A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Two Cubed
Scene Six: Archer's Lament
That night, bandit chief contributed the last ropes of his sausages for dinner. Denario ate them until he felt packed full from his feet to his fingers. Vir apparently did the same. He had no concern for the days ahead although it was clear that they would have no meat left except for Denario's goat jerky.
“Ye know about the magic lands around here?” Vir asked as he slowed down, half a sausage in hand.
“Not a thing.”
“Good. They're supposed to be secret.” Vir gestured eastward into the darkness. “From the direction Alaric took, he's leading his men into one of those. It's called Archer's Lament.”
“Why is it called that?”
“There's Archer's Lament, Shaman's Lament, and Wizard's Lament, although that last one is a long ways off, barely in Mundredi territory. And there's Wrym Tract and Nixie Ditch. They're on the other side of Easy Valley. On this mountains range, farther north, there's Witch's Ditch and Witch's Divvy. There's lots more all around the valleys, too.”
“What's the difference between a ditch and a divvy?”
“A divvy has water in it. I suppose it's a place for divination. But that's for those who know how to do that sort of thing.”
“Are the magical places very big?”
Vir shook his head. He stuffed another sausage into his mouth. “Ye can throw a stone across Witch's Ditch. Well, maybe not ye. But most men.”
He said it with a smile. Denario thought it was okay to laugh a little.
“So what's the magic?” he asked after he'd had time to get curious.
“Hard to tell, in some places.” Vir finished off his meat in two bites. “It can be unpredictable. If ye smack yer head or stub yer toe in Witch's Ditch, yer mates feel it. But if ye do something nice for yerself like have a drink, no one else feels better except ye.”
“Are they dangerous areas, then?”
“Of course. The worst is Shaman's Lament. Inside it, legend tells that there's a magical hedge maze. From the outside, it looks small, just a single twist in a path. Ye can see over it to the other side. From the inside, there is no way out. Ye can't cast spells, either, they say.”
“So why the name?”
“For some reason, wizards can usually escape even without their magic. Witches get out about half the time. Shamans, never, so far.”
“Surely Alaric wouldn't take his men there!”
“No, no. Like I said, he's headed for Archer's Lament. That's a strange one. It's hard to see and the borders keep shrinking. Plus if ye go into it without a hand on yer weapon, yer in trouble. See, it all comes from a summer about sixty years ago when there was a battle there.”
“Against the Raduar?”
“No, this was a fight between some Mundredi troops and a wizard. Our side struck the wizard with an arrow early on, the story goes, so the wizard cast some sort of spell. It turned all of the pointed weapons around him into birds.”
“Big birds? Little ones?”
“Arrows turned into starlings. Axes became pigeons. The effects stretched out for half a mile. The lament was bigger back then than it is now. Well, anyway, they say that the wizard blasted our men with fire while they shot arrows at him. But the arrows turned into birds and flew away. When the birds flew far enough, they became arrows again but they weren't pointed at the wizard.”
“And the spell has lasted sixty years since?” Denario licked the grease and dirt off of his fingers. He thought he understood how wizards operated but this sounded different.
“A few soldiers clubbed the wizard to death. Usually, ye'd expect the spell to fade. Don't know why this one hangs around. It's gotten smaller by half. That could mean it'll still be around for yer children and grandchildren, though.”
Denario lay back. There were no pine needles here to act as a blanket. He was going to be completely dependent on Vir's skill with fire.
“You Mundredi really don't like magic much, do you?”
“That's just me. Don't like wizards. Don't like priests. Don't like no one, much. Don't like the gods. I'm surprised ye have any truck with Melcurio, him being the god of thieves and all.”
“What?” It took a second to hear what Vir had said but it made him sit back up. “He's not! He's the god of accountants.”
“He's awfully tricky, whatever he is. He stole the crown off of the king of the gods. That's the tale.”
“Well, yes.” Denario had never really liked that one. “But it was just a prank. He gave it back later.”
“He stole other things.”
“Look, in those holy stories he also he counted all the beasts of the world, all the fish of the seas, and all the grains of sand. That's accounting, that is. He started it all.”
Vir replied, hands in his lap, “Ah, yes. But he lied, didn't he? He told the other gods the wrong numbers.”
“That's supposed to be a secret,” he said quietly. “In Oggli, only the Guild of Accountants knows that.”
“We know the old stories here.” Vir pushed at the lumps in his pack as he tried to form it into a pillow. He was probably going to sleep on his half-loaf of stale bread. “Or we used to know them, anyway. We knew big secrets once. But we forgot some. There wasn't room in our heads. We had to learn about all the gods that ever came through the valleys and what they did here. And we had to use them to beat the monsters that used to live among us.”
“So the gods did you some good.” Denario nodded. That made sense with the way people worshiped the local gods so seriously. “Melcurio is a good one, too. He measures things. He measures the world.”
“Maybe,” Vir allowed. He lay his head on his hand, his hand on the makeshift pillow. “But he lied about the size and shape of the world.”
“You learned that too?”
“He's a tricky one.” Vir smiled at having scored his point. “But ye know, maybe that's the only part I like about him. Those tricks are something, aren't they? In the stories I heard as a boy, I liked the character of the lightning god best. He seemed so impressive. But in those same stories, Melcurio was the funny one. His tricks made me laugh.”
Denario sulked for a few minutes.
“Do you ever pray?” he asked. “To local gods, I mean.”
“Not for the past three years. And never again.”
Vir's tone of voice was so dead that Denario was scared to ask what had happened three years ago.
“Um,” he started. He looked for a way to steer the conversation away from gods. “How far is it to Archer's Lament?”
“Half a day.”
“And we're going to catch the Raduar from behind?”
“They keep following Alaric's troops. And we're on their trail. That's the way it looks, yeah.”
“Don't worry.” Vir closed his eyes. “We'll think of something.”
Chapter Eight, Scene Seven