Sunday, February 28, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 32: A Bandit Accountant, 5.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Full Hand
Scene Three: Interview with the Butcher

About an hour before sunset, the fat guard Douglas appeared at the door to Denario's cell. He was tussling with someone at the same time as he was trying to turn the key and dial the combination. Denario could immediately see a flaw to the new system. The guards probably hated these locks already. You needed both hands to work them. 

Douglas had to push his prisoner down onto the floor. He sat on the fellow while he cursed the fancy lock. 

When he finally got the door open, Douglas half-pushed and half-rolled his man into the cell. This particular drunk reeked of wine, not ale like the first two. He had two layers of flannel clothing, which in this area made him rich. Perhaps it was the padded clothes but he didn't look hurt by the rough handling he'd gotten.

“I was just sleeping!” he protested.

“Ye were pissing on the mayor's sister's house.”

“I was?” The thought seemed to slow down the puffy-eyed fellow. He put a hand to the wall, probably to keep from falling over. “That's my aunt Berta, then. Did she send for you?”

“Yeah.”

“Sorry. I know what she's like.” The tipsy fellow sat down on one of the sleeping drunks. Then he realized that the lump wasn't a chair and moved to the side. He glanced at Denario. “Who's this, then?”

“Sorry, sir. We're full up. Crazy new captain. So I can't put you in a cell by yerself. And I can't put ye in with the one who looks like a killer. The mayor would get mighty shirty with us if ye were beaten te death.”

“Well, I'm not in favor of that either ...” the drunk continued. But the guard interrupted.

“You don't belong here.” Douglas stepped into the cell and grabbed Denario by the elbow.

“Me?” Denario tried not to grin. “You're perfectly right. I didn't ...”

“No one minds if ye're killed.” The guard dragged Denario out so fast that his heels barely touched the ground. 

While the accountant staggered to keep up, his jailer took him to the corner cell. This looked like the largest of the rooms and Denario's first impression was that it might not be that bad inside there. But when Douglas started to open the door, he thought better of it. Whoever sat inside made him nervous.

“Rolph! Willi!” he called.

Only after he had gotten two other guards to come help, both with their swords drawn, did Douglas dare to open the door. Even so, despite their armor and weaponry, none of the men appeared confident.

“In you go!” shouted Douglas. He kicked Denario so hard in the buttocks that he nearly flew into the room. 

Denario landed face down on the floor and was slightly surprised to find that it was covered in straw. Nice. But who in here could merit better treatment than the rich fellow they'd just arrested? The door slammed shut behind him. Denario lifted his head.

In front of him, on a stool, sat the most muscular man that Denario had ever seen. The man's head was nearly bald but he had a thick, brown mustache. Even his jaw muscles looked frightening. He had no beard but there was stubble on his jaw as if he'd gone without shaving overnight. He was dressed in a plain, linen shirt that strained to cover his barrel chest, thick pants of soft leather, boots made from the pelts of furry, gray animals and a sword belt. Naturally, he had neither scabbard nor sword. He gave the impression of being the sort of man who wrestled cows for a living or who had done so for a while until he slaughtered them all in a fit of rage. And he had, Denario noted, a tattoo of a crown crossed by spears on his left arm. It was precisely the same design that Yannick, Moritz, and Gerhardt had worn.

“Who are you?” Denario asked as he picked himself up. Then, realizing that might be construed as rudeness, he added, “I'm Denario.”

He brushed himself off. His cell mate allowed him that, at least, before rising to his feet. Then the man Denario was convinced had to wrestle some sort of livestock grabbed Denario by the right wrist. He lifted Denario off of his toes. Then, silently, his fellow inmate pushed Denario's right sleeve from the forearm to the shoulder. He switched wrists and did the same thing to the left arm, left sleeve.

“Why does everyone do this to me?” Denario wondered aloud.

For the first time, his cell mate made a sound. It was a low, soft, dangerous chuckle.

“What are ye?” he drawled. He let Denario's feet touch the floor.

“An accountant?” He hadn't meant for it to sound like a question. “Really, I am. I just didn't wear the vest or cap today.”

“Accountant, accountant,” grunted the inmate. “What's that, then?”

“It's ... numbers.” Denario ratcheted down his opinion of the cow butcher's intelligence as he sought to find a description that an uneducated man would understand. “I make sure amounts paid and amounts received are the same on either end. You know, for a large merchant partnership or for one of the barons or earls or a knight. That is, the nobles come into the picture for me if I'm lucky. I work for them sometimes.”

“Ye a tax collector?” The mountain of veins and sinews rumbled. His bloodshot eyes squinted. “'Cause I hates 'em.”

“Er, no.” Denario had often wished he were a tax collector but now he denied it with a feeling of relief. “Actually, I'm in trouble with one right now. I suppose, in a roundabout way, that's why I'm here in Hogsburg.”

“Trouble over taxes?” A grin opened at the top of the mountain. The muscles and sinews shifted as they relaxed. A moment later, the inmate sat back down on his chair. He folded his arms. “That's all right by ye, then. That's normal.”

The bloodshot eyes closed. After a long time, so long that Denario thought his cell mate must be asleep, the gravelly voice spoke again.

“What one?”

“What one of what?” replied Denario.

“What burgher meister did ye cross? 'Cause I'm going to kill Burgher Hamhock.”

“You are?” Denario believed him for a moment. This fellow seemed capable of killing without thinking much about it. Of course, it had to be an idle threat.  No one in these little towns had killed anyone so prominent as a burgher in fifty years, probably.

“He says he's having a farmer friend of mine stoned but I won't have it. Bad for business. Got to pay ransom for the farmer or kill Hamhock.”

“Oh.” Denario had a hard time trying to picture what business this fellow was in. Livestock wrestling probably didn't pay much.

“So, ye didn't say.” Both bloodshot eyes opened. “Which one?”

“Burgher Figgins. Maybe you don't ...”

“Haw!” The prisoner slapped his knee. Denario felt it through the dirt floor. “That damned fool! Stole from the baron, eh?”

“Er, yes. About half the take, more or less.”

“Good, good.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” Denario asked, dreading the answer.

“Not likely. But he's Baron Ankster's man, so I'm happy to see them fighting. No, I ain't got no friends in the Ankster court. But Burgher Figgins, he got less than none.”

