Sunday, July 15, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 125: A Bandit Accountant, 21.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Octagonal Number Three
Scene One: A Foreshadowing

“A bridge!” shouted Denario. He hopped to his feet. The raft wobbled under him as he pointed to a nearly golden structure ringed by willow-oaks. It stood at the edge of his line of sight past a long, wide clearing where nothing grew but sand, scrub grass, and rocks.

At half a mile distant, the bridge was as far away as anything Denario had ever seen on No Map Creek. The waterway tended to shorten his line of sight with bends, trees, reverse-bends, and more trees. This time he had a clear view for nearly a mile. The lush border of poplars and birches parted on the Mundredi side to reveal a magnificent, amber monument. It had a dozen farms clustered on either end. The structure was out of proportion to the modest roads leading up to it. That only made it more impressive.

“It's not just any bridge,” answered Jack. “This, accountant, is the Dwarf Bridge.”

“But it's not small.” He eyed the keystones. There were only two visible, one for each arch, but they were each as large as a man.

“No, it’s human-sized. But it’s old, strong, and maybe a bit magical. The dwarfs craft things that way, they say, although I think the line between their skills and their magic may seem blurred to those of us over four feet tall.”

Aha, realized Denario. Magical creatures built it, dwarfs. And I've seen dwarfs in Oggli. They talk to wizards.

“Nothing happens to people crossing it, right?” Or passing under it? Denario wondered. That seemed more important as he realized he would soon float between the shore and the center column.

Maybe the structure only seemed magical to the locals because, not too long ago, they hadn't known how to build arched bridges except via the corbel method. A corbel arch was a false arch in Denario's opinion. It needed abutments and thick walls. But the dwarfs had known how to construct true arches long before men. For ages they had built them underground, out of the sight of humans, and so they'd avoided sharing their secrets.

“A feeling comes over ya, they say.” Jack gazed wistfully ahead.

“What kind?”

“A feeling that those dwarfs knew what they were doing.”

A light rain the night before had stirred up the silt of No Map Creek. The water roiled with brown mud. Visibility had fallen to about an inch straight down. Denario felt compelled to test the depths with his punt. In three tries, he got measurements of four feet, three feet, and five feet. That's why he was gazing off into the distance and thinking about right triangles ... 3,4,5 ... 5,12,13 ... 6,8,10 ... 7,24,25 ... 8,15,17 ... when he noticed a glint from the top of the bridge.

An second later, he saw another brief, metallic flash. He heard Jack's feet patter across the wood.

“There they are.” The riverman sprinted to the front of the forward raft. “A caravan.”

“Is it?” The accountant squinted straight ahead until he saw the movement, human heads bobbing up and down as they crossed the bridge. “I've only seen them at Phart's Bad. Do you know this one?”

“The mule bags are dyed green. The men have got steel gorgets on over their shirts. Even this far away I can see the shine around their necks. The shirts are green, too. That's a color that Oleg Thalberg likes. He wears it to advertise dyed cloth. It's got to be his caravan. That's one of the best. We have to stop and see if they've got anything to trade or send downstream.”

Denario pushed against a rock on the bottom of the creek with his punt. When he'd started this journey, he'd understood that a gorget was an armored neck brace. That wasn't new to him. Squires at the court had worn them. Hermann Ansel had owned one. What he hadn't understood was how they worked.

A neck brace could stop a sword from slicing your head off your shoulders. That's good. But if the rest of you goes unarmored, the gorget itself is ridiculous. Anyone able to cut off your head is capable of lethal blows everywhere else. So what was the point? After Denario finally got up the nerve to ask the question one evening, the Ansels explained how the armor worked.

“A gorget might mean something different in richer lands,” Hermann had said. Like most educated people in the duchy of West Ogglia, he'd allowed as how most advancements came from elsewhere. Everyone took it for granted that foreign places were better. “We haven't learned the secrets to good armor here. But among the mercenary classes and among the Mundredi royalty, the circle of steel around a man's neck is a promise.”

“A promise of what?”

“It means his family is saving up for more armor,” Valentina had interjected.

“Aye. My father bought me the gorget. I bought the bands from the ring to my shoulders.”

“My father bought him the two shorter brass bands,” said his wife, “front and back.”

“The framework is complete. Valentina sewed it all into my padded shirt.”

This was how banded armor started in the Oggli and Mundredi styles. A gorget coupled with the skeletal straps provided support to the bands. Even a rather poor smithy could fashion metal bands that could be welded or stitched into the frame. However, the frame was tailored to the man. Even when a particularly lucky and inventive bandit chief like Vir was able to rob a man of his armor, he'd have to cut it to pieces in the process or he'd discover that it fit no one else but the original owner. Either way, Vir needed an armorer to make his thefts useful.

Mundredi armor, even that of commoner-nobles like Hermann Ansel, was brass. Brass was more sanitary than steel. It didn't rust. But it was a tenth heavier than steel and only eight-tenths as strong. Denario figured that a warrior in brass armor had to be thirty percent better than an opponent in steel armor to stand an even chance in a fight. Vir might say that math didn't mean anything but Denario was sure that it meant something real. Calculations about weapons and armor were clues about the proportions of deaths in battle. All of the Oggli knight said that men in brass armor wouldn't stand up to steel weapons for long. Denario believed them.

