Sunday, April 15, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 118: A Bandit Accountant, 19.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Five: Creek Map One

Within the hour, Jack had disassembled Denario's raft. It lay in poles strewn about on Jack's second boat. All the while, the boatman hopped from deck to deck. Sometimes there were three or four feet between the decks when he jumped but he didn't seem to mind. Jack had to steer the front boat, too, because he didn't like the way the accountant poled the creek bed. So he leapt across the gap, showed Denario what he was doing wrong, and hurdled back to the trailing raft to return to his work. He seemed to think Denario's rope was worth saving. He didn't cut it.

Once, Jack jumped with an axe in his right hand and a some kind of boating hook in his left. If he'd missed, he wouldn't even have been able to grab anything to save himself. Of course, Jack didn't miss. The accountant considered making the jump himself just for fun. He crept to the rear of his raft. His legs knew better, though. They told him, remember how in Ruin Thal a little girl who had been born with a broken leg could outrun you. They locked him up at the knees. In armor, in the middle of the stream, Denario would surely be dead if he missed. Even an experienced riverman wouldn't be able to save him.

The accountant steered the front raft as best as he could for almost two miles before a rivulet from the other side in Kilmun territory joined the flow. The creek widened. The center got deeper and slower.

The riverman skipped lightly from the trailing boat to the fore. He'd stacked a dozen pieces of kindling wood together on the rear deck but otherwise he showed no sign of building a fire. He didn't seem impatient to get the work done. Like Denario, he seemed to view the calm section of the creek as a chance to rest.

He held out his hand. Denario put the pole into it.

“What's this called again?” said Jack. It was a challenge.

“Um, the punt.” Denario still thought of it as a stick or a pole. No one used them on the Complacent Sea.

“Right. Yar done punting for now. Take some armor off.”

Denario had sweated through his shirt, chain mail, and second shirt. He took off his outer layer, the hauberk. It was the hottest part. He let the heavy leather thing flop next to his main pack. Then he sat on the deck next to his accounting bag, from which he pulled a pen, ink, and a fresh scrap of parchment. The nib of the pen was bent. He got out his knife to re-cut it. When he was satisfied with the shape and feel of the nib, he grabbed his ink bottle and shook. He wanted to hurry up and capture in writing the bends in the creek that he'd just seen. He had been memorizing them and sighting distances with the punt as if it were a theodolite. That was how he'd estimated their travel so far at about two miles. If he waited too long, he'd forget the details and the map quality would suffer.

He made his first marks on the scroll. They looked good. He nodded and studied the tip of his pen even though he already knew it was fine. Denario had kept good track of the south-by-southwest direction of the raft's travels. It was no problem for him to do the next part, filling in the compass star and the distance key. Then he had to transcribe the nine bends he'd seen in the creek into shapes on the page. He got out his ruler and his protractor.

“Yar keepin' a map?” said Jack. He grinned incredulously, as if in anticipation of a joke. He craned his neck to see what the accountant was doing.

“Yes. Vir, the Mundredi chief I told you about, he said this water had never been mapped.” Denario marked where they were on the top third of the scroll. Then he began to draw backwards up to their launch point.

“Huh. Wasn't sure I believed about the chief.” The riverman pulled the punt out of the water. He held the pole, which was as long as two tall men, as lightly as Denario would hold a yardstick. “I do recognize the coin on yar neck, though.”

“I've been planning to make the first map of this place ever since I realized I had to go home this way.” He dipped the pen into the ink again.

“Did ya talk to anyone about it?”

“Not particularly.”

“Didn't anyone tell ya why this place is called No Map Creek?”

“Because no one's ever mapped it?”

“Huh.” The boatman stood back and looked sideways at the accountant. “Well, no harm giving it a try, I suppose. Everyone's got to learn.”

With that cryptic remark, Jack Lasker fell quiet for a quarter hour while Denario mapped the bends in the stream. Denario included the major landmarks, mostly the largest of the trees and a trio of boulders that had looked nothing like trolls, thank goodness. There was also what the riverman described as a swimming hole, which was a wide bend with slow currents. The bend was occupied by a goat on a long tether tied to a tree growing on the Kilmun bank. The goat waded up to its knees.

A Kilmun boy rested uphill from the goat. He had laid down a pair of stilts beside him, which seemed odd. Denario associated stilts with traveling circuses and Oggli parades or street fairs. He stopped thinking about that, though, when he noticed the spear laid across the boy's lap. That made the accountant nervous about what might be in the water that required a weapon. Another half-mile passed without any signs of large fish or magic, though. Denario finished his mapping and laid out the scroll to dry.

“Coming up around the next bend is Killim Thal,” Jack announced. He took his punt out of the water and pointed to a farmhouse visible through a row of willow trees along the Mundredi side. Denario strolled to the front of the raft to get a better look. He noticed a house on the Kilmun side, too. Apparently the town spanned the creek.

Before they could round the bend, which took some poling because of a sandbar in the way, Denario heard a loud flutter of wings behind him. He spun, half-expecting to see a magical creature like a griffin. It was a hawk. It wasn't even a big one, no larger than his arm. Its beak looked deadly, though. Denario tried to avoid alarming it. The bird had landed on the gunwhales of the raft. Denario judged that it would probably go away as soon as it saw there were no mice or rats on the deck.

For a moment, it focused its yellow eyes on Denario. Then it lost interest. The brown hawk gazed around in the jerky, instantly-focusing way that predatory birds had. It hopped down from the gunwhales. It hopped again. Finally, without looking around, it hopped twice more and then took off.

“Hey!” Denario shouted. On the last hop, the hawk had grabbed his map in its claws.

He lunged forward and drew his sword. But the hawk was no longer even visible. The map was gone. If the hawk let it drop right now, wherever it had gone, the parchment would probably fall somewhere in the boughs of the trees.

“Damn it,” he swore. “That piece was expensive. Now I'll have to redo the drawing.”

“Make sure to use a smaller scrap next time,” said Jack. He'd paid more attention to punting around the sandbar than to the hawk.

Denario took his advice and hastily re-drew the map from memory on a cheap fragment of calfskin. He stuffed it into one of his pockets so no bird could get it.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 117: A Bandit Accountant, 19.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Four: Crazy Jack

“I might barter passage for work,” said the well-tanned riverman, “but ya don't look like yah'd be much of a boatman.”

“Probably not,” admitted Denario.  He had made the mistake of trying to build a raft.  No one in the area had wanted his work, not even as a geometer.  He'd taken the advice of the farmers and cut down a few scrub mallow trees with his axe.  It took him three days but it had seemed worth it.

The mallow trunks were the lightest pieces of wood he'd ever moved although they were still heavy enough to crush his toes.  By themselves, the logs floated better than oak.  More than half their diameter stayed above the surface of the water.  His experiments with the logs along the banks of No Map Creek seemed promising.  But then came his attempts to lash the stripped-down saplings together.  After a day of bruising his fingers, ripping the bark that was supposed to keep his wood waterproofed, breaking his rope, and losing one of his hard-cut saplings to the mid-stream current, he gave up and paid a couple local boys to help him.  They'd demanded two coppers each, math lessons, a scrap of parchment, a pen nib, and a handful of honey drops from Vogel's General Store.

In return, the boys made a raft that would just about lift Denario and his baggage but not quite.  The level at which it floated was above the creek bottom but below the surface of the water.  When Denario stood on it fully loaded with his gear, about an inch of water drifted over the tops of his feet.  The raft was as steerable as a cart with a broken wheel.  Basically, it was useless and he'd wasted the better part of a week and a sixteenth of his precious supplies on it.

He'd been poling himself slowly, carefully, and rather unsteadily along the Mundredi side of the creek when a real riverman arrived.  Naturally, the fellow looked on the accountant with amusement.

“It wasn't my intention to become a sailor,” Denario clarified.  He stood taller.  His shifting weight shook the raft.  His feet started to slip on the wet bark and he almost fell.

The current was gentle and it was only a couple feet deep according to his pole. He wouldn't have drowned.  But he might have taken a serious injury in terms of embarrassment.

“Are ya just playing, then?” asked the approaching boatman.  “Because it's a dangerous game, as loaded with weights as ya are.  In the deeper parts of the creek, ya would be dead soon after ya tipped over.”

“No, I meant to be a paying passenger on a boat.”

“Yah?”  The riverman raised one eyebrow in a slightly skeptical expression.  He wasn't a tall fellow although of course he was at least a head taller than Denario.  He'd gone partially bald, which Denario could see because, under the boughs of the trees lining the creek, the fellow didn't bother to wear a hat.  His remaining hair was mostly black, touched by a line of silver.

The boatman's arms were strong and finely muscled.  He wore only one shirt, no sleeves, so he was dressed for movement, not warmth.  Possibly his constant activity kept him comfortable.  The raft under his feet was a large one, about a quarter of the size of the creek and it was a reasonably wide creek.  In most places, the shores were too far apart for anyone to skip rocks across to the opposite bank.  Or maybe that was just Denario's weak arm showing him up.

More impressive than the size of the raft was the structure.  It was nearly a flat-bottomed boat.  The beams that formed the bulkheads had been made watertight by the fibrous stuffing between them. The lip of the hull was surrounded by what Denario thought of as gunwhales although they were too short to hide behind unless maybe you laid down and used a crossbow.

The craft looked almost seaworthy.  Better, there was a second craft tethered behind it.  The decks of both were largely empty.  The closer raft held the boatman, a deer-hide tent, which was probably where the man slept at night, and two bundles of raccoon furs.  The farther one carried a load of small barrels carefully distributed and tied down with twine and pegs.

“A passenger paying with what?”  The fellow rubbed his stubbly chin.  “I'm always looking to make a bit more profit.  What do ya have?  Smelt?  Pigs ears?  This far into the hills, I don't suppose yah've got any money.”

