A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Two Cubed
Scene Two: Imprecise Aims
“Well, now I know,” murmured Vir as he wrapped a bandage around Denario's head.
“Know what? What are you talking about?” Denario asked. He tried to hold still. It was too bad he hadn't been wearing a helmet.
“How you killed those bounty hunters before.” For such a large man, Vir had a deft touch. In Oggli, everyone would have placed him by sight as a butcher or livestock handler but, by his skills, he could have been a doctor. His eyes saw human bodies shrewdly. “Now I see how an accountant thinks. You did it with the darts, right?”
Denario considered explaining. Vir deserved to understand. The story strained his verbal abilities, though, and his head hurt too much already. He didn't think he could tell the whole tale without revealing the gold he carried. And he couldn't trust any of these bandits with that.
“Yes,” was what he settled for. “It was darts.”
“Well, maybe I don't have the whole story.” Vir hesitated a moment. But he resumed wrapping Denario's head. “Yesterday, I might have knocked you senseless for holding back. Yer lucky. Today, you can tell it all in yer own time. Ye did the right thing. Tried to, at least, when ye ran at Piotr.”
“You saw that?”
“Some.” Vir made a wry face. “Ye were awful. Ye were falling to one side and off your back foot. Klaus was better even though he was dying. He got a good stab in on that traitor.”
“He did?” Denario couldn't shut up, apparently.
“We'll have to go find his body, by the by.” Vir tucked a bone needle into Denario's head bandage to hold it tight. Then he put his hands on his hips and surveyed the corpses around them.
None of the Raduar had escaped Vir. After the biggest spearman had fallen to Denario's dart, Vir had rushed the other one and wounded him in the shoulder. While that fellow scrambled to get away, Vir turned and stabbed the swordsman running up from behind. That had seemed easy for him.
The only hard part for Vir, in fact, had been protecting the accountant. Since, in his cowardice, Denario had left his original attacker on the ground without finishing him off, that man got up and tried again. He'd come at Denario left handed, which was why he'd missed – or mostly missed, anyway. Denario patted the scrape under his bandage. It felt clean. He was lucky.
Vir had finished that fellow, too. The final score was: Vir 5, Raduar 0. Denario stood at minus 2 since he'd had to be rescued twice. How Piotr and Klaus figured into things was hard to say. If Piotr was alive and had any brains at all, he was running hard for the Raduar territories by now.
“There's no hope for Klaus?” Denario asked, afraid to hear a definite answer.
“Not really.” Vir grabbed Denario by the shoulder. “Come on, let's get moving.”
The Mundredi captain was willing to wait for a few minutes while Denario re-packed his bags. After all, the trick with the darts had saved them both. Denario studied his equipment before moving. He knelt to the open case. It made him nervous to re-seal the poison. But he had to do it. It was too useful to throw away. And without any new wax available, he had to re-use the stuff he had. He gathered green leaves as gloves to keep from getting even a drop of poison on his skin. That was awkward. Vir grunted his approval.
“Deadly stuff,” he said when Denario was done. “Not exactly instant but as close as I've ever seen without magic. My men would hate it and hate you for using it. They'd say it wasn't honorable.”
“Sorry,” said Denario.
“Don't apologize. I said that's how my men are, not me. I don't hold with any of that 'death before dishonor' crap. That's for them barons and knights and other folks like that. I wish my own folk hadn't gotten it into their heads.”
“Oh.” Denario's head bobbed in agreement as he began to pack in earnest. “Then I'm sorry that we needed it. I'm just not much of a spearman.”
“If ye apologize any more,” the captain warned, “I'll kick ye in yer wounded head. And as far as using a spear goes, did ye expect to get good at it in only an hour?”
“Well, it takes months and months and a lot of battles to learn. Ye've lived through yer first one. That's a start. And ye'll learn more spear work or ye'll die. That's how it goes. In the valleys, even an accountant has to know stuff besides math, ye see.”
Denario finished with the last item in his travel pack, the spare pants he kept on top in a roll. He pulled the drawstring tight.
“I've been thinking about what yer sword instructor said to ye back in yer big city,” Vir continued. “He's right. Ye need to work on yer strength. So we'll spend time on the spear first.”
