A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Two Cubed
Scene Three: Pudding Nap
No people of any tribe occupied the log cabin that the bandits called Fort Fourteen. The make-shift dwelling sat at the top of a clearing on the western face of Mount Ephart. Surrounding the structure was a crude wall made of pointed sticks. Vir stepped through a gap in the wall, peered through the open fort window, and motioned for Denario to join him. Denario helped untie the cowhide door.
Inside, the accountant couldn’t help but think that the place couldn't have served more than a half-dozen men at once. They’d have had to sleep on the floor, too, because there were no beds. The ground was covered by straw, blankets, a burned-out campfire, and cooking utensils. A small stew pot hung on a hook in the ground. Vir ran his hands through it all. He dug under the fire pit and came up with a crude stone amulet but he restored it to the ground. He pulled away a chunk of mud mortar from the east wall. Between the gap it left in the logs he found a slip of birch bark. But it was empty, nothing written on it. He put it back and fitted the mortar over the gap again.
Finally, the big man took them to the trench on the downslope of the fort. It stunk of feces and urine but he dug up one end of the rich soil with his spear.
“No sign,” he sighed after he'd turned the ground over. “Alaric was never here.”
Vir marched them out of the fort while it was still noon. He didn't want to wait to find his missing men. The problem was that Denario had gotten hungry. Moreover, his burst of adrenaline from the battle had faded. In less than a mile, all of the weariness of his travels seemed to catch up to him all at once. Denario staggered and fell.
He lay in peace for a moment, wondering why he was looking at the sky. Then he decided it was a nice sky, very blue, and the wisps of clouds were only there to give it a bit of texture. He felt dizzy and happy. He wondered about his place in the world and if he'd become a flower.
That is, he wondered until Vir's face rose into view. The big man blotted out the sun and clouds.
Yew rye? said the captain, or something like it.
There were bags under Vir's eyes. He looked as tired as Denario felt. But he wasn't happy. That made Denario try to get to his feet.
“I'm fine,” he said. It came out of his mouth as, “Mmmfy.”
Vir had to lift him. When he was upright, though, Denario found that he really felt quite well. The slope of the trail seemed to give his feet a bit of a problem. Otherwise, he felt loose-jointed and nimble.
“Ye gets this way after a battle sometimes.” Captain de Acker yawned. “I feel it, ta, I mean, too.”
They wandered down the slope and onto level ground. Denario recognized this patch of sparse woodlands. They had passed it on the way from their morning battle. Nothing but fir trees grew here. The forest floor was covered by several inches of pine needles.
“We're not fit,” Vir announced. He unslung his biggest pack and threw it down. “'S my fault. I made us march for the right timing. Had to get to the trail by today at dawn. But we haven't slept enough. What if we did run into Alaric's bunch today? Are we in any shape to help them? No.”
“No?” said Denario.
“No. Especially not ye.” The Mundredi gave him a calculating squint. “It's as warm as it's going to get, right now. Can ye sleep without a fire?”
“Sure. Did that out of Ziegeburg.”
“Good. Ye must be tougher than ye look. Lots of me men complains when I orders a camp with no fire.”
Denario didn't feel tough. He wanted to tell Vir that the reason he'd slept without a fire is that he didn't know how to make one. But that kind of honesty seemed excessive. The better thing to do would be show that he was as strong as Vir thought.
When he sat down to take off his packs, he thought about pudding, for some reason. He could smell the warm rice pudding made by the women in the house next to Master Winkel's home. They often sold bowls of their sweetest stuff to the apprentices. Pudding is nice. It's fluffy, he thought. The next thing he knew, his eyes were closed. After a long while, hands as big as his head lifted him by shoulders and knees. He became aware that his body was floating off of the rocks and pine cones. His limbs came down to rest on a bed soft pine needles. Someone covered him in a pine needle blanket, too.
Just give me a moment, he thought. I'm getting up.
“Pudding!” he shouted. Then he frowned because he knew that was wrong.
“No, no, soup,” answered a deep voice. “Bacon-fat soup.”
A heavy, stinky animal flopped down next to Denario in the pine needles. It grunted for a few seconds, snuffled, and belched. Then, with a bellowing fart, it pressed flat in relaxation, which made a few more dry needles pop. The forest held still for the creature. After a few seconds, it started to snore. Birds that had hushed started singing again. The last thought in Denario's head was, bacon pudding, mmm.
Chapter Eight, Scene Four