Sunday, May 14, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 78: A Bandit Accountant, 13.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Scene One: Fond Farewell

Dawn turned out bright but cold. Denario shivered as he hitched up his travel pack and gazed to the east. Mist had settled over the hills. Thankfully, it didn't look magical. The haze in the air lingered only as a lining of silver over the tops of the rolling greens. By mid-morning, the sun would burn it away.

“Are you sure you don't want to take some wine?” Senli asked. She had carried a skin of it away from the party. It was too heavy, already a burden in her arms. Denario begrudged every ounce that he had packed.

“Thank you,” said Denario. He turned towards her and gave his bravest smile. “It's very kind. But no, I'll have a hard enough time on the hike without getting accidentally drunk. That's something I've done before on a surveying trip, I'm afraid.”

“I can't believe that Mistress Clumpi let us come to the gate with you.” Senli let the bag slump lower. “No one ever forbid me to come here but still ...”

Denario nodded. Every slave wanted to be free. Sometimes that's all they could think about. Perhaps Olga didn't understand the temptation of the open road or perhaps she all too rightly gaged that she had to trust her book keepers. She couldn't chase them down if they ran away.

The road that led out the gate quickly divided into three trails. One of them was wide enough for maybe two horses to pass and continued to the next hill, which the locals was called Blue Stone. After that came hills known as Cup and Tree Stump. Beyond those, Denario would have to ask the people who lived there for more hill names because no one in Pharts Bad bothered to keep track of things so far away. It was funny, Denario mused, how a day's march could seem too far to bother.

The accountant had already mapped out the land ahead of him. That is, he'd done as much of it as he could. He was sure to fill in details and expand his mapping efforts as he traveled. His journals and his log book sat at the top of the accounting bag slung around his waist. This was part of his journeyman experience, after all, and he intended to provide records of the area that were as good as any in the Oggli guild hall. No accountant had been here in hundreds of years. His contribution would be important.

He tied a canteen over his left shoulder and groaned at the added weight. He'd kept the heavy mail shirt because it was his best defense. Anyway, he wasn't any good at slipping it off or on. The leather armor over it kept him warm. The buckler served as a shield and he'd grown accustomed to his short sword. His spear doubled as a walking stick and he was pretty sure he could mount a theodolite on it if he needed to make surveys for his maps. In all his equipment, the only thing he felt might be useless to him was the hunting bow.

Since he'd never caught an animal in his snares, he kept the bow. He probably couldn't hunt with it. But he vowed to try. First, he'd have to learn to string it. So far he hadn't proved strong enough.

“It's good to see you so well equipped, master,” said Hummel. Senli nodded in agreement.

“Yes, I was just thinking that this bow might keep me from starving,” he replied. He didn't say that he thought he could trade it for food. “Hummel, I'd like a word with you before I go.”

“Of course, master.” The little man shuffled closer with a gait perhaps permanently crippled by years in leg irons. Senli backed up a few paces. She glanced westward, behind them, to the Haphnaught home. There, Mistress Haphnaught sat out on the porch in a rocking chair.

Denario glanced to the east, his hand on Hummel's shoulder. There was the junior Haphnaught, the captain of the guard, at the town gate. In a way, Denario was surrounded. Everyone would know he'd spoken to Hummel privately. But it couldn't be helped.

“I have a duty to you, Hummel,” Denario murmured.

“You've been so good, master.” The brown-toothed man tried to smile. But he gave up and shook his head. “I wish you weren't leaving.”

“Me, too,” Denario lied. “Look, Hummel, what's the worst that could happen to you here in town, do you think?”

“Murder?” Well, Hummel was a literal fellow, a failing that he shared with many other book keepers, clerks, and accountants. It wasn't anything unusual.

“Less bad than that, perhaps,” Denario hinted. He tried to give the man time to think.

Hummel stroked his beard, bewildered. After a moment or two, he shrugged.

“Last night,” Denario plowed on. “The mayor complained to me about all of the mouths he had to feed. It made me wonder if he wouldn't pull a trick after I left ... a trick involving you.”

“Oh, he's never talked with me, master.” Hummel's bushy eyebrows rose. His eyes pleaded for help in following this line of thought.

“I know. I don't mean he'd ask for your cooperation. I'm wondering if he might set you free. You see, last night I made sure that the burghers knew you weren't allowed to be put back in chains.”

“Thank you. Thank you, master.”

“But the mayor doesn't like that. And you'd like to be free, wouldn't you?” Denario knew that Hummel had been an unlicensed accountant in Muntar. He'd been making his living by undercutting the Muntar Accounting Guild members. They'd finally gotten sick of the independent operators like him and tipped off the slave ship captains. Most other men in his position had seen it coming, apparently, but not Hummel. Even now, he didn't see things coming, not if they involved understanding other people.

“Better than being in chains, yes.” Hummel saw that far, at least.

“Me, too,” agreed Denario. “But have you given thought to where you would go?”

At that, Hummel's face fell.

“There's no place, master. You had it pegged right from the beginning. I've got no escape from here alive, whether I'm free or not.”

“There's always the north road.”

“What would I find along there? Better farmlands?”

“Yes. But I'm thinking of a particular town. On the north road, you'd walk straight into Timbersburg.”

Hummel sucked in air. It was the only way he could whistle.

“You see what I mean?”

“I think so, sir.” He glanced in all directions to make sure no one was close. He whispered, “You think they'd give me a job?”

“I do.” Denario felt obligated to do the forward thinking for this man. If the town cut Hummel loose, he couldn't get far on his own. The caravan leaders thought it was day's stroll to Timbersburg so it would be two days of hard work for Hummel. But he would have a clear trail. He could make it.

The mayor and burghers of Pharts Bad were just crazy enough to do something like this. They'd turned aside other bright folks, too, and some of them had ended up in Timbersburg. The mining town was essentially in the process of creating its main rival.

“It's just a thought,” he said. “It might never happen. Probably won't.”

At that moment, Hummel burst into tears and threw his arms around Denario. Denario had to thump the little man on the shoulder repeatedly to get him off. Fortunately, the outburst only lasted a few seconds. Then Denario asked to speak privately to Senli.

The short, stout woman was less dramatic than her colleague. Still, after Denario promised once again to look for her sons, the conversation ended in an embrace.

Then, finally, he was off.

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