Sunday, March 5, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 70: A Bandit Accountant, 11.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scenes Six and Seven: Hidden Tiles

The rest of that day saw only a single trader arrive at the counting house. His name was Phillip Dummpi and he brought no goods with him. Instead, he wanted to know if Denario was ready to pay him the brass he was owed. He'd heard something about the attempt to decode and correct the store accounts. Denario responded that he was working on it. He asked how Phillip spelled his name in case it became important. Then he dutifully wrote down the amount that the man said he had coming to him.

The remainder of Denario’s time was spent restoring and decrypting the system of strung tiles. He had plenty of help from Olga but still he couldn’t finish before dark. After another potato and cheese dinner, he fell asleep at his desk. He dreamed about counting things by colors and in groups of fours and eights.

He awoke in the dark and raised his head to find two green squares stuck to his cheek. His head had fallen to the desktop. After a moment spent comprehending what had happened, he pried the pieces off. Around him, he saw only darkness. All of the candles were out. Everyone else had gone home. Someone had put a blanket around him. That had probably been Mistress Clumpi. Despite her fearsome reputation, she had been more than decent to Denario so far. He’d made her slog along with him for far too long today, he thought, but he didn’t know what else to do. He couldn't work any less. He hadn't arrived at a solution.

He rose and dragged himself across the alley to the equipment house. On his way, he stumbled past two slaves asleep on the floor. One of them was the heavily-tattooed fellow from the night before. Denario decided he'd better set up snares on the steps to his loft. He was too tired to do all six so he set three in place and hoped for the best. Really, he was worried that he might sleep through the noises made by an intruder even if one got caught. He felt likely enough to remain unconscious with a fire in his room. He set the remaining trap pieces in a pile behind the door in the hope the clatter would roust him or at least alarm an intruder.

When he dozed off, still in work clothes, he dreamed about his counting house in Oggli. He could see his apprentices in a view as if from above. They were running. They were trying to get away from Curo. Denario's partner journeyman was chasing the boys through the halls while wearing a strange, dark brown robe. Curo looked more like a monk or a Muntar merchant than an accountant.

Denario awoke at dawn. As he rubbed his eyes, he reminded himself of his dream, lest he forget. He was sure it was an omen. Things were falling into disarray back home. He needed to get Oggli and help Curo restore order in the house. He needed to guide the younger boys.

“You're still here?” Senli said when she walked into the Pharts Bad counting house. Denario sat on his stool at the tile desk.

“No, I slept.” Denario had realized that sixteen of the green tiles and five of the purple tiles had to be out of place. So he was setting them to the side in careful rows. When Mistress Clumpi arrived, he could go over their placements again. But he glanced up and noticed the suspicious look he was getting from his book keeper. “That is, I went to my room above the mining equipment. How about you, Senli? Twice yesterday I went to speak to the mine supervisor about you but both times he had to run off to the mine.”

Senli scowled. “He almost never goes into the mine. He’s avoiding you.”

“Me?” Denario touched his hand to his chest.

“Well, the things you've done, you know ... you have a reputation around town.”

“Do I?” Now that he thought about it, there had been an awful lot of folks who had waved to him as he walked the streets in the last day. He hadn't known any of them, really. He'd just assumed they were friendly.

“Did you really go pray at Small Gods last lunchtime?”

“Just to leave a small offering. Wait, who told you?” More to the point, he wondered why anyone would care. “Now I'm getting confused. What does this have to do with the mine supervisor?”

“Edna Bobbins took me in last night.” Senli treated Denario to a pleasant smile. She had good teeth, he noticed. She might have lived a hard life but she was still in good health.

“She's one of Olga Clumpi's friends, right? She has a limp. And she came to give us buttered oatmeal, which was awfully nice.”

“Yes, Edna can't get around so well. It could be a convenient arrangement, me staying at her place. I'll get to sleep in her son-in-law's old room. In exchange, I'll keep the place clean, lift a few things she can't, and maybe do some cooking. Although she likes to cook, so I might not do much of that.”

