Sunday, August 20, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 90: A Bandit Accountant, 15.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Fifth Triangular

Scene Two: A Wanted Poster

“Thank you, Frau,” said Valentina as she hugged the mayor.

“Call me Ilse, now that we're not being official.” She patted Valentina on the back in a motherly way. Ilse Richter was the right age to have been an aunt or older sister. With Valentina's natural mother passed on during the fighting, it made sense for Ilse to take on the protective role.

The meeting had adjourned from the church to the town hall, where the mayor said she kept her quarters exactly as she had when her husband was in charge. She'd let Denario stash his spear, traveling pack, accounting pack, bed roll, and buckler in a small guest room. There were two other rooms on the ground floor as well as a kitchen and a pantry. The mayor's two female servants slept in the kitchen every night. There were windows in the rooms, all with glass panes. The walls except for the pantry were painted eggshell white so that the place appeared cheery although the paint in the farthest guest room had peeled away to reveal the cedar beams. The ceiling of the main hall was stained charcoal grey by lamp fumes. It looked like someone got up on a ladder and scrubbed but there was only so much they could do. On the whole, the place looked clean despite signs that it acted as a hotel.

Ilsa Richter must have allowed refugees to live here from time to time. Her quarters were in a loft apartment at the top of the stairs. She could bar the door and keep herself private. That was why she had invited Denario to sleep on the ground floor in the guest room.

“Madam mayor.” Denario bowed to her. When he was formal, he reverted to Ogglian city customs. He didn't seem to be able to help it. Everyone looked at him a bit strangely for a moment. The women laughed.

“Um,” he tried to recover. “Thank you for the hospitality and for your payment. You are a generous host.”

Ilsa scowled at that remark. “Not too generous, I hope.”

“Don't worry,” murmured one of the burghers next to Denario. “We are here, too. We'll bed down in the main hall.”

“And we'll take the room next to the accountant,” said Hermann Ansel. Valentina snorted at him.

It took a minute or two of conversation about the arrangements for Denario to understand that all of the other folks were here to protect the mayor from him. There was to be no hanky-panky tonight. Of course they were mostly here to protect the mayor's reputation, not her body. She couldn't be seen inviting strange men into her home. Yet she had. So her invitation to Valentina Ansel kept things looking reputable. Valentina had her husband to protect her. As to the staff, too bad for them. They were told to bar the kitchen door and guard each other's honor.

“I feel indebted that you've gone to trouble on my account.” Denario took the mayor's hand and went down on one knee. He realized that was going to far. He wasn't in court with the Marquis de Oggli. But he couldn't undo the kneeling.

“Oh, my,” she said. “How gallant. I must congratulate Wilmit tomorrow for doing the right thing and inviting you. Someone remind me.”

“Glad to, mayor!” growled a long-bearded burgher.

“You're a useful fellow. And not just because our tribal chief thinks so.” She beamed and patted Denario on the shoulder. She lifted him off his knee. “Get some rest. You've traveled a long ways and you've got many miles yet to go. Maybe being a waldi will help you if you get waylaid by the baron's men. Hard to say. You're a bright young lad. You might make it.”

It had been so long since Denario had considered any alternatives that he almost blurted out that of course he'd get back to Oggli. He had to. But he wasn't that bold so he settled for another round of handshakes. Then the mayor gave him a gift, a thin scroll with a purple ribbon. Denario unwound it.

Vir's face stared back at him from the parchment. Some magician had been hired to create the likeness, surely, because it was too good to have been done any other way. Even after the printing process, there was no mistaking the captain. His portrait sat above the word WANTED in fat, black letters.

“Highway robbery?” Denario read the charge aloud. He looked up at the mayor. “Two hundred gold pieces? That's quite a lot. Alive or dead, I notice.”

“No one's going to collect the reward. No one would even try, around here. It's just a keepsake.” She patted him on the hand. “I think it's a lovely portrait, don't you? Take it. When you see him again, maybe you can have it framed for him.”

“Ha ha.” For a moment, Denario assumed she was joking. But her jaw was set. He accepted the poster with a word or two of thanks. Even as he spoke, he felt like a fraud because he knew he would never see Vir again unless perhaps the captain was captured alive and taken back to the city for torture and execution. Even to reach that fate, he'd have to survive the Raduar.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 89: A Bandit Accountant, 15.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Fifth Triangular

Scene One: Frau Ansel

His hands were sweating. He tried to wipe them on his trousers. But his leather hauberk, his chain mail, and his over-sized shirts all hung down so low in so many layers that he practically needed to undress in order to touch his pants legs above the knee. And below his knee, he wore studded greaves. Vir's sister-in-law approached. Denario wiped himself on his hauberk as best as he could. He waited for her with a sense of dread that had no particular reason.

“Did she like Vir?” he asked. The mayor had led them outside. Now that he was exposed to the evening air, he hoped his hands would cool down.

When Denario had first seen this place, he'd assumed that most of the buildings in town were hidden by trees. But the cedars that lined the streets were sparse. North Ackerland was smaller than he'd thought. The only lights at night were a torch in front of the Church of the Fork and another at the Temple of the Passion Gods. The clouds above had parted to reveal a glistening sugar powder of stars. And thinking of sugar made Denario feel homesick. He hadn't had a dessert since Ziegeburg on the night before he left.

“No, she didn't get along with him.” The mayor followed his gaze into the sky for a moment. She scowled at the stars or perhaps at her memory. “When Vir was young, he was quite poor. He was well-bred enough down the Robberti line but his father was a drunkard. His grandfather was, too. The family fortune had been spent ages back. Now they were all about drinking and fighting. Vir grew up wild with no mother in the house past when he was nine.”

Denario started to ask questions but Frau Richter barely paused.

“And it all happened a long ways from here, somewhere in the West Valley hills. Even there, his family farm was considered remote. It stood apart from any town. When Vir passed through North Ackerland, he told us he'd never go back up there, wherever that was. Of course, he had a hard time down in these lowlands. He refused to join another clan even though he was all alone in his. The other men didn't like him. He couldn't keep a job. A few of the girls around here thought he was exciting but that made the situation worse, as you might expect. Some of the elders considered him too handsome for anyone's good.

