Sunday, August 25, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 175: A Bandit Accountant, 29.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Prime and Sum of Three Primes

Scene Four: The Math of Happiness

At some point during the evening, Den wandered out through the front door of the inn. Black storm clouds roiled in the sky. Although only a light breeze pressed against his face, the smoky tendrils above swept over the moon at a storm’s pace, lasting for a few seconds before they were gone. Moments later, more clouds encroached.

Torches lit the avenue on either side. They fascinated him for a moment. As bright as they were, they didn’t show off the buildings and tents. This wasn’t Oggli, where the good side of town had lamp lights, policemen, vendors with hearth fires in wheelbarrows, midnight cookeries, water fountains, parks, fires in barrels, and wire cages of will-o-the-wisps. At home, on some streets, there was enough light in the evening to see where you were walking. There were enough regular people awake to make it safe to go places.

Here, there seemed to be a professional warrior of some sort in chain mail and a breastplate. He strode quickly between the torches, heading southeast with his hand on the pommel of his sword. In a few seconds, he was gone.

Den gazed up at the moon again. A cloud swept over it. The wind swept the swirling darkness away. He wondered if he really knew what he was doing. Was he really ready to return to the bustle and confusion of a big city?

“How did we get here?” he wondered.

“Parents.” Next to him, a funny young man in a brownish-purple robe hiked up the sash he used for a belt. “That’s what they say, anyway.”

“Oh, wait.” Denario’s hand wavered as he gestured to the fellow. “You’re Dumford.”

“And you’re the accountant.” The fellow chuckled. “You didn’t drink very much. But you’ve been walking as much sideways as forwards. I don’t think you’re used to good wine.”

Denario remembered his taste of the horrible blend that the wizard liked. He shuddered.

“Haven’t had the stuff we were drinking before.” His voice sounded husky. “I suppose it’s strong.”

“You won at darts anyway.” The wizard grimaced.

“Did I?” He didn’t remember it.

“Then you announced that you could prove Alquerques was always winnable by the second player. You bought a game board from the innkeep. We started playing and you made one move, only one, no jumps, and you stopped. You stood up to say that no, you were wrong. It’s the third player who wins.”

“Alquerques is a two player game.”

“Yes, I tried to make that point. But you told me the game wasn’t winnable at all. That seemed right. In fact, your explanation made so much sense that I felt we should come out for a breath of air.”

Denario huffed. There was a chill coming on and he could see a bit of breath in front of his face.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I haven’t had an educated conversation in half a year, I think. All the same, I think you should slow down a bit. You have to look up the coach schedules in the morning.”

So he had told the wizard about that. Well, it was true. The thought sobered him. A little.

“You seem to miss your apprentices very much.”

“The closer I get to home, the more desperate I feel. I want to see the youngest, Shekel and Mark, the most. But all of them, of course. And I want them right now.” He took a step toward one of the street torches. Dumford was right about his moving sideways as much as forwards. After the stride, he halted. Best to save his efforts for getting to his room. “I don’t know if this makes sense but, when my wits were focused on keeping me alive in the hill country, I didn’t have time to worry. Now I’m in a city. I’m relaxed. The boys are what I think about most.”

“Damn.”

“What?”

“I think I'm jealous, a little. You've got good friends, from the sound of it.”

“But you're a wizard!” The idea of anyone envying him rock him. Of course, it didn’t seem to take much to rock him at the moment. “And you're not just any wizard. You're a great one. You could be rich, I think. You could have a really good life.”

“Is that how you think of it? Being rich makes a good life?”

“It's better than starving. I slept on the floors of peasants, in these past two months, who had nothing to eat except for the onions they'd pulled out of the ground that morning. They'd been living on onions and tree bark for a month. Some shared their stewpots even though most of their meat was from earthworms. Some commoners were well off, of course, but even those sometimes had to burn dung for the fire because their knight had chopped down all of their trees.”

“Ugh.”

“I would say that you have the power to live a happy life.”

Dumford gave him such a lost look that Den tried to reach his shoulders for a Mundredi-style hug. He stumbled. The wizard backed away.

“Not everyone can,” Den continued. “Plenty of people are slaves or serfs or peasants. You are free. Even if you're not rich, you have power.”

“It's not a matter of money.”

“It's a matter of math, though.”

That made the wizard snort.

“You can find math in anything,” he said. “But even you can't find math in happiness. For instance, how rich is a wizard? You can't measure that in math. Because a wizard is as rich as he wants to be, really. I never wanted want to be very rich. Seemed like too much work.”

“That doesn't sound very sensible to me,” said Denario. Being poor meant being at the mercy of cruel rulers, usually. “And it doesn't sound accurate. Wizards can't make gold, not so that it lasts. That's why there are alchemists.”

