Sunday, July 16, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 86: A Bandit Accountant, 14.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Pair of Sevens

Scene Four: Swearing
Scene Five: Force of an Object

Tetron the Wheelwright lives between Bow Spit and West Bow. I am writing to you, Vir, to recommend him in the case that your army has need of a friendly house in this area. Tomorrow I will reach the northernmost war lands, so this may be my last message. I am confident that this note and accompanying documents will reach you because I am sending them with Tetron’s nephew, Jan, who wishes to join your army.

As he usually did when sending to Vir or Yannick, Denario scribbled his raw note in the dirt. The soil of Tetron’s front yard happened to be grayish with pebbles in it. The family’s boots had worn away the grass, which made for easy drawing. The next step in Denario’s process was to write out the encoded version next to the original, also in the gray dirt.

Since he was hiding his message inside another, the process took creativity and time. Finally, he transcribed the result onto a scrap of parchment provided to him by Tetron. The scrap was so old as to be a family heirloom but the accountant couldn’t turn it down.

“I see that you’re hiding your true meaning,” rumbled Tetron from his porch hammock. “But then you’re wrapping up the parchment into your map that shows my farm. What’s to stop someone from killing Jan and reading the map?”

"Nothing.” Denario shook his head. He continued to roll his message into the map. “But you told me that you can’t read the map without my help. Most folks around here can’t read it. And I can’t encode the map in a way that I know Vir or Yannick will understand.”

“Is there a way to make a map into numbers and letters?”

“Yes. The Guild of Accountants in Oggli knows a method. I assume that the Marquis of Oggli employs someone who knows, too.”

Tetron groaned. “Ye Ogglians are smarter than we are.”

“No.” Denario had talked with enough of the Mundredi to see that they were as bright as any other group of people. They lacked some basic resources, like iron, that the rest of the old empire had in abundance but what they mostly suffered from was a dearth of medicines, schools and books. They had geniuses like old Bibbo Clumpi in their midst but the Mundredi didn’t train them. They had no tradition of education except in martial arts. “Are you thinking of the math I taught you? Or are you thinking of the Ogglian armorers?”

“Those both and the war horses yer duke has, too. I came up against those when I was younger. Went for a bit of fun against a caravan. They slaughtered us.”

“Vir managed to beat some horsemen.” Denario’s dark eyebrows knotted together. He didn’t think Vir would find the method easy to repeat. “Maybe as long as the main cavalry are fighting elsewhere …”

“But yer not hopeful of that, I kin tell.”

“I don’t want to discourage your nephew. Or you.” The accountant hid his face from the veteran farmer for a moment. “No, I'm not hopeful. Vir has got to beat the Raduar first. And he has to do it within the year. The duke’s campaign against the King of Faschnaught has lasted fifteen months already. I don't think he can press on much longer. Your tribes and all of the clans in them need to be ready when the Ogglian soldiers return.”

“Sounds impossible.”

“Maybe not. The duke and the marquis don’t care about the Mundredi. The highest nobles are perfectly happy to take your tax money. It’s only Baron Ankster and a few others who want to kill you. They care about the religious differences. They see a threat in how your men keep weapons unlike their other peasants. And then there’s what you told me happened to Sir Blowort.”

Blowort had been a knight under Baron Blockhelm. Denario had met him once as a child. The nobleman had worn a thick mustache that hung down below his chin, plate armor over his chest and shoulders, and a tunic with his castle colors, which were red, gold, and green. He’d ridden a stallion that was almost friendly. Denario had been given a job to feed the beast, which he did with oats and a great deal of care not to get bitten or kicked. Later, he’d carried a bolt of green cloth to the horse. He’d rather liked Blowort. The man hadn’t beaten him or any other slaves that day.