“Vir? Handsome?” He was healthy enough. Maybe that passed for handsome in a land where about a third of the men seemed to have lost a finger or a thumb or several teeth or, most often of all, had been disfigured by a childhood disease. It had never crossed Denario's mind that anyone would find the captain to be anything other than, well, a captain.

“Oh, he was going bald even in his late teens.” The mayor chuckled. There was a twinkle in her eye. “I remember him well, although he only spent a fortnight here. The baldness didn't seem to make a difference. For one thing, his shoulders just kept getting bigger and stronger. He worked hard at every job he could get. In time, he made some friends among the men in South Ackerland. Eventually, there were gentlemen farmers who wanted him to run their estates. He'd always had a way with farm animals. It turned out that he had a way with people, too. Like I said, he learned fast. And then there was Ekatrina.”

“Who was Ekatrina?”

“She was a youngest sister of Valentina, the woman you're about to meet. The youngest. They were sisters number three and five of the Thalberg family. The Thalbergs are very wealthy. Valentina married the son of another wealthy farmer. And Ekatrina … she married poverty. She chose Vir.”

“Didn't he choose her?”

“That's not how they tell the story in South Ackerland. It's what kept her father, Minister Thalberg, from organizing a lynch mob. Everyone knew that Vir hadn't wooed Ekatrina. Their marriage was the girl's idea. She had a few conversations with Vir when she was visiting the Ansel estate. The two of them talked about farming. Other folks were in the room the whole time. Vir didn't even smile at her, although he did seem to like what she said. He took her ideas seriously. That was enough for her. Ekatrina made up her mind.”

“Do you mean that she proposed?”

“Oh, no. She simply let Vir know she was interested. Vir was surprised because she was so smart and so rich. He warned her that she'd be poor if she married him. But she persuaded Vir to go ask her father. At the same time she let her father know that he'd better accept Vir. A few other girls were put out by how fast she arranged it. One of the mayor's daughters had her eye on Vir, too, and it made the families into enemies. At the time, we didn't know that would be a problem.”

“Did Vir get any of those interested girls, uh …?”

“Pregnant? Not that I know about. It did seem possible at the time. There was talk about the mayor's daughter, for one. But the mayor was related to Sir Ulrich, so I doubt it. That would have been very serious and Vir wasn't anybody special.”

“Ulrich is one of Baron Ankster's knights?”

“Yes. The mayor of South Ackerland was Hans Ulrich, a cousin to the knight. His kinship is what got him appointed.”

"He was chosen by your lord? That's different from most Mundredi towns.”

“The mayors of Frühlingburg, Ackfort, Bittesburg, and even as far away as Haph Fork are approved by the baron. My husband's nomination from the burghers got written approval from Baron Ankster. Around here, we've worked by noble appointments for at least two generations.”

“And there are appointments to be had for Mundredi and for ...”

“For waldi families, yes. But there's a different price to be paid. It costs eight silvers for a town to have a Mundredi man appointed as mayor, only two for a waldi.”

Where does that term for foreigners come from? Denario wondered. Since no one ever seemed to know, he had long since given up hope of an answer.

“And the Ulriches were waldi,” he said.

“Yes, and that is how things went bad. We'd never paid much attention to folks who didn't belong to our clans. There are plenty of them. They're quiet. They keep their heads low, as they say. Only the knight, Sir Ulrich, cared about such things.”

“Let me guess. He worships a different god.”

“He did do that, yes, some sort of river god. He didn't like to hear about any others. By the time Vir and Ekatrina got married, he'd driven off the few Mundredi settlers who had neighbored his farms. He'd burned their church, too. But that was miles and miles away so no one cared.”

“Vir got married,” Denario prompted. He didn't want to hear about every little conflict between the knights and peasants.

“Yes. But by the time he and Ekatrina had their son, things were bad between the Mundredi and waldi families. Sir Ulrich built a temple to his god, Tyber, just west of South Ackerland. Then he closed down the Temple of Baba Nat and sent out a decree that Baba Nat was a foreign goddess who had to stay in West Valley. She wasn't welcome in his townships. Well, there were hard feelings over that. Sir Ulrich killed the priest, too, because the priest wouldn't leave.”

“A son.” The accountant pondered how Vir had never mentioned his son.

“With another on the way. For Vir those were the best times of his life, I'm sure. He'd staked out land a long ways from anywhere, just some hilly stuff that one was using. His father-in-law gave him a generous dowry to start the farm. By all accounts, Vir raised better milk cows than anyone had seen before. And he was a wonderful father. He proved to be a fine uncle to the other Thalberg clan's children. Valentina tells me that Vir, in time, became Minister Thalberg's favorite son-in-law.”

“What happened?”

“There was bad blood between the Thalbergs and Ulrichs. We all knew where Sir Ulrich would come down on that. No one was fool enough speak ill of the mayor to his face. Still, it got hard, after a while. Hans Ulrich said vile things to the Mundredi men including slanders about their women and children. He appointed only his relatives to positions of authority. Then, one day, Theresa Thalberg got into an argument with the mayor's wife.”

“Theresa was the oldest sister?” he guessed.

“No, she was their mother. Her father Zyr Klinger had been the mayor, in fact, before Sir Ulrich put his cousin into the office. Maybe Theresa resented that. Anyway, Theresa and Greta Ulrich exchanged some words and Greta slapped her.”

The accountant stood up straight. Down at the end of the main street, he saw shadows move. He assumed that people were approaching from the Passion Gods temple. It was from the right direction.

“Theresa was a tall, strong woman. I'd seen her several times,” Frau Richter continued. She folded her arms and leaned back against the outer wall of the church. “It took her a few seconds to get enraged. By that point, I think, Greta Ulrich had tried to run. But Theresa caught her and slapped her back in the face. Several times. Quite hard.”

“Ah.” Now he understood. This was the spark to the rest of the violence.

“You might expect that Greta would refrain from telling her husband. She had to know where that would lead. But she went right to him. And Hans Ulrich sent out his guards to arrest Theresa Thalberg immediately.”

“The Thalbergs wouldn't allow it, I expect.”

The mayor turned to give him an appraising, almost approving look. “Yes, in an hour two of the Thalberg sons were dead and two of the mayor's guards, too.”

“I'll bet it wasn't fought the way clans fight. No one took hostages.”