“Wizard gold lasts a little while. That's better than the alchemists. They can't make gold at all. They just purify it. You think that being rich means lots of money.”

“Doesn't it?” A moment later, he remembered that he had been telling people that wealth was different. It was not limited to money.

“Pah. Not at all. What is being rich? If you've got all the money in the world but there's no food to be had, are you rich? Wait, don't answer. That's not the best example. I mean, if a king wants a new sceptre made, what does he do?”

“He gives an order.”

“Yes, and about a dozen men, maybe more hop to it. A king has servants. He has woodcutters to make the staff, a smith to pound the steel, a smelter to make the gold leaf, a jewel cutter, a jeweler, an artist, a painter ... and behind all of those skilled servants are less skilled ones, miners to gather the iron, copper, tin, and gold, herbalists to gather materials for paints, probably an alchemist for other dyes and paints, woodsmen who harvest the tree in the first place, carters to bring it all in. You see? What makes the king rich and able to get the food, clothing, and other things he wants is that he can make other people work for him.”

“That's probably true.” Denario sighed. This was leading to slavery, probably, or something close. Lots of unskilled work got done by the poorest serfs and itinerant laborers.

“So you see, magic is the power to make the sceptre or make clothes or make other things. A wizard has the equivalent power of five servants, ten servants, one hundred servants, ten thousand servants or more depending on the wizard's power and skill.”

“All right. I see what you mean. That's a valid measure of wealth.”

“Ah, so you've conceded already.” Dumford lowered his right hand. “I was about to regale you with more examples. Are you sure you don't want some?”

“How many servants does Tim have the power of?” Denario wondered. “Or Tremelo the Magnificent or whatever he calls himself?”

“Not many. He's good with fireballs. So let's say ten. He could hit you with something that's got the force of ten men.”

“That's quite a lot.”

“And he can do it at a distance. Even a bad wizard is powerful when compared to most men.”

“And how about you?”

 “I ... hmm ...” Dumford put a knuckle to his lips. “I may not be good to judge by. Sometimes I feel like I have almost no power at all. At other times, well, I've done some impressive and sophisticated things ... impressive to other people, anyway, and to a few other wizards. A few things I've done were impressive to everyone except my professors.”

“Guess the number.”

“Between a hundred servants and ten thousand servants.”

“Ten thousand? Really? Ten thousand men could build a stone castle in a year, no problem.”

“Have you heard about Grimlore the Dreaded? He built his own Grim Castle of Dread. Took him two days. Admittedly, it was tasteless. But it was impressive and deadly so I doubt anyone told him how ridiculous it looked all in black stone with purple gems, black mirrors in the halls, ebon glassware, onyx candelabras, and so on.”

“He did it in two days? How big was it?”

“About a quarter of the size of the Duke of West Ogglia's castle in North Slopes.”

“That's quite large.”

“You've been there?”

“Once, yes. And it took Grimlore two days ...” Denario did a bit of quick figuring. He had to multiply the ten thousand servants by a year of days, say four hundred, to allow for tricky bits of assembly, but then there was finding all of the black stone. The mining was the hard part. Denario had left that out of his initial calculation. “Around five million.”

“Yes, what?” Dumford set down his mug.

“Five million servants per day. That's about the power your old wizard commanded.”

“Oh, he's not so old. He's still around. Of course he must be about two hundred now. He's found a way to cheat death for a while. Some wizards do that. But no one much goes to visit him out to the east.”

“Why does he live so far away?”

“He likes the country life, I suppose. And he hates other wizards. That's why no one visits him. He kills his guests.”

“That sounds like the country life,” Denario shook his head as he thought about the fighting Mundredi. “In my experience.”

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 174: Kitten, Kitten (Tyger, Tyger)

St. Lucia
Kitten, Kitten

Kitten, kitten, making fight
With a chain from the dresser light,
Oh what mortal, furred land-rover
Sends the lightstand toppling over?

Why must she hunt and eat our flowers?
Why can't we sleep for two whole hours?
My silken robe is now in patches.
My hands and legs are full of scratches.

Purr loud the engine of her love
As pussycat shreds apart my glove.
Pounce the tail to dog's resentment;
Our kitten rumbles with contentment.

She smacks the finger of correction
And nestles in to show affection.
She licks our ears and lobes thereof
And nibbles noses to show love.

Our careless ways we must adjust.
She hunts our fluffs of hair and dust.
All day long she wrestles mittens.
That's what we get for having kittens.

As we settle for the night
She cuddles in for one more fight
She sprints the bed, attacks my toes,
Kneads my neck and bites my nose.

Then sneezes do her farts outnumber,
As she nuzzles, in her slumber.



