio. His patron god wasn't there unless it was in the figure 8 that adorned what otherwise seemed to be a tablet devoted to the ancient symbols for math. The modern 8 hadn't been invented when so many other symbols were hash marks, he thought, but it was hard to be sure. “Do you believe them? It's nice to have the tablets but they're crumbling and, as you said, no one can read them.”

“How would I know if the priests are right or wrong? That stuff is beyond me. The gods are more like magic than people. If they were people, I could chat them up.”

“That's not a bad idea.” Denario didn't understand magic either but he felt that the gods, being not quite divine, would listen to human bargaining. And Furlingsburg needed to make all of the deals it could.

“Anyway, if you ask the priests,” Friedrich continued, “it was Sir Ulrich's blasphemy that finally got him.”

“I thought it was Vir who got him.”

“Your boss?” The mayor chuckled. “That seems nearer to the truth, doesn't it? But the priests tell me Vir was the instrument of the gods even if he doesn't believe in them.”

“You know about his atheism?”

“I know a few things.” Friedrich stroked his stubbly, short-bearded chin. His calm grin revealed his confidence. “Just a few.”

Denario had a flash of intuition. The mayors, he understood, couldn't leave their towns. No one could move around because the knights didn't like it. The knights taxed the caravans for conducting commerce even though commerce was essential. Nobles killed wanderers, too, as examples. On top of the basic problems imposed by the aristocracy, Mundredi peasant tribesmen murdered each other due to the tribal habits they'd retained from their valley cultures. Yet from farm to farm, town to town across West Ogglia, messages still passed. News found its way to the mayors. It didn't come from a network of spies. Well, maybe some of the participants were informers but mostly the news came along the usual route of caravans and professional travelers. Additional bits came from the lines of communication among the farms and clans. They were like spidery tendrils, a web from the valleys to the rivers and back. Even the waldi and oggli families must participate. Why not? The closer one traveled to the river, the more the serfs were born to traditional families, not immigrants. And they wanted news, too. They liked gossip.

How accurate could rumors be if they passed from lips to lips twenty times per mile? Not very, he thought. Stories from afar might as well be myths. Likewise, the military intelligence of Vir's forces couldn't be good. He and the Raduar generals were like blind fighters taking swings at each other based on the directions shouted from their friends. At least the Ogglian forces, when they arrived, would have maps.

Denario's fingers itched. He cleared a debtor stick from the stump and sat. Instinctively, he read it as he set it on the table.

“House of the Duck, Clan of the Hammer, owes two goats to House of the Spade, Clan of the Hammer, sworn on this 13 of Grune, Year of the Frog.” He turned it over. It definitely referred to only two goats with no hidden marks. “Friedrich, when was the Year of the Frog? Oggli uses numbers.”

“You can read that?” Mayor Jolli gasped. “I thought that was only for priests. They told me you figured numbers and shapes. I didn't know you did more.”

“How did you expect me to figure out your taxes without reading your records?” Denario said, avoiding the unfortunate fact that he hadn't learned about debtor sticks or these mostly-forgotten methods of accounting until he'd reached Long Valley a month ago.

“I hadn't thought ahead that far.” The mayor gave him a slightly abashed but mostly unapologetic grin. No doubt about it, Friedrich was charming. His charisma would be lost on Sir Fettertyr, though, so it was up to Denario to help the town survive.

“Tell me more about your plan.” The accountant turned and lifted a wooden slab with tally marks on it. This one was a summary of the Sickel house holdings. They had cows, barley, rye, and some way to make vinegar from malt. Denario didn't understand how vinegar was made but that didn't matter. The Sickels had forty tuns of the stuff and less than a tun of malt.

“Well, now, mostly my plan is to get you to vouch for our taxes. I want to show the knight that we're making more effort than other towns.”

“You think he'll spare you?”

“He knows his own interests, I'm sure.”

Denario doubted it. He'd never met Fettertyr but he knew a score of other knights. None of them thought like merchants. They didn't understand money beyond wanting it. They thought wealth was gotten by conquering their neighbors and taking what they could. They saw the merchant class as bloodsuckers when, in fact, merchants and tradesmen generated the wealth. It was the knights who were parasites. Carters, tinkers, traders, farmers and skilled workers like tooth doctors kept the knights healthy and armored. The only service the nobility provided was protection from thieves and other nobles.

“I'm curious,” said Denario. He glanced at Friedrich as he set down the Sickel account. “If you're so worried about the knight, why did your guards turn aside your baron's mercenaries?”

“Have we? Not that I know of.”

“Interesting.” He cocked his head and considered.

“Sir Fettertyr said to accept no one in but him and his men. Turning back foreigners in armor is positively patriotic. It's heroic, even.”

“I take your meaning. But as they're the baron's mercenaries, I don't know that Sir Fettertyr will feel the same way.”

“Well, that's what I have to say. Anyway, those bastards weren't flying the baron's colors.”

“True. I've seen them. I could attest to that.”

“Excellent.” The mayor rubbed his hands. “You are going to be money well spent. I've just got to find more taxes we can pay. But I need someone to swear that we're doing it fairly.”