“No, and the duels and battles went on for days. It got hard to know who was on which side. Most of the Thalberg family friends had to go into hiding. Some Mundredi clans took the side of the Ulrich family. At least two dozen men were killed. The mayor had a Thalberg woman executed, too. That was Kamilla, the oldest sister of the five. It was an unheard of thing to most of us. Ulrich lost most of his Mundredi friends in doing it, no matter that Kamilla had killed a man. Thing is, I doubt very much that Vir and Ekatrina heard the horror stories until Minister Thalberg himself snuck out during a lull and rode on an ox to their house. He went to warn them.”

“He was followed.” Denario nodded to himself.

“Is it that obvious?”

“Even to me. So how did Vir escape?”

“By not being at home. He was out in the fields tending to his fences when Sir Ulrich's men attacked. The knight had arrived to put the town in order. Or so he'd said. What the knight meant, apparently, was that he would kill all the Mundredi he could find. His men followed Minister Thalberg, set fire to Vir's farmhouse, and then his bowmen shot Minister and Ekatrina as they came out.”

“Was Sir Ulrich there?”

“No. More's the pity, I suppose, because Vir happened on the scene. He must have seen the smoke. But then he was noticed. After all, they had a half-dozen men out searching for him. Some of those gave chase. No one knows how many but I suppose it doesn't matter. He escaped them. And one of those men never came back from chasing him. That was Sir Ulrich's squire.”

“He killed the squire? While unarmed?”

“Vir always used to travel with a walking stick. It was as thick around as my forearm. He used it for a lot of things. I suppose it was a sort of weapon, too.”

“Luck. He said sometimes you have to have luck. But ... what about his son?”

“Oh. The poor boy never left the house. That's the strangest part. They say that Vir returned the next morning after the fire burned down. He found his boy untouched by the flames but dead.”

“Too much heat?”

“Maybe. Or magic? I've never been in a house fire so I have no idea.”

At last, three travelers strode forth from the shadows into the dim light of the torch. The figure at the back was the one Denario recognized first because it was Wilmit. That man's loose collection of weapons bristled around him. Nevertheless, he moved quietly. The most striking thing about him was his eyes, white and wide as he leaned forward to whisper to the man just ahead of his left shoulder.

The man beside Wilmit was pale and tall with long, dark hair. His trim goatee had grayed at the edges. His face was lean but handsome. He had probably been an aristocrat once, or whatever passed for one among these Mundredi who were all technically peasants but didn't realize it. Wealthy or not, this man's eyes were bloodshot and tired. His boots clanked loudly on the rocks and dirt. Perhaps the size of his calves had shrunk and made his gait looser. Yes, Denario could see that the man's cloak had been tailored for a more muscular fellow, probably the same man last year before the hard times.

In front of the other two strode a nondescript character in a fine, blue woolen cowl. Denario might have taken this person to be the natural leader of the group but long-fingered hands rose up to throw back the hood. The leader revealed herself to be a handsome woman. She was not as old as the man following her. Age had barely begun to turn her beautiful features into stern ones. But like the fellow a few steps behind, this woman was relatively pale in complexion and dark in her hair. Beneath her cowl and cape, she wore a bandolier over two layers of egg-white linen robes. It was the bandolier and dagger tied to it that had made her seem masculine at first glance. But in a Mundredi way, the brass dagger handle was quite pretty and suited for a woman of wealth.

“Frau Ansel,” said the mayor with barely a nod of acknowledgment.

“Frau Richter.” The woman raised a finger to her lips. After a moment, she corrected herself. “I'm sorry, I mean Mayor Richter.”

“Oh, that's fine. We've known each other for so long.” The mayor waved it off but smiled a bit smugly. The title seemed to matter to her, most especially when it came from the lips of someone who had once regarded her as a peer.

“Yes, but ...” Valentina Ansel put her fists on her hips. She turned slightly to look at the two men who had caught up to her. “I was told that the mayor needed to see me.”

“I wanted you to meet someone.” Mayor Richter swept her arm toward Denario. He smiled to Valentina as politely as he could but when she turned her frosty gaze on him, he felt the expression fade from his face. “This young man has come from the Mundredi army.”

“What, him?” Valentina was a tall woman. She looked down on Denario in a way that made him glance to her companions for help. They were looking at her, though, not at Denario. “We must not be doing well up north.”

“Oh, I don't know. He's very smart for a waldi. And he sang a funny song about your brother in law. Vir is still alive. He's won a few more battles.”

“Hmph.” Denario had not seen many women actually turn up their nose in disdain. Valentina did it, though. “Songs about battles should be heroic, not humorous.”

“Maybe you and Herr Ansel should join us in the Church of the Fork for a while. I'd like you to hear the story. You'll make better sense of it than I can.”

At this flattery, Frau Ansel turned to her companion and nodded. The black-cloaked man gave a ferocious grin and introduced himself to Denario. He was Herr Hermann Ansel, former burgher of South Ackerland. Hermann was Valentina's husband. In the grip of his handshake, Denario noticed that Herr Ansel was cold almost to the bone. The man was trembling, too. Even the muscles in his face twitched every now and then, just below his left eye. He must have been a mighty fellow not long ago but apparently he'd been reduced to near-permanent exhaustion. His smile was the strongest thing about him.

Back in the church, the minstrel leaped to his feet upon seeing Denario. He dashed forward to pump more lyrics out of the accountant. The mayor conferred with the Priest of the Fork, a few burghers, and a group of mothers who arranged their children into a chorus. Folks were sleepy and the food had been eaten until there was no more but everyone was still working. Floors needed swept. Dishes needed cleaned. Bedrolls had to be arranged. The burghers surprised Denario by helping the peasants with some of their chores, mostly by coordinating them but also by moving benches. They sent away some families to their lean-tos. One burgher left to settle a dispute about rights to a campfire. Another burgher arranged wine for everyone.

Laughter, or at least the idea of it, was welcomed. When Denario rose to sing his ballad, he found that he didn't have to carry the tune on his own. The minstrel and a young blonde-haired woman in a robin's-egg blue linen dress not only strummed instruments but sang in harmony. Hermann Ansel slapped his knee and laughed in all of the right places although Denario had previously thought of them as the wrong ones. It was humor at the expense of accounting. Hermann seemed like a jolly man, though. Denario didn't hold it against him. Anyway, he wondered what could be wrong with the fellow. Herr Ansel wore a silvery tunic and vambraces on his otherwise bare forearms. The vambraces and an iron ring at the base of his neck, a gorget, were his only pieces of armor but clearly he'd once possessed the wealth of a knight or at least of an armsman. He had a wide, black sash that doubled as a sword belt. It was woven from silk.