Monday, August 12, 2019

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Twenty-Seven Chapters

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One


Chapter Root Two Squared

Chapter Pi, Roughly 


Chapter Two Pair


Chapter Full Hand


Chapter Half Dozen


Chapter Fourth Prime


Chapter Two Cubed


Chapter Three Quarters of Twelve


Chapter Binary Two


Chapter Red, Green, Yellow


Chapter Square Root of Gross


Chapter Baker's Dozen


Chapter Pair of Sevens


Chapter Fifth Triangular Number


Chapter Twice Eight

Chapter Seventh Prime


Chapter Third Semiperfect


Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon


Chapter Score


Chapter Octagonal Number Three


Chapter Pi Times Seven Approximately


Chapter Smallest Non-Twin Prime


Chapter Four Factorial


Chapter Right Hypotenuse Squared


Chapter Sporadic Groups


Chapter Three Cubed



Sunday, August 4, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 173: A Bandit Accountant, 29.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Prime and Sum of Three Primes

Scene Three: Schooling

It turned out that the wizard’s name was Dumford.

“Just ‘Dumford?’ No grand title?” Denario asked.

“It should be Dumford the Distinguished or the Dangerous or the Dejected or the Destructive or something, shouldn’t it?” He wiped back the mop of curls that had strayed down his forehead and into his eyes. “You’re not the first to call me on it. But when I left the University a couple years back, it always seemed like the fellows with huge titles were the worst of the small-town spell casters. The professors at U Bag, the real ones that we hardly ever saw, didn’t give a damn what anyone called them.”

They didn’t sound like other classes of powerful men – like the West Ogglian nobility, for instance. But Denario understood that wizards were different.

“In a faraway land, I used to go by ‘the Astonishing Dumford’ or similar when I needed to sell my skills. Here, it doesn’t seem worth the effort.”

His shoulders heaved. The young fellow looked awfully tired, Denario thought. The bank employee, Reginald, had been right. Dumford gave the impression of being far from home. Wherever he’d gone, he’d already traveled such a distance that he had given up, apparently. If he had actually intended to see Baggi again, he would be on his way either by magical means or by boat. He wouldn’t be working as a guard for caravans on the trail loops or doing magical odd jobs around the city.

Den wanted to persuade him that he was on a hero’s journey. In all of the epic poems, the hero returns home. Of course, Den had rolled his eyes when other men had said that about his travels. He didn’t know how to persuade someone of a thing he didn’t believe in himself.

The barkeep lumbered up alongside Den’s table. Dumford had moved from the bar to the seat across from Den half an hour ago. Naturally, the keep, a muscular man with brown hair that didn’t come all the way down his neck, continued to track his best customer. When Dumford had ordered food, a thing that he did not always do, the server had shouted, ‘Oh ho!’ A minute after the order, a cook emerged from the kitchen with a bowl of stew in one hand and a bowl of cream in another. He personally ladeled cream onto the broth, beans, and turnips.

Despite the large meal with stew, a slice of meat, bread, and even a lump of cheese, Dumford gulped down more liquids than anything else. The wizard shared a round of drinks with the accountant and then he had another. Den found himself telling the staff to put six drinks, all at once, onto his tab so that the wizard would stop footing the bill. After their talks about math, Dumford revealed details of his past, including the fact that he had traveled beyond the Complacent Sea and out of the bounds of the old Muntabi Empire. He had discovered that the people in foreign lands were truly odd. Their gods were not known here. Even their magic took on curious changes. The math in spells stayed the same, though. Math and alchemy worked the same everywhere.

“Makes sense,” Den nodded. His head felt a bit loose. “Math is steady.”

“Too steady,” the wizard countered. “A good mind should be attracted to things that are new.”

“I agree.” He meant new things in math, of course.

Finally, the conversation turned, as good conversations do, to the details of particular branches of mathematics. Den remarked that magical spells worked very much like algorithms or proofs, to which the wizard snapped, “prove it!” Then he slapped his knee, had a laugh, and finished his drink. Den was slow to realize the pun had been made, so he started on a proof of his point, which involved a demonstration alarm spell, which of course did not work until the wizard opened his mouth and belched for several long seconds into the air that Den had stirred with his finger.

“Even my burps are powerful,” Dumford remarked. The eruction of wind had been long enough for him to mouth several syllables.

The area around the accountant lit with colored hexes. He had drawn them but of course he had not been able to cast without a source of magic. It was as if his drinking companion had breathed a ‘reveal codes’ spell. Moreover, it fired up alarms. Not only did the ghosts of the hexadecimal numeral 7 appear, conjured by the spell, but each one popped into existence with the sound of a handbell. The ringing continued as Den gaped. Around them, other patrons of the bar leaned away, except for two women sitting together, who clapped. In a minute, the clapping faded but the ringing did not.