“I see. You want me to make enemies. You need to squeeze more out of the clans and blame it on me.”

The mayor blushed but only a little. “Well, you are an accountant. That's how things work for you, isn't it?”

“More often than I like.”

“You know, young man, I received messages about you even before you got here.”

“From who?”

“I can't say. But the word is that you do honest work.”

“That’s because I do.”

“By the gods, I'll swear to send you off in style if that’s so.”

“Do you mean unharmed and with lots of money? Because sometimes people mean something else when I uncover cheaters.”

“I'll pay you in silver.”

“Really?” He sat up straighter and surveyed the bags around him. “Do you have any?”

“Lots. Most of these satchels are filled with it. We didn't send Fettertyr all of our metal, despite how he and the baron don't like to get paid with anything else. I saved a portion. But now it's hard to see why I bothered. Most people around here don't find use for coins. With everyone hungry, merchants prefer payment in meat or fish. It's easy for me to pay you cash. Times being hard, no one's going to try to rob you of anything but food.”

“I believe that.” He took a moment to reflect that the mayor's words were completely true. Denario had never been robbed of cash in the mostly-Mundredi towns.

For a few minutes, Friedrich shuffled through his bags, boxes, slates, boards, and occasionally through his tattered or partly burnt scrolls. One scroll was made of a greenish sort of paper, not parchment, and it was nearly seventeen feet long.

“I didn't know they made sheep that size,” the mayor commented.

Denario had to spend a minute or two explaining the difference between parchment made from animal skin and paper made from pressed plant fibers. He didn't think Friedrich really understood but the amiable man nodded anyway just to change the subject of the conversation.

“It's the first paper I've seen since Zeigeburg,” Denario concluded.

Then he and Friedrich leaned close over the contents of the scroll, then another scroll, then wooden tablets, and over the course of the morning they began to gather the rather haphazard picture of the town's finances. Unlike some places that had a single, strict system with flaws – even Oggli's double-entry methods had weaknesses – or several systems with errors created in the overlap and exchange of data, it would have been more accurate to describe Friedrich as having no accounting method at all. His predecessor had used a cryptic system of wooden tablets, leather belts, and hash marks.

“I mean, look at this!” The mayor unbuckled his belt and took it off. He was wearing a sample of the old accounting system. “No clan marks. Who can read this anymore?”

As Friedrich explained the holes and stitches that represented numbers, Denario stood taller and rubbed his sore neck. He gazed around him at the straps hanging from hooks on the walls. These, he realized, were not equipment like the swords and spears. They were relics of ancient ways. The Oggli and Waldi peasants had used leather records for centuries. Probably, the straps were precursors to proper vellum scrolls.

The accountant's hands grazed over the patterns in the leather stitching. The system of holes seemed to be unique but on the leather straps, the influence of immigrants could be seen. The Mundredi concept of house marks and clan marks appeared in the farm reports. It was too bad, really, that Friedrich had dropped it all in confusion. It seemed that for the past nine years he'd let each house report in any way they liked. Most reports had been oral, not even written except when half-remembered or estimated by Friedrich Jolli and his assistants as they tried to assemble the tax totals under the baleful gazes of the knight's men. It didn't help that those men had ignored the math and simply taken whatever they could. That dampened Friedrich's spirits and kept him from spending the effort to determine the right amounts. From his point of view, the farmers and merchants lied and the knights ignored the lies but then committed theft.

Friedrich seemed to have only a little idea of what other mayors were doing. Sir Fettertyr, like Sir Ulrich before him, didn't like the mayors or burghers from different towns to get together. So Friedrich heard rumors from his neighbors in Einferd Wad, Haphbruck, South Ackerland, Erlang, Ruin Thal, Ackfort, Zweibrucken, and a few other places. Aside from word of mouth, he had no idea what went on in the rest of his baron's realm, much less the wider realms of his count, marquis or duke. He'd heard of Zeigeburg but barely. To him it was a town 'somewhere out west' and completely unreachable. It was as mythical as Oggli or Muntab, which was far across the Complacent Sea.

Yet the mayor knew about No Map Creek. He understood that the waters of Furlings Brook, which ran through his town, ended up in the creek. When he'd been a young boy, he'd gone off one day to wade toward those magical lands 'at the end of the natural water.' That had been an adventure for him, knowing he was leaving behind the ordinary world for one inhabited by flying alligators, lost temples, foreign gods, and strange, seductive priestesses.

“I'd rather hoped to meet those priestesses.” Friedrich sighed wistfully. “I heard them singing that evening, I think. But the sounds frightened me somehow. They were faint and far downstream but they ached my bones. So I started a big campfire that night as a defense. Naturally, a farmer came to investigate. His family surrounded me. At spearpoint, they forced me to break camp and head back home.”

“That night?”

“No, they said it wasn't safe at night when those sounds were in the air. They blamed them on the Kilmun tribesmen.”

“Are the Kilmun near No Map Creek?”

“Yes, just on the southern side. The creek divides the tribes although there's been a fair bit of mixing of the families these past hundred years. Immigrants intermarried with locals despite the objections of all kinds of priests. And except for some priests and priestesses, there's no hostility between Mundredi and Kilmun.”