He hadn't shown such gentleness to his own peasants, though. Like Sir Glaiburg under Baron Ankster, Sir Blowort had led an ethnic cleansing of his countryside two years ago. He'd wiped out half a dozen Kilmun towns. In retaliation, a group of Kilmun men invaded his castle during the winter. No one seemed to know how they’d gotten inside the walls but they'd arrived with at least a hundred men. Blowort and his family hadn’t stood a chance. Across the border of the barony, Sir Glaiburg almost met a similar fate. Only the fact that he and his immediate family had been called to Baron Ankster’s court saved him. The rest of his household was killed. And when Glaiburg returned, he gathered his men-at-arms and took back his castle. He redoubled his efforts to wipe out the Mundredi tribesmen on his lands.

Denario had been in court when the marquis got the news that, among Ankster's sworn knights, Sir Glaiburg and a few others had refused to go to war against Faschnaught. Glaiburg sent his second son in his stead. The marquis felt insulted. Anyone could see it. But he hadn't taken it out on the son. He'd merely asked the young nobleman how many footmen he'd brought along. Later, though, Denario learned that the marquis had scolded his field captains. Too many veteran knights had failed to show up against Faschnaught. When the marquis felt insulted, all of the viscounts, barons, and even the doddering, old Earl of Anghre had to suffer.

“They're in a panic about that?” The wheelwright sounded like he was explaining something to a slow-wit. “But Blowort fell to the Kilmun, not us.”

“I don’t think the knights and barons know the difference.”

Tetron had been resting. He opened his eyes. Apparently, he hadn't had a clear picture of how the Ogglian nobles thought. He still didn't understand them, of course, but he seemed to be starting to realize there was a social gulf between the nobility and peasantry. He sat up in his hammock.

“Who can’t see our tribe and clan tattoos?” he asked. “Who can’t see the god marks on our arms? Or the different hair? And who can’t just ask us? We'd explain, any of us.”

Denario had to laugh at the idea of a Ogglian nobleman asking a peasant anything. That was not the way it was done.

“When they collect taxes, do they ask politely or do they give orders?” He looked up from his scrolls as he posed the question. He wanted to make sure the wheelwright understood his point.

“They’re damned rude. Orders, I guess.” The big man gave up the concept of idleness. He swung his legs to one side of the hammock and readied himself to rise. “I don’t even like to meet those bastards. But I don’t have to anymore. For the past two years, we've just hauled everything to South Ackerland. A single knight picks up our taxes there.”

“Really?” This part was news to Denario. Usually, a squadron of each baron's knights traveled far and wide to personally collect taxes. At the very least, they sent their squires or other men at arms. How else could they discover cheating? The lack of effort implied that the marquis had gathered so many troops for his own use that the barons were hard pressed find the usual number of bullies. “Tell me, is the tax still a tenth of all harvest plus a pig or sheep or goat?”

“It’s an ox if yer late, so no one is late. And in the last two years, the Oggli men have sneered at our goats. They want sheep, they say, or pigs. But that’s not the agreement. No family has been raising those new, thick-wool sheep for more than a couple generations. They were expensive in trade, too. So we don't have them to spare. We bring goats.”

“That's a lot more than you ever pay to Vir. And now the nobles want to raise their taxes, it seems. Are folks paying?”

“Maybe not,” Tetron grunted. “There wasn't so much grain in South Ackerland last fall as there was the year before. And no sheep, neither, although it was a pretty good year for both.”

“That’s what I thought.” The peasants had stopped receiving visits from their knights so they were cheating on the taxes. Of course, unless they were pious about their oaths to the land owners, the farmers had always been willing to keep the full bounty of their fields. It was the product of their work, after all. And in lean years, taxes could be the difference between sufficiency and starvation.

Denario re-drew the map of the Seven Valleys in his head. He added in the portions of West Ogglia that were under the control of baronies. He fuzzed in the lands that were in dispute. He could see a pattern developing.