Valentina never laughed. Everyone else did, even folks who were otherwise ready to sleep. Instead, Valentina busied herself with whispers to the mayor. Isle Richter seemed to be explaining the song as it went. Valentina was re-explaining it back to the mayor, focusing on what Vir might have been thinking.

“There's something important about the mining town,” Valentina said at the end, even as others were chuckling and experimenting with a re-write of the chorus. “Otherwise, Vir would never have gone out of his way to leave the accountant there.”

“Did he go out of his way?” Denario asked. Hermann moved to give him a seat on the bench, so he dared to sit next to Valentina. “I felt he might have. But he never said so.”

“He wouldn't have told you,” said the mayor.

“What's important about the place? Is it the brass works?” Valentina barely paused as she thought aloud. “I know he needs weapons.”

“Brass weapons will help against the Raduar.” Denario rested his elbows on his knees. “They won't do as well against the Ogglian troops. The knights and their men have steel. Vir knows that.”

“What, then?”

“I think maybe when he was having me draw maps for him … yes, that may have been it … when he looked at the maps and thought about all of the troop movements, he may have realized that Pharts Bad is a target for the Raduar and the Ogglian armies both. It's at the intersection of three trade routes, four if you count the stream. Anyone who crosses the hills into West Valley can't miss it.”

“So he expects a big battle there.”

“He might,” Denario conceded.

The burghers consulted with one another and with Hermann Ansel. The mayor, though, approached Valentina. Denario felt caught between. The women, both taller than he, talked around him for a minute. Eventually, the men felt the need to ask their mayor for an opinion and Denario felt he could rise and stand next to Hermann Ansel, who had also gotten to his feet. The question that concerned everyone most was the attempted assassinations against Vir. The older burghers were surprised their Raduar cousins would behave this way. They were even more surprised that Vir was still alive. The younger burghers, along with Hermann and Valentina, didn't seem shocked by either event.

“I thought it was Baron Ankster who would do him in,” confessed the burgher with the longest beard. “Not our own folks.”

“I thought he'd do in the baron,” said a young man, wistfully.

“Shush,” said Valentina, although she was a woman and of no rank or title. “Accountant, we need to understand why the Raduar generals are pressing us so hard. Draw a map for us.”

“Can you read maps?” Denario asked. If that were true, he should never have been hired.

“Not well,” she admitted. “Few Mundredi can, anymore. My grandfather knew maps, though. He showed me. And my father had one commissioned. You've read a map to the burghers, I believe. We all understand the basic concepts.”

The floor of the church was straw and dirt. Hermann Ansel scooped away several square feet of straw. One of the younger burghers tapped Denario's sword hilt. Taking the hint, he pulled it out of its sheath. Then, with the tip, he began to draw a familiar map.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Fourteen 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








Sunday, August 6, 2017

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Fourteenth Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Pair of Sevens



Sunday, July 30, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 88: A Bandit Accountant, 14.8

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Pair of Sevens

Scene Seven: A Map
Scene  Eight: A Song

The town of North Ackerland, which is now called simply 'Ackerland,' is in possession of a New Wizzard's Almanack. Since the book is printed in Oggli, I felt like I was meeting an old friend when I opened it. The frontispiece declares that it is two years old. Each edition is contains eight years of weather predictions, including magical updates, so it should have six more years of usefulness. That's worth money. But the words are printed in the New West Ogglian style, which owes a bit to Frankish and Muntabi. It must seem foreign to the farmers here who know letters only from the old tongue if any at all.

This particular text was rescued from the burning of South Ackerland. Among those who make their living off of rich, rolling fields such as these, a reasonably accurate book on weather is precious.

After my initial reading, the mayor ordered me to write translations for her on several pages. If the wizards are correct, this will be a good planting season in Ackerland and I was happy to describe the details for her. The process took me two hours. By the time I was done, I felt it was time for supper. But the mayor grabbed me by the elbow and dragged me into a church. We didn't go to pray but nor did we go to eat.

There were three scrolls hidden in a panel near the bottom of the church altar. One of the scrolls was a surveying chart. The mayor offered me brass and other riches to read it. As valuable as she thought it was, the chart was not difficult.

The scroll's map depicts Ackerland's surrounding farms as claimed by the peasants. There is no mention of the rights of Baron Ankster, I noticed, although by Ogglian law he owns everything. Likewise, the castle of the closest knight, Sir Fettertyr, is not named on the map but instead appears as a mysterious blank spot at the center of the bottom edge. I don't know who created this survey but it appears to be roughly 20 years old and bears the initials BTS in the right bottom corner. The mark of the Oggli and Anghrili Guild of Accountants appears on the opposite side of the parchment, as does a scribble of a hippogriff standing over crossed spears. I think the latter mark is for the noble arms of Ankster. I can only suppose the chart was drawn by a guild member or a nobleman from the Ankster court. It was not done in an official capacity. This would have been viewed as a local religious matter and irrelevant to the baron. A surveyor might have taken a bit of cloth or silver in exchange for settling peasant disputes in this way.

Before I even finished reading the scroll, the mayor stopped me and insisted on gathering the local clan leaders to hear. At this point, I managed to get payment in the way of a meal. The priest's wife had been preparing tables for the workers' supper. My presence and that of the clan leaders meant that some folks were forced to sit on the ground to eat. No one dared to object.

The church offered meat to my table. My dish was a roasted, tiny bird. I hurt my tongue on bones twice before I learned the proper technique. Given what poor fare most of the folks had to eat, I felt grateful for my finch or whatever it was. And I was happy to find cheese with my turnips and nuts. I read the surveyor's scroll in sections as I ate, taking a few minutes to describe each compass line and boundary marker for a plot between bites of food. To my surprise, the clan leaders did not fall into fighting over what I said. They discussed things calmly and let me eat in peace. Indeed, they wondered if they could afford an updated survey from me. Luckily, the mayor persuaded them that now was not the time. I do not want to tour these lands so thoroughly. Indeed, I want to escape them as soon as possible.

I offered to translate the other two scrolls for free. That made me a popular fellow for a while, especially with the priest who had struggled with them for months. 