“None?” said Denario, impressed.

“No fighting that counts.” Friedrich opened his hands and rolled his shoulders. “Squabbles between men as you'd have anywhere, no clashes between houses, churches, or clans.”

“That's a relief,” Denario said. He touched the coin on his neck. He suspected he wouldn't be able to rely on it as much among the Kilmun. He’d use the letters of passage from the mayors and the Ogglian mercenaries.

His fingers found a leather strap wrapped into rough circle. It had been sitting on a pile of wooden tablets but Denario hadn't understood what it was before so he hadn't noticed. He unwrapped it. For a minute or two, he tried to work out the code of holes. The strip of flesh had been badly cured and had grown brittle. Cracks made the patterns hard to read. In another few years, it would crumble. Denario could see why this method of record keeping had fallen into disuse.

As the mayor tried to explain to him which records to read, Denario started adding numbers in his head. He quickly discovered that the town made an amazing amount of pickled cucumbers, pickled beets, pickled carrots, and even pickled beef. The craftsmen made bows, barrels, arrows, tar, vinegar, pitch, turpentine, and tallow candles. Farm towns like Furlingsburg should have been overflowing with wealth. But it all flowed to the nobles. Denario supposed that, in their way, these farmers made the war with Faschnaught possible. Without their products, both raw and crafted, the knights couldn't possibly buy the weaponry they needed for battle.

There were numbers all around Denario. He kept counting. There were numbers on the scrolls, on clay tablets, on wooden counting boards, on debtor split sticks, on clay pots similar to those in the ruins of South Ackerland, and even scribbled onto on stacks of sacks, each filled, he knew, with counters. Friedrich Jolli had surrounded himself with the farm reports of the past seven years and the records of nearby towns going back for much longer. All of the records had stories to tell.

“I need paper,” Denario said after a few minutes, interrupting whatever Friedrich had been saying.

“You mean blank pieces? We don't have any.”

“You have these counting boards, the planks.” He pointed to one of the tree cuts with tally marks.

“Each clan or house has a few.”

“I need half a dozen. No, a dozen. And a knife. Better make it three knives.”

“Do you have three hands?” Friedrich laughed. Denario must have given him a very serious look, though, for he then nodded and repeated, “Right, three knives.”

“I'll need an assistant, someone who understands numbers.”

“Just one?”

“For now. And I'll need ink. We can't send boards to Sir Fettertyr. The final draft will be on parchment. We'll use pens and a roll of my own sheepskin for that.”

“The Hammer clan said you'd need those. They say their tattoo artist will arrive today. And you met Wilfried, my book keeper. I'll give a yell for him.”

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 103: A Bandit Accountant, 17.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Seventh Prime

Scene Three: Hired Against His Will

“You can't leave,” said Valentina in a voice she might use to explain facts to a child. She threw her arms up as if stunned by his foolishness. To judge from her behavior, the incident with the axe in the Hammer clan hall had never happened. She had made friends with several women there and had gotten and invitation to dinner. Hermann had gone off to get his meal with other South Ackerland men. Only Denario had been left alone to eat cold turnips from his rations. So he kept packing his bags. It was amazing how much traveling gear he'd accumulated. He had three blankets.

“It's not a problem,” Denario told her. “It's late, yes, but there will be a moon. I've traveled by night before. I've gone without food, too.”

His surroundings were a bit bare but otherwise they were as nice as he'd seen since Pharts Bad. Now that he was confronted, he felt hesitant to depart. Curo could muddle through another day without a partner, couldn't he? After all, it had been seventy-nine days already. Besides, the walls in Denario's current room were clean and white. The floor was stone. The window had shutters outside and inside. A gold-painted altar had been pushed to a corner and a cot brought out, as was done for respected guests. Apparently he was one.

He did feel honored by the treatment. But no, it was time to resume his march. He'd been given no chance to work for food in this town and he couldn't tolerate more than three more days of that. Recognition without pay of some sort was meaningless. As it was, he'd checked his supplies and he judged that he might arrive hungry at No Map Creek.

“No, I mean that you really can't leave.” She pointed to the main hall just outside his door. Two men with staves stood there no more than ten yards away. They looked suspiciously like guards. They hadn’t been there when Denario had arrived. “The head of the house thinks you're valuable.”

“You mean I'm a prisoner?” He dropped the blanket he'd been folding. He had a fleeting thought that the Mundredi were starting to value math.

“Not ... exactly.”

“How, not exactly?”

“The men will keep you here while the head of the Hammer clan negotiates with the mayor. The mayor heard that we came with a licensed accountant. He wants to talk with one.”

Denario froze. This place was not in the valleys or in the hills. It wasn't isolated from West Ogglia. It was just off the main road a bit. Here, they knew what an Oggli accountant was. He remembered the wanted poster with his face on it. Valentina understood immediately without him saying a thing about it. She lowered her voice.

“I don't think it's a bad thing.” She stepped closer and glanced to the guards to see if they were listening. They weren't. “I took the liberty of telling the head of the clan about the price on you, though, just in case.”

“Frau Ansel!” Denario objected.