“Money?”  Denario gasped.  It almost made him fall.  Rather than take any more risks, he hopped off of his raft.  The creek was cold and the silt made for sticky walking but no worse.  He grabbed onto a loose end of his raft's lashing as it bobbed to the surface. “Bless you!  No one's wanted money from me in over two months.”

“Yah're happy that I wants money?  Does that mean ya gots some?”

“Yes.”  Denario's city-raised instincts kicked in.  He raised his guard mentally as he turned his back on the river man and  started to drag his little raft to shore. “Not much but some.  How is it that you use money?”

“Well, now, I'm a professional boatman.”  The fellow put unnecessary emphasis on the word 'professional,' probably his way of reminding the accountant about how dangerous the creek might be for amateurs.  “This is my second trip of the year already.  And I travel a long ways.”

“How far?”  Denario reached the sandy bank and dragged his lash line with him until the edges of the mallow logs met the shore and stuck fast.

“All of No Map Creek plus the Lamp Kill all the way to Oupenli.  Money is all anyone wants, down there.  I don't go past the big city no more because they have a riverman's tax.”

“Pity.”  The two huge rafts looked sturdy enough to take out on the Complacent Sea.

“It's na pity.  That stop is the secret to making runs on this creek whenever I like.”

“Because you don't waste time going to Oggli?”

“Oggli has better prices, I hear.  But in Oupenli I can sell everything, even the rafts.  I make good rafts, as ya might notice.”  The man had managed to hold his flatboats against the current for a minute but the pole-work involved looked tiring.  He took a deep breath and found a larger rock along the bottom to use for leverage.

“I did notice,” Denario admitted.  “So there are people who will buy the raft?  And you can rely on that?”

“Oh, yes.  I've got partners there.  There's a whole trade built on raft swapping.  If ya pole a boat through Oupleni Gates with nothing on it, the tax is only a copper.  But if yah've got goods, the local knights take one out of twenty.”

“I never knew that.”  This was a lesson in economics, Denario judged, if only he could figure out what it meant.  It would be one for the accounting log, anyway.

“It can get worse than that.  If ya don't cooperate, they kill ya or sink ya or take everything. They all claim to be free knights, too, so they don't agree with one another and they don't trust the Oupenli Gates committee, though it's made up of knights like them.  So sometimes they come for their shares all personal.”

“Does that mean you get taxed twice?”

“Could be.  It's hard to stop five or six men in armor when they're already aboard.  Sometimes they don't care about furs or olives or apples or anything else but coins.  Then they take all the silver yah've got.”  He pushed the tip of his pole deep into the creek bottom.  The current was starting to overpower him at last.  His trailing boat had started to flow around him and now it had reached a point almost sideways behind the first.  It would be in front of him soon and carry him away.

“But you still want my money?” Denario said, jumping to a conclusion.  He couldn't take his eyes off of the drifting rear raft.

“Only a week or so downstream, past an old temple,” said the man as he bent down to a coil of rope near his feet, “ya find folks who don't like getting eggs or pigs ears in payment.  They want pennies or elim.”

The elim were coins so badly made, they hardly lasted.  Denario hadn't seen many.  Their metal was the cheapest that could be cast.  Placed in a sack with other coins, the elim developed nicks and scratches and eventually broke up altogether.  But in the Ogglian countryside, an elim could buy an apple.

The riverman lifted his rope coil and tossed knotted end to the accountant.  Denario sighed with relief.  The man wasn't going to leave quite yet.  The end of the rope that was still on the boat was tied off on a stake driven between two bulkheads.  Denario needed to tie off his end quickly.  He ran to a nearby maple tree and lashed the cord around the trunk.  He tied a sailor's hitch but he almost wasn't fast enough.  He barely slipped the end through the crossed loops before the pull of the creek tightened it.  The fibers twisted in his hands.

The second raft had begun to pull the first one downstream.  Fortunately, the lashing held.  The riverman nodded at it.  He hopped off the lip of his boat straight onto the shore.  In his left hand, he held a second coil.  He marched to a different maple tree and looped a single hitch around it.  Then, because the rope still had play, he tied a snuggle hitch farther down on the trunk.

“This line joins by carrick bend to the tether between the boats,” explained the riverman. “So it'll hold the second one even if the first goes.  But I don't think the first one should have a problem.  Yar knot looks fine.”

“Thanks,” said Denario.  He stuck out his hand.  “I'm Denario the Dramatic, Accountant of Oggli.”

“Hah!  That's a hero's type of name.”  The fellow stepped forward and shook.  “Ya don't look it except for the armor.  I’ve never met an accountant before.  Too rich and too free of possessions for a raftsman, usually.  What are ya doing up here?”

“A job went bad and I had to look for another way home,” Denario said.  “I’ve done book keeping and surveying and so on to earn my room and board.”

“Those are different things, surveying and whatnot.”

“Well, certified accountants study the measurement of everything.”

“If ya say so.  Where did ya learn your knots?  Not from counting, surely.”

“I grew up handling the dockyard books in Oggli.  Sometimes that meant working on the docks.  The handlers and sailors always wanted me to make myself useful.”

“Good.  Denario the Drama Tick, I'm Jack Lasker.  Some call me Clever Jack.”

“Ah ... I heard 'Crazy Jack.'”  As soon as the words came out of his mouth, Denario wished he had them back.  He didn't want to drive up the price of his trip.  “But Clever Jack sounds much better.”

“Don't it?”  Jack rubbed his bald head for a moment.  “I've been called other things but I think it pays to tell people yar clever.  Sometimes I put warnings into bottles, something like 'Clever Jack is coming to take all yar whiskey' and set them afloat while I'm building me rafts.”

“Why?”  It seemed like a change of subject but Denario was fine with it.

“It's what I learned from my partners in Oupenli.  It's called 'advertising.'”

“Oh, I get it.  You pick up whiskey on the way.  That is clever.”

“Them notes let folks get ready for me if they notice 'em.  I sent out a dozen out last week during a flood.  No one so far has told me they found 'em but I have hopes for the next place.  It's a big town called Killim Thal a few miles south.”

“I've heard of it.”  Denario had been heading there, in fact, although he wasn't sure if would have needed to abandon his raft and walk.

“Want to come along?”

“The price?”  Denario patted his water skin.  It wasn't where he kept his money but he didn't want to reveal his hiding places.

“We can discuss it as we go,” said Jack with a nod.  “If ya don't like the bargain, well, ya can always get off at Killim Thal.  They might have a use for math.  Like I said, they're big, pretty near six hundred people.”

“What about my raft?”  Denario swung his arm toward his traitorous, amateur boat.  It had floated well until he actually stood on it.

“I'd like to pull it up onto my own and have a look.  That's mallow wood, isn't it?”

“So I'm told.”

“Yah, the mallow is worth something in itself.  I'm sorry ya cut it down.  I suppose the farmers told ya to do it but I hate for anyone to waste the trees.  To the farmers, they're useless.  To boatmen, mallow is a friend.  It’s light and strong, a bit like balsa.”

Denario knew balsa wood from the Oggli and Anghrili docks.  Sailors used it to make tools that needed to float despite carrying lots of weight, things like buoys, barrels, ladles, handles, safes, and even types of riggings, rafts and ship decks.  Maybe that explained why the mallow wood had seemed to Denario more buoyant than other types.  He'd thought it was simply because it was old and dry.

Jack held out his hand.  Reluctantly, Denario handed over the tether to his raft.  The boatman pulled it close and knelt.  He lifted a corner of the raft.  His knuckles rapped the bark underneath with a damp, hollow sound.

“These trees were nearly dead.  Not so much a loss.  But ya left the bark on instead of splitting the logs and baking them.  Ya need to cook out water from wood properly, even from stuff that's far gone.  Do that and use a bit of sedge reed stuffed between the bulks.  That would have made this raft stronger, maybe even enough to hold all of yar equipment.”

“That's ... astounding.”  He felt a surge of hope.  Even if he didn't get along with Crazy Jack, he had learned something useful.  The raft might yet take him home before the start of summer.  That would be only two months late from his apprentices' point of view.

“It takes a good fire and a bit of time to dry this out.  It's worth it.  We can take yar raft apart and build the fire on my deck.”

“A fire on your deck?”

“Right now?”  Crazy Jack grinned.  “Sure!”

The fellow wrapped the mallow raft's crude towing line around his hand.  He backed up a few steps.  Then he took a running leap from the shore to his nearest boat.  It wasn't far but he almost didn't make it.  He had to skip for an instant on the edge of Denario's raft before he placed his left foot down on the gunwhales.

Denario watched Jack almost but not quite fall in and shrugged.  He'd been warned that this man took risks.  Well, accountants did, too.  One did, anyway.  And Denario's bad experiences with fires didn't mean much on a creek.  The was nothing wrong with building a fire on a boat, surely. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 116: A Bandit Accountant, 19.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Three: Hunger

There are no rafts on No Map Creek. I have been hiking along the banks. But to no avail. I have come at the wrong time of year.

The rivermen who deal in leathers, meats, cloth, and finished goods all sailed down from the northeast hills as soon as the ice melted. They are long gone. The next slew of rafts will not launch until the harvests of spring crops begin in mid-summer. That's two months from now, a wait that I fear my apprentices cannot afford. 

I've written an explanation of my delay to my partner, Curo, but there is no one to take it south. I've also written a letter to Carinde Vogel and sent it with carters from Shore Kill. The contents were mostly Lesson Number 6 from the schedule of the Oggli and Anghrili Accounting course. I dared to include a personal message. Part of that was in code but I expect she'll have no problem reading it.