“Well that’s annoying.” Dumford’s brow creased. With a wave of his left hand, he dismissed the hexes.

“Amazing,” sighed Den. “I can’t even cast a hex 24 myself, so I couldn’t have stopped it.”

“Never seen anyone string hexes together like this for real.” Dumford's curly mop let a stray ringlet flop down over his right eye. He blew it away with a puff. “I thought it was a theoretical thing that professors talked about. It seems that it is an accounting practice, in truth.”

“Yes?” It wasn't, really. But technically, it was.

“Before now, I could count on one hand, well, on no hands, the number of spells I’d seen cast by accountants. That was in Baggi. Apparently, Oupenli is different.”

“The guild teaches a bit of math-related magic,” Denario admitted. “It’s not much. The problem isn’t computational course but that there is seldom a source for magic. The University of Oggli won’t send us a professor. We get instruction from expelled members of the wizardry guild, who come over rarely and always on the sly. Mostly, we teach ourselves. It’s all business that happens under the table, so to speak.”

“Most wizards would say that teaching yourself is dangerous.” He tapped on his empty goblet. “It’s what I’m supposed to say.”

“Go ahead.”

“No. I teach myself most of the time. Even in school, that’s what I did. Just following the formulas worked out by others … that’s not really learning. That does not lead to understanding.”

“Exactly. My guild school had too many students who were only learning what was taught.”

“Lots of wizards like that, too. Awful.”

They complained about mediocre classmates for a while. It was like meeting an old friend for the first time. Dumford seemed to have more to bemoan then Denario. For one, the accounting guild school had been small, no more than eight in the class. Wizarding classes had more than fifteen students, which was too many when the mistakes turned deadly. For another, Winkel had been a strict teacher who assigned rote learning but no more than was necessary for mastery. So there was some boredom but it certainly wasn’t all there was. Winkel got lively in front of a classroom. He encouraged student accountants, even book keepers, to understand math and not to simply make use of it. When a student asked a good question, he put everything on hold to pursue it.

In contrast, classes at the University of Baggi, despite being full of brilliant students, relied on rote lessons. Young wizards cast the same spells over and again. Instructors swatted the little boys who tried making up their own. At times, they confiscated wands or staves so the troublesome students couldn’t do anything at all. They assigned meaningless work to keep the brightest students busy. They turned the most exciting profession in the world into something that felt like drudgery.

“Why don’t the students leave?” Den wondered.

“Some do. The University announces that they have flunked out, though. They do that even if the boy was the best in the school. And the school does dismiss some of the worst students. So there is reasonable doubt in the community. If a capable wizard leaves, maybe he wasn’t all that good, really. Maybe he failed a critical test.”

“That’s awful.” He hoped that Spinaldri and Filchi never heard about that method of reducing the number of accounting apprentices in their classes.

“You run into old classmates now and then. I mean, the ones who didn’t make it. Some of them are doing quite well. That feels a bit odd, dealing with specialists who are selling you a magical ingredient and then they notice who you are. They look at you a bit sideways. But the worst to meet are the real failures. Fortunately, you don't see them much because they go back to their home villages and set up shop. The villagers don’t even know that they have failed. But if they haven’t learned enough to do even that, they take jobs as battle wizards in the army. You do meet those, unfortunately, from time to time. The problem with that is, they're not real wizards. They don’t last. It’s a step up for them if they are able to catch on as caravan guards. Anything is better for them than fighting the more senior wizards, the ones who passed all of their battle magic classes.”

“Did you work your way back here by hiring with a caravan?”

“Several of them. I got to know that part of the trade all too well. No one could stand against me, as you might expect.”

Dumford had some unusual traits for a wizard. He was quicker to cast spells than anyone Den had met before. He also had direct access to the dark forces of the world. He didn’t seem to need a handy store of magic. Either that, or he hid his source of the stuff. It wasn’t in a staff or a wand. Did he keep a magical stone in his pocket? It would seem daringly low-brow to other wizards. Perhaps they would not suspect it.

“Did anyone try?” It was hard to imagine.

“Two magical snipers at a distance. They thought they were clever. A few screaming barbarians, of course, but those don’t count.”

“Can’t swordsman hurt you?”

“If they are close and fast, sure. Or if I’m asleep. Or looking the other way. Everyone can get killed. But regular fighting men facing a wizard on a battlefield don’t stand a chance. Even a wizard who quit school or failed out can usually throw some lightning around.”

“Or fire,” Den suggested.

“Yeah, fireballs are classic. Tim, a wizard I knew from my first couple of years at U Bag, he was good with them. He left school. First, he found a job in the military. Later, he caught on with a salt caravan. Makes a decent living.”

“So he was good?” The accountant wondered if it was the same Tim he had met. “Did he leave the school because he hated rote learning?”