“Don't worry. He's in love with that medallion on your neck.” She put her palm on the blue coin. Denario had to remind himself not to jump back away from her. She was beautiful and frightening and, at the moment, serene. He didn't want to disturb her calmness. It was better than her with an axe. “He's not going to do anything to harm you. If the mayor turns hostile, those guards who are holding you here will fight on your side. Understand?”

“Why hold me at all?”

“We're not stupid.” She backed up, fists on hips. “We know you want to leave. But the Hammer clan has to live with the mayor, even if he's a waldi. He's not such a bad person, I hear, and waldis make up a third of the town. They're all behind mayor Friedrich.”

“That's his name, Friedrich?”

“Yes. Friedrich Jolli. He descends from a line of families that goes back hundreds of years before the previous empire. They say he knows some words in the old, old tongue.”

“Not likely,” Denario retorted immediately. His eyes narrowed. Nevertheless, his interest was piqued. The old, old tongue was maybe half a thousand years gone from the world. Remnants of it survived on stone tablets. Some of those tablets had homes on shelves in the Accountant's Guild. No one alive in Oggli could read them. Denario was sure a couple of the symbols there were numbers. Then there was one slab that bore the unmistakable symbol of Melcurio. He'd love to be able to read that story.

“He's got relatives by marriage in every major Mundredi clan, does Friedrich, and his grandmother is said to have had bastard children of the old Baron of Ankster.”

“Good gods, he's connected to everyone.” Denario tried to keep his mind on the topic. He thought he was starting to understand how town governments worked. Pecunia would have been proud.

On the other hand, he felt felt flushed by the presence of Valentina. She made it hard to think. Her face reminded him of Pecunia although of course she was taller, fiercer, less educated, had arms like a sailor, and ... well, she wasn't much like Pecunia at all, really, except she had a pretty nose and smelled good. It was her perfume. Valentina had cleaned up and done something to her hair. Now, for some reason, she smelled a bit like Denario's fiance. Was Pecunia was still his fiance? He had doubts. But it was a problem he didn't want to contemplate.

“Yes. His connections make him a strong mayor. Well, he's not too strong, really.” Valentina's head cocked to one side. She seemed to be evaluating her mental picture of the situation. “But there's not going to be a Mundredi mayor, not by appointment. So he's the best our folks are likely to get.”

Denario took a deep breath. That made him notice Valentina's scent even more. Really, her face looked clean, not that he exactly looked her in the face. When they were this close, he had an excellent view of her lace blouse, her shawl, and her curves beneath. He inched backward.

“Where's Hermann, anyway?” he asked, looking higher.

“Out being sick.” Valentina turned away. She folded her arms. Really, he thought, she was amazingly intolerant of weaknesses.

“He's ill?” That had been a concern of Denario's for weeks. Several times, he'd felt a fever or a chill coming on. He'd caught nothing worse than a head cold so far and that was lucky because the Mundredi believed that illnesses were moral failures. He touched his forehead. Was he sweaty? Yes. “But Hermann was fine just a few hours ago.”

“That was a few bottles ago, too. I can't say that I think much of his new friends.”

“I see.” Denario self-consciously removed his fingers from his brow. He felt better. “Say, do prisoners get food?”

“Hmm?” Valentina turned toward him again. She had been lost in her disapproval. “It's a bit late at night for eating, isn't it? Oh, I suppose no one fed you. I'm sure I can arrange something.”

She left for a while and Denario kept packing because you never knew, the guards might fall asleep. The burly men didn't look like soldiers and didn't seem much interested in him. They took turns drinking from a wine skin as they studied his open doorway. The guards' only source of light in the main hall was a pair of sesame oil lamps. Valentina had lit them on her way out. Their glow had no effect in the twilight. Denario had a bigger lamp on the altar and his own candle, too, a large one that he'd lit from the lamp. He could tell it was several times as bright as the oil. If he couldn't escape, he would probably work late into the night.

When Valentina returned, two members of the Hammer clan came with her. Denario recognized the man, who had been introduced to him as the owner of the hall. The slight woman with him looked the right age to be his wife. She didn't carry food, the way a serving woman might. Valentina and the head of the house did that.

Valentina set down a wooden bowl of stew between Denario's bedroll and his candle. The head of Hammer clan set down a loaf of bread, a hunk of bluish cheese, and a what appeared to be a dried fish.

“I'm sorry that we didn't get to talk much today, accountant,” he said. He wiped his hands on his shirt and then shook with Denario. “There's a lot going on. Our knight has put men out patrolling his towns. Fettertyr has never done that before, nor Ulrich before him. It's distressing to the mayor.”

The accountant nodded. The nervousness was understandable.

“They're out looking for our chief's spies. And they're trying to collect on a bounty for an accountant, too. Which are you, again?”

Denario started to tremble. “I'm probably both.”

“Hah!” The man clapped him on the shoulder. “I knew you were worth something. Well, the mayor thinks so, too.”

“Do you mean ...”

“Oh, not the reward. I've seen to that. The mayor wants you to check a tax scroll that he owes. He wants to add the seal of Oggli for whatever effect it has. He's still trying to appease Sir Fettertyr, the fool. He thinks that a promise of grain and maybe a stack of meats, linens, and leathers will do it.”