“They're coming from the Kilmun side. Lay us up on the the Mundredi bank. We'll meet them there,” said Jack. He was reaching for a pole as he spoke. Denario was too slow. “Eh, never mind. I'll do it myself. You get our personal gear into the tent.”

“Do we have to worry about thieves?” The accountant's eyes widened. He trotted to his bags and grabbed the closest strap.

“Some traveling men think they move fast enough to escape the consequences of what they do. It doesn't hurt to be careful. You've got armor and scrolls and whatnot. It's not hard to imagine that something will look tempting.”

The accountant stashed his heaviest pouch first. That was the one, besides his main pack, that held the most money. His main pack, custom tailored in Ruin Thal, was already inside the tent. It took a minute to stow everything else. All that he left out were his third-best quill, a piece of dried fish on birch bark, his drawing compass, and a re-used scrap of parchment. He'd used the parchment to draw a map of the last few miles of the creek. He'd had time to add to it, as well, a rough sketch of the earlier parts of No Map.

The ink still shone. It needed a few minutes to dry., He left it in the center of the deck and made a mental note to himself to watch the caravan guards so they didn't steal it or step on it.

Oleg Thalberg, the caravan master, clapped his hands as Denario and Jack tied down. Oleg was a sandy-haired man, going to gray, with a thick, light brown beard. Behind his smile were the strongest looking teeth Denario had seen in weeks. Maybe Oleg saw a dentist in Oupenli or maybe he simply knew how to brush his teeth. Oleg's body, despite his advancing years, remained solid. He filled out his green tunic with broad shoulders. The lines in his face showed him as well past thirty but he looked more fit than most younger men.

He put his hands on his hips. “Clever Jack! You're looking well.”

“I'd swear you're younger than when I saw you last year.” Jack grinned. He stuck out an arm. The two slapped each other's shoulders with their left hands as they shook with their right. It took a few minutes for them to exchange pleasantries about their health and the weather. Denario stared at the big man's tunic, which held an emerald clan sign atop a lighter green background. As he studied, he felt the guards studying him in turn. By their expressions, they were wary of his armor. It was only the hauberk, this time. His single weapon was the baselard, still sheathed.

“Ya Mundredi? Kilmun?” asked the closest one. He was either clean-shaven or not mature enough to grow a beard. “Not Waldi, surely.”

“No tattoos,” muttered his friend. He was old enough to sport a tattered chin curtain. “Ya can't be Muntabi of any sort, can ya?”

“I marched with the Mundredi army for a while,” admitted Denario. “But I grew up in Oggli.”

“Oggli!” they breathed. That was a name that dredged up respect.

“Fooled me.” Oleg turned to him for the first time. His gaze narrowed. “Is that an accounting vest I see beneath yar hauberk?”

“It is.” After waking from a dream about the Paravienteri docks., Denario had thrown on his work shirt this morning. Wearing it felt natural. Anyway, he'd covered it, or so he’d thought.

“Oleg,” drawled Jack. “This is Denario the Dramatic, a warrior and certified accountant. He's returning from his last job in a roundabout way.”

“Very roundabout, I'm sure.” Oleg tugged his beard. “A great warrior, you say?”

“Never seen any like him before.” There was a twinkle in Jack's eye.

“So ya got yourself some security. Good.”

The riverman folded his sinewy arms. He leaned back with satisfied expression. “He started out as a paying customer, if ya can imagine.”

“Ya always were clever.”

“That's what I'm supposed to say.”

“Certified in Oggli? Damned expensive. Too rich for the likes of me.”

“Are you hinting, Oleg? We could cut ya a deal.”

“Are you his agent?”

The boatman hooked his thumbs under the drawstring of his pants. A smirk spread across his lips. Oleg developed a furrow along his forehead but the big man calmed and it disappeared. The calmness seemed to be his professional disposition because he negotiated with an bland face. He only interrupted the conversation when he needed to order his muleteer to unpack. The muleteer, a thin, middle-aged fellow, directed the guards to assist. It seemed clear that men carrying spears were on the bottom rung of the ladder of commerce.

Each leader traded goods and services. It was a complicated deal with several items, large and small, changing hands. Denario settled down on a stump to review the caravan's books. Oleg used real books with modern writing in them, his own semi-legible script. There were so many mistakes and missing entries that the review took hours. The caravan had to throw in a full meal, an agreement to carry Denario's messages, and a bottle of ink. Oleg noticed Denario's map on the raft deck, too, when the accountant leaped up to stop someone from trampling it. At the end of the review process, he bargained for a review of his trail charts with corrections and annotations for magical changes in the geography.

The caravan carried no trail charts showing lands within a mile of the creek, Denario noticed.

In exchange for the work, Oleg gave Denario a roll of maps for which he had no use but which could presumably be sold to someone else. The accountant mentioned how the caravan's trail maps didn't include the most obvious one, the road they traveled.

Oleg laughed. “Well, of course. This one runs by No Map.”

Denario glanced at his sketch of the creek's course so far. It was where he'd left it. Someone had kindly set a rock on one corner to hold it in place against the breeze. He tried to read Oleg's face as he caught the older man glancing at what was written there. A moment later, he tried to read Jack's expression as the riverman did the same thing. The leaders exchanged a look of knowing. Denario would have sworn they were innocent of any evil intent. They merely regarded the parchment in progress as object of humor.