After two days in Shore Kill, a town that borders the creek, a letter from Carinde caught up with me. It was addressed to 'Denario de Dramatik, Master Accountant, care of the Bank of Oupenli-Ogglie.' I daresay it would have found me even in Oggli. She must have written it the day after my departure. In it, she includes a drawing of another eight-pointed mullet. She describes using algebra in her father's business and refers to the money I gave her as part of her dowry. I suppose that makes sense from her step-mother's point of view. Cari also says, many times, that she misses me and hopes I'll return soon. It makes me feel bad that I won’t see her again. 

She inspired me to seek help. I went to the town hall to plead my case to the mayor of Shore Kill. He advised me to build my own raft.

That is impossible. But as I have debated with myself about the situation, I've grown hungry. I've eaten most of my rations. Shore Kill cares nothing for accounting, geometry, or any other sort of math. The citizens will not let me earn my keep here. Nor will the mayor intervene. He said that the problems of the world beyond his farms are of no concern. Indeed, for hundreds of years, there have been no wars here. His town has no wall to protect it. There are no barriers or levies around the neighboring towns.

I've tightened my belt. I've prepared myself for the hardest journey, the one through the most magical of lands.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 115: A Bandit Accountant, 19.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Two: Finding the Creek

From Small Ephart to Lacti Thal and then from Lacti Thal to Dam Hollow, I lightened my pack. That was done by failing to earn food on the way.

Denario continued in his journal, The problem seems to be that folks on these farms and in the towns are becoming less like the Mundredi and more like traditional peasants. They are distrustful of the merchant classes. To the peasants in Easy Valley and Long Valley, I was merely a man who liked math. At the foot of the Long Valley hills, I was a novelty. Here, I have come so close to civilization that I am truly known by profession as an accountant. People expect me to be disdainful of barter. Many of them don’t want to talk with me. The only news they have of accountants comes from their taxes.

At Dam Hollow, I did at least find a small point of interest, a holy mound. The place stands at the border within the north wall. It is devoted to five gods. Already I've forgotten the other four but the fifth is Melcurio. His shrine takes the form of the number eight laid out in rocks. I decided it was in poor repair, so I did what I could by setting stones back to right, packing them in with earth, and watering grasses around the edge to hold the shape together. While I was working, a woman came to observe me. It turned out to be the Priestess of Haph-Penny.

The priestess offered me a job translating her oldest temple documents. The most important document she had in mind, unfortunately, was a ledger, which showed that Melcurio owed the Haph-Penny temple either 400 tuns of barley, which is a ridiculous amount, or '4 flying dogs.'

I admitted to the priestess that I might have mis-translated that last part. She said no, her temple had received a flying dog about twenty years ago and it was rumored that Melcurio had sent it. She felt the words made sense. Did I have another flying dog? she asked. I said no and I was sure Melcurio didn't mean to send any through me. She fed me anyway. It was the first meal I’d earned since Ruin Thal.

The priestess didn't recognize the amulet of the Old Muntabi Empire around my neck. Nor did anyone in the next town, Dam Shallow, which sits on No Map Creek so firmly that the oldest part of town is in the middle of the creek. The riverbed moved there, over time. Water cut a channel where the main street ran. Now, just after the spring thaw, it is deep enough that the citizens of Dam Shallow have to use a bridge to get to the town hall. By midsummer, they told me, the stream will run a few inches deep, twenty feet wide, and it will be filled with tadpoles. Children will play in it and young men and women will run across when they are in a hurry.

No one offered me work in Dam Shallow. Nor did anyone offer me a room except the brewery, which doubles as an inn, and they charged me two coppers for the night. The guards at Ruin Thal seem to be correct. The blue coin of the Muntabi royalty is not likely to help me further unless the Kilmun tribesmen on the other side of the creek acknowledge its authority.

Meanwhile, my supplies are dwindling. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 114: A Bandit Accountant, 19.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene One: On You It Looks Good

At the gates to Ruin Thal, as at the gates of so many towns in Denario's recent memory, the guards were happy to see him leave. The carters coming the other way were happy. The mayor's nephew had strolled along to make sure the accountant headed off. A tattoo artist had come, he said to check the art on the accountant's buckler. Of course, Karla and Addler Vogel had come because Udo didn't want to close his store. They were all happy to see Denario leave.

Everyone seemed to feel the same way with one exception. Carinde wanted him to stay.

The girl was as resplendent as she could be in her green-and-white temple dress. She'd taken off her bonnet and didn't care about the rain. Karla, beside her, wore her shop dress with a gray shawl flipped over her head. Addler wore a hat and leaned on his cane. He cursed the late-morning drizzle and the pain in his knees. He kept stopping to rest. If Cari hadn't paused now and then to point out geometric shapes along the way, Addler couldn't have kept up. Fortunately for him, his grand-daughter's mind seemed to be exploding with ideas about shape and structure. She'd noticed how the domed buildings in her town weren't as curved as they first appeared. They were built from triangles latticed together. Cari had twice asked Denario how it was done but he'd been forced to admit he didn't know.

“I've been spoiled,” he said. “One of my apprentices, Buck, used to tell me about the details of carpentry and engineering. He knew some of the secrets. But I must not have paid enough attention. I remember the geometry, not the methods.”

Karla stooped to pick up her two year old, who was too tired to stand or perhaps just felt a lack of attention. The guards beside the gate smiled at the suddenly happy little girl. They knew the Vogel family. They knew the mayor's nephew. They'd heard that Denario the Dramatic was leaving today and they seemed relieved.

“Good day for it,” the younger, darker fellow said. “We've got news from Small Ephart. Two carters came from there, the first travelers up from the south in weeks. They say that the town managed to kill off some mercenaries who'd surrounded it. You won't have to fight your way in like you did here.”

“Great.” Denario hadn't realized such a problem was possible. Were the baron's damned foot soldiers everywhere now? On top of praying that Small Ephart would let him pass, he had to hope there weren't stragglers from mercenary troops who would be out to murder and rob every traveler they could.

“That's why the accountant waited,” chortled Addler. He knocked Denario's elbow playfully with his own.

“Not that you couldn't do it,” said the guard. But the guard had to squint as he said it. Apparently, it was hard for anyone to gaze directly on Denario and state aloud that he was a fighter. “I mean, you're Denario the Dramatic and all that.”

“He's got the gods on his side,” Addler asserted.

“He's got magic!” Carinde chimed in.

“He's got a bandit coin on his neck,” said the second, taller guard. He leaned against his pike and gazed on the blue medallion. “That's not going to do you any good along the creek, you know.”

“It might,” said the first guard.

They fell into lazy argument about the Kilmun tribesmen who lived along the creek. The issue in their minds seemed to be whether or not the Kilmun observed the sanctity of the royal Muntabi. They said they did. But they actually disrespected all royalty. Addler, the tattoo man, and the mayor's nephew joined into the debate.

Carinde turned and grabbed Denario by his left hand.

“Don't go,” she whispered. A few feet away, her step-mother took a deep breath, as if about to issue a reprimand. But she pressed her lips tight and refrained.

Denario understood something about heroic poems and about how people behaved in them. He knew this was where, as a departing warrior, he was supposed to say something noble, like 'But I must go, for I'm on a mission,' or 'I'll return when I'm most needed,' but he knew those were lies. The first one was even technically true but to say it like a hero would still be a lie.

What actually came out of his mouth was, “Forty triangles.”

“What?” said Karla, not quite under her breath. She had maintained a polite distance from her step-daughter, far enough to appear disinterested but close enough to hear what Cari said and Denario, too. Now she seemed bewildered.

“You mean in the last dome?” Cari gripped his hand even tighter. Her gaze rose to the cupola atop the tower slightly behind her and to her left. “Yes, I figured it was that many, too.”

“You did?” He gaped at her. “Really? No one ever notices. I've never met anyone else who counts shapes within shapes.”

“I saw you looking at the triangles earlier. Your lips move when you count. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn't.” He put his right hand over his mouth.

“Anyway, you can't see all forty of the triangles. You had to count the half you do see and double it, right?”

“Of course.” He stared into her green eyes. A razor-sharp intelligence gazed back. Of course, it was in the body of a young girl, which might have been why she misinterpreted his momentary astonishment for something else. “Don't worry,” she added with a quick curtsy, “I won't tell any other heroes.”

“About that ...” He really felt like he should reiterate that he wasn't really a hero. On the other hand, no matter how many times he said it, no one paid attention. “Oh, never mind. Just write to me. Write lots. Send me math. Send me your every thought. Do you remember the code I showed you?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

He leaned close, his eyes on Karla Vogel. Karla was trying very hard not to lean forward.

“I can use it to send you another code, you know,” he murmured softly. “So we can say anything. And you can write as often as you like.”

“What if I want to write to you every day?”

Denario opened his mouth. He closed it again. His bags were heavy with money. He knew he was carrying too much. The custom-tailored pack felt better than he deserved but it was still over-full. The problem had been occupying his thoughts since yesterday when he had balked at putting so much copper and brass within the reach of a man as greedy as Udo Vogel. True, Denario trusted Addler. But Addler was getting feeble. If he died or went lame, well, Udo might try to claim Denario's funds as his own. Karla Vogel could keep her husband from outright theft but she might not, too. For one thing, her interests lined up with her husband's.

Udo wasn't here to see what the accountant was doing, though. Denario made a decision. He scrambled out of his pack straps.

The thick ox-hide felt as rough as his armor. His fingers fumbled with the ties to the flap. Like the primitive Mundredi leather doors, his backpack had to be tied and untied. After he got the cord out of it, he was able to survey the contents but only the top layer. Fortunately, he'd packed a money pouch last and it hadn't sunk far. It was almost as if he'd planned for this. He wondered if he had, in a way, with a vague hope in the back of his mind that he'd get Carinde away from her father.