Since this was a logical impossibility, Denario felt compelled to point it out. He hesitated, though. His cell mate might not take to being corrected. Good old Winkel had always laughed with delight when Denario caught him in a mistake. No one else ever did that, Denario noticed.

“What do you mean, 'less than none?'”

“Wouldn't ye like to know, eh?” The prisoner suddenly looked rather sly. He folded his hands in his lap. “But it's obvious enough. The baron suspects his burghers are stealing from him. Of course they are. They always have. But it's more, now. They're trying to cut themselves free, especially out on the Zeige where they've been independent in the past. So the baron wants to catch one or two cheaters an' make an example of them.”

“But Ankster didn't hire me. The mayor of Ziegeburg did.”

“Ah.” Eyes closed, the dangerous man nodded. “That's better. Wouldn't like to think of ye working for the baron. But that's how ye did it wrong. If ye were hired by the mayor, ye were supposed to find for his brother and ye didn't. The baron probably sent his own man for the job, by the way.”

“Yes. The mayor kept telling me for weeks and weeks that the baron's accountant would come to check my work. But in mid-winter, he announced that the man was killed by bandits.”

“Yeah. From what ye say, it figures for the baron's man to have an accident along the way. For all I know, it was me who provided the accident.”

“Is that your business?”

“When I'm this far west, it sometimes could be. Usually not, though. Can't spend the time to make much money that way. And I would never work directly for Ankster or the Figgins brothers.”

“My fiance said I should have figured it out. But the math ...”

The cow butcher made a rude noise.

“What's wrong?”

“Look.” The man's voice, already low, got deeper and quieter. “It's not math. It's people. The mayor knows his brother is in trouble. So he brings in someone independent, that being ye, to prove the burgher didn't do what everyone knows he did.  No one expects Baron Ankster to believe it but so what? The baron just wants his money, that's all. Troops are expensive. He's looking for a reason to avoid sending them. Of course, getting his regular tax money is the best reason.”

“And I screwed it up.”

“Yeh.” He chuckled. “The baron hates to send soldiers as far as the Ziege. Most of his troops are at Faschnaught this year. He's worried about his lands closer to home, too.”

“How do you know he won't march onto the Ziege?”

“He can't pay for a fight. And that's the part that's really about numbers. You said it's your job to do numbers, right? So ye should know.”

“Master Winkel told me about the costs of tax collection. I've never seen an incident happen, though.”

“Ye will. If you hang around here long ... without hanging, I mean ... yeh'll see.” The man had a funny accent. It sounded familiar but Denario couldn't place it right away.

Then they fell silent. Denario was glad to find that his cell mate, whether he was an ox wrestler or a butcher, could be calm. In fact, he seemed to progress beyond calm into a state of meditation that barely involved breathing. Maybe he didn't have much to think about. He looked like someone who did reacting, not planning. His arm muscles and neck muscles cast shadows in his flesh even when he was relaxed.

Finally, Denario remembered where he'd heard his cell mate's accent. The sailors at the Paraventiri dock yard in Oggli spoke like that. So did other dialect speakers from pirate nations around the Complacent Sea. A few of them traveled through Ziegeburg. Of course, maybe all bandits talked that way. Denario didn't doubt that his fellow prisoner was a bandit in the eyes of Captain Eberhardt.

Someone in a nearby cell sang to himself for a while. When the singer got tired, he hummed.

About half an hour later, after Denario had calmed down enough to wonder if his geometer tools were still safe, he heard a metallic clank from the other end of the prisoners' hall. The hall door thumped open hard. It rattled.

“That ain't just liquor. Ya smell like piss,” said a guard, probably Fritz, to the prisoner he'd brought. 

Denario could hear the rustle of cheap leather uniforms, chain mail, and scabbards. Heavy boots clomped down the line of cells. There were at least three sets of footsteps, one of them as light as bare feet. The procession stopped well short of Denario's cell, though, so he knew he wouldn't get to see the new prisoner. 

“Hey, ya!” someone shouted.

Suddenly, a light set of footsteps came Denario's way. He stood up as he listened. He turned toward the window on the cell door. Maybe he would be able to catch a glimpse. At his height, though, it wouldn't be easy even if the man made it this far. He took a step closer.

As he stretched on his tiptoes to see, a man's head appeared between the bars. The fellow had a a shock of brown hair and piercing blue eyes. At first, he spied Denario standing on his toes. Then he saw Denario's cell mate slumped on the stool. His eyes went wide. He grinned. It was not a kind expression.

In a second, he was gone. A guard, definitely someone larger than Fritz, grabbed the stranger by the shoulder and dragged him back down to his cell.

“Ow! Just kidding! Ow!” the man called. The guards took a few swipes at him. Then they tossed him to the floor and closed the door to his cell.

After the guards left, silence settled in along the row of cells. Even the humming from next door faded. Denario nodded off once or twice.

Eventually, men in the cells began to mutter to one another. That made Denario realize it must be time for supper. Everyone sounded on edge. The high windows in the hall, which didn't give off much light even in the middle of the day, had dimmed further. It was getting late. Denario's stomach agreed.

Some time later, a clanking noise came from beyond the end of the hall. Wheels squeaked until a cart bumped into the cell hall door, then squeaked backwards for a few feet. The clanking turned out to be pots, pans, and ladles. It was a cart of food and Denario smelled it long before it got as far as his end of the hall. With the food came Captain Eberhardt.

“Give him a bit more,” said Eberhardt to one of his men. The ladle scraped against the pot.

From the scents and sounds, dinner was bowls of lamb broth soup and loaves of bread. The bowls weren't metal, so Denario assumed they were wooden. They must be pushed through the slots at the bottom of the doors because the guards weren’t opening any cells. Denario knelt measured the slot with his hand. It was going to be a rather shallow bowl.

When they finally got to his cell, Captain Eberhardt face appeared first. He looked tired. Puffy flesh under his eyes showed that he hadn’t slept lately. He’d pulled a fresh linen shirt on over his armor but it looked like a gesture he’d made because someone had told him he should. 

“Well, well. If it isn't my two favorites, both together,” he said. He gave them a sarcastic smile. In an instant, it disappeared.