After the caravan and rafts exchanged their last round of goods, the men swapped news of the towns upstream and downstream. Jack told the story of the Raduar assassin's attempt on Denario, to the laughter of all. Oleg told them about a troop of dwarfs he'd met.

“They've got hammers, mostly, and a few axes, but those are used more as tools than they are as weapons. For armor, they've got poor stuff. Really bad.”

“Are you sure? Beyond Oupenli, dwarfs are the only folks I've met with good steel.”

“Not this lot. They've got steel caps, true, but very little chain mail. Their hauberks look like they were studded with iron but they've been using the studs as ingots.”

“They're doing forge work with pieces of their armor? They must be really hard up.”

“I think so. They claim to be traveling craftsmen. They pull along an anvil in a little cart. That lets them move from town to town, earning their keep with fix-work.”

“That's a nice setup. Should be making them rich.”

“They've been robbed. Twice. On top of that, some folks aren’t paying. It's tough being small. I hired them to fix our gorgets. They did that and more, grateful for the money and the extra food. Out of pity, I let them trade for my worst supplies with their surplus maps. That's what brought the whole mapping business to mind.”

“So you gave us dwarf maps.”

“They say no. The maps were drawn by humans. That's what's been giving them trouble. But I can't read the damn things either. They're like no maps I've seen. All I'm saying is, don't try to trade them back their own scrolls. I doubt that would work.”

“Dwarfs are the best tool makers around,” mumbled Denario. He put a hand to his chin to hide his smile. He'd glanced at the scrolls and knew them for what they were. They were a series of mining maps. To most folks, the three dimensional coordinates of topographic maps looked like a sort of code. A good Oggli-trained accountant could read the code. Dwarfs couldn't. That must mean they used a different system. Denario wondered what it was. Whatever they did, he bet they didn't think in terms of a layered set of representations as seen from above. From below, maybe? From a center outward, using polar coordinates? As a description in pure math, no flattened model at all? There had never been a member of the accounting guild who had learned the secrets of dwarfish math.

“They could fix your spear,” offered Jack.

“You mean my theodolite. Yes, that would be handy. I could chart a better map.”

“That's not what I meant.” The boatman and the caravan members all stole glances at the parchment on deck. “All the same, we should stop and talk to them if we get the chance. Where did they say they were from, Oleg?”

“Some place with a dwarfish name I can't remember in the mountains between South Valley and Wizard Valley.”

“Kilmun territory, then.” Jack rubbed his balding head. Out away from the tree cover, he was starting to feel the sun.

“Worse, near the Mystic Desert.”

“Not from the south. Pity.” He folded his arms across his chest. “They didn't come by way of the hidden temple.”

“Surely not.”

“I hoped they might have a better way through. You know, being magical creatures and all. Someone must have a way.”

“You've sailed it and walked it many times, Jack. You're not like the rest of us.”

Jack dropped his arms out to his sides. “Ya went the long ways around again Oleg?”

“Had three men die during my final stump along the Lost Path. It kept losing us, as it so often does. I'll not attempt the straight route any more.”

“Where did that happen?”

“In different places. One listened to the talking crocodile. That was south of the center. Another went after a siren, I think. My captain … former captain ... caught sight of the white walls or so he said.”

“Near the center, then.”

“He bolted for the temple. Of course he was after the gold or jewels or something. He never came out.”

Oleg and Jack bowed their heads and made holy gestures over their hearts. It was the only time that the accountant had witnessed Clever Jack showing signs of religion. Next to the older men, the young guards stood slack-jawed. Their eyes were wide and round. Had they realized what they were missing when they skirted the lost temple? It seemed not. They turned their gazes on Denario. The short one with close-cut hair ogled the accountant's armor. He breathed from his mouth as he contemplated:

a) how brave the warrior in front of him was
b) how dead the fellow soon would be

although he caught himself after half a minute. He blinked. Self-consciously, he shifted his focus down to his feet. One of his heavy-set companions gripped tight to his spear. His lips pressed together, hard and pale.

“How do you always get through, Jack?” asked Oleg.

“Trade secret. Anyways, I pretty much showed ya.”

“You do that every time?” The caravan master shuddered. He turned a pitying look on the accountant.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 124: A Bandit Accountant, 20.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Five: Screwing Up

“But I tried this before and it didn't work!” complained Marcel. He adjusted his grip on the end of the wooden tube. He'd gotten the side with the handle. Denario grabbed the open end, the bottom. The shape lent itself to a good grip but the accountant knew he'd regret choosing the lower side. He was already standing in the water. He'd have to wade deeper.

Marcel's older brother held the middle of the tube. Opposite him stood a tall man with hairy arms. A boy too young to help tried to take part. His face was faintly purple with effort. Men chuckled as they strolled around and joined the team. The thick-bearded man who Denario thought of as a pickle farmer gripped the other half of the low end. From his grimace, he didn't enjoy putting his feet into the water any more than Denario did.

Jack Lasker, in contrast to everyone else in the group, laughed as he waded in. He directed the remaining bystanders to where they were needed. He even told the boy to join his younger brother and shore up the ramp of stones and dirt. A few second later, he dismissed Denario.

“We've got this,” he grunted. “Make sure yar ramp is ready.”

The accountant gave way to the riverman in relief.