“Not exactly. They were going to fail him. He hated them anyway, so he figured he might as well quit. But he kind of liked the rote learning, or at least that’s what I judge from hearing him talk. You have to listen carefully for it. When you hear him go on, it comes out like he hated everything. But he doesn’t complain about the boring practice that we did. That’s because, I think, he needed it.”

Den remembered one or two of his classmates who had seemed to like the most boring parts of math.

“Tim was slow to learn most spells. He was also amazingly impatient when he had to figure things out on his own. He got angry. So the standard spells like fireballs got to be his friends. I’m sure that he is still out there, somewhere.”

“I met a wizard named Tim,” Denario ventured. He found himself leaning forward as he spoke.

“I’ve known three.”

That was when Den realized it might be hard to relate his side of the story if Dumford kept interrupting with witty, or possibly just drunk, observations. What Den wanted to explain was how he had ended up with magic darts. He wanted to get rid of them. They weren’t his. He had grabbed them by mistake.

He was lucky that the men who had robbed him a few times during his journeys had been more interested in food than in searching for valuables. It was hard to convey how he’d obtained magical gold in the first place. That was because the event in which it happened had been confusing even for someone like Den who had been there. It all hinged on contestants who had used same-looking cases. Denario didn’t have either darts case with him. He tried to describe one but Dumford picked another point to focus on.

“Thin man but strong?” the wizard interrupted.

“Yes, with curly, dark hair.”

“That’s all three Tims. It could be every Tim in the world for all I know.”

“Uh, wizard’s robe … that doesn’t help … purple but faded and stained. His beard was odd, I thought, rather patchy. There were some burn marks.”

“Any scars?”

“Blue ones. One of his hands looked that color, too, although he used all of his fingers on that hand just fine.”

Dumford slammed down his goblet. “It’s him!”

“I would like to return ...”

“Tim's a good man, good man,” slurred Dumford the Nothing. “Not much of a wizard, really, but he works hard. Decent lightning. Good fireballs.”

“I've gotten the impression from the University of Oggli and, well, everywhere,” Den noticed, “that there really aren't many good wizards here west of the city of Oggli. They train in Baggi or Muntar and then travel as far as Angrili. But then they stop.”

“Thas pretty much right,” said Dumford. “Except for me, of course. I'm the best, even in Baggi.” He paused to reflect for a moment. “Best student, I mean. When I'm sober.”

“Not much chance of that, then,” Den snapped before he had a chance to call it back from his traitorous brain.

“Not nowadays, no.” Dumford grimaced.

The accountant sighed. He decided that he would have to go back to his room for the darts. It wasn’t far. Showing them in public was a calculated risk, of course, but with a wizard by his side, he should be all right.

“Do you know any other wizards?”

“A few,” Den allowed with a nod. His mind went back to Oggli, where he had not known any well but had met, he realized, over a dozen wizards of various sorts in the court of the marquis. Adding in bank magicians and other, less mystic professions brought the total to twenty-two, now twenty-three including Dumford.

The wizard kept drinking and kept asking about people Den might have met. He mentioned sorceresses and witches by name but Den didn’t know many of them and he didn’t want to bring up his engagement to Pecunia. More related to accounting, it came out that Denario had worked with a bank wizard who Dumford had met in an Apparition Masters Class held at the University of Angrhili. The class had visited Baggi often. Den had also done an audit of the duke’s army, which employed wizards, and there he had met a fellow who had graduated from U. Bag two years ahead of Dumford. That tall, stout man was now a battle wizard, one of the full-fledged kind who found that other wizards were nowadays quite polite, even the ones who had been bullies in school.

They traded travel stories. Dumford had been attacked by a magician with a bow that shot arrows of lighting. Each arrow was guided by magic, which solved the problem of lightning never quite going where it was wanted, but each one also traveled only about the speed of a real arrow. Against Dumford, that hadn’t worked. His opponent had shot from the top of one hill to the next, so he must have known in advance where the caravan would stop. Dumford had been tethering his horse when he noticed the missile incoming.

He had transmuted the arrow into raw magic, although in his telling he didn’t reveal how, and then he took care of the follow-up shot in the same way. Using the raw magic of the two bolts, he created a swarm of a dozen wasps, which he sent to sting whoever held the magical bow. He’d meant to punish the other wizard, not kill him. To his surprise, the fellow was unwilling to let go of his bow, his bags, or any of his magical belongings. The insects drove the man, running full force, down the hill for nearly half a mile into a pond, where he had either drowned or made his escape.

“There are ways to travel from lake to lake by means of portals to the mer-kingdoms. It’s possible that he lived. But he went in with a bag of equipment, a metal staff, and magical lighting arrows on his back.”

“If there wasn’t a body ...”