A small man who had been at the gate this morning, not Fritz, grabbed a wide, wooden bowl. He concentrated on his task of ladling soup and Denario hovered near the door gratefully. He was delighted that the guard cared enough not to spill.

Behind the small man was the larger one who Denario thought he’d glimpsed when the new prisoner had arrived. He was the fellow, probably, who had yanked the prisoner back to the correct cell. His sleeves were fishmail, a bit rusty and battered, but distinctive.

“We've had a courier come in from Ziegeburg.” The captain gave Denario a suspicious gaze.

Denario’s heart sank. He tried not to let the dread he felt show on his face.

“You know what the courier said? There's a man wanted for murder over on the Ziege. He's a short man. Thin. Wears a red vest or red cap and probably still has them even if he’s found a change of clothes. He worked as an accountant but then he robbed the mayor and burgher, killed everyone on the stagecoach, and fled.”

Denario started to shout that he never did that. But he saw a gleam in the captain's weary eyes. The man was looking for an admission of guilt. He was searching for anything that might prove Denario was the one Ziegeburg wanted. And the fact that he was searching for a response meant that he had doubts. Denario still had a chance.

“That sounds terrible,” Denario finally responded. He figured that much could be said by anyone.

“We've got two strange men who fit that description,” Eberhardt continued. “And one of them is you. I hear there are a couple more in town as well although they're probably just bandits, like this fellow.”

He gave Denario's cell mate a hard glare. It wasn’t like the look he gave Denario. It was much stronger. There was a physical sense of distrust between the two large men, perhaps because the captain wasn’t sure he could take down his bandit prisoner in a fair fight. He would never have had doubts about the other prisoners.

A bowl slipped through the slot at the bottom of the door. With a glance to his cell mate for approval, Denario knelt and accepted the soup. There was no spoon. At this point, Denario was hungry enough not to care. A thin wedge of bread, almost an all-over crust, tumbled through. Denario grabbed it from the floor and backed away so his cell mate could take his food next.

While the transaction went on in silence, Denario got the sense that he should try one more time to gain his release. After all, he was innocent, in a way. 

“Captain,” ventured Denario, “aren’t the short, thin bandits better suspects than I am? I know you won’t let me go right now but if I get out of here tomorrow, I won’t leave town until you’re satisfied. You must know I couldn’t rob any stagecoach.”

“Huh!” the captain snorted. “I don’t see how anyone of your description could have done what they say. But I don’t like either of you men being tricky. And both of you are. Willi! Come here.”

“Captain?” the young man’s voice came from the front of the Hogz-Poliez house. It took him a minute to trot down the hall into the cells. “You wanted me?”

“Yes. First, Willi, did you see those campfires out there yesterday all around the town?”

“No sir.” Willi shrunk back, completely out of view of the cell window. “I was on desk duty then.”

“The bandits have come to break someone out of the jail. I’ve heard that from three informants, not that I trust any of them. And the campfires appeared the day after we captured this man at the cloth merchant's house. You were at the desk then too, as I recall.”

“Yes, sir.” The lad answered in a slightly-put-upon voice. “Three days in a row.”

“We’ll teach Manfrit and Douglas to scribe, don’t worry.” The captain’s tone softened for a moment. “But I read what you wrote down. Do you remember it? Do you recall the name this man gave?”

Captain Eberhardt’s arm pointed to the heart of Denario’s cell mate.

“That one? He said he was Vert Badli, sir.”

“Badli is not a family name, Willi.”

“Sir?”

“It's a joke. He played a joke on you. And this one?” He pointed at Denario. “What name did he give?”

“Furtim Endiem, I think.”

“That's worse. That's old tongue for ... thief, I think. Is there any mother, anywhere in the world who would name her son that? I think not.”

He growled in Denario's direction.

“Didn't think I knew that, huh? Figured I was just as dumb as the other police?”

“Hey,” muttered Willi and someone behind him.

“Well, I know the old tongues, mister math teacher. And if you name yourself 'thief' here, then you can wait with the other thieves. Furtim Endiem ... is that 'thief in the day?' Thief of the gods? It doesn't matter. We'll send you and the other fellows of your description to Ziegeburg soon enough. I’d have the courier in here right now only he says he’s never seen the accountant that his mayor is looking for.”

“And now you,” said the captain. He put his hands on his hips and turned his steady gaze on Denario’s fellow inmate. “What have you done with the cloth merchant, eh?”

“Haven’t done nothin’,” answered the probable ox-wrestler.

“Then why won’t he talk to me anymore? Is he afraid for his daughter’s safety like he says? But if he is, really, he wouldn’t have let that boy go. I saw them making eyes. His daughter liked that boy. And where’s the older man who was with the merchant? He was the one who said you were going to commit a robbery. He and the merchant tipped us off. Now he’s gone missing. He had tattoos like you.”

The nearly-bald man showed no emotion as he endured the barrage of questions. He hadn’t even knelt to take his bowl of soup.

“At the time,” the captain continued, “I didn’t know there was a difference between types of bandits. I didn’t check on him. I was just so damn happy to have an informant. But I’m learning.”

As if to himself, the prisoner nodded.

“Well? What do you know?” the captain roared at him.

“You wouldn’t believe me.” 

That made the captain hesitate. So it was probably true. Denario glanced back and forth between them as he slurped his soup. He had pieces of turnip and carrot in his teeth, along with flecks of lamb meat. He was trying to figure out why there seemed to be so much more going on than the words indicated. It wasn’t just two fighters sizing each other up. 

“Why don’t you give me a try?” Eberhardt finally said.

“No. Can I eat now?”

The captain slumped, defeated for a moment. He was bound by his own pride and his determination to uphold law and order. He wouldn’t even threaten to beat his prisoners. The old captain might have done that, from the look of changes in the jail and the grumbles of the guards. Not this one, new to Hogsburg from the court of Sir Mekli and filled with a sense of nobility. He did things by the book. And he could read the book, all of it.

“I’ll bring you before the judge tomorrow,” Eberhardt promised.

“Uh, sir,” mumbled Willi.

“What?”

“Judge Worter is at Sir Blockhelm’s court.”

“When is he supposed to be back? Never mind. The mayor can sit in for him.”

“No one's ever asked Gunterfast to do that,” said the big man behind Willi.