“Will it?”

“The knight burned the temples in South Ackerland and killed the women and children. Why wouldn't his men do that here? But Friedrich thinks can he encourage them to sack poorer villages. There are plenty of farm centers that don't have walls like we do.”

Denario couldn't wholeheartedly wish the mayor success if that was his strategy. Anyway, Baron Ankster seemed set on razing all of the Mundredi settlements. This one, two thirds Mundredi, probably qualified.

“Is there anything else you need?” the head man asked.

“Another candle. I use a lot when I'm working. Paper or parchment. Tattoo ink, too, if you've got any.”

“Candles, yes. Paper, no. Parchment, maybe, but the mayor will provide. Got to kill a sheep to make it and we haven't got many left. Ink is an interesting question. I'm sure we've got plenty but I'll have to call in my tattoo man.”

“Of course.”

“Anyway, the deal is a good one.” The head man rubbed his hands together. “Tomorrow, you'll work for the mayor. He'll pay us for the service and he'll pay you, too, depending on the results.”

“He'll get fine results. I'm very good and I'm very honest.”

The way the head of the house and his wife shared a glance, Denario started to worry.

“Honest.” The man cleared his throat. “That's fine. Honest is good.”

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 102: A Bandit Accountant, 17.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Seventh Prime

Scene Two: The Hammer Clan 

“You won't hold a grudge about that guard shooting at you, will you?” Hermann put his hand on Denario's shoulder. “I mean, that petasos of yours has seen better days.”

Denario closed his eyes. He'd been standing at such a distance from the city gate that he could barely make out the silhouettes on top. Since he'd been at the head of the group, he'd waved his theodolite in the general direction of the figures. The men in Furlingsburg had taken it wrong. A second later, as he'd turned to ask the Ansels if it was safe to approach, an arrow had knocked the floppy hat off of his head. Three inches lower and it would have gone through his skull.

“I didn't think anyone could hit me from there,” he said.

“It wasn't more than a hundred yards, maybe one twenty. These lads in Furlingsburg have longbows that can go twice that. South Ackerland had them, too, but I didn't see any of them in the ruins. I suppose the knight's men took the bows although it could be that they burned them along with everything else.”

“I'm grateful that I haven't run up against such bowmen before.” Denario rubbed the back of his head, feeling for a phantom arrow. “They didn't need to laugh at me.”

“Well, it did look funny.”

“Not to me so much.”

“You got lucky. But you've probably been lucky before, accountant, and not known. A lot of guards are good bowmen. When you waved your spear, it looked like a challenge. These fellows did what came naturally. They thought they were continuing a fight from a few days ago when they traded arrows with some foreign men.”

“I wonder if that was Dvishvili's group. It could have been another bunch from Baron Ankhster.”

“It doesn't matter. Thank the gods we're finally getting close to the house. I'm getting too old to sleep on the ground any more.”

Hermann stopped to get his bearings. Denario halted a step behind him. They were in the center of Furlingsburg, a crowded, busy place. The Ansels seemed overwhelmed although the town wasn't much larger than North Ackerland. Hermann staggered in a small circle. Valentina trembled. She hadn't walked more than a mile this morning but her face looked haggard.

On all sides of them in the crossroads, vendors had parked their carts. They traded poor stuff, mostly turnips, leeks, onions, and nuts. Not many customers had anything to exchange and the vendors didn't seem happy to take their money. Denario noticed that one lean-looking man was attempting to swap a brass pendant for a rooster. There was a green, cut gem set into the pendant but the only chicken vendor on the street still wasn't interested. Roosters were worth more than jewelry.

Denario watched two vendors haggle with one another as they tried to establish a trade of butter for pine nuts. The amount of butter was the issue.

“There!” Hermann spun, stopped, and pointed. “That's the Hammer clan sign. That's our street and they'll let us in to Sickel house, at least, if I show my arms. They might do more since you've got that coin around your neck. We'll get a floor in the main hall to lie on, maybe even a bed. If my daughter Claudia came here from South Ackerland last winter, we'll soon hear of it.”

Did she have any tattoos? Denario almost asked. But he already knew the answer. Children didn't get any. That meant they might not be welcome anywhere. Or they might be overly welcome, free for the taking by any clan that wanted a useful member, a child bride, or a servant. He didn't think that the mention of such outcomes would be received kindly. Anyway, the Ansels had to know those things were possible.

After so many weeks of muddy paths, it was odd to feel paving stones beneath his feet. Cracks between the slabs pinched Denario. The soles of his shoes had grown thin. Maybe this was part of what made the Ansels disoriented. They marched for another half-block and halted in the middle of the avenue where crowds had worn the edges off of the pavers.

“Beggars not welcome,” muttered a man at the mouth of Hammer Clan Street. It was such an odd thing to say that Denario didn't respond. He depended on Hermann to do the explaining.

“Where'd ye get that?” the same man said as he roughly touched the coin on Denario's necklace. His next move seemed to be to yank it away. He opened up his hand to do it.

“The chief gave it to him,” Hermann warned.

The tough fellow hesitated. “Is he still around, then?”