“Here.” He grabbed the sack with his right hand, grabbed the girl's wrist in his left, and put the money in her palm.

“Oh!” The sack was heavy enough to nearly knock her down. He'd forgotten how small she was. He cursed himself but only for a second. Carinde laughed. “Are these rocks or something?”

“Yes,” he replied with the literal truth. “Brass is two rocks melted together.”

Karla overheard that remark. She gasped. Denario hadn't bothered to keep his voice down. Well, it was too late now. He would have to place some faith in Karla's good character.

“Just write,” said Denario. He knelt to re-tie his backpack. It was a slow process. After a moment, Cari set down her money bag. She didn't seem to think that money was precious, not in the way her father did. She scooted between Denario and his work. She crouched on the hem of her dress and took over the re-stitching. Her fingers were more nimble than his. He'd been wondering if he'd been right to insist that his bag be made water-tight. The tailor had given him trouble over that demand. Cari had no problem, though, fitting the fat, rawhide cord through the series of holes. In a minute, she was finished.

As she tied a slipknot in the remainder of the cord, her fingers shivered. She paused. There was water on the back of her hand. A raindrop had hit. A second later, more of them sprinkled the backpack. The rain was starting up.

For a few minutes, the moisture had slowed. The droplets had grown so small they were like a mist, easily ignored. Now it appeared that the clouds were about to let loose another volley. Dark, wet dots peppered the accountant. He felt them on his head. He'd taken off his hat during the dry spell, just as Carinde had removed her bonnet. Now he dug into his belt and found the floppy brim again.

As he jammed the hat back on, he saw Cari patting her waist. Where had she put her bonnet? Denario didn't remember. Then Karla stepped forward and pushed the bonnet into Carinde's hands.

“Herr Vogel,” Karla said to her father-in-law. Her gaze stretched up to the high, purplish clouds above. “This is looking bigger than I like. I want to head back.”

“Does this seem magical to you?” Addler wondered, ignoring his daughter-in-law. He raised his good arm above him to catch the rain.

“It smells funny,” said the taller guard.

Karla snorted. She shifted her toddler from her right hip to her left. Addler scowled. The other guard and the mayor's nephew did, too. After a few seconds, Addler brought his hand down and checked what he'd collected in the cup of his palm.

“It's green,” he croaked. He cleared his throat, coughed, and bent to smell his hand. Denario glanced at the water. It did, in fact, have a mossy tint to it. “Smells like pickle brine.”

The accountant looked at his own hands. He sniffed. Sure enough, there was the vinegar odor of sweet pickles. He grabbed his pack and hoisted it over one shoulder. Carinde finished tying her neck strap and stooped to get the money pouch she'd left on the street. Denario held out his hand while she was down there. She took it to help herself back up.

“Thanks,” she breathed.

She felt so light that Denario nearly pulled her off of her feet. Her mind was so impressive, really, that he kept forgetting it belonged to a child. She was small for her age, too. Even when she grew up, she wasn't going to be a tall woman. She was probably lucky that she didn't have to fight anyone for her inheritance. Or did she?

“Could be a carry-over from the shaman's work last week,” said Karla. She cast an eye to Denario but managed to keep from blaming him openly. “We did ask for rain. And we got it.”

At that moment, Carinde tried to get a glimpse of the magically purple cloud. A spot of green rain hit her right between the eyes.

“Oh!” She began to laugh. Denario did, too, but he was concerned. Cari squeezed her eyes shut hard.

“Does it sting?” Denario tried to clean off the brine.

“Uh huh.” For a moment, she raised a hand to clean herself. But she let Denario wipe her with a dry corner of his sleeve.

“I don't think it's a good idea to look straight up at the moment,” he said.

“I figured that out, thanks.”

“Right.” He gazed at her white bonnet, already half-wet with verdant droplets. “At least, on you, green looks good.”

She laughed again. It was a ringing sound that seemed to go straight through him and made his ears and toes tremble. Her face was clear. She blinked, squinted, and gave him a brave smile. A moment later, she leapt up and snagged her right arm around his neck. Denario hugged her back but he heard Karla Vogel make a clucking noise. So he let go. Cari did, too, as if she were suddenly aware of the other people watching.

“Every day,” the girl said. Denario knew exactly what she meant.

“As often as you can,” he corrected. He knew that it wasn't possible to get a letter sent between towns on most days. He didn't want the poor girl to burden herself with an impossible promise.

“Every day,” she restated in a voice that brooked no argument.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 113: A Bandit Accountant, 18.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Scene Five: The Value of Holiness

“So ...” said Denario. He hesitated, goblet in hand. He felt a bit lost in the dinner discussion about Mundredi customs. The problem wasn't eating different cuts of meat with three different knives. It was the relationships of tribes to clans and also of clans to houses. The combinations were worthy of their own subset of math. “You belong to the Mundredi Tribe, Clan of the Spears, House of the Goat. But the Clan of the Spears is also known as the Kallikar?”

“That's right,” Addler nodded approvingly. “It's like the Raduar you bin fightin', the Killimar and the Juttari. Men there belongs to clans with names and tattoos that any waldi can understand but they've got the old clan names, too. The old names don't always mean what the tattoos say.”

“Then what do they mean?”

“Mostly, no one remembers,” Udo announced dourly.

“We know the Raduar Juttari are the biggest clan,” said Addler. “And they wear the sword crossed with an axe. The Killimar clan wears the sword crossed with a spear. We don't know what those names mean. Everyone has guesses.”

“I'd guess that the old, old tongue for spear could have been something close to 'kallikar' or 'killimar,'” said Denario.

“You and everyone else.” Udo spoke into his cup. His eyes never rose to meet Denario's. “But it's just a guess.”

Addler grinned and nodded. Denario let his gaze drift between father and son. Udo's nose had the same slight hook as his father's. They held their cups the same, too, in both hands. But they were quite different in temperament. The father, Addler, had dominated the dinner conversation. The curly-headed Udo had limited himself to snide remarks. Yet they both seemed to be selling something to Denario and he couldn't figure out quite what it was.

The table had been laid out with comfort foods, solid fare like turnips, fried oats, stewed meats, and cheeses. Karla and Carinde had performed the serving but, Denario noticed, had done very little of the talking. It wasn't like the young girl to keep quiet but she had done so in a determined way. She'd put her hands in her lap when she wasn't eating. Karla, even when seated beside her step-daughter, had been aggressively maternal with her serving portions. The only times she'd spoken were when she'd urged the men at the table to eat more lentils or, once, when she'd given an order to Cari to fetch another ladle. Karla's toddler was asleep, thank goodness. For her part, Cari had volunteered to serve the wine. She'd seemed poised and nearly adult. But as Denario had thanked her, she'd looked directly into his eyes and spilled a fingers-width of the beverage onto his leg. He had to pretend not to notice. Cari had acted as if everything was fine, too, or she'd tried. She'd turned her head for a moment so her parents couldn't see her.

The dining room and kitchen looked neater than usual. Normally, a few items from the store inventory cluttered the table. There was usually an abacus next to Udo's chair but it hadn't survived the cleaning. Udo had kept wads of imported sharkskin nearby that he normally sold to the woodworkers for their use in sanding but which he also used to repair nicks and bumps in his merchandise. Those were gone. So was the pot of hardened shellac that had been gathering dust for months. One of the window shutters had been replaced, probably yesterday.

They'd cleaned up for him. Addler had trimmed and shaved a bit. What were they thinking? The mystery put Denario on edge.

“The mayor asked about your health,” said Udo. Again, he spoke to his cup rather than look across the table to the accountant or at his father.

“Is that a hint?” asked Denario. “He gave me a letter to carry. Does he want me to move out tomorrow?”

“No. It's not that kind of a hint.” Addler's eyes crinkled. He rubbed his close-cropped beard, now mostly grayish stubble, neatly trimmed. “See, the carter's guild has gone to him about you. So have the carpenters. They want to bring accountants into town. I'd like that, too.”

“Do you mean my apprentices?”

“No! Idiot!” Udo snapped. He pounded his fist on the table. “They want you to stay.” In a smaller voice, he added, with a glance to his oldest daughter, “So do we.”

“You'd do well here.” Addler shrugged as he weren't committed one way or another. “It seems to me that you already have a thriving business.”

“And you don't need to make yourself any competition from your apprentices,” Udo said.

“Now ...” Whatever Addler tried to say, his words were drowned out by his son.

“Besides, you could have an apprentice right here if you're serious about letting Cari work. You could have others, too. Folks would pay you to learn.”

“I'd like that. I think the world of Cari.” Denario tried to remind Udo of what the man should already know. “But I've sworn an oath to my previous apprentices in Oggli. You wouldn't think so well of me if I broke my word to them or their parents. What worth would my word have anywhere then?”

“Um.” Udo hesitated. Promises didn't seem to mean much to him but he understood Denario's point. Most of anyone's business was done on trust. Even Udo, who relied on the mayor and the local priests to enforce his contracts, also relied on his craftsmen, carters, and caravan masters to keep their commitments. He couldn't fight legal battles over every little thing. He set down his wine cup.

“Of course we don't want you to foreswear yourself,” Addler jumped in. “But there's a place for you here. If you're gone too long, some junior book keeper will fill it. We want to make it easy for you to come back to town.”

“How?” Denario didn't need to tell them that it was a long trip. Addler already knew.

Denario didn't intend to come back to this area, regardless. He tried to imagine the consequences of bringing journeymen accountants with him. It would be a disaster, possibly with fatalities. Even a marginal success would come at great expense. He'd need to pay a caravan or he'd have to arm and march his apprentices for a week upstream without suffering ambush. The trip might take longer than a week. He wasn't sure how far northeast he was or how difficult the paths beside No Map Creek might be.