“But I will,” Eberhardt promised. “Rolf, you stay here until they pass back the soup bowls. Willi, Manfrit, you come with me. I want to find out who knows this Vert Badli fellow. We’ve been set up to capture him, I think, and I need to know why some folks around here think he’s important.”

“He was friendly with our old captain, sir,” mumbled Manfrit as he lumbered away down the hall. He was the giant in the fishmail. “Leastways, I seen them talking plenty o’ times.”

“Really? Damn it.” From the sound of his lowered voice, Eberhardt realized that he shouldn’t have raised the topic in front of his prisoners. Or maybe he’d brought it up deliberately as a way to generate extra worries for the inmates. If so, the mention of the man he’d replaced had changed his mind.

Denario’s cell mate ate in silence. He finished his soup not long after Denario did and pushed his bowl through the slot obediently. The guard packed up his cart and left. On his way out, he traded happy shouts with the drunks in the other cells. He seemed to be rather a jolly jailer until he pulled the hallway door shut and turned the lock.

“The name of the man wanted for murder,” whispered Denario’s cell mate. He walked closer, so only the two of them could hear. His massive shoulder was higher than Denario’s head. “That would be Denario, now, wouldn’t it?”

Denario paled. How had his cell mate guessed?

“Ye gave yer real name when you came in. Don’t think the guard noticed, though.”

“Oh my gods.” He blinked and checked his memory. His breath caught in his chest. It was true. He'd forgotten to give his alias to this man.

A heavily muscled arm jutted out in Denario’s direction.

“Me real name is Vir,” the man whispered. He took Denario’s hand and shook it. His fingers felt like iron. “Ye’ll learn about me soon enough.”

Chapter Five, Scene Four

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 31: A Bandit Accountant, 5.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Full Hand
Scene Two: New Locks

When Denario was ten, he got his first close look at a sequence lock.  He noticed it in the midday glow of Master Winkel's office.

Winkel worked at a long, wooden desk, dark with age.  Parchments, papers, ledgers, protractors, compasses, straight-edges and a level lay across its varnished surface.  Some of the papers were held down by music boxes, which Winkel collected.  Others were kept in place by lock boxes.

The biggest lock box sat underneath the desk.   Denario knew it was there but he'd never studied it before.

It was a pale, roughly cubical safe that worked by twisting a brass knob.  The knob shone like gold.  Ever since Winkel's first apprentice had stolen his valuables and run away, Winkel had kept his books,  money, and expensive tools – like his transit and theodite – in the safe.  Smaller valuables, he kept in his prettiest lock box, a teal and brass contraption that currently did double duty by holding down the account logs of the Paravientar Ship Yard.  That one was always closed so Denario had never really looked at it either.

“Are you finished with the farrier account?” Winkel asked him.

“I did that yesterday,” Denario said.

“What are you holding?  Is that the surveyor account?” 

“Yes, sir.  I don't understand how you and the other man got these numbers out of just the chains and transit.  It doesn't matter, I guess.  The city charges all add up.”

“Surveying, eh?  You're old enough to hold up the tripod.  Next time I go, I'll take you.  Then you'll understand.”

Winkel crouched under his desk.   He spun the dial on the safe. 

“This is where the surveying log should go,” he said.  “Pretty, isn't it?”

The brass knob gleamed.  The handle next to it shone in the afternoon light.

“It's different from the smaller boxes,” Denario noticed.   He got up from the floor with the surveying log tucked under his arm.  “It looks easier than the combination locks on the others.  They have four to six dials on them each.  This is only one and it faces front.  What kind of lock is it called, anyway?”

“That's a funny one.”  The master accountant stopped spinning the knob.  “The locksmith calls them both combination locks.”

“But that one doesn't use a combination,” Denario protested.  He approached the desk.  “You dial a sequence.”

“You're right.”  Winkel scratched his head and smiled in that indulgent way he had when he thought his apprentice was being clever.  “The first lock uses a combination of rotating disks.  So that's one is named correctly.  But the second one, the single-dial lock, uses a sequence.”

“Anyway, I know you're using square roots to make your sequence.”

“How did you guess that?”  Winkel's mouth hung open.  He was aghast.  “You've only seen the first number.”

“But the first number is fourteen.  And the square root of two starts out with one point four, then one four again, then two one.  You always use square roots, anyway.  You doodle them in the margins of the account books.”

Winkel sighed.  “I'll have to change the combination, I suppose.”

After a moment, he laughed.  “But I don't think it would do much good against you in any case.  You haven't stolen anything, thank goodness.  You haven't even seemed interested.”

“Oh, I'm interested.  I know you keep books there and I want to read them someday.”

“Those books are special.  You haven't tried to peek into them, I hope.  Anyway, I'm surprised you think they're important.  Think of all the other things you've seen me put in here.  And there's money.  Aren't you interested in the money?  Isn't that more important than the books?”

Denario squinted.  “No.  Besides, the money belongs to you.”

Winkel hugged him.  His maroon robe smelled like curry powder.  The fabric was thick, too, so it was like getting smothered in a blanket for just a second, a blanket that had spent time in someone's kitchen.

“What?” said Denario.

“It's nothing,” said the master accountant.  He released his apprentice immediately.  “You know, you're such an honest young fellow.  I think maybe you need to learn from one of my special books soon.”

“More math?”  Denario hopped up on his toes.

“No, I'm sorry.  It's not math.”  Winkel rested his hand on the door of the safe.  “It's about people.”

“Oh.”  Denario slumped.

“I've got a special record of the bad things people do with math.  And I've been adding to it.  You see, these are the things that accountants must watch out for.”

“So it's got some math.”  He tried to latch onto a bit of hope.

“Yes.  It's about ... how can I describe what I’ve written?  It’s about the tricks, deceptions, and monsters that I’ve seen crooked people, even other accountants, concoct by misusing numbers.  They do bad arithmetic.  I'll have to teach you how to look for such things.  All accountants should know, I think.”

The boy nodded.

“In the meantime, I have a funny little problem for you.  Forget about the surveying log for now.  I'll take care of that.”  The master accountant accepted the scroll from Denario.  Then he reached over his desk.  He pulled up the metal box that held down the shipping records.

"See this?”  Winkel flashed a clever smile.  “It has a combination lock too."

“Yes, sir.”  It was a real combination of six dials, not what some locksmith decided to call a combination instead of a sequence.