“It sounds ...” It's sudden, he thought. Olga Clumpi might not be acknowledged as a town leader but she seemed to have some power to exert nonetheless. She'd made a difference in Senli's life.

“It's wonderful.” The book keeper nodded in agreement with her own assertion.

Then Denario felt guilty for not doing more himself. He'd paid attention only to the tile system for the past two days. In fact, he'd been entertaining the idea of strolling up the street to the Clumpi house to wake Olga. That seemed ridiculous now.

When Olga did arrive, quite late and looking tired, he got up and gave her his chair. She called him a nice boy. He got her a cup of tea and it wasn't long before three of Olga's friends showed up to offer them hot breakfast. The group didn't include Edna Bobbins, he noticed. He snuck a look at Senli. She stared down the street toward Edna's house.

But Mistress Bobbins showed up in due time. She wobbled a bit on her cane and sat like she didn't intend to move until lunch. Hummel followed soon after in bare feet. His legs looked wet to his knees and he mentioned that the bath was great. That got Denario's interest for a second but he'd re-involved himself with the tile system so he didn't ask any questions. He only wondered about the way he must smell after sleeping in his armor for days. Just because no one had complained yet didn't mean he was a daisy.

By lunch, Olga pronounced that the tile system was 'as good as it's going to get.' That meant that the final hurdles were up to Denario. He would clear them or not.

The accountant stood and stretched. His book keepers had taken a shipment of copper from the mine supervisor this morning. It reminded Denario of how he needed to talk to that man.

“Don't you get a hot lunch from the miners, Senli?” he asked. She and Olga were busy weighing copper sheets. Behind them, Hummel and the part-time guard were re-stacking the accepted copper.

“We can.” Senli stood as if his question was, to her, an order.

“Oh, I was going to make something,” said one of the old ladies. She set down her knitting and started to rise. It was Mistress Bobbins.

“No, no, the mine owes us a few lunches. And I've been trying to catch the mine supervisor. He can't miss his meal, can he? So I can talk to him and bring back some food.”

The old women frowned and fretted about this. They didn't seem to like him doing a chore even remotely related to cooking. But Hummel and Senli smiled at the idea, he noticed, and that made up Denario's mind. He hitched up his pants, slapped on his short sword, and set off.

On his way, he wondered if the fact that he wore armor so often had gotten the miners to worrying. If so, he should find a way to put them at ease. He could dress down a bit. Of course, the miners should have been able to tell at a glance that Denario was harmless but you never knew how mangled the telling and re-telling of the adventures of the Mundredi army had grown.

Overhead, the sky was cloudless. It was almost too bright to look at except around the horizon, which was all mountains anyway. The road to the mine had turned dry and dusty. Denario was glad there were no mules or other pack animals on it with him. He followed the trail until it narrowed and turned up a rise. There, it widened out again into a clearing northeast of the mine entrance. Six rows of long benches sat on the prominence. A hundred men could have sat all together to eat. There were forty-four of them today. Denario glanced under the tables and counted quickly. Thirty-eight pairs of ankles wore leg irons. Six were free men.

The head miner was not a large fellow. None of the free men were. They sat at the head of each table but they didn't look completely in charge. In Oggli, the headmen on any manual labor jobs would have been muscular enough or just evil enough to strike fear into the hearts of the workers. Here in this mining town, the leaders talked shop with the slaves about the 'north seam,' the 'banded seam,' and the 'dubious revetments,' whatever those were. Behind the benches lay a pile of wooden shovels and pickaxes, edges carved from bone. Denario was startled by the sight of those picks. The tools would have been made of better material almost anywhere else in the world.

From the talk, though, he could tell that the supervisors knew how to run a mine. That was so practical, it would have seemed amazing in Oggli. There, the noblemen in charge had no idea how to do anything except tend to their horses and weapons. They gave orders. Sometimes they gave them to competent people and sometimes not. They couldn't always tell the difference but that was how things worked.