The first of these, made of something similar to paper, appears to have been written by a wizard. But it is about plants having sex, which is ridiculous in my opinion. Everyone knows that plants rise spontaneously from the soil. The mayor and priest thought it might be useful anyway. Farmers who had come to hear the survey results nodded and talked to themselves about sex with beans. I wanted to hold my hands over my ears. 

The third text is on medicine. It is written by “Nikon of Anghre,” which means he might have come from Anghrili before the modern form of the city's name took hold. By the letters, I judged it well over a hundred years out of date, the product of many a caravan trade, no doubt. But medicine doesn't change much so the manual is effectively current. Nikon's advice is sound. He understood how to use honey and oil on wounds, to apply tight bandages in certain places on the body but not on others, and he describes surgery on feet. He advises surgeons to leave ankles alone because they are more complicated than they appear. All in all, I felt I learned a bit from Nikon and I got paid quite handsomely as well even though I hadn't asked. No one seemed to place much value on the broken brass hinges they awarded to me, eight of them in all. Perhaps that is because they have no bronze-smith, the only one in the area having died recently. In other towns, however, the brass is worth many days' wages.

After the readings, a bard arose with a stringed instrument in hand. He insisted on playing a sad tune about the razing of South Ackerland. It was depressing. The experience was made worse by how all of the folks knew the song by heart. They sang most of the verses as a chorus, in unison. I must say that I felt a thrill of fear upon hearing their wrathful tones toward the end. Anger lies not far beneath their sadness. 

The village seems set against the baron and his knights but of course their cause is hopeless. They have no weapons, no armor, no horses, and no machines.
#

“And that's how we were saved by a tax cart,” said the mayor, Frau Richter, with a flourish. She gestured with her wine cup to the thronged church hall and the people eating their suppers. The final set of farm laborers had trudged in an hour ago. Everyone looking her direction returned her salute.

Most people simply ate. The place was lit by smoky torches in estanchions mounted onto the walls. The ceiling seemed painted black by soot. There were so many people that hardly an inch of the dirt floor showed. Entire families lay on the ground. A few ate from blankets. Children fell asleep, curled around one another or against the legs of their parents. The spring air remained warm even when the sun was down. Along the pews and short benches, women had removed their shawls. Windows lay open in each wall in hope of picking up a night breeze. Every table lay full of farm tools, food, or, mostly, bodies. There were short women and tall, middle aged and young. The men were, on the whole, slim. None of them were giants except for Wilmit's companion. They had a haggard appearance. A few older men had gone bald. Otherwise there were hardly any gray hairs to be seen, a sign Denario recognized as an indication of a lifestyle hard enough to kill.

Children numbered at least five or six per adult. A few of the urchins had finished eating and scrambled up as high as the joists near the ceiling. Denario had seen young feet and he'd heard them patter across the rafters. He worried that one of the boys or girls would fall. Apparently these half-starved, energetic children were so common now that even their parents couldn't be bothered to tell them to come down.

“You took everything from the cart? You stole the food?” Denario sighed. He sympathized with the mayor's decision but he understood, too, how the baron would feel about anyone who had diverted taxes to themselves. The penalty was death.

“Tweren't stealing,” grunted a bushy-browed burgher. “No, the wagon just came to us when we needed it. 'Twas the will of the gods.”

“That ancient barrow was heavily laden with grain tuns. Naturally, the axle broke,” said Frau Richter. “Our baron had already gotten his share. Most of the contents of the Haph Fork cart were off-loaded on the spot to their second tax cart. Haph Fork got credit in the baron's eyes. But the late cart came to Ackerland anyway. It arrived a week after the slaughter, after Sir Fettertyr had left with his men, weapons, and wagon train.”

“He thought he had all of the taxes?” The accountant tried to hope.

“Maybe. At the least, Sir Fettertyr made the decision not to wait for the broken cart. He knew he had most of the tribute.”

“The tax.”

“It used to be called tribute. Yes, the tax. Taxes to the knight. Taxes to the baron who says he owns this land that had no one on it before us. Taxes to their funny, foreign churches and to the army that's supposed to protect us but enforces the tax laws against us instead.”

If the mayor's complaint had been limited to the tax rates, Denario would have regarded it as ordinary. Everyone complained about the cost of government. But her anger at the baron's knights, especially Sir Fettertyr, was personal. Her husband, the former mayor of North Ackerland, had gone to assist South Ackerland in negotiations with their knight. Once again, the Mundredi tribesmen made the crucial mistake of believing that Ogglian nobility would talk with them.

Nobles did not negotiate with peasants. Apparently, Sir Fettertyr had been under orders to make an example of South Ackerland because it was a traditional tax collection point and a center of protest. Hecklers had lined the cart road for the past three years and berated the baron's men. Berating, in the Mundredi style, included throwing acorns at their faces.

This past year, as the farmers and a priestess gathered in their line and complained to the head collector, Fettertyr's men charged through the crowd on horseback. After the initial kills with their lances, they continued down the street to the city hall. There they slew the leaders of North Ackerland along with the South Ackerland priest, mayor, shaman, and every other person in their reach. Their final charge back up the cart path, made with Sir Fettertyr in the lead, finished off the wounded priestess who they'd failed to spear on their first run. The knight and his armsmen then dismounted to finish the resisters who remained with the priestess.

At that point, the town's citizens fled into their homes. But Sir Fettertyr had come prepared to raze the place. His armsmen reached into their tax carts and pulled out buckets of black pitch. They set the buckets on fire and used them to burn the townsfolk out of their thatch-covered huts. In their haste, though, the soldiers were careless. They set too many homes on fire at once. They hadn't brought enough bowmen to shoot everyone. They didn't have enough horsemen to ride everyone down. Most of the ordinary inhabitants of South Ackerland escaped. Fourteen fighters, two archers, and a handful of attendants weren't enough to track and slaughter the fleeing hundreds.

The incident explained the lack of elderly, though. The winter spent out of their homes had been deadly. Refugees from South Ackerland burdened the neighboring towns of Bittesburg, North Ackerland, Frühlingburg, and Ackfort. Native villagers had been pressed into giving charity but they hadn't been able to give enough. Any refugee who had been infirm had died in the past few months.

