Sunday, June 17, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 123: A Bandit Accountant, 20.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Four: Water Screws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'Is this broken?' Marcel asked me.

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

'Well, the next one picks up water.'

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Testing seemed to demonstrate the importance of this geometry. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Not Zen 196: World Music

The Skatalites at Brooklyn Bowl November 2015 by All-Nite Images
The Skatalites by All-Nite Images
The smell of the club overwhelmed her for a moment. It felt as if the air had been brushed with the sweat of close bodies and mixed with the breeze. Laura let the door swing closed behind her.

Loud music made the place feel stuffed although it was about half full. The club's walls bore the scent of after-smoke. Shadows adorned black-light posters, tabletops, and recessed lights in the ceiling. The bulbs above were dim, some of them colored orange or yellow. The floor throbbed with a reggae beat or at least that's what she'd thought from outside. As Laura drew closer, she could feel a ska rhythm on top of everything. Then the song changed. The beat drove faster.

"Weird looking band," said her friend, Patty.

"I guess." Laura rubbed her hand stamp and turned. She could barely see the musicians on stage. Dancers in the mosh pit bounced in front of the sound system. Only the heads and sometimes the upper bodies of the players were visible beyond.

There was red hair on the guitarist, far left, kinky and wild. On the far right of the stage, she noticed a rainbow beanie and a set of oily, black dreadlocks that seemed to belong to the bassist. Behind them, the drummer showed as a barely-visible denim beret. Off center, the keyboard player sported a puffy afro. Up front, the lead singer danced and shook himself. He swung his beaded dreadlocks.

The band hustled and twisted. The bassist and drummer were really good, she thought. They carried the rest of the band. Patty skittered into the mosh pit. Laura decided to follow. She wasn't comfortable with the scene, though. Patty had to grab her by the wrist and pull her in.

They danced as a straight-girl couple in a way that Patty was good at. She could keep people guessing. Both of them used their elbows to keep the men away. Laura was glad for Patty's mood. Sometimes her friend got too crazy, she thought. This evening, they hung out at the edge of the dance floor for no more than an hour of the show.

"Okay, come on." Patty grabbed Laura's hand as soon as the music ended. Naturally, her friend had a backstage pass. Patty had seen hundreds of bands and she'd interviewed about half.

They paused at the backstage bouncer's table. Laura spared a glance at the young men and women, mostly women, who were lining up to beg their way in. She felt a twinge of guilt about how some of the girls seemed so open to trading favors for entrance to the party, pulling their shirts open down to the bra line, adding more makeup while waiting, some of them looking bored like they'd been through this hundreds of times.

Patty had worn her usual black fashion ensemble, expensive jeans with pre-cut rips, leather jacket with tassels, studded leather belt, and boots. Only her t-shirt was plain and white.

Laura's jacket was brown, her best one. Patty had rolled her eyes at it but she approved of Laura's style on most nights. This evening, Laura's black shirt and blue jeans had escaped comment.

"You're on the list," said the stagehand. He nodded approval. Patty didn't wait for the big fellow to step aside. She parted the divider curtain herself. The bouncer called, "Enjoy."

Patty told Laura to get them free drinks at the bar while she cornered someone she'd spotted from a record company. Fortunately, the conversation was finished before Laura got back. The man in his suit jacket retreated to a beaten-up, olive couch for a conference with someone else. Patty seized the opportunity to approach a member of the band. She took a tumbler glass from Laura as she stepped up to the red-haired guitar player.

"So," she said. She was as tall as the guitarist was. That caught his eye. "Why reggae? Why do you play that style of music?"

"Uh," he began. The way the paused, Laura could tell he wasn't much of a talker. He'd changed shirts after the concert, she noticed. He was already growing sweat stains on this one. "Because it's fun?"

"I mean, you didn't grow up in Jamaica or anything. You didn't grow up playing this type of music." It wasn't a question. Patty seemed to have something in mind.

"No. I listened to Marley and UB40, I guess." There was that long pause again while he thought. He stared at his half-empty drink glass. It looked like draft beer. It could have been ginger ale if he were going sober. "Everyone does that. Nothing special one way or another. But Winston, our singer, he's Jamaican."

He turned his head toward the band leader, who was approaching with a woman on each arm. Who did that? Laura wondered. But here he was, the tall Jamaican with dreadlocks and he had an older blonde on his left elbow. She seemed slightly drunk and tired but perhaps that was just in comparison to the to the woman on his right, who was younger. Her hair was bleached, not natural, and she was definitely one of the girls who Laura and Patty had passed in the line to the backstage curtain.

"Why doesn't he hire a Jamaican guitarist?" Patty continued. She meant to be overheard.

Winston rose to the bait. He stepped toward her.

"He's the one I want." He shook off the women and put his hand on his guitarist's shoulder. "He's the best. Who's asking? Why are you asking?"

"I write about music," Patty said by way of an answer. "I'm curious. Don't you think it's cultural appropriation for white people to play reggae?"