It didn't take long for the mine supervisor to spot Denario, even though his back was turned. The slave next to him tapped his shoulder and pointed as the accountant approached the lunch bench. The supervisor lurched to his feet. He tossed down his bowl.

“Something wrong with the shipment this morning?” he said. He wiped his hands. Then he rubbed his mouth with his sleeve. Senli had been right about this fellow, Denario judged. He looked nervous. “We counted it twice. Almost three times through, really.”

“No. This is about what I've mentioned before.” Denario stopped a few feet away. He watched the alarm in the eyes of the miners. No one seemed to know what he was talking about, not even the supervisor. “I said I'd check on the pay records for my book keepers. Now is a good time.”

“My log books?” The free man looked down at the ground for a moment. Then he nodded and, with a gesture, led Denario away from his slave crew. “Are you in charge of my records now, accountant?”

“No.” Maybe he should have asked for that job, too. But if he understood correctly, it wasn't a duty that the mayor could assign to him. “This is counting house business. I'll enter the pay for Senli, Hummel and Olga if it's not marked down.”

“But ...” The man stammered for a moment. “Look, I tried to do all this before. The mayor and the burghers said that it was town business and I'd get in trouble ...”

“You know that I've already made my agreement with the mayor.” Denario stepped in front of the man. He wasn't leading Denario in the right direction, which was to the mine office. “You know this is approved.”

“But the burghers ...”

“If any of the burghers have a complaint about this, ever, you just send them to me, understand? Ever.”

The man's jaw dropped for a moment. But he closed his mouth and turned. He started leading them toward his two story shack at the bottom of the slope. For a long minute, he was silent. Denario couldn't think of any small talk to lighten the mood, either. He doubted the man would be interested in learning about base 4, base 8, or base 16 mathematics. Or about the limitations of doing base 16 math without 16 different colors of pottery glazes.

“Is it true?” The mine supervisor cleared his throat. He glanced sideways at Denario. “True about Burgher Haphnaught I mean, sir.”

“Did Haphnaught have a problem with paying the women?”

“Yes, sir. He and Burgher Dumm both.”

“I'm going to enter those records. I'll sign my name to them in case you're worried. And then, after I bring lunch to the book keepers, I'll pay a visit to Burgher Dumm.”

“Not to Haphnaught?”

“Burgher Haphnaught isn't feeling well.”

“Oh, yes. That's what I'd heard. Exactly.”

What have you heard? Denario wondered. But there was no good way to pose the question without opening himself up for another round of hints and queries about what had happened that night on the stairs. He felt reluctant to go into detail. It could only turn the town against him. But in the end, Denario broke the silence. It happened because he thought about his boys in Oggli and how they were faring. He couldn't help wondering about the miners, too. They were slaves, like he'd been once, and they might welcome an attack on the town. They might think it meant freedom for them.

“If the Raduar army finds Phart's Bad,” he said, “how will your men react?”

“We've talked about it,” admitted the supervisor. “But the men get three meals a day, fourteen holy days off a year, and an hour rest during each shift as it is. If the Raduar soldiers don't slaughter the lot of them, they'll be lucky not to get worked to death in a few months by their new owners. All of the slaves know it.”

“Even the Raduar slaves?”

“They weren't born slaves. They're here for a reason, each one.”

“Ah.” They were criminals, then. Maybe a few were supposed to be already dead but had been sold into slavery by priests who took bribes to excuse them from being sacrifices.

“How about you, sir? I hear you're headed off toward the Ogglian army. And you're going through the border territories with the Raduar.”

“Yes, well, I've got apprentices. They need me to get home to them. You've got to take care of those you're sworn to, after all.”

“Some don't.” The supervisor sighed as they reached his heavy, leather door. He swung it aside. “But you do, it seems. Go ahead and mark the ledgers. You will be sure to sign, won't you?”

“I said I would.”

“Thank you, sir.” His voice sounded husky. This had been a difficult issue for the mine supervisor. Unlike Denario, he was not on a mission. He wouldn't leave town. He had to stay and deal with the consequences of Denario's actions.

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Eight

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