“Your chief came from South Ackerland,” Denario ventured. He wondered how Vir would react to the news of the razing. He wondered, too, if South Ackerland had been chosen not because it was a tax collection site but because it offered a chance at retribution against the Mundredi for harboring a tribal chieftain. Then there was the question of why the sergeant that Vir assigned to the Ackerland area had left. Had the Raduar attacked from the northeast? Or had it been an Ogglian feint by Sir Fettertyr to draw his opposition away? By now, Vir might know. He'd implied that he possessed a network of spies. He could have discovered the facts about South Ackerland's destruction perhaps before Denario even met him. Yet he'd remained in the mountains between Easy Valley and West Valley. That was where he felt he had to be.

“He's gone off to fight the Raduar like a damn fool,” the mayor spat.

“That's because he takes his job seriously,” Denario retorted. “There are Raduar generals with hundreds of men laying waste to Mundredi towns across both valleys. It's worst in Long Valley.”

Denario understood how a few hundred armed men could do such damage together. But the accountant still didn't understand how a dozen or so armored men could lay waste to South Ackerland. There were over ninety people taking refuge in this church and there was a temple at the other end of town, too. That made for around one hundred fifty refugees in this village alone with more in Frühlingburg, Bittesburg, and Ackfort. Yet a few armed men and their attendants had defeated them. He took a deep breath and contemplated the copycat attacks.

“The Raduar are imitating the barons, Vir says.”

“Damn them, then!” Frau Richter pounded the table. Next to her, a pair of burghers followed her lead and cursed the Raduar traitors. “They're our kinsmen!”

“They have hundreds of men gathered into at least two armies. Your chief has four groups of a dozen plus a few more he can call up to defend particular areas.” He rubbed his stubbly jaw. “They're not enough. The Mundredi won't gather together of their own free will, I think. Vir is reluctant to force them.”

“Why?”

“With all of your problems here,” Denario explained with the best example at hand, “would you send your young men to the army to defend other Mundredi towns? I'd guess that your turn to have the army back here wouldn't come for another year.”

“A year?” growled a burgher near the end of the table – although he might have been merely a wealthy land owner. Denario couldn't keep them all sorted out, he'd been introduced so fast.

“Wait. Is that all? Just a year?” The heavy fellow on the right of the mayor put his fist on his hip. “Because we might. We've more mouths than we can feed anyway.”

“It would take between one year and two. Vir keeps winning the smaller battles. He's the only real obstacle to the Raduar generals. They'll send the largest force they can to try to wipe him out. He plans to meet them on the battlefield.”

“Does he stand a chance?”

Laceo shook his head no. Then he stopped. “He's got his men so well trained. Maybe he can. One man is not equal to one man. I need to remember that. Even the Raduar elite forces were surprised by Vir and they'd prepared quite a lot for him. He's stolen armor from Ogglian troops and caravans. That was smart. His men are better trained and better equipped than the Raduar.”

“Are they as good as the baron's men?”

“Not as far as their armor, no.”

“Aahhhh,” said the heavy burgher as he sagely rubbed his beard. “The chief needs to steal more, then.”

“No. He needs to hire an armorer.”

“Kidnap one, you mean?”

“No, really, hire one. Don't you know how to hire ... oh, right, no money. Well, there are armorers in towns along the Rune Kill who your chief could hire if the Mundredi tribe really understood the concept.”

“We do understand money, you know.”

“You do?”

“Of course! It's just bits of silver, inn't it?”

“It's not really that. Money is what the silver stands for. It's supposed to represent the work you did. If you're a farmer and you got paid a silver piece for each tun of grain you produced, you've been paid for all that time and effort. If someone steals the money from you, it's like they're stealing part of your life.”

“Damn right they are!”

“That's why we don't like money. Too easy to steal.”

“Money isn't perfect,” Denario answered them. He was tempted to pull out some of his hidden coins. Instead, he opened his empty hands. “But think about what you could pay an armorer. Really, has an armorer got use for a hundred tuns of grain?”

“Is that what it would take?”

“Armor is expensive. It really is. You're paying for the work done by miners, carters, and of course the smiths. But see, if you could pay a blacksmith in grain, that would leave it up to the smith's family to turn all of that grain into something useful. They can't really bake it into a hundred thousand loaves of bread. No, the smith needs to get paid in iron, mostly, or in coins he can spend for iron.”

“We don't have iron around here.”

“That's why you need money. Well, I try to explain this everywhere I go and no one really listens. You're the first town I've seen in a while that's got any understanding of money at all.”

“Because the baron likes it,” a burgher spat. The baron's name was a curse around here, now.

“And that's why we don't, I might add.”

“The baron likes swords and armor for his men, too. Does that mean you don't?”

Denario had found he could get hot about the subjects of logic and math. Now he found that he could be the same way about coins. He might not know a halberd from a pike but he did know what money was supposed to represent. Master Winkel had taught him and he'd been taught before by Master Soldi, who'd been taught by other masters back to Jon Contanti, who'd been taught by the founder of the guild. The founder, Magister Numat, had brought coins from his old home in Muntar and had practically re-invented the art of minting them in the Ogglian lands.

So the accountant paused for a moment, partly to bite back harsher phrases he might have used and partly to let his words take effect. There was a moment of hmm-ing and humph-ing from the burghers Most of them had flecks of grey hair in their beards, Denario noticed, by far the majority of that color visible in the room. Maybe at their advanced age they hadn't gotten used to the idea of using money rather than barter, no matter what they said. Maybe from their perspective it was too new or too foreign.

“I still don't see why our chief couldn't stay here,” complained the mayor. She wasn't one to let up on the point of the conversation as she saw it. “Vir could have sent his sergeants and captains and whatnot up north. He didn't have to go himself.”

Denario massaged his brow. He tried to smile at Frau Richter. But he struggled with the problem of how to explain the military situation. Earlier, during their meal, he'd tried to draw a map. But of course that didn't work. If the mayor could read maps, she wouldn't have hired him to read the surveyor's chart. Frau Richter and her burghers watched him as he stammered. Perhaps the expressions on their faces gave him the idea.

The accountant stood. Everyone nearby turned to look at him. Then he began to sing.

He wasn't a good singer. But it was a pretty good folksong anyway. It was the story of an clueless accountant who had fallen in with a pack of bandits. The bandits turned out to be heroes. The clueless fellow turned out to be particularly lucky.