Addler grunted. His left hand patted his chest. Denario wondered if the old fellow were feeling indigestion. Then he wondered if he could be suffering something worse. The fellow's pale, trembling hand drifted down to the side pockets sewn into the lower half of his shirt. After failing to find what he wanted there, he put his hand to his belt. He had a pocket belt similar to the outfits worn by wealthy merchants in Oggli. Denario had never owned a pocket belt himself. They were made of fine leather. It took a skilled tailor to design hidden compartments on the inside. Someone with problem hands, like Addler, could barely use them. The accountant knew Addler had trouble with his left hand in particular, which curled semi-permanently into a half-fist. The fingers on that side were pale and cold, nearly blue-green at the tips. It took the old fellow's gnarled digits half a minute to open the hidden nook.

In stages, Addler eased his treasure out of the belt. Whatever it was, Denario could tell the shape was rectangular and not much more than two fingers wide. The accountant’s eyebrows went up when he saw that the piece shone like steel. It had been stamped or inscribed. The elder Vogel palmed it. He turned over his trembling hand. With pride, he presented the piece to Denario.

Steel was so rare here that it was probably worth quite a lot just for that. The inscription showed four donkeys in a row. The accountant had never seen anything like it before but it teased at his memories. The icons recalled something important. Winkel had mentioned an artifact like this but Denario couldn't bring the name of it to mind.

“It's beautiful,” he said. He wondered how anyone had managed to make such detailed pictures on steel. Perhaps the tablet had been stamped into a die while soft and blazing hot. “What is it for, Herr Vogel?”

“This, accountant, is an Oupen Teamster piece. It's a token of transport.”

“Oh.” Suddenly the memory came flooding back. He rubbed his fingertip around the edge and felt a sense of awe. Yes, Master Winkel has mentioned these. Accountants couldn't get them. Even upper class travelers couldn't get these. They were only available to the wealthiest of the wealthy.

“It should suit you and your apprentices when you come back here. I meant to sell it to our local caravan masters but they never gave me the price I wanted. You can have it. If there are mule teams hauling rafts back up the Riggle Kill, the teamsters will honor this. So will any Uberwaldi mule-led caravan.”

Addler Vogel must have been as rich as a prince, once. It changed Denario's opinion of Ruin Thal. He was closer to civilization than he thought.

“This ...” Denario tried to put it back in Addler's palm. The old fellow had anticipated the move, though, and he jammed his hands into his pockets. The accountant was left dangling the steel wedge in the air. “This is more than my accounting practice could ever afford. We do well. But not this well. How ...?”

“I did a mule captain a favor. He paid me in this.”

“Must have been an amazing favor.”

“Saved his life. He felt it was worth a pair of these.”

“He gave you more than one?”

“Long story ...”

“Dad!” said Udo. Next to her grandfather, Cari groaned. Apparently, they'd heard the story more often than they liked.

“Anyway,” said Addler, not much bothered by their reactions. “They are good forever. This is the one I kept. It will help you get back up here. I know all the boat masters to take you down to Oupenli, too."

“Long ago you did,” corrected Udo. “Da, those fellows are dead. Well, most of them.”

“I know families doing business on the creek. I get news from there. I know that you can catch a ride down No Map straight into the Lamp Kill.”

“Who among the boatmen take passengers?”

“All of them if they're not full to the brim with cargo. The best is the Bowman family. Hans Bowman's son is Otto. Otto goes all the way down the creek like his dad did and sometimes he goes all the way down the Lamp Kill into County Oggli. Then there's Ingemar Scheller. He's a great raft maker. He's old now but when he's on a run down to the Lamp, you can't do better. It's just that he doesn't go all the way down to the end of the creek anymore. He's gotten superstitious. Doesn't like to pass by the forgotten temples.”

Karla took the lid from her table stewpot. The rich scent of venison wafted across the table. She dutifully spooned out a tiny morsel for the accountant although he hadn't asked for another helping. He was the guest and therefore was always served first. Then she scooped up a much larger portion for her husband, who patted his belly and bowed his head. Fatty juices from the meat had gotten on his hands, lips, and beard. That gave him a moist smile but a genuine one. He seemed pleased to have his wife anticipate him.

“Forgotten temples ...” mumbled Denario. “Those sound like sources of magic.”

“Hah. The whole creek is lousy with magic. That reminds me. There's a crazy man you could try named Jack Lasker. He'll be making the run to Oupenli if he hasn't gotten himself killed. He takes too many chances. That's how he gets in three or four rafting runs a year. In the spring and fall, he gets iced in upstream but he breaks through it with rocks tied to ropes.”

“Like anchors?”

“That's what he calls those things.”

It didn't sound foolish to Denario but he didn't know much about icy water except that the Mundredi feared it. They tried to ward off magic, too, and he was pretty sure they were wrong. Magical light was practical. So were flying carpets. If you feared such tools, you might as well fear math, alchemy, or engineering.

“So Helmut Zimmerman told me you were packing to leave,” Addler ventured after a rather long silence.

“There's no reason to linger except to teach Cari some more,” Denario admitted. She smiled at hearing her name and that made him feel warmer. “I had to unpack my supplies and take a full tally of what I've got and how long it'll last. Also, I had to weigh it. Now that's done.”

“I'll bet you've got at least ninety pounds of stuff.”

“I weighed out one hundred seven pounds in eight bags.” Denario shook his head at the craziness of it. He had fifty pounds in cash alone. “I need to lose about thirty-seven pounds and get down to four bags. If I don't catch a ride at No Map Creek, I'll have to leave equipment there.”

“Can't you take less food and money?”

“If I can keep working for food, yes. In fact, I wondered if I could leave some money with you.”

“There's a holding fee,” said Udo.

“Now, now,” Addler drawled with a smile. “You can leave anything with me, personally, no holding fee.”

“Really?” Most tradesmen charged holding fees. Even the Oupenli-Oggli Bank charged fees. Next to the accountant, the women of the family blinked. Their gazed drifted between the elder and younger Vogel men in confusion. Karla's face seemed to resolve in an expression of suspicion towards her father-in-law.

“You have to come back within two years to collect, though.” The elder Vogel leaned back in his chair, hands over his stomach. Karla nodded at his remark. “I'm not getting any younger.”

“Understood, sir.” Denario brightened at his prospects. True, he didn't expect to return but the option was good have. He slipped the Oupen Teamster token into his pants pocket. “It's extremely kind of you to offer. I accept.”

“Will you stay a few days to teach Cari? She could come to classes with those other merchants if you let her.”

“Some of them have objected to the idea,” he admitted. He could see that Addler and Udo knew about that. One of Denario's worst students, a master carpenter, had voiced his opinion loudly on the proper place for women. He didn't think they belonged in school. “But as far as I'm concerned, she really should come. If another student doesn't like it, he can leave.”

“Heh.” Father and son both laughed. Even Karla and Cari dared to share smiles.

“I'll write to Cari when I'm gone. I'll send more lessons. After all, I write to other folks.”

“So we've heard,” said Udo. “But your messages to our chief won't make it across Sir Fettertyr's territory.”

“I have to try.”

“Why? Why did you send them with a caravan? It marks you as a spy in other men’s eyes.”

“Well, I'm not,” he retorted. Several other voices spoke at the same time, one of them a rare comment from Karla that he didn't catch.

“Look, son,” said Addler over everyone else. “The accountant has the token of the royal Mundredi. That's important. He's got to write to the chief.”

“Dad, all that 'chief' stuff went out a generation ago. This town has a knight, a real, powerful knight with a horse and armor and everything. Our knight appoints the mayor. Believe me, Sir Fettertyr is not going to tolerate any talk about a Mundredi chief.”

“And what a crap-ass job Fettertyr did of appointing our mayor! Not that Tobias Brauer is immoral, mind you, but on his own merits he'd be the hundredth man in line to hold office. His wife would be ahead of him in line.”

Udo had to chuckle at that one. He settled in his seat, content to have made his point. The chief had no power in Ruin Thal.

“Anyway,” said Denario, getting back to what he thought the subject of conversation should be. “I have to lighten my packs. And I want Cari to write back to me in Oggli if she can. She can send to the Bank of Oupenli-Oggli and they'll find me. That's the way it's done.”

“Nonsense,” snorted Udo. “We can't afford it. She's a mere girl. She's got no call to write. The price of parchment is ridiculous.”

“I have extra parchment. I could leave her with blank scrolls and some money to send them.”

“That's a fortune! You could feed forty men for a week on the trade for that.”

“Well,” said Denario. He pulled out the steel Oupen Teamster pass from his pocket for a moment. He turned it over to gaze on the four donkeys. “You've been more than generous yourselves. If I'm going to teach Cari math, I'll want to see that she's making progress.”

“Is this on top of the chalk?”

“Yes.”

Udo stood up and stuck out his hand. Denario palmed the teamster token. Without rising, he shook on the deal with the shopkeeper.

“Done!” said Udo. He sat back down with a smile.

“So ...” Denario turned to Carinde. To his surprise, she was biting her lip. He plowed on anyway. “Cari, your grandfather told me you've been keeping up with your geometry. Do you have anything new to show us?”

She nodded. She put the edge of a napkin in her mouth. Suddenly she seemed very childish. She just stared at Denario, wide-eyed. Then she made a choking sound. She spat out the napkin. To his shock, the poor girl burst into tears. A moment later, she hopped off of her stool and dashed out of the room.

“What just happened?” Denario looked to her step-mother, then to her father. Udo looked as surprised as Denario felt. “Did I do something wrong?”

Someone patted him on the knee. He turned. It was Karla. Beneath her braided, blonde hair there was a gentle smile.