“What is it that you tried, exactly?” he asked Marcel as he resumed their conversation. He slogged over to where he'd built most of the ramp out of shale, sandstone, and conglomerates from the creek. The slope of his construction wasn't quite sixty degrees but it was close.

“I put the end deeper into the water.”

“Aha. So you didn't make the angle steeper?” Denario surveyed the damage done by the overenthusiastic boys as they tried to mold the ramp with mud. It didn't look too bad.

“The steeper the angle, the harder the pump has to work.” Marcel grunted with effort. One of his friends was helping him keep the high end aloft.

“Yes, that would be true if this were a pump.”

Denario had to acknowledge that Marcel had done the right thing for someone with a wrong understanding of the problem. Pumps needed to dip an end into the water, no more. The steeper the angle of entry for a pump, the more effort to force liquid to the top. Denario didn't understand pumps to the level of detail that his apprentice Buck knew them but Denario had seen two laid open, each of a different design. Both had forced up water by pushing down on a bladder. If Buck had made these devices, he'd have made them just as Marcel expected, using underwater bladders. They wouldn't have had screws.

Despite the fact that he'd looked straight into the mechanism of a broken tube, Marcel still imagined that we was cranking a bellows or possibly some kind of gear shaft that compressed a bladder. He thought he had to force the water upward by pushing down on something else.

“It is a pump,” insisted Marcel. He couldn't dislodge his idea of how it should work. “I told you. It lifts water.”

Denario shook his head. He'd tried to explain but, after a failed attempt he'd shrugged and got on with his ramp. He knew that a description of geometric shapes wouldn't bring any enlightenment to these farmers. He might as well say the device was magic. Anyway, it was advancing toward him, step after step, and he needed the water and the land both lined up correctly for it to work. That was his theory, anyway. He was still working on the reasons.

The water screw arrived before he was ready. It didn't matter. The heavy oak casing didn't crush his fingers or toes. The underside came to rest on the slope of rocks. It dislodged mud and stones. The overall structure held firm. Boys on either side of the log began to shore up the ramp with more dirt.

“Is it the right way round? Do we need to roll it?” Marcel regarded the crank handle on the top of the tube as if it were the face of a clock. He meant to spin the cylinder to make sure the pump intake rested in clear water, not in silt or air. Denario checked to make sure the screw hadn't settled into the dirt too far. Otherwise, he didn't worry. His end was in the water. He was pretty sure that was all they needed. Not quite, he corrected himself. The screw blades need to rest at the correct angle. And they need to turn.

“It's fine,” he announced.

“Do you need to fix the mechanism?” Marcel asked.

“As long as the barrel doesn't leak too much, this one should carry water.”

“If it wasn't working before,” Marcel objected. “It's not going to work now. You haven't fixed anything inside it.”

“Just turn the crank.”

“But ...”

“Do you need me to turn it?”

“No, no.” Marcel threw up his hands. He eyed the gentlemen around him as if to say, 'You understand this man is crazy, right?' Then he crouched forward over the handle. He wiped his right hand, grabbed the knob tight, and pulled down. A grunt vibrated through his lips.

“Go on! Go on!” His friends shouted at him.

Marcel put his elbow into it. He lowered his shoulder. He kept the handle moving around clockwise. He clamped his left hand over his right and put the force of his whole body behind the length of the jointed wood.

Inside the casing, the water screw turned unseen and creaked like it might come apart. After a moment, the sound quieted. Denario put his hand on the barrel. He imagined it had grown cooler. Did that mean water had crept into it?

“Is something happening?” one of the men asked. He put his hand on one of the iron rings that held the held the contraption together.

“Keep going,” Denario huffed.

“Go on! Go on!” others shouted. Marcel picked up his pace in response to the shouts. Men and boys started patting the barrel of what they thought was a pump. They were feeling the temperature or maybe they were just imitating the accountant. A couple of the young men started to climb the rise from the creek shore to the field above. They seem to think they could help Marcel.

“Something's happening,” a man breathed.

“Go on!” everyone shouted.

“What's that smell?”

“Water!” someone shouted. There's water trickling down my side of the ramp.”

“The barrel staves aren't completely sealed,” announced the pickle man. He sounded disappointed. “It's been too long.”

At that, Marcel stopped. “Go on! Go on!” the calls resumed.

He shrugged at them as if they were all as crazy as Denario but he dug into his task again.

“I think you have to turn faster if it's leaking.” Denario rubbed his chin as he tried to picture what was going on. He thought the angle of the screw meant that the wooden spiral was picking up water and carrying it to the top. It was a strange idea. Why didn't the water slip back down? It had to be the angle of the blades. To the current that flowed in through the open bottom, downhill was always kept in the direction of the inside of the barrel. That's what kept it in the curling slope of the screw. But the screw couldn't possibly succeed if too much water was lost between the the edge and the cylinder surrounding it. If that happened, all the liquid that had been gathered up by the trick of the screw angle would drip back out.

“It sounds a bit like you're killing a pig,” someone said. Everyone stopped to laugh, even Marcel. But Marcel saw Denario's face and started again.

“Kill the pig faster,” said the pickle farmer. “Come on, Yonni, help him.”