He thought he'd left the ballad behind him. Yet here he was bringing it up himself. To his surprise, some folks in his audience started to sing along. The bard started to play it. How do they know? he wondered. Then he realized that the bard knew the tune because it was a traditional one for them. Plus the chorus was easy to memorize. Even the children could learn it. Denario's ears turned red as more and more people joined in. But he kept singing Even though he was announcing his own ineptness, there was no backing out. He had to tell it to the end.

To his surprise, he found that he remembered very nearly all of the words and got through without much stumbling. He even told the tale of the accounting he'd done for the town of Pharts Bad.

As he wound down his song, he dared to glance at the mayor. Frau Richter was dabbing her eyes. He didn't think she was crying out of sorrow.

“Whew!” she said, a few seconds after Denario finished the final chorus. Hordes of children popped up around his feet and began to scream for more. “It's been a while since we've heard a funny tune. Hasn't it?”

She glanced to the oldest burgher, two down from her, who had laughed until he coughed. He was thumping himself on the chest.

“I wish the rest of the village had heard that.” The mayor looked down at the children. Some of them were bouncing up and down, shouting the chorus not quite in tune or in time with one another “We'll have to sing it again, I think. I'm sure the bard knows it already. In the meantime, though, there's someone you should meet. Wilmit?”

She stood and waved. The bowman was standing not too far away. He had barely eaten, Denario noticed. He seemed to take his meals last in line.

“Wilmit, go to the Passion Gods temple. Get Frau Ansel. Tell her there's someone here who's met her brother-in-law.”

“No, I haven't,” said Denario. He raised a hand to stay Wilmit although the man was too far away to touch. “Begging your pardon mayor, but I never met anyone from this town until this morning.”

“You've met Vir De Acker and told a good story on him, too.”

“But ...”

“Frau Valentina Ansel is the older sister of Vir's dear, departed wife.”

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 87: A Bandit Accountant, 14.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Pair of Sevens

Scene Six: Ackerland

“What town is that?” Denario gestured past the man who was, even yet, pointing a loaded bow at him. A church spire rose in the distance. An row of huts lined the road in front. They were all thatched and sealed with pitch on their roofs, which meant there had to be a natural supply of tar somewhere close.

“Ackerland.” The fellow swiveled to peer down the trail. Then he thought better of it and turned his attention back to Denario.

“Really?” A spark of memory awoke in the accountant's mind. “North or South Ackerland?”

The farmer lowered his bow slightly. Then he lowered it more until it was almost at his feet.

“Step forward,” he said.

“What about your friends?” Denario nodded to the trees. Only a month ago, he would never have noticed the signs of their occupation.

“Well, is that a Mundredi coin?” the farmer asked. “You wear it boldly enough. If it's yours, we won't hurt you.”

“It was given to me by the chief of the Mundredi to aid me in my mission.” Denario began his stroll up the low slope of grass toward the farmer. He touched the blue disc on his chest. A moment later, he halted and dropped his hand to the pommel of his sword. The men who came out of the bushes and trees were not the farmer's sons. They looked like brigands. Some of them had bits of armor, mostly leather hauberks like Denario's own. “You haven't answered my question. I have an interest in passing through South Ackerland. Is this it?”

“South Ackerland is dead.” The farmer un-notched his arrow. He ignored the men on either side of him, one a head taller than he. His eyes glistened in the morning sun as he remembered, perhaps, a battle. “It was laid to waste last year and all of its fields with it. The baron's men burned the temples and halls and homes to the ground.”

“Oh.”

“They came only a week after Sergeant Kaspir and his band left. Someone must have told them.”

“A traitor,” Denario whispered. The leader heard him, though, and nodded.

“Aren't we going to rob him?” complained a thin-looking man in a studded vest. He put his hand on the elbow of the man who Denario no longer regarded as a farmer.

In answer, his leader sighed and rolled his eyes. He patiently unstrung his bow.

The hungry-looking fellow had stained teeth. He wore bright yellow, brown, and gold clothes. They'd been fine once but they'd faded. His straw-colored hair stood on end and askew to his left. All in all, he looked a bit like a lopsided, perhaps wounded, tropical bird, perhaps a canary drunk with attitude.

“Come on, Wilmit,” pleaded the giant beside the canary. He didn't take his eyes off of Denario. “I didn't get any meat yesterday. Nothing but turnips.”

The fourth member of the troop, a long-bearded fellow who hovered behind the giant, smiled to show his black and broken teeth.

“Here's how it is,” the leader Wilmit explained. He seemed to be talking to both Denario and to his allies. “Everyone around here is starving and broke. We know ye've a lot of goods with ye, traveler. Yer belly is full and so's the packs on yer back. But we understand that the army is looking after ye. We're not going to violate our oaths.”

“Uh.” The giant let out a defeated sigh. On the other side of the leader, the thin, yellowish man spun in a circle.

“But we've got lots of knives and arrows,” he complained.

“We'll walk him into town.” The leader stared down the thin fellow, who backed away and spun in another circle.

Even an accountant could see that further conversation would lead to blows. The hungry man seemed quick, too, and bristling with pointed weapons. Yet he didn't carry a sword. Swords were for gentlemen or for hired men at arms. They were a sign of a professional soldier, which was probably why folks hadn't bothered Denario as much as they might have otherwise, that and his lack of clan status.

“I could trade,” Denario offered.

“We haven't got anything.” Wilmit dismissed the idea to the groans of his men.

“Well, I could share, then. I've got a bit of hard tack. Also some cheese. Butter? Well, I may be out of that. But I've got some spare oats.”

“Oats!” one man shouted.

“Butter,” said another, the giant. “By the gods, I'd sell my granny for a bit of butter. Can you ... can you look, man? Along the way.”

“Along the way or at the mayor's house.” Wilmit nodded. He hitched his unstrung bow to his back and marched to the southeast path.

Denario fell in beside the leader as quickly as he could. The path was wide enough for them both. And he wanted to keep everyone happy and relaxed. It wasn't Denario's first encounter like this. In fact, he felt he was getting into the rhythm of them.

It was funny that no one ever wanted his money. From town to town in the Mundredi lands, the peasants asked him for things they could really use. Here, beyond of the Seven Valleys, these were still Mundredi lands. Yes, the folks had learned what money was. They knew that their knights and barons coveted it. But no one wanted to trade him anything for it. No one even cared to steal it.

