Sunday, March 4, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 112: A Bandit Accountant, 18.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Scene Four: Knotty Problems

An hour after my negotiations with Udo, I thought I'd made myself a bad deal. The breakfast he provided that morning was sumptuous with poached eggs, fried eggs, two different loaves of bread, bacon, onions, and the first crop of tomatoes, which folks farther north and west consider poisonous. Ruin Thal knows how to grow them. I suppose Udo wanted the meal to put me at ease and help him talk me into his idea. Carinde helped. I found it hard to refuse.

So they became my agents. They agreed to sell my services to other merchants in exchange for a cut of the pay. It seemed like poor exchange for my teaching but I didn't care. I would have taught Carinde for free. I couldn't say that but I think Udo knew.

The arrangement turned out to be more profitable than I could have imagined. The money I've made borders on inconvenient. I can't transport my wealth. It would overflow my bags or wear a hole in any sack even if I were strong enough to walk with it. Ruin Thal has no trusts or thrifts, not even a branch of the Bank of Oupenli-Oggli. I'm going to have to leave a portion of my earnings with the Vogel family. That may have been Udo's plan from the beginning.

Regardless, the work he's provided me has been interesting. Ruin Thal uses a lot of writing, more than any other Mundredi town so far. It has parchment. It has paper and a few books. It has an example of the Yullamar double-entry system at the Church of the Carpenter although here in this town they call it the Oggli System. The town holds several living examples of the Tomaru single-entry system that Senli uses back in Pharts Bad. Most of those are in waldi merchant houses. The mayor uses something called the Old Counting, which is a single-entry system I haven't seen before but I find easy to understand. The mayor even has an abacus made of strings of colored beans. No one knows how to use it but it has been preserved. I'm sure I could figure it out, given time.

For that matter, Carinde may figure it out now that she knows it exists. She helped me decode the knot system in the Small Gods Temple. There, an ancient rope of beaded, knotted strings has sat in the accounts for over a century. For the past forty years at least, it has been accompanied by a scroll initialed 'BFS.' It was possibly written by a master accountant who traveled here before me. His notes proved incomplete. Long after he passed through, the temple discovered more records. Some of those were knotted records but others were parchments with pictures in ink of the knot-keeping method. If anyone before me had understood the math, they would surely have figured out the archive of knots from a comparison with the written records.

That was the job that made my fortune. The knots revealed the locations of buried holy objects.

On five strings in the rope, the distance between the knots was proportional to the center of the temple and the burial spots. Part of the system was, in essence, a map. The temple unearthed one treasure straight away, a wooden chest that had been crushed by the stones and dirt over time. Inside the chest had been five thumb-sized golden idols. Those survived. The priestess was absurdly grateful to me and she proved practically-minded as well. When I said I couldn't carry all of the silver dollars she wanted to pay, she offered me the services of her parish instead. Now I have blank paper. I have parchment. Her tattoo artist painted the Flying 8 sign of Melcurio on my buckler and scabbard. Her tailors fitted me for new shirts and pants. The tanner adjusted my leather hauberk so that I don't look like I'm wearing a bigger man's raincoat. Before all of this kindness, I was worried that the priestess would have a problem with Melcurio but she said he was decent god, kind to the smaller gods like hers. Her holiness was fine about helping me.

The cobbler I worked for later that week paid Udo in coins, I noticed. But he paid me by re-sewing my boots and re-dyeing them. The Goat Clan tanner, not the one at the temple, modified my accounting bag and repaired my vest. With money from other jobs, I was able to trade in my snake jerky, which I knew I would never eat. Instead, I bought dried fish and dried beef. I exchanged three of my travel bags for a single backpack, custom-stitched to fit over my armor. I paid Udo's favorite tailor to repair my accounting vest, which had an arrow hole in it, and to refit two of my hats.

Although I was ready to leave after a few days, I found it hard to do. I kept making money. I moved into an apartment in the center of town above the mayor's office. The local book keeper, a woman, stopped by for lessons with her apprentice, her son. Carinde seemed almost jealous. The greatest reason it was hard to leave, really, was Carinde. She learned her math so thoroughly that I wanted to take her on as an apprentice. Casually, I mentioned it. Apparently that was a mistake. She informed her father. Udo ran into my apartment the evening of my eighth day in Ruin Thal, outraged.

'You want to take my own daughter?' He stormed around the room. 'It's an insult! A crime! Yes, you … y-you're a criminal or a f-fool. Don't you understand her position? She's neglected here, yes, and sh-she's … she's not pretty but she's mine. She's valuable. I won't just give her away.'

'I understand,' I told him. 'But she should have an apprenticeship.'

'You’d take on a girl in your practice? As an accountant?'

'She’s a genius, Udo. My guild hasn't allowed girls but we've come close before. Cari's brilliance would sway the ones who have been reluctant.'

'That’s not a good reason. She hasn’t got many prospects so far, I admit, but we're wealthy. She’s no beggar or whore. What would people say, her living and traveling with a single man? And never mind what they'd say. Would even she make it to Oggli? I doubt it. This is nearly a plan to kill her.'

Then he banned me from his home.

The next day, my business came to a halt except for the teaching. Whatever Udo said about me, it affected his tradesmen but it didn't make me less popular for lessons. I often had three or four of merchants in my house at once learning multiplication and division. A few wanted to hear my ideas about money. One of them, a relative of the mayor named Wilmut Ziegler, asked me about banking. Old Addler Vogel came to visit, too. He sat in on the lessons although he didn't offer to pay and I didn't ask. He laughed at us and corrected other men's mathematics but no one seemed to mind. During the few times we were alone, Addler chatted about his grand-daughter. She had been teaching him algebra. He didn't understand it but he liked it. His problem was that he needed to learn how to multiply. I helped him a little.

After our talk at the end of his third visit, I presented him with a note for Carinde. It was a math lesson. Addler took the precaution of reading it, approved, and said he would deliver it for me.

On the morning of the next day, my eleventh in Ruin Thal, Addler stopped by to invite me to dinner. I said that would be a problem because I was still banned. Addler pointed out that he owned the house. I hadn't realized that. Anyway, he said, if it made me feel any better he'd persuaded Udo to make peace in exchange for math lessons.

I remembered to dicker with Udo that night. I declared that my letter to Carinde counted as a lesson. To my surprise, he and his father agreed.

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