“I set it to a random number.  Because that's safer than using a square root, isn't it?”

“Sure!”  Denario set down the surveying log on the corner of his master's desk.  His head bobbed in agreement about random numbers.  But he stopped agreeing as he thought more about it.

When numbers were close to ideally random, they were hard to guess.  But they weren't impossible even then.  That's because numbers generated by coin flips or by pulling digits out of a hat weren't really quite random.  Or so he suspected.

“So I put a lot of valuables into the lock box.  That includes some bits of jewelry, two magical rings, and the keys to our deposit box in Angrili.  And guess what?”

“You made a copy of the monster book?”

“Oh, no.  Maybe I should do that.  Or I should have you do it.  You're the apprentice, after all.  But no.  The important thing is, I forgot the sequence to open the box.”

“But ...”

“I didn't write it down.  I memorized it.  Very safe.”

“So open it.”

“I can't.  I've been trying to remember and dialing odd numbers for weeks now with no luck.  None of my guesses work.  So this job is for you.”  He placed the box in Denario's hands.

“Whoops!  It's heavy.”  Denario sunk to his knees with the box.  It weighed more than any books or scrolls he'd ever carried.  For a moment, he thought of the rolls of cloth he'd tried to lift as a slave child.  But his master helped him steady himself, which no one had done back then, and together they got the box safely to the floor.

“There.”  Winkel tapped the shiny, brass lid.  “You figure it out.  Tell me the number when you arrive at it.”

“Sure.”  Denario laughed.  This was going to be easy, he thought.  And fun.  He spun the tumblers to a combination of all zeros to begin. 

Chapter Five, Scene Three

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine Press Release: Love Version 10

Special Reporting by Secret Hippie

A Word to Our Users
 

from All Powerful Software Products

The Newest Release of LoveTM




Product History

Love 1.0: By today's hardware standards, there were many deficiencies in the first release of Love, a product designed entirely with the New Parent market in mind.  It was a strong, basic operating system -- completely adequate for its time -- but it has grown tremendously since.  It should be noted that Love's basic foundation was solid, as has been proven over many years and billions of customers.

Love 1.1: Several features were added due to early consumer demand.  These included Love for Pre-Adolescents, Love for Seniors, Love for Siblings, and Love for In-Laws and Other Relations.

Love 1.2: Due to complaints from users with special problem In-Laws relations, certain patches were added to the 1.1 version code in attempt to fix the unsatisfactory situation.

Love 1.4:  Love for Pets was introduced and became an instant hit.  This popular feature has been carried forward in all releases.  Further patches to the In-Laws code were also issued.

Love 2.0: Critics applauded the new, friendlier interface for Love, which divided the program into five sections: Agape, Eros, Narcissus, Familia, and Platonia.  Users found it easier to get all sorts of Love.  This was the version which made the product a household word.  There were, however, system crashes caused by certain users attempting to make the product achieve things the designers did not anticipate.

Love 2.02: Patches to the 2.0 code were installed to prevent  affection crashes under unusual circumstances.

Love 2.03: An Arraigned-Marriage module was added.  Love for Pre-Adolescents was extended to cover adolescents.

Love 2.1: A same-sex "lifelong" feature was added.  The In-Laws section was re-coded and renamed the Extended Familia module.

Love 2.3: This release was issued by mistake.  (The version number is unofficial.)  A tool in it featured several programmer shortcuts which, when abused by inexperienced Lovers, often resulted in complete affection destruction.  It was briefly popular.  Pirate copies of this version still exist.

Love 3.0: Single parents greeted this release with joy at the new Step Parents feature in Agape.  This module (still recognized as superbly written, despite competitors' attempts to offer alternative arrangements in the same market) is in use in its original form in the most recent release.  Unfortunately, this particular Love sold poorly and had to be pulled from circulation due to difficulties in the interface.

Love 3.1: Errors in interface design were fixed in response to customer complaints.  A move toward standardization of the hardware situation (in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas) made stable code seem within reach to our programmers.  The drive toward "perfect" code started.

Love 3.2: A safety feature was added to prevent Lovers from disfiguring themselves (a common occurrence with affection engines at the time).  Additional safety features are now available in Love but no product can be perfectly safe.  Caution with affections is always advised.

Love 3.3: Despite some inadequacies with respect to modern hardware, this version of Love has proven very robust; it was the result of the attempt (now recognized as impossible) to create perfect code.  In fact, 3.3 is still in use in many regions of the globe.  This was the most popular release of Love, partly due to pirate copies.  All of the main features for which Love is famous are present in 3.3, though some special tasks may prove unreasonably difficult to achieve.  Upgrade from this version is strongly recommended.

Love 4.0: The evolution of the user environment prompted an entirely new look at the Love operating system.  Hardware began to last longer and require more intricate management.  The Eros and Familia sections had to be modified.  Twenty-three new modules were added in an attempt to supply Love to "expandable" systems designed to stand the tests of time.  The overall package was revolutionary.  Unfortunately, some copies (no one knows how many) of 4.0 were released with a virus.

Love 4.01: A patch was added in the form of basic virus-protection.  This protection, it should be noted, is now regarded as inadequate in today's volatile environment.  All Powerful corporation urges users to upgrade or to buy third-party protection if they intend to continue running any outdated release.

Love 4.1: The Extended Familia feature was disabled.  A Distance Relationship package was offered in its place.  (Mapping functions and travel recommendations were included.)

Love 4.4: A special War-Time Love edition.  Very rare.  Included are all the familiar Love features but the sum total was repackaged and offered to service families at a lower price.  One notable change was the Distance Relationship module, which was expanded to include all possible permutations at the time (a feat made possible by the brilliance and dedication of war-time programmers and engineers).  Distance Relationships are still an important affection market and Love is still its overriding power.

Love 5.0: This is one of a handful of version considered to be “classic.”  It is very stable in most of its features.  The new, completely-revised In-Law module, however, failed under certain hardware configurations.

Love 5.03: This is the free upgrade version distributed to purchasers of Love 5.0.  Special handlers in the In-Law module prevent most crashes.  Some of the code in this section works slowly.  Users are advised to be patient with In-Laws.

