A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Pi, Roughly
Scene Two: New Shirts
“Down over the second hill, turn left.” The farmer pointed from the grassy hillock on which they stood. His finger led to a pair of other hills in the distance. The second was full of trees.
“How big is the cart path?” asked Denario. He shielded his eyes and squinted. There was no trail through the greenery that he could see.
“Can't miss it,” the farmer assured him.
The day had begun cold and miserable, as far as Denario was concerned. He'd never slept out of doors before. He'd huddled beneath a low fir tree as best as he could but he'd found nothing but pine needles to keep him warm. It turned out he was no good at making a fire so he shivered all night. He'd gotten up when the sky turned from black to purple and marched until dawn.
In the morning twilight, an aggressive rabbit had harassed him from the mouth of its burrow to a nearby border fence. 'Back!' he'd shouted as if the rodent were dog but it kept coming and trying to nip his feet. He'd hopped over a knee-high stack of shale stones to get away. Those rocks had turned out to be a fence and that was how he'd found the farm.
Farli Haphmeyer was the farmer's name. He was the youngest adult member of the oldest family on the Ziege. Although his father had married into the clan, the rest of his ancestors had been tilling the rocky soil here when stone tablets were used for the local temple records. His eyes had a sunken, weather-beaten look, a feature shared by many local families. Otherwise, his gaze was direct and clear. His lanky arms had, as shown by his rolled-up sleeves, the kind of strength that came from wrestling goats and sheep every day.
“Much obliged.” Denario touched his forehead. He missed his hat at a moment like this. In his room at the boarding house, he'd kept three fine hats, one of them an official journeyman's accounting cap, red with gold braid around the brim. It would have been good to have it to tip in thanks. That was always a friendly gesture.
He would miss his spare clothes even more when it rained, he suspected. Why had he grabbed his accounting bag and not his traveling bag?
“Going far?” The farmer recognized Denario and didn't seem to think there was anything unusual about an accountant hiking through the countryside. But he had an opinion about the way Denario was doing it. “Only, there ain't no more carts today and I see you got a pack on but no jacket.”
“Farli,” Denario began. He stopped. There was no way to know if he could trust this fellow. On the other hand, he felt ashamed to lie. “Maybe I should tell you why I'm traveling on foot.”
He tried to make light of his problems with the mayor and of how he was nearly broke because he'd sent his money ahead to his partner. He concentrated on the fight in the bar, which got a few chuckles. But Farli didn't ask many questions. He just nodded, most of the time. After a while, Farli raised his arm in almost the same direction he'd given before.
“Well, if you turn left between the hills, you'll see a sheep shed that I put up a few years back. I can't loan clothes to a fellow who's wanted by the law. I could get strung up for that. But I'm a busy man. Can't fight with criminals. Can't watch everywhere at once. If someone was to steal my spare work clothes from that shed, why, I probably wouldn't notice for days. Can't stop that sort of thing, ya know.”
Denario knew this young farmer was one of the poorest landowners in the hills. He came to town only twice all spring. Each time, he ordered exactly one pint and nursed it along for an hour. The offer made Denario feel ashamed. Then a thought struck him.
In a rough voice, he said, “The thief might leave some money for the clothes, of course.”
“No need, now. No need.”
“But you can't stop that sort of thing, you know.”
The young man laughed.
“You're all right,” he said. He jostled Denario on the arm. “In that case, there's a slate out in front of the shed door. It's covers a hollow space in the ground.”
Denario marched a few steps and turned.
“I only wish I could pay what I really owe you.”
“'Taint nothin.'” Farli shook his head. “But ya won't find many carts on the road, mind. Most of 'em have already gone by. There's been three to Ziegeburg, one to Pickle Bad.”
“Is that all of them?” Denario wondered. He had forgotten how small the town was compared to Baggi or Ahngrili. In only a few months, he'd come to regard it, the way the locals did, as the largest metropolis in West Ogglia. Ziegeburg seemed completely immune to bandits. The town walls were easily climbed or, for that matter, pushed over. The gates were always open. But no bands of men attacked, apparently intimidated by its size.
“Well, my ole aunt Ursula and her sons has got a crop of spring wheat coming in. Haven't seen them today. But if I ain't seen their cart by now, I won't see it till tomorrow. That's the way it is.”
“Right. Thanks, Farli.” Denario started to extend his hand, unsure of whether he was being polite or not. The farmer accepted the gesture and took him in a two-fisted, bone crunching shake. The pressure lasted only an instant, as if Farli hadn't realized how soft an accountant's hands would be. Then he grinned and Denario found himself smiling back at him.
Nodding, they parted. Denario glanced back once, caught the farmer's eye, and they exchanged nods again. Finally, Denario started huffing up the hill and began to wonder what he would discover over the rise. The farmer's shed turned out to be well built, although largely made of scrap logs. He ambled down to it and let his bag slip from his shoulder. It felt good to be free of it. As he rubbed his right shoulder, he stepped inside.
The floor of the shed was dirt. The shelves were filled with jars of sheep linament. Farm tools adorned the wooden hooks on the walls and, where they had filled all of the hooks, they sat in piles at the corners. Denario couldn't guess at the purpose of some of the implements. They were just bits of carved wood with stones or twists of metal lashed to them, each one different from all the rest. Some had blades. Some had tines. Many ended in barbs or curled shapes of some kind. They must be used for shepherding, Denario figured, although perhaps there were general farm tools among the wool-oriented collection. The shovel, for instance, didn't have any use for tending to lambs except, possibly, to bury them.
A pair of tatty overalls hung on a peg that had been pounded between beams of the log wall. Under the overalls were two shirts, both so full of holes they were barely fit for wiping up grease. But Denario felt grateful for them. He dug into his money pouch and got out double the value he thought Farli would put on them. That was the hard part. He was sure that, if he left too much, Farli would feel cheated of his honor or maybe he would guess that Denario was rich and could have left more.
Denario had never understood about people, not really. But he was lucky in this case because he was fairly certain he'd met a kindred soul in Farli. The old-looking young man didn't seem to understand anyone either. He didn't have any real friends in town, Denario knew.
“Damn,” he muttered to himself, money in one hand, clothes in the other. He didn't think the taller man's clothes would fit into his accounting pack.
So he stole a hard, leather tool pack from one of the corner piles of junk. It had two pairs of shears in it. Denario dumped them out. Then, feeling horribly guilty, he picked a pair of shears back up. He needed them to cut the cuffs of the farmer's pants so they didn't hang down past his shoes. He stole a bone knife, too, and left four brassers and eight pence under the paving stone. He hoped that was enough. And he hoped it wasn't twice too much.
Chapter Three, Scene Three