“There was a blue puff in the water. It could have been the lightning arrows going off. But that could also have been a fast-thinking spell to open a portal.”

Denario had previously tried to describe the problems involved in his raising five apprentices. But that had only made the wizard shake his head. It was like a puzzle he couldn’t quite work out. So Den decided a story about magic would be better. They had already established that Dumford, like most civilized people, had never been near the Seven Valleys.

The accountant told the story of the snow on Tree Stump Hill. The impatient wizard interrupted him in less than a minute.

“A small, purple-black stone, you say?” Dumford wiped his beard with a corner of his sleeve. “And it took away the magic?”

“That's right.” Den nodded.

“Octiron.”

“Excuse me?” He had to wonder for a moment if it had been a word or a cough.

“That rock you were talking about that you used to clean off magic glue. That was obviously octiron. It would have had an odd glow about it in the right light. And it absorbed magic. Octiron. Probably it was old Pimmepoli who sent it.”

“Pimply?” said Denario, chuckling.

“What? Oh, yes, the name. True, we used to call him that behind his back at the school. But Pimmepoli was a damned solid wizard all the same He was a better professor than he let on. Miserable at combat magic. Fantastic at everything else. He collected bits of octiron.”

“It's a magical metal?”

“It’s more than that. It absorbs magic naturally. They say the crust of the world is thick with it. Sometimes, around an old volcano, you can find bits that have been spit out with lava. They'll be thick with primordeal magic. That's the stuff that went into making the world.”

“And this pimply fellow uses it?”

“Oh, yes. A drained rock of octiron absorbs magic, as I said. The pieces can be recharged. That's what old Pimmepoli is doing.”

“So he's come over to this side of the river? He's in our area?”

“Oh no, he never travels. That's not for him. He would never leave his post at the University of Wizardry. Posh job. Of course, anything's a posh job when you're good enough with magic.”

“And you're not that good?”

“I'm more powerful than Pimmepoli but, no, I'm not as sophisticated. That's where it's really at if you want to make life better.”

“So ...” Lacero buried his head in his hands for a moment as he tried but failed to get a grip on what Dumford meant. “Your old professor sent this stuff here. How does he get it back?”

“He siphons off the magic remotely, I suppose. He's pretty good at that sort of thing. If he can't retrieve it, then maybe he's just doing a good deed by lending it out. But no other wizard knows he's done it, that's for sure. They'd kill for it. They wouldn't have to kill, even. They'd just march in and take it.” Dumford scratched his head and thought for a moment. “Don't tell any other wizards, okay? In fact, safest not to tell anyone. Not even me.”

Denario gave that some thought.

“I know,” he said. After all, he’d already made his arrangements with the barkeep. “I’ll buy you a drink.”

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 172: A Bandit Accountant, 29.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Prime and Sum of Three Primes

Scene Two: Magic Square

In his room for only half an hour, Den unfurled the letter from Carinde. He flattened it. His hands found a few things on his desk – a compass, a penny, a quill – to hold down the edges. Then he stared at the parchment and wondered how it had beaten him to Oupenli.

There was no sign of the text being re-written. Sometimes there wasn’t one when magic was involved. He didn’t want to cast numeromancy in an attempt to discover clues. Among the many problems with that, his amateur magic could mar the fine line drawings or colors. Cari had measured her angles to make a sixteen-point moravian star. There were trace marks and a pale 22 1/2 in the margin. Below the sketch was the footnote, “Here is a shining star. It is my sixteenth. 360 does not divide evenly by 16. But nearly.” Den didn't want to ruin any of it.

Her notes, especially her questions, seemed so insightful that he began his reply immediately. His fingers kept transcribing his never-ending thoughts about her thoughts, one after another, until his hand cramped. After that, he took a break from writing, read her letter a second time, and got up to re-pack his bags so that they would fit on a coach. He rested on his cot until the innkeeper’s nephew rapped on the door of his room and announced dinner.

“Better hurry,” the young man said. “A teamster off of the street just walked in and said that he’ll drink all of the beer we’ve got.”

“Not eat all the food?”

“No.”

Den rolled off of his cot. “Plenty of time.”

He had determined to stay out of trouble until he checked the coach schedule. The earliest he could do that was in the morning. Probably it would be wise to stay out of trouble forever more, too, or at least for the rest of his time in Oupenli. He’d have to be patient for a couple of days here unless there was an immediate opening on the next coach, an unlikely event.

Downstairs at the common tables, he choose the seat in the corner section between the fire and the bar. No one would find it easy to talk to him here. As an extra precaution against unwanted companions, he brought his book of math lessons. Nothing shut up non-accountants like seeing a few equations. While he sipped a pint of the inn’s clear ale, he flipped the pages. Mentally he reviewed the lessons he had given to Carinde in person and in letters so that he could decide what the next one should be.