“There's been fighting up north that we haven't heard about here. Our own clan is involved on both sides, Hammer Raduar against Hammer Mundredi.”

“Eh, right.” He lowered his hands. “Ye folks go to the main hall and tell yer story.”

It was a story Denario had told so many times that he wished he could simply write it down and be done with it. But that wouldn't work since hardly anyone could read. After a few minutes of his bungled re-telling to the local house leaders, the Ansels got out of their seats and sang the song about Vir. That forced Denario to join in because he wanted everyone to hear the last part about accounting. He knew the Ansels would have left that out.

Furlingsburg had gray-haired men, at least in this clan, and they whispered to one another and stroked their beards after the storytelling was done. It was a common reaction. Contrary to the prospect of respite that had been Hermann’s hope, the leaders decided to send them from the main hall to go visit other places. Valentina rose to interrupt with an impassioned speech about looking for her child. The old men seemed impatient but they glanced to their own wives, off in the corners of the room, and the women nodded. The Ansels would be allowed to search for their child. And yes, Valentina could visit anywhere that would admit her.

So the three of them spent the day traveling. It was never very far between houses, only a few blocks at most. Sometimes they visited homes in the same building. The city dwellings had been built high, sometimes three stories, and they were packed close together. But each trip took careful negotiation. There were clans and houses that needed bribed for right of passage through the alleys. There were questions asked of Hermann and Valentina but never of Denario, who was allowed to sit off in a corner most of the time so he could write in his books. House leaders liked to look at the coin that hung around his neck. One man asked to see his maps. The fellow didn't understand them, though, and grew irritated at having them explained. He excused himself. All afternoon inside the influential houses, serving girls and grandmothers brought Denario tea. It was an enjoyable day punctuated by trips to outhouses. He made progress in his attempts to approximate dividing by zero.

Outside, the atmosphere was never calm. During every trip, more peasants introduced themselves. Most of them had known Hermann and Valentina in South Ackerland. They were beggars here. Some alleys held a dozen of the poor wretches. These were the unluckiest of the refugees from South Ackerland but the Ansels weren't cruel or standoffish to them. They stopped to talk to each person who approached.

Valentina liked to hold hands or embrace the beggar women. Her old friends and acquaintances had been wealthy, once. But the mayor of Furlingsburg was not like Frau Richter in North Ackerland. He'd panicked at the influx of mouths to feed and, after a few days, had refused to share the town's resources. He'd barred the gates. Three weeks later, the situation had worsened when the mayor received written orders from Sir Fettyrtyr not to take in travelers. The orders had arrived too late but it caused the mayor to fear he'd be hung as a traitor if Fettertyr visited. He tried to turn out the newcomers. The clans refused. They'd already offered their homes to their distant cousins. In two cases, they'd intermarried. Another half-dozen marriages followed shortly after, despite the mayor's proclamation forbidding the unions.

Lacking any moral authority or physical force, the mayor turned to a more desperate plan. He pretended that everyone had been there all along. He ignored the refugees who needed help because there were no refugees, only beggars. If your clan or house couldn't care for you, well, you'd best move on down the road. The south gate was open. Ruin Thal was only a day's march away. If your clan had homes there, he advised that you go to them.

A few luckless souls did move on. More elected to stay. Furlingsburg had been a rival of South Ackerland before the latter was destroyed. The place had money. It had jobs. Skilled craftsmen could find work. Young farmers could toil in other men's fields as servants. Others did odd jobs and begged in the streets. Furlingsburg had laid in more winter stores of grains than they'd needed so the town had been able to feed everyone. Despite how poor and hungry they felt, folks here were better off than in most of the neighboring villages.

Like the mayor, though, Denario could smell a fight brewing. New settlers were hacking down trees, clearing lands in all directions, and acting as if they had the right to do it. Sixteen new houses had gone up outside the town walls. Other families were clearing more land to expand existing farms and they, too, acted like they didn't need approval from Sir Fettertyr. The men had hunted all winter and had wiped out most of the large game animals including deer, black bear, a colony of flying toads, and even a troll although no one could eat the troll. Everyone knew that Sir Fettertyr, like Sir Ulrich before him, would regard all of this activity as poaching. Most of the older Furlingsburg families viewed the beasts as a nuisance and were happy to see them go. But there remained in everyone's minds the threat: their knight would visit and he wouldn’t like it.

“No sign,” said Valentina as they left the house of Hermann's cousins thrice-removed. She stopped in the street to wrap her shawl around her despite the warmth of the afternoon. “If Claudia were here, we'd have heard something by now.”

Her husband only grunted. After a moment, he continued on his way.

The beggars stayed out of Valentina's path. They knew about her mission. They must have known it wasn't going well. In the end Valentina took them to the Hammer clan main hall. It was Valentina's native clan and it recognized worshipers of Tannus and Druantia. There, among her distant second cousins, Valentina broke down and cried. Denario was shocked. He retreated to a corner of the room while she said a prayer at an altar with a statue of a tree. Then, tears in her eyes, she arose. Hermann stiffened. Denario felt he should be on his guard, too. Sure enough, Valentina grabbed an axe off of the wall.