The barons had accepted Mundredi and Kilmun settlers as an unexpected bounty of tax payers. Those lands had been empty. But in time they'd noticed all of the weapons kept by the tribesmen. They'd lost a few soldiers and tax collectors to the violence in their new towns. They'd probably lost some caravans, too. They needed to deal with the usual religious fighting that accompanied the various clans, not to mention the clashes between their old peasants and the new ones. And that had been the last straw. They'd decided to clear their lands of the new settlers.

The ethnic cleansing process hadn't gotten off to a good start. The Ogglian nobles had been scared by the loss of Sir Blowort. They'd taken revenge. But it wasn't enough to allay their fears. They wanted more. And the Marquis de Oggli remained unconcerned by any of the local troubles. He took all of the men at arms to which he was entitled for his duke's war against Faschnaught.

Now the taxpayers, Mundredi, Oggli, and Waldi, were cheating. Powerful mayors and burghers like the Figgins brothers in Ziegeburg were energetically scamming their collections. They were blaming tax losses on the Mundredi peasants. If they didn't blame immigrant farmers, they blamed non-existent immigrant bandits. The situation paralleled a historical pattern that Denario had seen in the logs of the Accounting Guild. In terms of money, this was how the last war against the peasantry had started.

When the marquis returned home, he would find his coffers dry. He'd realize that his towns had cheated. Worse, he'd have no money to pay his troops. His fighting men, who had endured a long campaign and who would expect to be treated as heroes, would get nothing. Down to the lowest foot soldier, they'd be bitter at finding no reward. Denario had no doubt about how everyone would react. They would do as their grandfathers had done.

“Maybe it is hopeless,” he allowed. He watched Tetron stand up straight and stretch his powerful arms. “Maybe Jan will get caught with the map. Maybe the Raduar will win. Maybe the barons are too tough for the peasants. But you said you were willing to take the risk. Have you changed your mind?”

“Neh.” The wheelwright scowled. He paced a line in the dirt. “Somebody has to do something. The writing just makes me nervous, is all. I can't read. No one can, except the nobles. I never heard that our chief had his letters.”

“He's a noble, too. He gave me this coin.” Denario touched the blue disc hanging below his collarbone. “Anyway, you wouldn't have heard that Vir can read. He keeps it quiet. One of his sergeants can read, too, and a man named Yannick.”

“He's the one with bad teeth?”

“Um, yes.” The accountant regretted mentioning that. Tetron had latched onto the shortcomings of several soldiers that Denario had mentioned. He'd demanded to hear the accounting song, too. He'd laughed at all the wrong places and he seemed to have a keen memory. Denario had finished his roll-up, so he changed the subject and said, “Would you hand me your hot taper?”

Tetron reached through his front window and grabbed his candle-holder by the wooden ring carved into its side. Like most people in the area, the wheelwright had brass tools around his house but not for his personal use. They were for his profession. His candlesticks were all wooden. The candles were cheap, too. In Oggli, most house lights were made from stearin or beeswax. Here in the Mundredi lands, tapers were formed from a kind of rendered animal fat called tallow. Even as a slave, Denario hadn't seen tallow candles this cheap. The folks here seemed to know nothing else. Candles sputtered as they burned, unprotected by glass or magic.

This one was still lit when Denario received it. But the flame was in constant danger from a breeze. He guarded it with one hand as he dripped tallow-wax from the burning end to make a seal. It took him a few minutes. He had to pull dark flakes of ash and charcoal from the seal with his fingernail. Those were part of the grubby tallow.

“Accountant! Ahoy!” someone shouted. Denario glanced up from his work to see a young man on the trail to the wheelwright's house. He waved his straight arm high over his head. “Hello, uncle! Hello, Denario! Is that my package? Do you have a letter to your girlfriend in it?”

“Ha ha.” Denario had taken some teasing from the men when he had dashed off a note to Pecunia. And when he stood up to wave his greeting to Jan, a breeze put out the candle. Well, Denario was done anyway. He handed it back to Tetron as if he'd meant for that to happen.