Three pints later, his meal arrived. It was horse steak with carrots. He’d forgotten that horse could be a dinner option after so much time in the Mundredi towns. They had no horses in the valleys, much less surplus ones. He must’ve smiled at the taste because a bald man at the bar, perhaps a wheelwright from the tools at his belt said, “Good, is it?”

Denario held his book up higher in front of his face. He wished the book cover had much bigger equations written on it that no one could possibly miss seeing.

By the end of his fourth pint, a monk joined the slurping, lip-smacking, supper crowd. He wore a brown robe. When he took a seat at the bar, he removed a book and a pointy hat from under his arm. He placed them on the counter top. His hair was brown. His beard was golden. He looked young for a holy man although, of course, they all had to start out at some age or other. Den glanced at the hat. It had geometric symbols on it. It came to a point. The monk had a wizard’s hat.

He was a wizard.

Den raised his book again. The wizard noticed, smiled, and waggled his little tome right back. The accountant had a moment to think. This was the drunk who the bank wizard had consulted in the middle of the marketplace in front of the Agrabar embassy. He had changed his robe and had sobered up as he slept all day, but it was him.

Cautiously, Den smiled. The fellow nodded once and, even better, proceeded to ignore the accountant and everyone else in favor of the nearest keg. He told the barkeep he wanted the usual and that man grunted and tapped the keg into a bowl of wine. He began stirring.

When Denario next glanced up from his page, he saw the wizard drinking his mix of beer and red wine from a goblet. With his free hand, the blonde fellow turned over his book. He slipped. He picked up the book. He turned it upside down. His head craned back for another swig. His hands fell to the leather-bound volume and tried to pry open the cover.

“Damn.”

The wizard threw the book down onto the counter. He drank more. He noticed Denario staring at him and he glared. Den hid behind his math lessons.

A few minutes later, Den traced a binomial equation on his table using a beer-wet fingertip. He multiplied the equation by itself, wrote the coefficients, performed the operation a third time, and watched the pattern take shape. The coefficients in the third and fourth levels were equal to the sum of the coefficients in the levels above. But his thoughts about patterns were interrupted by a bang. He jumped, half a second after the wizard slammed his book onto the counter. Still that man could not open his green cover.

“Another!” he yelled to the bartender.

The stocky local fellow reached down for a clay amphora of wine, with which he would presumably refill the bowl. He flipped it onto the counter next to the wizard.

“Need help with your book, sir?” he asked.

“Not unless you know magic squares.”

The barkeep shrugged. Lightly, he poured from the fifty-pound clay vessel into his drink mixing bowl. He didn’t spill a drop of the ruby liquid. The wizard tossed him a brasser.

Den spotted a design on the green, ox-hide cover of the occult publication. It was a diagram that was meant to represent a sliding puzzle. It had only three numbers to a side and of course one piece was missing. In a real puzzle like the ones made by masons or carpenters as toys for children, a missing spot was needed to allow the pieces to slide.

This one was merely an ink drawing. Maybe the drawing was a clue about how one was supposed to open the book.

“It’s got to be a magic square,” the wizard muttered.

“Not in that sketch,” Denario blurted. Then he covered his mouth.

The wizard looked up. He didn’t seem surprised, just impatient. He shook his head.

“Look, the numbers move.” With a grubby forefinger, he touched the 4 in the lower right corner. He appeared to push it up one slot into the empty space. Just as in a real sliding puzzle, the blank spot emerged in what had been the four space. The ink sketch might as well of been a mechanism made of clay tiles or of wood. “I know how these things work. The cover won’t open until I hit the right sequence. I have tried all of the numbers in order. I’ve tried them in backwards order. Now I’m sure it has got to be a magic square. But I daydreamed through that in school. I can’t remember how the things are supposed to work.”

“Right,” said Den, glad to see a quick end the conversation. “For a magic square, just put the tiles in order so that they sum up to the same amount in every direction.”

“Really?”

Den had already returned to his own book. He glanced up. He didn’t feel the need to say anything more. No sense in encouraging a drunkard.

He tried to ignore the young fellow across from him while the man, in a not-very-coordinated fashion, fumbled with his magical diagram, sighed, and drank.

Fidget, sigh, drink. Drink, drink, sigh. Fidget, fidget, sigh. Drink. Drink, drink, drink. Sigh.

“Oh, stop! Give it.” Den slammed down his own book, although not too hard because it was expensive. His left hand shot out, palm up. “It’s not going to release a demon to eat me or anything, is it?”

“Books hardly ever do.” A smile emerged in the scraggly beard. In a second, it faded, replaced by a look of caution. The wizard placed his book face up on the counter. He nudged it toward Den. “Are you in the trade?”

Den must have raised an eyebrow at the question.