“We will?” Denario rose from his crouch. He couldn't help looking around at the carnage of the battle. This didn't seem like the best time or place for lessons.
“Yeah. How do yer leggings feel?”
Denario gazed down at his feet. They were covered in soft, thick hunting boots. It had been a relief to stow his accounting slippers into the pack with his math books, drawing compass, and other tools. It was even better than he didn't have to rob the dead himself. Vir had done it for him.
“Wonderful,” he admitted. He'd been surprised to see how blue and cracked his toes had gotten in his official gear.
“'S funny,” said Vir. “Convenient that yer axeman had small feet.”
“More than convenient. Needed.”
“Yeah. It's just that I heard ye mention Melcurio. And in pictures he wears boots like you've got now. I mean the lacing and all. Yours don't have wings on. That would look silly.”
“Right. That is funny. But of course, Melcurio wears wings and lightning bolts everywhere. He's supposed to look fast, I guess. I'm slow.”
“He carries lighting bolts in his arms. Which I'm told that he stole, by the way.”
“That's how the story goes.”
“And this scar on your arm. It looks a bit like lightning, doesn't it?” Vir had rolled up Denario's sleeves as he'd checked for hidden wounds.
“That's only from some beatings I got when I was a child.”
“When you were a slave?”
“Yes. The scars faded and blended together like this as I got older.”
“Huh.” Vir hitched up his pants. His waist bag was heavy because he'd already helped himself to the spear points of the men he'd killed. “Let's finish up here and look for Klaus.”
The despoiling of the corpses was more gruesome than Denario had imagined. He'd seen plenty of dead men before but not like this. The smaller spearman that Vir had killed was still twitching. Denario did his best to avert his gaze.
In ten minutes, the Mundredi captain re-packed. Heavier but with renewed energy, he thumped the ground with his new axe. After that, his expression became grim and he glanced around the woods as if anxious to leave. So that's what he did, without a word. Denario had to run to catch up.
By a tree that stood at the edge of the forest no more than thirty yards from the fighting, they found Klaus. The young man had propped himself up against the sturdy trunk. He looked like he was resting with his eyes half closed.
“Ach, brave lad,” said Vir. Only then did Denario realize that Klaus had passed away. His chest was still. He never took a breath.
The captain knelt by his fallen soldier and said a few words in the old tongue. They went by so quickly and so gutturally that Denario couldn't make out the meaning, which maybe was Vir's intent. This was a private moment for the bandit chief, Denario supposed, and he was surprised when, after nearly a minute of silence, Vir began to loot Klaus's body.
First, Vir folded the arms together over the chest. There was still a bloody knife in Klaus's right hand. Of the fatal arrow, there was nothing visible, not even a splinter of wood, but Denario was sure they'd find a broken shaft beneath the corpse if Vir turned it over. The dried blood all over the grass had already attracted flies.
The captain cut the string of Klaus's money pouch, which looked nearly empty anyway, and he bothered the fingers of Klaus's left hand to remove a silver ring. The face of the ring had been engraved with a clan symbol of some kind, spears and stars together. Vir found Klaus's pack nearby and divested it of a comb, five debit sticks, and a sash with the same clan symbol as the ring.
After he'd finished gathering Klaus's personal effects, Vir stood and saluted the dead body.
“Died with blood on his blade,” he murmured to Denario. “Good omen. That's the best way to go to the netherworld.”
“You're leaving the knife?” asked Denario. He'd gotten over the idea that Vir was looting his fallen comrade. He could see how this was a task that had to be done.
“His family will understand. Everything else goes to Klaus's brother, Friedrich, but not the weapon he was holding in his hand. That stays with the body.”
“But you're taking his bow, I notice.” Denario glanced at where the chieftan had lain all of what he'd gathered.
“Not much good where he's going. The string won't last. Anyway, I'm not taking it. You are.”
Vir thrust the grip of the bow into Denario's chest. He had no choice but to grab it.
“Let's stop in at the fort.” The captain turned and started walking. “Maybe we'll pick up supplies. Maybe we'll find out something about what happened to Alaric and his men.”
“Maybe there are more Raduar there,” Denario hissed. But, after a second's hesitation, he followed. There was nowhere else to go.
Chapter Eight, Scene Three