One of the young men who had climbed the river bank hopped to the aid of his friend. Yonni, as Denario saw, was an energetic fellow with a shock of light brown hair. He was thin, young without much beard, and he had a barrel-maker's limbs. Yonni's forearms strained against the cuffs of his shirt, which reached only to halfway between his elbows and wrists. Together, he and Marcel didn't turn the screw handle much faster than Marcel had done by himself. But this time they didn't stop.

Denario walked to the other side of the cylinder so he could study the leak. It came from beneath, so he could infer there was rot or flaw in the oak slats. It caused enough of a problem to darken the mud. On the other hand, that was a sign that the water screw was working at least to the halfway point. There seemed to be only one leak or a few small leaks in one place. He saw no seepage higher up the barrel. Either the water wasn't rising that high, which meant defeat for his repair-by-geometry attempt, or the ends of the cylinder were water-tight and only the middle had degraded.

“Gods!” Marcel jumped back suddenly.

“What? What?” his friends called. Next to the cooper, Yonni kept cranking. He was a reliable young fellow.

“Water!” Marcel leapt back to his task. He helped Yonni spin the crank. Water sloshed again. Even down below, Denario heard it. Droplets hit Marcel in the face and he smiled. He hesitated. Again his friend didn't stop. The screw turned around inside the barrel and drew up another handful of muddy water.

All of the men and boys scrambled up the slope at once. It was such a rush that Denario, who had started to do the same thing, stopped. He'd been the slowest off the mark anyway and, if he waited, he would surely get a turn. In the meantime someone had to stay with the main body of the device if only to make sure it remained on the ramp.

Men at the edge of the grass, four feet upslope, jostled for position to see. The cooper stepped back to let them look with an expression of bewildered delight on his face. The hint of world-weariness around his eyes vanished as he began to understand what this meant. He was witnessing a shift in fortunes. Before, he'd had no quick way to bring water into his fledgling foundry and he'd needed to irrigate his fields by hand. Now, with the prospect of these working water screws, he could smelt and shape metals in quantity, probably at double or triple the best speed he'd estimated. His dream of riches could become real.

At the top end of the screw, the steadfast Yonni kept the handle moving. The counter-clockwise spin he imparted brought up water in a succession of gulps. Young boys crept between bigger men for a close-up view. Their jaws dropped. Their expressions started to look like Marcel's.

“This isn't a trick, is it?” Marcel poked his head over the rise. “You didn't just fix something in the pump mechanism? You're not sneaking up the water somehow?”

“No and no,” answered Denario.

“You're not using magic?”

Denario sighed. He took off his hat to cool down. “This is geometry.”

“It that like magic?”

“A little,” he allowed. He wondered how much he could explain. “Now that this machine is working, I'm sure I can draw you a picture of how all of these water screws are meant to operate. I'm not a barrel maker, so I can't fix the broken ones. But I can give you instructions on how to repair and run the rest.”

“There's a matter of payment,” interrupted Jack Lasker.

“Right.” Denario had been about to offer his parchment for free, not to mention his services. First he'd failed to learn good haggling from Master Winkel. Then, when he had a chance to improve himself after his rescue two months ago, he'd been unable to follow Vir's advice. Denario should at least have been able to imitate old Addler Vogel. When that man was young, he had been the best of friends with everyone around and had apparently kept his eye on the main chance, too. Denario was trying. But he certainly hadn't found an equivalent attitude.

He shook his head as he realized he might forever be a slave in his mind, doomed rely on others to drive his bargains because he couldn't speak up for himself. He pressed a hat back on his head and made himself listen, silently, as the riverman arranged for the job payments to be doled out in stages. Denario had time think about how such an arrangement helped Jack, who seemed to be have earned his self-appointed title of Clever.

The accountant climbed to the top of the riverbank to shake on the deal.

In stage one, Denario got paid a handful of money and Jack took half. That exchange that took place immediately. The accountant accepted eight coins from Marcel, five copper and three brass. Half of the coppers were green with rust. They had a metallic, tangy smell that Denario associated with purity. The better the copper, the faster it rusted.

He divided the coins, two brassers and one pence for himself, a brasser and four pence for Jack. The riverman moved his lips as he checked the math. He nodded. Denario handed them over. Then he tucked his portion into the fold on the inside waist of his pants. He didn't want anyone to catch a glimpse of his other coins.

Next came agreement on stage two. Denario negotiated for a wage of twenty brassers, a lordly sum to these folks. It showed how valuable a supply of water from these aqueducts would be. However, Denario wouldn't get his portion until he delivered a diagram to show how a water screw could be repaired. He figured he could do that overnight.

“How will I eat? Where can I work on the diagram?” he asked.

“You'll stay at my place, of course,” answered Marcel. In a minute, he agreed to feed Jack Lasker in the bargain.

When Denario stuck out his hand to shake on the second deal, he found a drawing compass in it. That made him smile. His fingers had dipped into his accounting bag as he'd considered the job and had decided on the right tool. He switched the compass to his left hand and shook.

“What about the third installment?” he asked.

“Well, most of the money gots to wait until I repair at least one pump, don't it?” Marcel replied. He let go of the accountant's hand.

Denario tried not to scowl. He knew the man was being sensible. No one wanted to part with their life savings without some proof that this better geometry would fix the water screws.

“Jack and I have to be sailing before then.”

“You can stay. No one is making you leave.”

“But ...”