“Damn.” Hermann hopped out the window. He hardly made a sound doing it.

Denario decided that was the right idea. He snuck out a side door. Other men took the hint and edged out of the hall, too, leaving the women to deal with another woman's grief. The last man through shut the door as Valentina raised the axe. She didn't seem inclined to swing it. She didn't seem inclined to do anything, in fact, but possession of the weapon was some kind of reflex. Half a dozen matrons kept her surrounded as they talked to her.

“Accountant,” said Hermann as he met Denario at the front of the Hammer clan hall.

“Herr Ansel,” said Denario since his traveling companion seemed so formal. “Your wife ...”

“I apologize.” The man bowed. He was shaking all over, worse than ever. “She is … you see, Claudia is gone but my wife, she never gave up hope … and now ...”

“Ach, we've seen it before,” said another man.

They turned to him, a fellow an inch shorter than Hermann but equally haggard. His hair was cropped in a dull-knife style, each strand cut separately. His shirt was a plain brown one without sleeves. The fellow's tattoos looked hasty and pale, as if done many years ago with cheap ink that faded. His right side was full of god symbols, one of them new and dark blue-black.

“Vilmar, isn't it?” Hermann stuck out his hand to shake. “You used to live on the southeast slope outside of town.”

“And you're Ansel, yeah.” The fellow shook but he didn't seem to enjoy it. “You're not the only couple missing a child. Lots of us …”

“Married to young Helga Kirtle?”

“Not anymore.” Vilmar frowned. “She was in town, that day. My boy, too.”

Hermann groaned. He slumped against the wall and, slowly, sank into a seated position just to the right of a shuttered window. Denario decided to take a rest. Walking all day in the city wasn't as hard as hiking through the countryside but it had worn him out.

Vilmar turned his back for a moment. Denario thought it odd. Then he saw other men doing the same and realized that they didn't want to look at Hermann in case he started to cry. When he didn't blubber, they turned back around, Vilmar first.

The eight men spent almost an hour outside the clan hall. Vilmar had a story to share in his emotionless monotone. His cousins had come running to him that day as they gathered farmers to fight the knight's men. He'd gone to get his bow. It took only a few minutes but when he and his cousins got back into town, they found the battle lost. Fires were already spreading from home to home. Then, like Hermann had done, they'd focused on finding their families. Vilmar had seemingly gotten lucky when he found his wife trying to fight off a knight's man. But the assailant killed her and one of Vilmar's cousins, too, before they could drive him off. Then Vilmar had tried to find his son and to help his remaining cousin find his family. Together, they'd managed to find his cousin's oldest girl but that was all. Vilmar saw three bodies he thought belonged to his son but he never had time to stop and check any of them.

Two other men, both of whom Hermann recognized, had similar stories. Everyone wondered if Hermann knew of missing children who had made their way to North Ackerland. It turned out that he had. The oldest son of a father who had ended up in Furlingsburg was still alive. That should have cheered them but it didn't. The men were glad for the father of the formerly missing boy but no one ran off to spread the news.

Eventually, another fellow strolled up with a clay flask of wine. He passed it around. The Mundredi continued to share their miseries. Hermann took a deep pull from the flask. Denario did, too, knowing he'd regret it later. The drink was sour and white. The taste puckered his lips and curled his tongue. When the clay bottle came around again, though, he took another drink.

The only thing that seemed to lift Hermann's spirits even a little were these stories from other men. He wasn't alone in missing his children. He wasn't the only failure as a protector.

Denario, for a few minutes, yearned to see his apprentices, at least Mark and Shekel, the youngest two. He thought about how the weeks that had gone by, six of them. He had the sense it was probably too late to fly to the rescue for some reason but he couldn't say why. Maybe it was the wanted poster of him. Maybe in Oggli they considered him a criminal. It might be hard to clear his name. But he would. The guild would help. He'd manage.

“If only I could find No Map Creek,” he said as he accepted wine for a third time. “That's what I need to speed up my trip. I'll bet I could float all the way to home.”

“No Map Creek?” said a newcomer who had brought the wine. He was a local man, dark-haired but with a face scarred by childhood disease. Something about the way he said the words felt different. Usually, folks looked at Denario blankly when he said he was trying to find the waterway that was supposed to connect to the Rune Kill.

“Have you heard of it?” asked Denario.

“Nah, you don't want to go there.” The man kept a second flask of wine on him at all times, which he didn't share. He took a swig from it. “The place is full of magic.”

“You do know it!” Denario scrambled to his feet. He fell to his hands for a moment, either from too much wine or from his legs going to sleep. “My gods, I've been walking for weeks to find it.”

“Well, you're almost there, you madman. It's three towns away.”

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 101: A Bandit Accountant, 17.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Seventh Prime

Scene One: Exchange Rates  

The reward of one hundred silver quarters is small for a wanted poster, Denario wrote in his journal that evening. The amount would cover a knight's expenses for two months. Only the less fortunate armsmen will take interest.

So I suppose there are no free lancers following my trail from Zeigeburg. Even if one could get through with his horse alive, the daily maintenance costs would eliminate any profit. The main danger is that the reward is large enough to put men-at-arms on the lookout as I cross their territories. The picture on the poster is a good one, if unscarred and clean-shaven. They might recognize me.