Jan strode up and put his fists on his hips. The middle of his chest was the height of Denario's head. He was not heavily muscled. His legs and arms seemed about average. His jaw wasn't chiseled. It was meant to hold a smile and it often did. His blonde beard, seen up close, looked almost transparent. Over his shoulders, Jan wore a leather jerkin that he probably hoped would serve as armor. He carried a sword no longer than his forearm and a spear with a stone point. Denario winced at the sight of the spear tip. As sharp as it looked, the point would chip at the first fight and need replacement.

Denario remembered that he had spare bronze spear tips in his pack. He tried to weigh his guilt over not giving them to Jan against his need to keep those spares. For sure, he'd counted on selling whatever brass he could at the end of his journey.

Behind Jan came three other boys. That was a mild surprise because Jan had said that only two of his friends were joining the army. Then Denario saw that one of the boys wasn't a boy at all but actually the High Priestess of Damnet. As she marched closer, Denario could tell that she'd tied her hair back. She didn't carry any weapons. The two boys on either side of her had hunting spears like Jan's. One had a bow as well. The shorter fellow had a sling on his belt. The priestess seemed to be talking to him in a very earnest, animated fashion.

“You don't need to leave us to do your part,” she said. She struck the air with the blade of her hand for emphasis. “There's plenty for a bright lad to do around this town. I was going to teach you how to read the temple scrolls this fall.”

“I've already said my piece,” the boy replied. “You've met the refugees, your holiness. Jan and Lothar are going to do their part. I can't see doing anything else.”

“You've not met the knights.”

“I've seen them before.”

“Yes, when you were a child.” The priestess stopped, not more than ten feet from Tetron but ignoring him in favor of her conversation. “That's not the same as meeting them in a battle.”

“They're oath-breakers. You can see that. You said yourself that someone ought to do something about it.” The young man's face was set. Even Denario could tell that it was a lost cause for the priestess. She would never convince him.

She kept talking for a while anyway. Like the mayor of Phartsburg, the priestess felt that the Ogglian nobles ought to negotiate with the Mundredi. Denario had worked with the nobility and guessed that a knight might talk to the priestess herself if only to tell her what he expected from the village. That same knight would not talk to a simple peasant unless he needed to give a direct order. Negotiating with illiterate field workers or treating them with any kind of respect was out of the question.

The wheelwright's yard was littered with discarded hubs, broken spokes, axles, half-axles, raw pine logs, ropes, a pair of large gears with broken teeth, and unidentifiable splinters of other types of wood. Tetron had lived alone since his wife died in childbirth so he didn't bother to clean up beyond taking in his chisels, tyres, and other brass or copper parts that he was unwilling to let sit out in the rain. It was amidst this clutter that Denario, Accountant of Oggli and of the Mundredi Army, raised his right hand and took the oaths of three young men. He felt slightly ashamed as he did so. He suspected that, if Vir were here, he'd say that Denario didn't have the right to sign up recruits in such an official manner. Denario did it anyway. The young men were overjoyed.

The local priestess gave holy blessings to the oaths. Denario admired how she did the job in the face of her disappointment over losing Kris, the lad who was not only one of Jan's best friends but a confidant of nearly everybody in the village. When Kris took his oath, Jan's and Lothar's chests had visibly swelled. They were proud to have him.

Denario took leave of his senses for a moment. He dug to the bottom of his travel pack and awarded each boy a brass spear point. They were grateful – they bowed and they shoulder-hugged him – but the person most affected was Tetron, who knew how much wrought brass was worth. He almost raised his hand to thump Denario. But he paused, thought better of it, and fell into a sullen silence for a few minutes.

The group sat down to a ceremonial afternoon meal, which featured venison provided by the wheelwright. Judging by the stores he kept in his smoking shed, Tetron was an expert hunter and trapper. When they finished, the boys thanked everyone again. They loaded a cache of carefully prepared supplies onto a sledge and hiked off in the vaguely north-by-northwest direction of Fort Dred. Denario had a blinding flash of insight: they wouldn't make it. It was too far. Too much would surprise them between the plains and the hills. But he shut his mouth and waved.