“I'll pick up the money next time I swing around,” said Jack. “I usually come up this side of the creek by caravan on my return.”

“But ...”

“You'll get your half when we meet again, accountant.”

Denario cleared his throat. He had no words to add. The fact that he was going to sail away in the morning and never return to Barrel Bad for what was owed to him wasn't anyone's fault. Jack would collect. It was possible, barely, that Denario would meet Jack again someday in Oupenli to get the rest of his money. Maybe he wouldn't, either, but to Marcel and his friends, it made no difference.

“That'll do,” he sighed.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Not Zen 197: One Life
Macaque in West Sumatra by Sakurai Midori
A troop of macaques lived in a forest of mahua, bael, and banyan trees. Near the edge of the forest, there stood a grove of the tallest bael. In the thickest of those, on the branches with the best fruit, a matriarch ruled.

She had been the queen of the macaques for years, the youngest daughter of the previous ruler. Her birth had given her status in the troop during the prime of her life. Her wisdom had solidified her place. She had become the mother of many and the surrogate mother to two generations of macaques. Now her youngest daughter held the status of heir in her prime. Her daughter did not try to push her out onto a lesser branch of the great tree but instead gave her a good resting spot, food, and comfort.

The queen aged gracefully as the hair around her face grayed. Nevertheless, in time she fell ill. Her family members brought her tendu leaves to numb the pain.

"For you, grandmother." One of her granddaughters scurried up the branch to the foot of the queen's nest. She placed a gift of cuscuta flowers.

"Another useful herb, I see." The queen gave her grandchild a smile. The young female nodded. "Thank you, dear. Bring your father to me. I want to talk with him before I pass."

Her granddaughter scurried off along the branches. She hopped to the next tree, then another, farther from the center, as she searched for her father.

The queen's eldest son had been the lead male for a summer but that was many years ago. His small group had lost their battle for dominance. Now he lived on the perimeter. He had been allowed to retire with as much grace as males did. He and his allies did not contest the current leadership, nor were they pushed further down the ladder of status. They stood guard against predators and against other troops of macaques. Sometimes, the son visited his mother. He was a thoughtful fellow.

In a few minutes, she saw him. His broad shoulders curved when he paused to rest. His neck crooked with the slight stiffness of middle age. When he moved, his muscles rippled beneath his fur. His body still had the strength of a veteran defender.

With a shout, he hopped onto her tree. He let out another whoop when he swung onto the base of her branch. He stood and approached her with a smile.

"You called, mother?" he said. He rested his left arm on an upper branch for support.

"It's good to see you." She smiled. He hadn't lost his sense of play. There were many reasons he had not remained in the leadership, among them his lack of planning, his forgetfulness about his own promises, and his tendency to retire from struggles. But his loyalty to his friends, his humor, and his calmness in difficult times made others respect him. He had become known as a male of wisdom. "For the past two days, I have been thinking about you."

"About me?" He waggled his head in disbelief.

"Well, you and your father. There are differences, I know, but there are similarities."

"If you say so."

"Come now, you knew your father as well as males ever do."

"Truly? He seemed distant." He sidled up to her and held her shoulder as if to illustrate the point. He was a male who stayed close to others. Usually, other macaques groomed him. But he had learned caring from his mother. He offered comfort to others, even to children.

"As I said, you knew him as well as males ever do. If you had paid more attention when you were young, you would have noticed that he had a character trait that you do not."

"He was very sure of himself." Her son started to groom her. Her fur had grown matted, she knew, but that was because the touch of others had grown painful. She was willing endure her son's attention for a while, not that it would help her health or her appearance. "That, I remember."

"Yes. So you understand a little." She reached out and stayed his hand for a moment. "And what gave him that certainty?"

"No one can know that of another." He shook his head.

"But I know." She wanted to turn to face him. Her neck stiffened. Her son understood her discomfort. He walked around so that she could see him. Her fingers went to his strong jaw and traced the line of it. "Son, you are getting older. I do not want to wait any longer for you to understand this."

"I'm a simple fellow. Just tell me what made him that way."

"He created for himself a purpose to his life."

He paused. For a moment, his gaze drifted across the tree boughs. He took in the other macaques resting, playing, and eating leaves. A glance to the ground showed him two males in plain view, friends of his. They crouched over a jasmine bush as they foraged for beetles. When his attention returned to her, he seemed calm.

"Are you thinking about death, then?" he asked. "Does the nearness of it turn your mind to the meaning of life and to eternal life?"

"There is no eternal life. That is not something I believe."

"But mother, then what do you believe?" He stood back. "There is no purpose in this life we are living, not in the muck of eating, fighting, pooping, finding water, or falling ill with disease."

"This, I've heard from you before." Although it was a truth, it was a small one, a speck on the body of truths. "It is what fools say. You do not find a cause. You make one."

"What about the afterlife?" he said.

"Your father believed in that," she sighed. "But even he saw the folly of trying to make it his cause. After all, in believing in a life after, you assert your soul's existence. So even if you are right, when you get to the afterlife you will still be looking elsewhere for purpose. You will still say, 'it is not here.' Because it is not. That is not how it is done. Purpose must be here with you, in your existence now, because it is always now in your existence."

Since he had no response, he threw his arms up in anger. He marched along the wide branch. His fist hit the trunk of the tree. Then he turned around and marched back to his mother.