Lieutenant Dvishvili's enlisted man, the one who remembered me from somewhere, must have seen this poster. So I've taken it. It's in my supply bag, which is better than leaving it for others to read. I can scrape off the ink and re-use the sheepskin.

For the past few hours, I've worried about being caught. However, there are few other travelers on our road. I could halt, if my guides would allow it, and scrub the poster clean.

The parchment is precious because I've yet to encounter a paper maker in any Mundredi town. These folks write so little and own so many sheep that parchment serves for their records. And they are as likely to use stones, tiles, knots, sticks, and other methods. In fact, in the ruins of the church at South Ackerland I chanced upon another system. At first I thought it was simply a row of smashed pots. But each pot had tally marks written on it and clan totems as well. I knew these were signs of accounting. I picked up a shard that was mostly whole and kept it as an example.

From what I've seen, the fired clay ball is a potter's equivalent to a split stick. There is a vague mention of this practice in our guild histories. I was able to confirm my guesses by questioning my guides. Hermann Ansel was acquainted with the system. The pebbles I saw on the ground were counters. The counters were baked into the pots, which were sealed with glaze at the top. On the outside, debtor and lender house names were written. The debt amount was inscribed. But most peasants can't read the jars. They use the pebbles.

Whenever there was a dispute over a debt in South Ackerland, a trusted member of the church broke the seal of glaze over the debt amount. In front of witnesses, he or she then counted out what was owed. Afterwards, a potter baked a new debt pot, sometimes from pieces of the old one. The charge for that was added to the debt unless there was a prior arrangement made by the disputants. Herr Ansel said he had only seen one such argument in his lifetime and that a replacement pot was baked on the spot.

Thus the Mundredi prove again to be a truthworthy people aside from all of their casual murders and robberies.

I do wish that they understood money. The Ansels and I had an argument about it this evening. Hermann feels that money is evil. The rewards posted for Vir's head and mine played some role in that. He suspects that I'm in danger as I travel to where someone might turn me in for a reward. I'm sure my apprentices would feel the opposite, that it's the Mundredi peasants who are the danger, not our friends in the court.

Incredibly, both Hermann and Valentina revealed tonight that they value silver as much as gold. They thought the reward for my capture might be as high as Vir's. They have no idea of the Bank of Oupenli-Oggli exchange rates. I tried to explain that the reward for Vir's head, set at two hundred gold dollars, is at least twenty-four times what's been offered for me and yet it hasn't resulted in any serious attempt to capture Vir. Then I wrote the exchange rate chart as best as I can remember it.
Denominations, Official Bank of Oupenli-Oggli Rates for the Year of Inauspicious Pigeons 
Unicorn Tusk (two Octarina or higher depending on quality)
Black Octarina (negotiable, highest on record is 8 gryphon eggs)
Gryphon Egg (varies from 10,000 gold dollars to 40,000)
Gold Muntab Bar (denomination stamped, highest known is 20,000 gold Oggli dollars)
Dragon's Tooth (600 to 8,000 gold dollars)
Gold Muntab Double Ring (denomination stamped, lowest is fifty dollars, highest 500)
Gold Muntab Ring (denomination stamped, highest is twenty dollars)
Gold Pound (the Oggli gold trades 1 to 1 for Anghre and Oupenli gold but at 2 for 1 to the Muntar gold dollar, which is larger)
Oggli Silver Dollar (trades at 3 to 1 for the Oggli gold pound)
Muntab Iron Ring (these are a strong currency between blacksmiths and banks accept them currently at 1.5 per silver dollar)
Silver Half Dollar (2 for 1 silver dollar, of course)
Silver Quarter
Silver Dime (in Oggli the dime is currently worth 16 brassers but, in the valleys, it doesn't fetch a whole goat so it's apparently worth less here than the silver ring)
Silver Ring = 12 brassers, about the price of a healthy goat; these are sometimes called Goats because of the rate of exchange
Double Brasser = 6 pennies, generally the lowest daily wage; a foreman's wage will go as high as 10 brassers or 30 pennies a day
Brasser (Brass 3 penny coin)
Large Lead Ring (1.5 pennies)
Copper Penny(10 leads)
Copper Half-penny (5 leads)
Small Lead Ring (2 muni)
Lead Muni (a small coin in the shape of an egg – you can usually buy an egg with it but the Bank of Oupenli-Oggli does not accept it) 
I talked about exchange rates until my companions fell asleep. Hence I am writing in this journal. I've grown more fond of Oggli the longer I've been away. It is a wonderful place to learn about valuations. The mere act of writing down rates is comforting. After our talk tonight, the Ansels have stopped worrying that I'll betray them to the Oggli nobles. Now they're worried I won't survive my journey, which is kind.

The mayor of Ziegeburg must think I'm headed straight for Baron Ankster. That's the only reason he would be so willing to part with silver. Indeed, the reward tempts me to do so. It reminds me of the revenge I owe. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Sixteen Chapters

A Bandit Accountant

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


Chapter Pair of Sevens


Chapter Fifth Triangular Number


Chapter Twice Eight