“You were fine,” she said. She rose from her stool with a barely audible huff. Her belly was heavy but it didn't seem to inconvenience her much. “You men sit here and talk. I'll come back with Carinde. She's been worked up, Denario, about your accounting, and about everything else you've taught her. She showed me some of her work. Very clever, I think. But Carinde has been on edge for days. She's worked herself into a fit.”

“Over math? Really?” She was more motivated than Denario had realized.

“She'll be back to show you her work in a few minutes. You'll see.”

In fact Karla and Carinde returned in less than a minute. The young girl led the way. She marched from the storeroom to the front of the house holding two slates in front of her. Denario noticed that Udo didn't like that. His daughter must have appropriated the slates against his orders.

Carinde wore her best dress tonight, which was white with green trimmings. It was the one she took on family trips to the temple. She was proud of it because it had belonged to her dead mother and Karla had trimmed it down for her. There was nothing tribal about it. The cloth was linen. The pattern was simple. In fact, the only thing that seemed Mundredi about Cari was the stubborn tilt of her jaw. She gazed meaningfully at her left slate, then her right. She offered the right one to Denario like it was a fragile present.

“Beautiful,” he murmured. He held the diagram close so he could see the details. Carinde had drawn a star with straight-sided rays, one called a mullet in heraldry. This mullet was good enough to grace a herald's shield. It had eight points, each colored with yellow chalk. How had she done that? Then there was the piercing in the center, also an eight-sided mullet. The chalk marks had been removed from the pierce. “How did you color it?”

“We sell sulfur,” she explained. “It leaves crumbs in the bins. I mixed those with the chalk.”

“Smart,” he said. Carefully not glancing at her father, he added. “Economical, too.”

“It's the holy star,” Karla added. “The women at temple love it. We're going to have Carinde help us to stitch the design into blankets. We can all have new blankets for winter mass.”

“Could we, um ...” Udo reached across the corner of the table to touch the edge of the slate. “Could we sell a few of the blankets, do you think? To single men and to older women?”

“Of course. I hadn't thought of that. And not just to them. For intricate designs like this, there will be quite a few middle-aged women who need help.”

“Interesting.” The price of blankets in Ruin Thal went up twenty percent on his smile.

The accountant passed the eight-pointed star to Udo, who contemplated it with an air of satisfaction. Denario accepted the second slate from Carinde. The drawing on this one was also colored, probably with rust. The girl had seen the 'flying 8' painted on Denario's buckler and she'd attempted to duplicate it with a compass, protractor, and straight-edge. Her design, in fact, was closer to the official seal of the Oggli and Angrili Accounting Guild than his own.

How had she duplicated the seal so exactly without seeing it? Was it an accident? Was it inevitable? Did Melcurio himself have something to do with it? The rust color couldn't be helped but everything else was correct.

“I will never forget this one,” he said truthfully. If nothing else, it presented a puzzle.

“We, uh ...” Carinde wrung her hands. She glanced to her step-mother. “After I was done, someone, uh, pointed out that, uh, well, it's your god sign, right?”

“For Melcurio,” said her father darkly. “The trickster.”

“The god of accountants, yes,” Denario corrected.

“We were worried that Melcurio would be mad if we erased it. See? But we need the slate back. Could you …?”

Denario laughed. Still, the child was right. The gods took offense to this sort of thing. He'd seen it before in Oggli.

“Here's a penny,” he said. It was a copper piece that he was going to leave with the Vogel family anyway, so it was no loss. Melcurio would appreciate that. “And now, my accounting bag. Can you go get that for me, Cari? It's by your side door.”

When she came back, Denario dug into the bag and found his chalk sack. The dark leather bag, about the size of his fist, opened large enough to fit around one corner of the slate. He tilted the slate in his lap. With the edge of his skinning knife – animals skinned so far, zero – Denario scraped off the chalk and rust. The debris from the drawing fell into the bag. Sometimes he had to nudge it along with the tip of the knife. In all, the process took a few minutes and proved to be a neat solution.

“Back to where it came,” he said when the remains of the flying 8 lay with his chalk shards. He wiped off the pale residue with his bare hands. “Near enough, anyway.”

“And you'll write with the chalk, which is now covered in holiness,” observed Addler. “Nicely done. Cari should be able to do the same with the star and our priest's blessing.”

“That's a relief,” snorted Udo. On the other side of the accountant, Karla smiled and let out the breath she'd been holding. Carinde stopped wringing her hands.

“Geometry does have power,” Denario said. He tied the drawstring on his chalk. “Numbers formed the world. They can re-form it in ways that we don't want if we're not careful.”

“Is … is her math safe?” asked Karla. That was a question Denario had heard from the lips of Shekel's parents and Guilder's parents, too. He replied with the same answer Master Winkel had given.

“All of the math lessons I give will be safe, you may be sure.”

“But ... all the exploring ...”

“Explorations are normally safe, too. I trust that she won't venture far into trouble with you to guide her.”

Karla folded her hands in her lap. She didn't seem completely satisfied but she'd had enough reassurance for now. Denario didn't know the woman well but he could already see more holy symbols in Cari's future, especially whenever her step-mother felt uncomfortable about her step-daughter's work in higher math.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 112: A Bandit Accountant, 18.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Scene Four: Knotty Problems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he banned me from his home.

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 111: A Bandit Accountant, 18.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Scene Three: Carry, the One

“It’s 2,348, not 2,338,” said a voice.

“What?” said Denario. He looked around. For hours, the shopkeeper's back office in Ruin Thal had been empty except for him.

“I don’t know how you made that mistake.” It was a young girl with brown hair. She had crept in and sat down on the inventory bench behind him so quietly that he'd never heard a thing. Her stealth seemed aided by her size, which was tiny. She was so thin and short, Denario had no problem believing that she walked everywhere in silence. “You must have carried wrong.”

He gaped at her for a second or two. Her face was plain but with a nice nose, deep, dark brown eyes and an intense gaze. She wore a white blouse under a blue, sleeveless dress. It looked like the sort of functional arrangement chosen by mothers everywhere. She was as cute a child as there could be, elf-like in her proportions, but his instant impression was one of intelligence. Working under her stare felt like having his thoughts laid open to the point where she could see to the back of his skull.

He hadn't quite listened to her so he hesitated. In his mind's ear, he replayed her words.

“No, I didn’t,” he said automatically as he re-summed the figures in his head. He didn't bother to look at the chalk. There weren't that many rows. A moment later, he added, “Yes, I did. Damn. I put an eleven above the ten's place but I dropped the one.”

“You see?”

“I'm glad that wasn't the ink draft.” He cursed Melcurio. Then he covered his mouth. “My apologies. I meant to say 'thank you.'”

“I hear cursing all the time.”

“From customers?” Hadn't he seen this girl in the front of the shop? Yes, he was sure that he had. This must be the shop owner's daughter. She had been the one handling the money.

“Usually from my da after the customers leave.”

Her father, Udo Vogel, was a distant relative of Mayor Ilse Richter of North Ackerland. As a maiden, Ilse had been a Vogel, too, and had belonged to the Goat Clan. When Ilse had left the clan for marriage, she had deftly kept in touch with everyone, including Udo and his father, Addler.

Addler Vogel was still alive although he'd reached nearly sixty, ancient by almost any standard. He didn't write much and he couldn't travel the way he once had but he still liked getting letters from Ilse. He and his son Udo had been surprised to learn Ilse was now the mayor. Addler had remarked, though, that if any woman could do it, it was her.

This girl’s grandfather, in his youth, had been a mule driver for caravans. He'd been born to modest means, a middle son among many children, but he'd taken an understanding to mules as soon as he met them. By the age of twelve, he saw a way to escape his village. After he got himself hired by a desperate caravan manager, he mastered the previously-unruly animals and moved up the ranks. He saved up goods and money to trade for armor. The armor helped him live through several caravan raids. In a few years, he was a senior driver and the assistant chief of a caravan. Various clans had made him a member. He'd collected more tattoos. He'd traveled beyond the Mundredi lands.

Udo Vogel had hinted that there was more to his father's story than that but the family didn't like to talk about it. Denario knew that Addler's caravan jobs had made him a fortune. After amassing too much wealth to carry on three burros, he'd left his final caravan as he passed Ruin Thal. Here, he'd settled down to provide services the town had never seen before. Addler had a plan for his retirement and he stuck to it. To begin with, he married a woman from a prestigious family. He could afford the bride price. Hence, by luck or by Addler's design, Udo Vogel was second cousin to the mayor of Ruin Thal.

When the mayor, a thin and nervous man, had held a victory party for the arrival of Denario the Dramatic, Accountant of Oggli, Hero of the Mundredi Army, the shop keeper had been invited. He'd sat at the head table with Denario and the town leaders despite the fact that Udo had no official post. He was not a burgher. He simply ran his father's store, the most popular general store in town. Indeed, Udo and his father seemed to have cornered the market on most manufactured household goods in Ruin Thal by way of exclusive contracts with the craftsmen. It was a new idea to the area. Probably no one had understood what old Addler was up to when he built up his business.

The knight, Sir Fettertyr, was not happy with Addler's arrangements. But even Fettertyr didn't seem to know what to make of them because they were sworn to in every church, written, sealed, and testified to by priests and judges. The craftsmen weren't opposed to their contracts, either. Once Addler accepted their merchandise he promised them payment in pigs' ears, dried fish, coins, goats, knots, debtor sticks, or furs regardless of whether or not he could sell what they'd made. No other merchant in the area offered that bargain.

It was Udo to whom Denario had given the silver trinket of a goat entrusted to him by Ilse Richter. To his credit, Udo had known immediately what it meant. When he found out what Denario's profession was, he offered room and board in exchange for a review of his shop's records and inventory.