For a while, he paced. He grabbed the upper branches and shook them, not deliberately but with the force of emotion. When he tired, he sat across from his mother. He rose and shook himself. He grabbed an adjacent branch, swiveled, and sat back down.

"Well," he said. "Perhaps that is how it is done. But I must aim at a goal greater than myself. I can't love this muddy world of fighting, drinking, and grooming, no matter when times are good."

"Exactly." She bowed her head, glad her son wanted to focus on something better than himself.

"How could you and my father live side by side? You had different ideas about purpose."

"Our ideas were different as each stick made for grubbing, as each leaf made by a tree, as every bed made by a mother resting in the crook of the tree. We made our causes in life to be different because our souls were different. And yet they were the same as a leaf to a leaf, as a stick to a stick."

He cocked his head to one side, considering. "What was your purpose?"

"It was this troop around us. It was the lives of those before us and those coming after, all in a big tangle of vines, everyone caught up in everyone else, everyone heading towards an unknown goal together."

"And my father?"

"He believed in a great spirit. He told me, from time to time, how there was a soul that connected us all, that touched everything there was. He could see it in the interactions between us."

"And could you see it?"

"Sometimes I felt, well, maybe."

She leaned back, satisfied that she had managed to express the main part of what she wanted to say. However, she was no longer in her safe spot near the trunk. Her left arm slipped off of the side of the branch. She lost her balance. In a moment, she started to tumble.

The queen's fingers stretched out. She knew what to do but her weakness betrayed her. Her right arm did not rise high enough for her to catch the branch above. Her grip closed on a twig and broke it. She fell. It was her son who stopped her. He put his arms on her shoulders. He did not let her feet slip. With ease, he lifted her upright.

"You are so light," he murmured with surprise.

He hugged her. She surrendered to his embrace as she shook with the thrill of fear. He trembled, too, as he held her, but only for a short while until he remembered himself and grew calm.

"You can't stay up here," he said. "Let me guide you elsewhere."

"Back to my deathbed?"

"No. Well, to someplace different, at least. To the ground. You could rest there."

"If I lie on the ground, I will never have the strength to climb back up in this tree."

"I will stay with you."

"Until you need to sleep, perhaps."

"I'll remain for as long as you need," he replied. He did not need to explain to her that he expected this to be her last day. She felt it more keenly than he realized.

With care and with help from another granddaughter, the queen climbed down. She needed breaks to rest. Her son and her granddaughter lowered her between branches. She was careful because she remembered that other macaques had died from falls. She rested on each rung, each branch, and her son supported her until the base of the trunk.

The last was the worst. The tree was too large at its base. There were no handholds. Younger macaques simply ran up or down. The queen needed to do the same but she couldn't manage it even after a rest. She tumbled and rolled. She was lucky. She broke nothing, took no injury worse than a bump on her head.

"Rest here," her son said when they reached the shade of a jasmine bush. "I will see if my friends will bring you some food."

Although she lived on the ground for two more days, her son never returned to the trees without her. He remained in the undergrowth of ferns and jasmine. Together they rested in the midst of the sweet-smelling bushes. Her granddaughters brought her tendu leaves and cuscuta flowers to chew. Her son's friends brought them bael fruits, mahua, and beetles. They wanted for nothing, not even warmth or protection from the rain.

At night, the nearest macaques came down to the lower branches of the bael trees. They watched over their former queen and her son. Two of her son's friends, veteran males, slept on either side of them at night to keep her safe from predators.

In the middle of her last day, she waited until her son's friends had gone for food.

"Have you decided yet?" she asked.

"On what?"

"Tell me," she said. The words seemed to be coming to her slowly. "What is it that makes your life worth living?"

"Friends, I suppose."

"Doing good things for them?"

"Yes, exactly."

"Can you make it a purpose or a guiding principle of your life, this love of friends?" She smiled, knowing the answer.

"If there is anything for me, it is that."

"There is no uncertainty. As I told you the day before yesterday, this is not something you discover. It is something you make." For a moment, a sense of urgency gave her the energy to shake him by the arm. "Do you wish to make your love of your friends into your reason for living?"


"Then do so. Do it now." She let him slip from her. Her body relaxed. She leaned back onto the ground and lay there, out of breath. A moment later, her son took her hand. His fingers felt so strong. "Like a leaf to a leaf, like a stick to a stick. Your cause is right for you."

Monday, June 25, 2018

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Nineteen 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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 123: A Bandit Accountant, 20.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Four: Water Screws

I have seen these machines in architectural drawings, Denario wrote. They were commonplace in ancient times. They are not popular now so I suspect that only a few accountants would understand them. Apparently, great-grandfather Bodker built them for his irrigation system ninety years ago. I don't know if he was a solitary genius or whether he learned of the concept through traders. At any rate, he used six machines and a series of wooden aqueducts to bring water from the creek to his fields, forge, barrel works, and home. In Anghrili, these machines are known as 'water screws.'

That name did not come to me when I walked to the northeast edge of Barrel Bad and saw the wooden tubes. In fact, nothing helpful came to my mind. I didn't recognize them as man-made. The first one was broken and overgrown with moss. It looked like a dead tree, fallen over. Where the surface of the thing wasn't supporting wildlife, it was half-covered with tar.

What I saw looking into the cracked barrel of the water screw was this: 

The slope of the outside of the screw's helical blades with respect to its sides is 2. 