Love 5.5: In this edition, a special Commuter module was added to the Distance Relationship package.  Contrary to popular rumor, this module was not 'stolen' from the Traveling Salesman package offered by a rival company.  (Note: the company in question is no longer in existence.  Love has acquired the Traveling Salesperson responsibility.)

Love 6.0: With changes in hardware becoming more frequent, Love stepped up to the speed challenge.

Love 6.1: Special Love Compression software arrived.  With heart space at a premium, code reduction schemes allowed for the queueing and unpacking of various emotions necessary to run the new, more-complete In-Laws module.  The lack of necessary affection channels in most hardware kept these modules from being practical before.

Love 6.2: Due to lawsuits involving the Love Compression engine, this version shipped without it.  The In-Law module available in 6.1 continued to be offered but with a special disclaimer in the setup program as to the extra space needed to house the unpacked code.

Love 99: This release presented a radical change from previous versions.  Lovers benefited from a smoother interface.  Allegations arose that the look and feel were unfairly similar to the Adore (now iAdore) package.  Fortunately, court decisions sided with the Love designers.  The All Powerful interface to emotions continued to grow.

Love XL: A new generation of lovers required extra large devotion with additional features.  As a bonus, the Love XL package came with the ability to troll for compliments at leading social sites like MyPassion.

Love Visa: Designers allowed for an improvement in touch interface.  However, this version did not perform well with the newest generation of hardware.  In this release, the company lost market share to iAdore.

Love 7.0: This release achieved “classic” status in the opinions of many reviewers.  The new Love Expander module competed strongly with iAdore and won back market share.  Thanks to a more efficient Nepotism affection engine, the In-Laws module cemented its hold in business relationships.

Love 8.0: In the era during which MyPassion gave way to LikeFace and gSpot, Love concentrated on reaching out via phones. 

Love 8.1: Improvements arrived to Love telecommunications.  Many of those found their way into traditional Love hardware.  Popular business apps like Quickie and LinkedUp stimulated offices around the globe.  Games like HeartRace and Lovey Birds made everyone's pulse beat faster.  The developers made antivirus protection part of the standard Love feature set.




And now, announcing …
Love 10: Love is in the air! 
with LoveCloud





As demanded by our business customers and as a free add-on feature for our single Lovers (with a small monthly maintenance charge), a new wave of technology is here: LoveCloud!  With LoveCloud, your affections can be shared more widely and more securely, too.  You'll want to use LoveCloud in business, while you travel, and right at home where you do most of your Loving!  It's destined to become another classic.

Note: You may have heard of an open source product called FreeLove, originally produced by a former employee of ours using many modules of our original code.  This hobbyist product is under dispute and it is not covered under All Powerful terms of use.  It is strictly an imitation.  You should be warned there have been complaints about the FreeLove line of affections.  FreeLove has many design flaws and bugs in implementation.  Of course, it is free and you may think it is a good bargain until it ruins some important relationship.  Remember that you end up paying for what you get and that sometimes you get precisely what you've paid for. 

Friday, February 12, 2016

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Four Chapters


A Bandit Accountant


Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One


Chapter Root Two Squared

Chapter Pi, Roughly 

Chapter Two Pair




Sunday, February 7, 2016

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Fourth Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Two Pair


Not Even Not Zen 29: A Bandit Accountant, 5.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Full Hand
Scene One: Arrested Developments


“The captain told us not to arrest the card players,” said the guard behind the front desk.  He picked his nose and wiped his finger on his pants.   His sandy hair hung like a damp, dirty mop from the brim of his domed helmet. “You're going to get in trouble.”

“Aha,” said the one who had arrested Denario. He leaned close and chuckled in a conspiratorial way. “But that's where I've got it beat, Willi. I didn't arrest this one for playing cards. I arrested him for not playing.”

“I don't think you can arrest them for not playing.” Willi shifted in his chair. He glowered at Denario like it was all his fault for getting caught.  “That's not against a law.”

Denario stood with his wrists tied behind his back by a loop of rope.  Until now, he'd assumed he'd been arrested for murder.  Apparently, that wasn't the case.  Maybe things weren't so bad.

The front office of the guard house was frigid even in the middle of the day.  Nevertheless, the police in their chain mail didn't seem to notice.  They took their dank surroundings for granted.  The walls were built of stone that was so ugly, someone had invited in a plasterer to hide the worst of it.  Unfortunately, as Denario could see at at glance through the back office door, no one had covered the walls of the rooms or the cells beyond.  Prisoners couldn't expect such pleasantries.

“There has to be a charge, Douglas,” insisted Willi.

“A what?”

“A charge. A reason to keep him in jail.”

“The reason you're to keep him is because I done brought him in.”  Douglas was a huge, fat man, the kind that scared Denario by being in the vicinity.  He hadn't shaved in days and he had a fresh scar on his left cheek like he'd almost killed himself trying to look nice for his job.  He sweated even in the cool air.  A drip of perspiration hung at the end of his double chin.  It wobbled as he spoke.

Douglas the police officer smelled like a cheese going bad.  Denario coughed as he tried not to breath in the stench.

“Yes, you brought him.”  Behind the desk, Willi nodded.  “I'll keep him. But Douglas, we're supposed to write down a charge in the log book.  Remember? The captain explained it last week.”

Will leaned his arms on the front desk, which was a tiny slab of ash wood, yellowed with lacquer and age.  Its legs didn't match and it wasn't big enough to provide comfort for the officer on desk duty.  He had to hunker around the desk as he scribbled, boots to either side and hands tucked close together to steady the parchment.

The quill looked old and tatty, too, as if it had been pulled from a goose ten years ago.  Denario sneaked an upside-down look at the top parchment.  He saw large, childish letters readable amongst the ink spatters.

“It was just last week,” Willi continued.  He leaned closer, hands clasped tight, teeth gritted, and whispered,  “And he explained it the week before that, too, when he got us the parchment.  And the month before that, just after he arrived and we had to write for him on birch paper.”

Douglas let his truncheon droop to his right shoulder as he struggled, probably, to differentiate the captain from all the other shouting figures in his life.  He breathed through his mouth, which was probably his deep-in-thought expression.  Denario felt he was coming to understand the Hogs-Poliez.

“Oh, yah.”  A light flickered in Douglas's eyes.  “The captain.  The new man.   Yah, right.  The charge.  Got to be one of them in the books now.”