Today's breeze was cool. It made Denario glad for all of his layers of clothes and armor. The land smelled full of life, musty and sharp. It was planting season. Wilmit led them across two shortcuts in the path. They passed four small fields separated by meadows or trees. In each field, there were peasants turning the soil or watering it or planting something.

Despite how Wilmit had said that they had no possessions, his men found things to trade with Denario. The giant exchanged three turnips for a glob of butter. The long-bearded fellow gave Denario a pair of black sticks that turned out to be badly-dried snake jerky. Probably no one else wanted the stuff but the accountant wasn't going to risk offending the man. At any rate, Denario's rather mundane oats proved popular with the men, Wilmit included. Their mayor had declared all of the remaining oats in the local vicinity to be part of the seed stock. Oat florets were being sown back into the ground. It was good civic planning but it was an unpopular decision. Not a single person wanted to give up their carefully saved food.

Not only were oats in short supply but none of the native farmers had wheat left after the harsh winter. Wheat spikelets had been reduced to handfuls. The peasants couldn't make bread. They were living on year-old acorns, pine nuts, and turnips. Many folks were growing spring onions and peas but there weren't enough. Bitter acorn flour had become the filler used in everything. Denario was glad to re-stock his travel packs with pine nuts and onions and what few wild herbs the townsfolk had found. He rather liked nuts, except acorns, and he privately considered most nuts to be better eating than dried meat. He was sure he'd finish his new batch of pine nuts before he ate any snake jerky.

“Yes, the children who gather these nuts and berries are saving our lives,” said Wilmit. “Without their work, the mayor would have had to hang a dozen more folks. Like maybe Tabner here.”

Tabner spun in a circle as he walked. He still looked half-mad and, although he smiled at the use of his name. And he did not look scared of Wilmit. In fact, he seemed eager for action. He'd added to his ruffled look by leaving a few oat kernels in his blond mustache, leftovers from his hurried eating a moment earlier.

“It turned to fighting this winter,” Wilmit continued. “And it wasn't the usual clan warfare. No declarations, no totems torn down. But when the snow melted, we found nineteen bodies. Folks were out-and-out murdered. Their household belongings were stolen. The mayor hanged one man for that, although we know there must be more. She hanged two others who were caught stealing pigs. Both of those were refugees from South Ackerland. Another fellow was killed in an argument with his neighbor about a cow they shared. Even our local herds of sheep and goats have been thinned. And of course the baron still wants his tenth of everything.”

“Will he get it?”

“The mayor says no.”

“But ...” Denario had been all for tax resistance up to when he considered the consequences. “Won't the baron send his men? Won't they raze the town?”

“Could be. He might try. But we have more men with us now, all desperate. We'll be ready this time. And we don't have any food to spare for the baron. It don't matter what the priests say or what orders the knights give us.”

The temple fields to their left gave way to the temple spires and a shed. Soon after, the winding trail to Ackerland ended in a sort of town square. The space wasn't rectangular. It was a circle of dirt and dust. Lean-tos had been built around the edge of the area. These, Denario guessed, were the homes of refugees from South Ackerland and other towns ransacked by Baron Ankster.

At the south end of the dirt circle, there stood a well head constructed of loose stones with a board laid across. Two children lay near the well. They faced the temple, eyes closed.

To the accountant, the boy and girl looked lean to the point of sickly. Wilmit and his men had no pity on them, though. They prodded the children with their toes. When they roused, the men told them to get back to the fields, “And no complaining neither!” The girl got to her feet. The boy held his stomach and didn't move until the giant kicked him lightly in the rear end. Then he, too, got up and headed back to work.

"What are you lazy bums doing besides berating kids?” Suddenly a woman appeared from the trail on the other side of the well. She wore fine yet rather severe dress in shades of white, gray, and black. Her layers of clothing above it, including a vest, shoulder wrap, and wide belt that included a hammer strapped on with a loop of string, obscured her figure somewhat.

Denario could tell by her shoulders, though, and the width of her arms that she was strong. She walked like a woman of authority. Her black head scarf reminded him of what some priestesses wore.

“Are you waylaying caravans again? If you are, Wilmit, I'll have you in the stocks this time.” Her voice penetrated like Olga Clumpi's. For a moment, Denario thought he might have been transported back to Pharts Bad among the stern grandmothers. But this woman was younger, somewhere in her middle years. She reminded Denario of some city women in Oggli who ran their own shops. She had similar, quick hand gestures.

“No, mayor, my men were doing exactly what you said to do. We were patrolling the fields. Weeding, too. But you have to admit, getting a visitor traveling all on his own nowadays is strange. And we have one.”

This time, the woman turned full-on towards Denario and inspected him with her round, brown eyes. Her strong jaw grew tight. Her thin lips curled in a sneer. Well, maybe she could tell that he wasn't much of a fighter. She put her fists on her hips.

“He says he's on an army mission and he looks it in his way.” Wilmit took off his hat and bowed to the mayor. Then he jostled his companion. Tabner did the same but in a way that was quite angry and jaunty at the same time. The other two did their best to follow suit.

Denario found himself taking off his traveling hat. He discovered his accounting cap beneath it. So he doffed that, too.

“I said I've been given leave by your army,” Denario corrected. “It's different than working for them, exactly. I'm an accountant. Do you know what that is? I do maths. I draw maps. I write out calculations and geometries.”

“I know what those are.” When the woman nodded, her firm jaw barely moved. At least she didn't seem insulted – or bewildered, which might have proved worse. “If you can write charts, surely you can read them.”

“Yes, ma'am.” He bowed again. It occurred to him that this was the first lady of any social class he'd met in a position of secular leadership. He'd met priestesses, maybe a pair of unannounced witches, several wealthy clan matriarchs, and one or two shopkeepers who showed a facility for math, but this was the only Mundredi woman he knew as a burgher or mayor.

She didn't even wait for him to rise from his bow. While his eyes were still on her cloth-covered shoes, she turned and strode away. After a second or two, Wilmit followed. They headed back to where she came from. Denario rushed to keep up. He finally caught them as the mayor marched up the stone steps of a building across the fountain from the church. He glanced up and saw a seal above the arched doorway. It was the town hall.

Next: Chapter Fourteen, Scene Seven