“I'm bewildered to see you're not going,” the priestess whispered to Tetron. She, too, did her best to wave bravely.

“Someone's got to keep an eye on you,” the wheelwright answered. The words didn't seem to be meant kindly.

“Huh. Well, Lothar's been trouble. And I know you love Jan but I'm not too sorry to see him go. He was the ringleader. It's Kris that disappoints me. He could have been our next priest. He's so bright.”

“He wants to save the village. He thinks joining up is the way.”

“But you don't.”

“Not really. I might join up if the army came here again and had a plan to win. And they begged me.”

“That chief isn't going to beg anybody.”

“Aye. He's all right, I guess.”

“Kris is moving on to strange lands and strange gods. That's going to be awful for him to bear, even if he manages to live long enough to return. He thinks he can be a hero.”

“Maybe he can.”

“No, he's acting a fool. But fifteen year old boys are like that. I should know by now.”

Denario stopped waving. He stared at the priestess, who was ignoring him. He was tempted for the first time in his life to defend the right of boys to join the army. Even though he had been a fraud in accepting their vows, even though their cause looked like a losing one, Kris seemed to have understood the necessity of it in a way that the wheelwright and priestess didn't. Maybe they were too old and full of excuses. The boy had observed what was going on. He'd understood. Like it or not, a war was coming.

#

The town of Haph Fork was burning witches when I arrived around noon. The charred bodies dangled and twitched in the smoke, a gruesome sight. I don't know if they were truly witches or if they were sympathizers with the wrong clan in a local struggle. From the voices in the crowd, the married couple at the center may have been both. But it was hard to see why the town priest had felt necessary to burn the couple's child as well. That was the third, smaller woodpile. 

No one in Haph Fork bartered with me for math lessons. Since I didn't like the stares I got from folks in the village square, I decided not to spend my night there. Perhaps I was lucky that the ground was wet around my campsite and I couldn't start a fire because, in the middle of the night, some men thrashed through the underbrush nearby. I think they were looking for me. I held still and kept my spear close to hand. I could find no other weapon under the moonless sky. Foolishly, I'd stowed my sword out of reach between my traveling packs. I will not make that mistake again. 

This morning I found a bright side to the lack of hospitality. No one bothered me for free lessons or conversation. I had time for more math. An interesting series of vector equations came to me. It's likely that I'm remembering them from a guild library book that was donated by its author, a mathematician in Anghrili. I forget his name but the title is, "On Physicks" and it is our most advanced text on vectors. The physicks calculations describe how force is transferred between objects. The particular equations that I have in mind now have a practical application for creating armor. However, I don't think they've been applied in that area. 

The force (F) of an object is a vector projection of the imparting object (O) in its direction (X). This gives an odd-looking vector product of F = X(X • O • X).

The order of the vector products is crucial to getting to correct result. In this equation, as the direction becomes perpendicular, the force F reaches its maximum value. As the direction of the imparting object becomes parallel to the target, F approaches zero. The latter would be an equation for "a glancing blow," as the knights tell it. This means that a surface offering the least chance of a perpendicular strike should be the best armor. 

In short, the perfect armor shape is a sphere. 

This does not immediately appear to be a useful conclusion. But unless I am mistaken, it is the correct guiding principal for armorers. The more like a sphere the armor is, the better it will be at deflecting an attack. Everything else is a compromise between the ideal sphere of metal and the human form. Oggli knights currently favor sharp edges to their armor and even artificial "stomach muscles" but I realize that, in combat, those accommodations to vanity could be deadly imperfections. I'm quite sure that armor should have rounded edges where possible.

In addition, I'm sure that vector equations can be used to describe how a spear point is more deadly than a brass ball of the same mass. I have not seen this written anywhere. My list of math chores for this journey is growing long but I shall add this one as it may make a good footnote to the text in the guild library. 


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