“Hogsburg's got to keep up with the times, Douglas.”

“Right.  Hey, yah, Willi.  Put him down for same as yesterday.”

“What, this entry?”  The desk man's suddenly nimble fingers flipped over the top parchment.  “On your docket, someone wrote 'Resenting arrest.'  I'm not sure, Douglas. The captain never mentioned that one.”

“Did the captain say we couldn't use it?”

“Nah.  He hasn't looked in the scrolls since Monday.”

“That should do, then.” Douglas tapped the side of his nose.  The wobbly drop of sweat fell off his chin.  “See, it'll all come out close enough to right.  Put him down for resenting arrest.  Good charge.  Everyone does it.”

At that point, the ceiling above the front office creaked.  Both men looked up.

“Is he in his office again?” gasped Douglas.

“Came through the back door about half an hour ago,” said Willi.  “He was all mad because Cookie Brueger tried to slip him a couple pies.”

“What's wrong with that?  The baker always gives us a bit of something.  That's why we keeps such a close watch on his place.”

“Well, the captain is angry that we've been taking pies.”

“Is it as bad as the free drinks?  He demoted Oleg for that.”

Willi tilted his head as he considered.

“Maybe not so bad.  But Fritz from the east gate just came in the back way, too.  He marched straight upstairs to see the captain.  Said it was important.  You'd better get your prisoner in a cell and leg it back out on patrol.”

Above them, a door slammed.

“Start writing, Willi,” Douglas hissed.

Willi hunkered down.  His nib scritched across the parchment.  At the same time, he fumbled with something tied to his waist.  He pulled up an iron ring.  It held five keys on it.  While trying to write, he handed it to his partner.  They were going to be too late, though.  Denario heard the footsteps.  They creaked over to the top of the stairs.

It might not be bad luck to meet the captain of the Hogs-Poleiz, Denario thought.  After all, the man had apparently arrived from somewhere else not long ago.  Was it Ziegeburg?  Denario hoped not.  But at least the captain was a man who had clearly imposed his sense of order on the guard house.  You could look at the new ledger and feel the force of his presence in those painstaking forms.

The sight of the hard, leather boots on the stairway made the two guards stand to attention.  Even Denario responded.  He recognized riding boots.  That marked a man as nobility or close to it.

The captain's face appeared in the gap between stair rail and ceiling.  Denario  revised his opinion of the man's lineage.  His face wasn't unpleasant but it had seen a lot of sun.  There was a bristly mustache and a dark head of hair with a few strands of grey. The captain looked to be a well-weathered thirty.  The youthful energy of his body kept Denario from guessing any older.  His sinewy forearms were covered with scars.  There were no marks on his face.  Whatever fighting he'd seen, he'd come out well on top.

His gaze was altogether too keen.

For a moment, he didn't speak.  A smaller man trailed after him on the stairs and it wasn't until they'd reached the ground floor that the captain made a decision.  He stepped between the desk and Denario.  His hands went to his hips.

“Is this one of them, Fritz?” he asked as he stared straight at Denario.

The rusty, short fellow behind him had to bounce on his toes to see over the captain's shoulder.

“Yep,” he answered on the second bounce.  “That's one.”

“Okay, lock him up.”

“Hey!”  Denario's sense of outrage overcame his sense of fear.  He'd thought the captain would be a better man than his employees.

“What was he doing, Willi?”  The captain leaned down to the table while, at the same time, giving Denario the evil eye.

“Card game,” said Willi.

“What?  Who did that?”  The captain's gaze flickered between the desk and the guard at the door, Douglas.

The fat man had gone so still as to almost become invisible but he couldn't quite pull it off.  It wouldn't have helped anyway.  The captain might be new in town but he understood his men well enough.

“By all the gods, Douglas,” he cried.  “I told you all never to break up the card game!  That's the one good rule your old captain had.  We get more information out of that game than any stakeout we run.”

“But I didn't!” The guard looked around wildly.  He noticed Denario between him and his boss.  He pointed.  “It was him!”

“Him?”  The captain look said that he didn't consider Denario capable of doing anything.  It almost made Denario want to jump up and confess to murder just to prove him wrong.  Of course, the captain may have been planning on something like that.

“He making funny pictures in the dirt.  Highly suspicious.  The men stopped playing, even Dolph and Jarl.  They were chanting.”

“I was teaching math lessons,” Denario volunteered.  “They were memorizing.”

“Math lessons?  Are you a teacher?”

“Yes.”

“A licensed teacher?” said the man who knew how to find illegality when he needed to for arrest purposes.

“I'm not with the local guild, if that's what you mean.”  Denario sighed.  “But in Oggli, that's not illegal.  And I didn't take any money for the lessons, if it comes to that.”

“Not even during the gambling?”

“Not during the lessons.  As to the gambling, you know all about that.”

The captain turned to the desk officer.

“Did this man have any math books on him?”

“He had a pack with some tools and a book, yes,” admitted Willi.  “I looked into it but you said to put it in the evidence box without touching the stuff.  So I did.  I can tell you, though, the cover looked like it was written in code.  It's sneaky.”

Denario rolled his eyes.  He couldn't help himself.  But the captain understood his men well enough.  His mouth flattened into a grimace of doubt.  Against all odds, he might have an innocent in jail.  Not that the captain would really believe that anyone was innocent.

“I'm pretty sure that's legal,” said Denario.  “Captain, could you let me go?”

For a moment, the captain considered it.  But an idea crossed his mind and Denario could almost see the door to his release slam closed through the man's expressions.

“You said he came through the east gate this morning, Fritz?”  He turned to the guard that Denario had paid a half-pence.

“Yes, Captain Eberhardt.”

“Right then.  It's off to a jail cell for you, math teacher.”  He turned to his constables.  “No one gets out tonight, either.  Understand?  Not any of the drunks, not even if their wives or mothers come to pay.  No one leaves.  Double up on the cell mates if you need to make them fit.  Understand?”

“What's it all about, captain?”  Willi relaxed.  His boss wasn't angry with him so he seemed to feel that any reason for it had to be good news.

“Something funny is going on by the looks of the gate dockets.  And it's not just this math teacher.  Although that is pretty suspicious now that I think about it.  Teaching lessons to Dolph and Jarl?  Hard to believe.  Casing the jail to make a break out seems more likely.  I've been expecting that.  But I think there's worse going on.”