“Your father is smart to promote the use of money,” the accountant said. He'd tried to like Udo for Ilse Richter's sake but he hadn't been very successful. The man seemed obsessed with wealth. Here he was, promoting the use of coins but Denario couldn't root for him as a person. At least he was bright and energetic. Udo seemed open to new ideas.

His daughter shrugged.

“I like money better than dried fish. Yuck. But coins aren't as practical as furs,” she said. “Furs are easier to carry and you can wear them, too.”

“That's not right. Gold and silver ...” Denario prepared to launch into a speech about how money made everyone more wealthy by increasing the efficiency of trade. Her age made him re-think his strategy. After a moment spent rubbing his chin, he settled for, “You're not wearing furs right now.”

“It's almost summer.”

“Well, in the warm lands around the Complacent Sea, no one uses furs as money. They're not wanted for clothes so much. But coins are still valuable. Coins are good from one end of the old empire to the other.”

“Oh, I see. Metal is always useful, no matter how hot or how cold you are.”

“Yes!” he exclaimed, please that she'd seen the point so quickly.

“That's why we use it as money. But why do we use metals that are hard to find?”

Denario scratched his head. “We're not meant to, really. There's plenty of money that's made of copper, iron, lead, nickel, or tin. But the smithies say that gold is the easiest metal to work with and it doesn't rust. Silver tarnishes black. Copper turns green. Cheap iron and lead rust or break. That's why everyone wants gold. And it's hard to mine, too, so that makes it more prized. I suppose it's the smithies who set the price, more or less.”

“I don't know of any coins made of lead or nickel or tin.”

“Those metals are included in lesser coins. Brassers are a combination of copper, nickel, and tin. Munis are mostly lead.”

“Doesn't that spoil them for their worth as metals? If you mix them all up, you make more work for some smith or an alchemist when he has to melt them down to make something.”

“You're right. I think the idea is to make the coins themselves worth more in trade than they are for melting down.”

“But if they're really worth more, not just getting higher value because our knight says so, that worth needs to come from somewhere. Doesn't it? Does it come from the gods?”

“Um … the extra value of a coin is that you can use it instead of barter. That's about it. But that means more than you'd think. Say, what's your name?” Denario stopped himself from adding, 'little girl.' She was just old enough that it would be annoying. And Denario had heard plenty of 'little boy' comments when he was growing up.

“Carinde. My da calls me 'Cari.' He says it's because he had to carry me so much when I was little. I didn't walk until I was over a year old. One of my legs got broke when I was born.”

“You look fine now.”

“I'm not lame.” She stuck out her chin in a defiant way that reminded him of Valentina Ansel. Then she showed him her left leg and wiggled it. She had some kind of leggings on under her dress so she didn't have to bare her ankle. “But if I was, I wouldn't care. I can do my jobs just fine.”

“I'm sure you can.” He looked her over for signs of weakness. Plenty of peasants were deformed in some way or another. Carinde looked better than most. “It's funny. I think I would have called you Cari, too, because you're good at math.”

She tilted her head at him without a word.

“Cari? As in, 'Carry the one?',” he explained. “I mean, like I should have done just now and you noticed?”

She squealed. “Ha! That's so funny!”

Denario felt like a fraud. He'd never known anyone named Carry or Cari but he realized that Carinde would have heard the joke many times if she'd grown up in the vicinity of Oggli. She simply had gotten no chance at an education here in Ruin Thal. She must have picked up math from her father and grandfather.

“You understand money better than anyone I've met in a while. You know addition, too.” He hazarded a guess. “Do you know subtraction?”

“Of course!” she rolled her eyes. “You can't do business without it.”

“What about multiplication?”

“What's that?”

He spent less than a minute describing it. Carinde nodded at various points and told him what 6 x 6 was before he asked.

“So that's what it's called,” she said. “Multiplication. I thought it was memorizing the tables and I know that up to ten times ten. It makes my grandda laugh when I do it. Sometimes he adds in his head and I do my tables and beat him. It's a race. And then he laughs and laughs.”

“I really ought to talk with Herr Addler,” Denario mumbled. He'd barely spoken to the old fellow, partly because Udo didn't seem to like anyone to talk for long with his father but also because, like many old men, Addler at the first handshake had been full of complaints about his teeth, his back, his feet, his eyes and about everything else, really, including how Denario smelled.

The accountant had taken the hint about his odor and had accepted the offer of a bath, cold with gray, gritty soap. He only wished that he'd known he could talk with Addler about math, economics, travel, and other serious matters. The cloudy-eyed fellow had gone to bed before Denario was done drying himself and that was more than an hour before sunset. If he'd arisen yet this morning, he'd done so after Denario had walked down to the storeroom with Udo.

At least Addler had taught his grand-daughter well. Carinde seemed ready to advance to the next level of mathematics. Maybe she had grown beyond ready, advancing whether anyone intended it or not. She couldn't get enough attention from her parents nowadays with a toddler in the house and another on the way.

According to Udo's tale last night, his first wife, Carinde's mother, had died years ago. Carinde's younger brother had died a bit later, leaving her an only child. Naturally, Udo had taken a new wife and together they'd had another girl. Three years later, that wife was pregnant again. The poor woman cooked for the family, helped run the store, and did her household chores with the toddler by her side. By rights she should have put Carinde to work as her assistant. But that option had been denied to her because Carinde had, between the marriages, become essential to the store. Denario had seen that Cari negotiated and tracked all of the sales and purchases. He knew it had to be her handwriting in the log scrolls, too, because it wasn't her father's unreadable scribble and there weren't other folks who touched the scrolls. Cari's script was curlier than most men preferred. It was also neater than that of some professional scribes.

“Tell me, Cari,” he said, intending to test her, “if you got an order for forty of those place settings you offer to rich customers, the ones with a plate, a bowl, a knife and two spoons each, would you know how to calculate the spoons you need? Assume that you have twenty spoons on hand.”

“Forty is a lot.” She tapped her lips as she considered. “I need eighty of them total. I've got twenty spares in the bin. So I just subtract twenty to get the amount I need to fill the order. That's sixty.”

“Very nice.” She'd solved it easily.

“But I'd order more than that, you know. We always need a few spoons on hand.” She pointed to the front of the store. Then she clasped her hands together and placed them in her lap. At that moment, she looked like a young lady, not merely a girl.

“Naturally. But what about something harder?” He gestured to the corner of the warehouse. “What if a caravan came in and sold you two thousand brassers worth of furs?”

“We don't keep that many brassers around. No one does.”

“Banks do. You wouldn't know about banks, I suppose. Anyway, after you talk with the caravan leader a bit, he agrees to value your knives at twelve brass apiece, your copper bottomed pots at eight brass apiece, your oil lamps at three, and your white linens at a silver dollar per yard. He buys up all the linen, four bolts, and then he asks you to calculate the other amounts so that his account comes out exactly even. Could you do it?”

“That's too hard. I'd need the abacus. He's being too generous about the oil lamps, too, but I wouldn't say anything against it.”

So he'd managed to find a problem she couldn't simply do in her head. He told her to go get her father's abacus from the storefront. Carinde came back with a bare, wooden board with eight slots carved into it. In her other hand, she brought a small fist of white beans. Those were her counters. After they moved four baskets of store inventory, mostly wooden bowls, flax seeds, and scraps of cloth, they re-positioned themselves at a long table. Denario watched her manipulate the beads in various slots as she to tried to arrive at an answer to the problem. There were many possible answers and she was aware of that. Nevertheless, she couldn't couldn't come up with a single one that was right. After a while, she gave him a very suspicious, narrow-eyed look.

“Can you do this?” she asked.

“Let me show you.”

He had been using her father's slate earlier. It was a nice, flat one, bigger in all dimensions than he could afford to lug in his pack. Udo had hidden his chalk except for a nub the size of his pinky nail that Denario felt too proud to use. He drew with his own piece instead.

2000 = (4 bolts)(3 yards/bolt)(35 brassers per silver)(12)(n of knives)(3)(n of lamps)(8)(n of pots)
number of knives = K, number of lamps = L, number of pots = P
2000=(3)(4)(35)(12)(K)(3)(L)(8)(P)

Patiently, he stepped through the multi-variable equation, explaining each step and shortening his notation along the way. Carinde didn't get impatient as he erased and drew and erased and re-drew each simplified equation again. In fact, she seemed fascinated. She'd never encountered the idea of a variable before. She'd been solving single-variable equations for all of her remembered life but she'd never had a name for them.

At one point, she hopped up, ran to the front of the store and ran right back. Denario didn't ask why but he found out the reason when she did it again.

“That's three solutions in about ten minutes,” she announced as she returned. She must have gone to check the store clock, a huge, primitive thing with a wooden windup key they kept behind the front desk. The family wound it every morning and they reset it by the town sundial when the weather was good. “I'll bet you could move faster.”

“Yes, this is just a math lesson. I thought you might enjoy it.”

“It's amazing. Did you think of this all by yourself?” She clapped her hands just below her chin. It made Denario wish he could take credit for inventing algebra. He had to settle for explaining what history of algebra he knew, which wasn't much. It had been invented by foreigners and brought to the city of Muntar at the southern tip of the Complacent Sea many years ago. Master Molto Numat had brought the discovery from Muntar to Oggli along with other forms of advanced math when he revived the practice of accounting.

“What does the first problem you gave me look like in algebra?” she asked.

Denario erased the slate. It was big but only two equations could fit on it at the same time.

Number of spoons needed = (40 place settings)(2 spoons/setting) – 20 spoons on hand
N = (40)(2) - 20

“That's just so easy,” Carinde remarked. “I would solve it for 'n' before I finished writing it.”

“For one variable, yes. But even for one variable, it can help to write the problem out like this. It makes the solution more obvious. Even someone who isn't good at math can see it.”