This requires that the slope the screw makes with respect to a horizontal line be less than 2 (an angle of 63°) in order for pockets of water to form. Upright, the screw does not function as intended.

The blades of the screw were carved from spruce. The core was oak. Between them, attachments were made from screw to core. They do not appear beyond the skills of an ordinary carpenter.

The outer shell was formed from oak staves banded together by iron rings. The cooper used a process similar to barrel making. The tube was a cylinder but, by using different lengths of wood, he formed it as one piece made as if from five barrels laid end to end. The slats interleaved, held together by iron. He must also have used a kind of glue or resin. Even where the iron had rusted away, planks held together.

From the first tube, I comprehended some basic mathematical concepts of the screw. What I didn't understand was what it was doing there at the edge of a field.

'Well, the creek moved, dinnit?' was the answer from Marcel.

So the barrel had sat in the water when it was made. Changing sands had pulled the river bed out from under it, now fifteen yards to the southeast. Local men chimed in with descriptions of how they thought the devices had once worked. From them, I gathered that these devices were pumps.

Clearly what lay before me was not a pump. I tried to understand how these fellows could have mistaken it for one.

'There's a pump what still works some,’ said Marcel. 'It draws up a bit of water from ol' No Map. Otherwise I wouldna thought you could fix any.'

'Aha!' With those words I began, for the first time, to comprehend what I faced. I counted the screw blades I could see. They were all almost exactly eleven inches apart. Given an eight-foot length, mostly covered and hidden from my view, I reasoned that there were nine helical blades pieced together around the core. The pitch of the blades measured at roughly forty-five degrees. They seemed to be about eight inches in radius from the core.

I took all the measurements I could, knowing I would not want to hike back to this broken pump.

About eighty yards further north, Marcel showed me another wooden tube blackened by tar and pitch. This one was in good shape and stood nearly straight up from the creek to the wooden aqueduct that was meant to carry water from it. Although I couldn't see inside, a handle at the top seemed to turn the core smoothly. I heard the blades move. Nevertheless, the machine did not lift any water up to the aqueduct. Since I had no idea of how it was supposed to work, I was not troubled.

How could a screw lift water? Yet somehow, I felt that it once had. At an intuitive level, I began to realize that Marcel was right. I could fix these or, at least, learn the correct geometry of them. I didn't have enough information yet.

The next pump we came to, again traveling to the northwest, lay along a sandy bank. It was quite nearly flat to the ground, which allowed me to see into it from underneath. The end that hung out into the creek had visible, intact wooden blades, apparently part of the same helical arrangement as the one that lay broken. This one spun. I could see it work. The blades touched the water. But the machine picked up nothing and seemed to have essentially no effect.

'Is this broken?' Marcel asked me.

'The mechanism seems to work,' I said. 'I don't know yet why it's stopped pumping. As far as I can tell, it should never have done anything.'

'Well, the next one picks up water.'

The next barrel-covered screw sat at about a 60 degree angle from the creek to the aqueduct system. Marcel turned the handle at the top for a while. Finally something happened. Between the handle and the barrel surrounding it, a trickle of muddy water began to pour. It kept coming. I had to dismiss the idea that it was a trick conducted with a small pocket of water stored in the tube beforehand. No, the machine was lifting the flow of the creek.

Water sluiced down from the opening at the top of the screw into the curve of a wooden plank. Marcel had made an aqueduct out of wood or he had repaired an ancient one about five feet tall at its high end. Wood does not seem to me to be the best material to carry flowing water yet clearly it is what a barrel maker would use and it performed well enough. A wave descended gently at a five degree angle for more than sixty feet before it met the ground in an irrigation furrow.

I fell to my knees in the dirt and began to draw the angles and lengths of the 'pump', the irrigation system, and the slope of the ground, which was nearly level. I had no clear reason to do this. I simply saw that at least two triangles were involved and they formed a greater triangle combined. I had begun to guess that angles were important.

'Are you all right?' Marcel kept asking me that question. So did the other men. I couldn't answer. I was busy thinking.

When I realized that the 'pump' was a water screw, I was nearly done.

'Aha!' I jumped up in the air and whooped. Several men started running away, each in different directions. Perhaps they feared that I was doing magic or I'd contracted a disease. Jack had to coax them back by reminding them that his money was at stake.

Now I faced an impossible problem. I shuffled around, hands on hips, muttering to myself. I was racking my brain for information on water screws and finding very little. I'd read about them but I'd never seen any at work, not even during my trips to Anhgrili, where a famous one still exists. What was the difference between the working screw and the failing ones? Was it as simple as the manner in which they met the water?

My feet carried me ten yards before I stopped. I'd begun the dash back to the previous screw without explaining. I made myself wait.

'Marcel, I want to try something,' I managed to call out before I started running again.

I heard a laugh behind me. Jack the riverman blew by my left shoulder, as fast as a storm wind. Marcel caught me before we reached the flat-lying screw. When we arrived, I was out of breath. But my travels have agreed with my health. I recovered in a few seconds and managed to lift the wooden tube with their help. Where the cylinder had once entered the water, barely, at an angle of five degrees, we arranged it with a ramp of earth and rocks to almost a fifty-eight degree angle.

Testing seemed to demonstrate the importance of this geometry.