“Another group of bandits?” Willi's voice dropped to a whisper.

“From two different clans, I'd swear.”

“They had different tattoos,” Fritz added.

“Those damn Raduar again!” Willi grumbled.

“I thought it was the Mundredi who caused problems.”  The captain stepped back.  His train of thought had been derailed by his surprise at Willi's line of reasoning.  “That's what Sir Mekli told me.  That's what the mayor keeps saying.  It's what my informants say.”

“No, sir.”  The young officer backed up a step.  He twiddled his fingers nervously. “Begging your pardon, sir, but the Mundredi have been around here for hundreds of years.  You only need to hike over Mount Ephart to enter their territory.”

“What they consider theirs, anyway.  Baron Ankster says different.”

“Yes, sir.  That's not for the likes of me to argue.  But it's different over there.  I've heard you call us 'bandit lands' but we're not.  We have written laws and we pay our taxes.  Over there, it's bandits for real.  Barely any laws, none of them written, most of them dictated by their gods.  I was on the other side of Ephart once as a child, sir, and believe me, all of the Mundredi tribesmen are looking for a fight.  They don't have any paper or parchment, either.”

“Barbarians.”

“They rob caravans that aren't armed.  If you look at someone wrong and you're not part of their little group, you're a dead man.  They're never heard of the counts or dukes.  Most of them don't know about Baron Ankster, if it comes to that.”

“What's this Raduar stuff, then?  Are they part of the Mundredi?”

“No, they're another group of bandits.  They live in the valleys farther north and east of here, folks say.  Never heard of them until a few years ago.  Now the Raduar come around and get into fights with the Mundredi.”

“Well, we're not having a gang war here.”

“Yes, sir,” said Willi in the tone of voice that underlings have always used for superiors who are driving a cart off of a cliff while telling everyone not to panic.  “How many did you say came in?”

“We didn't.”

“Only my stomach doesn't feel well, see?”  The young man held his hands over his belly and suddenly he did look ill.  Denario didn't doubt that fear was the cause but from Willi's color, he wasn't faking.

“How old are you, Willi?”

“Mam says seventeen, sir.”

“Oh!”  The sound escaped Denario's mouth and he wanted to cover it.  He ended up further tangled in the cord that the first guard had used to bind his wrists.  Fortunately, everyone ignored him.

“How old were you when visited the other side of Ephart?”

“Dunno.  Five?”

“That's just the right age for the Mundredi to look bigger and scarier than they are.  You were a child then, Willi.  You're a man now.  Look at this one.”  The captain jerked his thumb at Denario.  “He came in with them.  He don't look so tough.”

“Ha ha,” chuckled Willi.  He smiled with relief as he took Denario's measure.  “That's right.”

“Now, Douglas and me are going to escort this one back to the cells.  Then we're going to go for a walk together.”  There was a slight undertone to his voice that made Denario glad he wasn't Douglas, at least for the moment.  “You take a load off until I get back, Fritz.”

The small guard sighed with relief about the same time that Douglas groaned.

Back in the cell area, which was only four doors long, Denario was dismayed by the thickness of the walls.  The place was built to withstand a siege.  The cell doors were hewn, raw oak with high windows and low, narrow slots cut in them by an axe.  There were iron bars in the windows so the jailers could look in.  Nothing larger than a human hand could get out.  The doors were hung on iron hinges.  Although the iron, in places, showed rust spots, Denario's overall impression was that someone had spent money to keep the place up and the bars at full strength.

In fact, he was surprised to see that the locks had been recently installed on the cell doors.  Denario had hoped they'd be as broken down as the fittings in the office.  But they weren't and they were a new type, too, made in Oggli.  They used both a combination dial and a key.  You had to have both working in the right sequence to open the cell.

These locks had been all the rage in the counting houses of Oggli.  They were said to be more secure than any of the previous constructions.  Glumly, Denario suspected they were right.

The dials were part iron and part brass.  They looked very professional and, in their special way, rather pretty.  The handles and keyplates were both parts cast entirely in brass.  Installed on the old doors, they looked a bit out of place.  But a professional had done the job.  There were no gaps or loose parts to fiddle at through the bars even if there was a way to reach far enough.

“Oh, I almost forgot.  Douglas, take off his cord.”  Captain Eberhardt covered the dial as he spun it.

Denario watched the captain as he was being untied.  Eberhardt moved the dial counter-clockwise, clockwise, counter-clockwise.   Denario had seen the starting position, too.  That made the combination roughly 15 - 25 - 0.  Odd, he thought, because that was a default combination.

They wouldn't have left the defaults on these locks, would they?  Denario bit his tongue as he thought of it.  Maybe he knew all of the combinations for the cells.  It probably didn't make any difference.  He didn't want break out.  He wanted let out, which would be better.  Besides, the combinations wouldn't help because he didn't have the keys.

“Okay, stranger, don't wake up Mori and Ben.  They're sleeping it off.”  Eberhardt swung open the door to reveal two piles of rags on the floor.  Under the clothing must have been people, of course.

“Yes, sir.”  Denario rubbed his wrists.

“Oh, another thing.”   The captain took Denario's left arm, not too roughly, and pushed up the sleeve nearly to the shoulder.  He grunted.  Then he did the same to Denario's right arm.

“Can I put my sleeves back?” Denario asked.

“No tattoos.”  Eberhardt shook his head.  “Yes.  Put the sleeves back.  Maybe it was your bad luck to come in with those folks.  In that case, you'll get let out tomorrow with the other poor bastards.”

“Thank you for that.  Oh, my geometer tools,” Denario remembered.  “And my math book.  Will they be all right?”

Eberhardt growled.  “My men are honest!”

Then he remembered his new situation, apparently, because he turned to Douglas with a questioning look in his eye.

“Willi's fine, sir,” Douglas pointed out.  “Yah, but we just left Fritz in the same room as the evidence.  That's not good.”

“Damn it!”  He snarled.  He gave Denario a shove into the cell and swung the door closed.  “I'm going to have another talk with him, too.”

In a few more steps, they slammed closed the door to the cell row.  The echo woke one of Denario's room mates for a moment.  The pile of rags shifted.  Then it started to snore.

Chapter Five, Scene Two