“This would be perfect for Klara,” Carinde said. Klara was her step-mother. The girl didn't seem to intend any sort of insult to the woman. She got along decently with her step-mother or so it appeared. Nevertheless, Denario understood not to comment.

Carinde took over the slate. She spent half an hour working through permutations of the multi-variable equations with no sign of losing interest. She worked fast. If Denario hadn't already known some of the answers, he would have been hard pressed to keep up. The girl rendered her ninth solution before her father, Udo, barged into the inventory room.

“How's the ...” he began before his mind registered the situation. A moment later, he roared, “What's this?”

Denario was suddenly aware that Carinde was female. These locals had rules about men not being left alone with women. Udo didn't act like a Mundredi in most respects – he hadn't tattooed his wife or daughter with the goat sign, for one thing, and had only three tattoos himself, the minimum – but he sounded upset. The accountant was surprised when the man's next words were, “You're using my chalk?”

“No, father,” Carinde piped up. “These pieces belong to the accountant.”

“It's true.” Denario let out the breath he'd been holding in. “I travel with my own. Compass, rule, ink, paper, ropes, theodolite, pen, chalk … these things and a few others are tools of my trade.”

Udo's blue eyes darted between the accountant and his daughter. Something had been going on and the shopkeeper was coming to the decision that he didn't like it. But he didn't know how to put it into words. His fingers pulled at his blonde curls. Denario had time to think that the shopkeeper must have gotten many of his features from his mother. Except for his nose and perhaps his quick mind, he didn't take after Addler Vogel. He had a quicker mouth than Addler, too, and Denario could practically see rejoinders rise to his lips only to be discarded.

What Udo settled for was, “Well, I'm not paying for that chalk.”

“No need, Udo. I'm giving it.”

“What, giving it to my … I mean, giving it to me?”

“I hadn't thought of it as a present. But you know, your daughter is so good with her math lessons, I think I ought to give her a chalk when we're done.”

“I'm not paying for these lessons, am I?”

“The first one is free,” Denario countered. With that statement, he almost felt he could get a handle on talking with Udo. To the shopkeeper, everything was a negotiation. The accountant understood the type. He'd encountered the need to haggle in many places and Master Winkel had instructed him in how to bicker properly. If you didn't make shopkeepers pay, he'd warned, they thought you weren't worth anything. “You can sit in on the lesson, too, if you like, and then you and I can discuss the price for more.”

Denario's words calmed the man, as he'd been pretty sure they would. Now Udo didn't see Denario as a threat but as another tradesman. Udo knew how to deal with tradesmen. He took a slow, deep breath. He rubbed his blonde beard. His hands dropped to his waist.

“First one free, eh?” He smiled.

“That's right.” Denario tried to match the man's cunning expression. Winkel had told him this was a rule you were to follow when making bargains but Denario had never been good at it. His master had told him that bargaining was his weakest skill. Vir had said something similar to that. Denario didn't feel like he was getting better. “I can show you what I showed your daughter.”

“Not so fast,” countered Udo. “If you're any good as a teacher Cari will have learned something useful already. She's the one who should show me what she's learned. While using your chalk.”

“Cari, how confident to you feel about ....” He turned to find he was talking to a mop of brown hair, the back of the girl's head. She erased the slate with her right hand. The chalk had moved to the fingers on her left. That was an interesting thing he'd noticed about her. She seemed equally comfortable with either hand. She switched between them constantly.

“Okay, da,” she said. She pulled her long, brown hair behind her left ear. “I'm going to write down a problem so easy that you won't see the point. But it's just to get you used to this way of writing. It's called algebra.”

“And then we'll do something harder?”

“Yes, da.”

Carinde wrote the first line so confidently that Denario worried she might overreach herself. She didn't, though. She changed the constants in the equation on a whim. And she picked good constants.

Number of spoons needed = (30 place settings)(2 spoons/setting) – 5 spoons on hand
N = (30)(2) - 5

She paused, switched the chalk to her right hand, and wrote the solution. When her father complained there was no need for algebra, she talked over him and moved, with a snappy, left-fisted erasure, to a multi-variable example. This one proved to be her own concept, perhaps one pulled from her real experiences in running the store. Her father shut his mouth for a few minutes. He rubbed his silk-bearded chin.

It didn't take long for Udo to be convinced. Denario could tell. But the shopkeeper didn't care to say so yet. His bright eyes darted from the slate to his daughter and back. Sometimes he studied Denario when he thought the accountant wasn't looking at him. He kept relatively quiet through Carinde's third iteration of the solutions in which she made a variance in the caravan price for cloth, when her step-mother cried out, “Udo!”

The shopkeeper grunted and rose.

“Udo! Mister Kleincarver is here and says you promised him five pence per bowl on wooden bowls.” Although her voice was distant, it was growing closer.

“Coming,” Udo muttered. Out of the side of his mouth, he said to Denario, “This is an improvement on what we've done before, accountant. I'll discuss a price with you tomorrow morning at breakfast.”

The thin, little girl clapped her hands. She leapt to her father before and squeezed him in a hug before he could pass out through the doorway. He gave her a bewildered and slightly begrudged smile. Then, with another call to his wife, he was gone.

Carinde finished the exercise she'd begun for her father. There was no real reason. She just wanted to keep going and Denario didn't mind. It surprised him, though, when she next asked about geometry. She didn't know to ask for it by name. She had heard the town story about something he'd done the day before and she wanted the details.

“It was a star you made inside a circle?” she asked. “And you used your tools to make it perfect?”

“Something like that, yes. There were other shapes, too. I had to get out my compass and protractor.”

Carinde erased the slate. Denario chuckled and reached into his accounting bag. First, he spent some time showing the girl how to read a protractor. She'd never seen one before and the idea of angles was new to her. She wanted to know why a circle, according to the protractor, had 360 degrees of measurement rather than 10, 100, or 1000. Denario had no definite answer, only his own guesswork.

“Whoever figured out circles first had been accustomed to base twelve mathematics,” he said. She didn't know what that meant so he told her he'd explain in later lessons. “Why they used three hundred sixty instead of twelve or one hundred forty-four degrees, I've no idea.”

“Three hundred sixty divides in a bunch of different ways. Maybe it just turned out to be more practical,” Cari suggested.

“It is practical.” He nodded.

As he drew a simple cross, he let Cari measure the right angles. She chose the radius of the circle, too, and decided to let it go to the edge of the slate. From the center of the cross to the mark of the radius, he drew a circle with his compass. He told her she could trace it later. With his protractor, he pinpointed the 72 degree angle. Where the line of the angle intersected the edge of the circle would be one of the tips on his five-point star. He repeated the procedure several times and measured the distance between the points carefully to make sure the star would be symmetric. It was a tricky procedure but it was worth it because, in the end, Cari was impressed.

“That is enormously clever,” she said.

“It does look nice, doesn't it?” This one had turned out well.

“I've never met a real hero before,” she said. “I thought they were all supposed to be dumb.”

“That's what the guards at the back gate thought, too.” He tried not to roll his eyes at the idea. “Maybe I'm more dramatic than I am heroic.”

“It's modest of you to say that.” She touched a finger to her lips. He brow made a tiny knot of concern. “Is that the right word? Modest?”

“Maybe. What about your grandfather? He was a hero. And he was smart. It's allowed.”

“Grandda? I suppose he was a bit heroic. He says he was anyway. But that was a long time ago. There's no one to gainsay him. You killed those men just yesterday. Or was it the troll who helped you?”

“It was a troll.”

“And the troll didn't eat you? It ate the others?”

“Yes.”

“Why? No one told me why.”

“No one asked me why. Until you, just now. It's simple. I gave the troll some food. It was a lucky guess that trolls eat rocks. And she did. So she decided I was nice.”

“She? I thought all trolls were male. But I guess that doesn't make sense or else how would there be new trolls ...” Carinde trailed off. Denario could have sworn she was blushing. “Anyway, you have a sword.”

“Um, yes.” What did that have to do with anything? Denario scratched his nose.

“That's heroic. And you helped our shaman do his rain dance. We haven't had a good rain in the longest time.”

“Sorry about that.” He stopped scratching and sighed. “I know a lot of geometry. I know how to dance a few Ogglian dances. I thought I could fix his problem.”

“Geometry. That's your funny word for the math you use to make shapes.”

“I was sure the shaman was doing his geometry wrong. I made suggestions. He invited me to dance. We followed my geometry. I didn't know that we would end up with a rain of pickle relish.”

“Don't be sad.” Carinde patted his hand like she was a grandmother and he was a little boy. Then she rubbed her tummy. “I like pickles. And it was sweet relish, too. Yum.”

“Some citizens complained.”

“Poo on them.” She took on the demeanor of a little girl again. “Anyway, it made the highwaymen turn back.”

“So I hear.” When he put down his chalk shard, Carinde picked it back up. She put it into his cloth wrapper for him. To her, it was a precious thing. He definitely wanted to give her all that he could spare when he left. She was a great student. Chalk was cheap in Oggli. “That's strange, isn't it, Cari? The mercenaries marched away. Maybe they were frightened by the magic. Magical storms can be dangerous.”

“So you were a hero again!” She clapped for him in an endearing way.

“If so, the shaman must be one, too.”

“You're being modest. Again.” She gave him a stern look.

“They probably ran out of food.” He nodded to himself. That was the most likely explanation although he hoped his geometry had helped to speed them on their way.

“No, they were scared of you.” Carinde folded her arms. The child seemed sure of herself. Her jaw stuck out in that certain way, very like Ilse Richter and Valentina Ansel. Maybe it was a common gesture among Mundredi women.

“I don't think ...”

“They didn't run out of food. I saw them from the top of the west wall. They were filling their pockets with relish. I mean, they were doing it as they left. One of them had bread because he was making a green sandwich.”