“I mean, are you a professional in the magical arts?”

“I am an accountant.” Denario spoke proudly as he dodged the question.

He put his finger on the 4 tile and moved it back. The wizard had been progressing in the wrong direction. Den remembered his old ideas about how to solve these puzzles. When he was eleven, he developed of formula about how to start them.

The total per added row or column = (number of rows)((highest number + lowest number)/2)
= 3((8+ 0)/2)
= 3(4)
= 12

So the total that he needed to arrange for every row and column was 12. Den started to move the illustrated tiles. But his gestures were impatient. He was making mistakes. Sometimes he had to backtrack. His fingers sped up. They slowed down. He had to pause to consider the next stage. Across from him, the wizard cleared his throat.

“Aha!” exclaimed Den as he realized the next sequence of moves he needed to make. With relief, he sped up again and the moving digits started to feel more natural to his fingertips. They hummed with every touch.

A second after he reached the end, the soft magic square began to glow. Denario dropped the book onto the tabletop based on the idea that glowing things were not safe. Anyway, he was finished. The wizard's left hand reached out over the book and it disappeared. It did not get blocked from sight. It did not go into a pocket in the wizard's robe. It faded.

“That was amazing,“ the wizard said.

“What I did or you?” Den paused. He was impressed by the trick of the disappearing book. “All I did was a little math.“

“Math is amazing to those of us who didn't have the patience to learn it. But anyway, that wasn't what I meant.” The wizard rubbed his thin beard. “The tiles moved for you. That’s the thing.”

“They moved for you first.”

“They are hand drawn. They are bits of ink. They don’t move for most people. You have to have experience with magic.”

“I’m an accountant,” Denario repeated.

The wizard looked around. Behind him, four men had started to shout over a game of dice. It added to the noise of twenty or so conversations. To the right, a boy who might have been the owner’s grandson stoked the common fire with sticks. To the left, the bartender mistook the pause and the wizard’s gesture. He assumed that his steadiest customer wanted more wine and beer. In a blink, he plucked up pre-mixed bowl and used it to top off the goblet while it wavered in the wizard’s grasp above the bar.

“Right, then. “ The wizard didn’t say thank you but he gave the bartender a delighted smile before he returned to his conversation with the accountant. “What do you want?“

“What a strange question. No one ever asks me what I want.” Denario looked down at his book. He was thinking of two people, Carinde and Shekel. “I suppose I want to see my apprentices.”

“No, I mean for doing the magic, the numeromancy.”

Den closed his eyes for a moment. There was a guild rate for what he had just done but it didn’t seem appropriate. He wasn’t sure it was right to charge.

“Who knows?" He shrugged. He waved his arm at the where the book had gone missing. “There was no spell I had to cast.”

“Come on, now. Most knowlessmen take the opportunity to ask for a favor.”

Maybe it was the term ‘knowlessmen.’ Den had forgotten that experts in one profession talked down to others. In the Mundredi lands, he had seldom heard that tone. Perhaps he had been spared the worst of it for a few months by belonging to such an unusual profession, one that no one felt compelled to compete with.

“I’m really trying to read,” he said. He put his hands and his book into his lap. “I'd like to do that.”

"Everyone asks for a spell. Do some magic, they say.” The wizard rolled his eyes.

“And write. I’m sure you are familiar with reading and writing.”

“I am.” The fellow seemed to have picked up on Den’s attitude at last. It didn’t dissuade him. He leaned closer. “And I know that not many people come to a bar for either of them.”

“This is not a bar. It is the commons room at my inn. Where I am staying.” He indicated the other customers with his steak knife. Then he pointed to his steak. “I am eating my dinner.”

“But you are at the bar.”

Denario glanced to his left. He was sitting three feet from the bartender.

“I am having a small drink as well.” He sat up a little taller. He set his lesson book out and re-opened it to not quite where he had left off. “It is allowed for accountants. Also, I am not the only one who brought a book to the bar. Half of the men at this bar have done it. Apparently, it is a popular thing to do. I am reading mine, you may notice.”

“Huh." The wizard swiveled around, trying to judge who was close to the bar. It wasn't hard to do the sums, surely, but he was tipsy. "Not me, as far as reading. That means half of the readers aren't doing it actually. They’re being sociable. Properly sociable.”

“Hmm.” He chewed on a bit of fat and gristle.

“I confess, I was not expecting to have a chance to read. I figured that I would spend another night pretending that I wanted to open the book. And then there would be maybe a little drinking on the side.”

“Maybe a lot of drinking?” Denario snapped.

“Who knows?” The wizard as if anything were possible. He raised up a wavering hand. “Oh, wait, I know!”

Denario had a sense of what was coming next.

“I'll buy you a drink,” the strange fellow concluded.