"That's the new term, isn't it?" Winston nodded to himself. "I take it seriously. I've heard the critics. But I feel the opposite of that. I want to spread reggae and ska and zydeco all around. To shepherd all music to everyone. That is my mission."

The last two lines he delivered as if he were speaking through Patty to her readers. He might as well have been. Patty had a sharp memory and those were words she would remember.

"Zydeco," she mumbled to herself. She looked at Laura.

"He played accordion," said Laura. She hoped it was helpful. "I liked it. You said it was different."

"Right." She turned to the band leader. "Winston, where did you learn zydeco?"

"It's new to me. I like how it sounds with ska beats." He stepped back. He blinked, understanding. "What, now I can only play Jamaican music? No zydeco for me because I'm not French-American?"

The keyboard player, who Laura recognized by his hair, was attracted by the raised voices. He leaned his head forward, halfway across the room, and then he waved off the woman he'd been talking with. He nodded to a short, white man who had been sitting nearby. That fellow rose from a couch to join him.

They strolled over, the short guy half a step behind. It took Laura a moment to realize that he had to be the drummer. He had a pair of wooden drumsticks in his hand. His beard looked rough. His expression wasn't friendly even though he had no reason to be upset. Apparently, he was one of those men who is always on edge.

"I don't know," Patty said. She didn't look at anyone but Winston and she didn't seem much bothered by his question. "I'm wondering what's authentic and what's appropriated."

"Ugh," he said. "We just like what we like."

The keyboardist leaned over to the drummer. They had a side conversation for a minute while Patty talked with their band leader. Laura sipped her drink. It was too sweet. She'd ordered what Patty liked but Laura preferred plainer drinks. She'd rather have them with no alcohol at all, usually. The red-head guitarist glanced at Winston, then at Patty. He looked lost. After a minute, Laura touched his elbow. She was sure she'd rather be talking with him than anyone else. But she couldn't think of anything to say.

"Are you a music writer, too?" he asked. Even his eyebrows had red hairs.

"No, just a friend. I've known her since grade school."

That made him smile, for which she was grateful. She grinned back. But Patty and Winston returned to the subject of cultural appropriation. Patty took the side of her readers, which Laura recognized as not being exactly Patty's own side. But for a portion of music fans, being authentic was important.

"What about me?" The drummer stepped in. He was so much shorter than the others that Winston and Patty each backed up a step and created more space between them rather than look at the top of his head. He folded his arms. The drumsticks were still in his left hand. "My parents are fucking racists. Am I supposed to go back to them and be part of their culture?"

"Not that, probably." Patty looked slightly alarmed.

"Chill, Tommy," murmured the keyboardist. He stepped up behind the drummer.

"Well, then I've got to pick some other culture," the drummer continued. "Someone's going to complain. It might as well be these guys."

At that, the keyboard player laughed. Winston shook his head but he was smiling.

"What about the white folks that grew up in the inner city and act like American blacks?" Winston asked. Laura realized that he'd posed the question just before his drummer interrupted. He hadn't been heard so he'd asked again. "Are they authentic? Or not?"

"I suppose they're authentic. Not everyone would agree, though. And I'm not sure whether agreement or not should matter."

"I think it does matter," Winston said. He tapped two fingers on his chin as he thought. "People are upset about others pretending to be from different backgrounds, putting on ethnic clothes, listening to different music, watching their films, talking like them."

"Yes. I hear it a lot. It's on my mind."

"But in fact, that is how empathy is created," Winston said. "When you can see yourself as that Jew or that Jamaican down the street, then you can start to side with that view of the street, you know? The danger comes not from pretending to be someone else but from not being able to imagine yourself in someone else's place."

"What about the art critics? And the fashion critics? They're trying to protect cultures from appropriation."

Winston put his arm around the drummer's shoulder. The shorter man didn't seem moved by it one way or another, not shrugging it off, not relaxing.

"Maybe," said Winston. "They haven't imagined being someone who has to leave behind his native culture. Yet everyone has to do that. That's how it goes for each generation. We leave behind the bad parts. And that's progress."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 122: A Bandit Accountant, 20.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Three: Bad Barrels

Mosquitoes discovered Denario during the night. In the morning, when he wasn't helping to steer, he itched the back of his neck until it was bloody.

Life beneath the canopy of cedars, birches, and willows was cooler than Denario had expected. Unlike Jack, who sometimes went bare-chested, Denario needed a shirt. The current was slow, so he didn’t heat up from work. He had time to relax. Within a mile of their launch, the creek grew too deep for the punt. In the sections where the water had turned a deep blue-green, Denario could push the rod all the way down until his hand touched the surface. The tip still didn't hit bottom.

He stopped playing that game when a shape bigger than his legs rose up from the depths. It looked like a small alligator with a fish tail. Crazy Jack said it was harmless and would go away. But Denario didn't like the look of the creature's long, tooth-filled mouth. On his next break, he stayed away from the water and cleaned his accounting gear. He followed that by oiling his short sword to remove a spot of rust. Then he practiced his sword drills, which made Jack laugh.

“Ya should work on bein' a better boatman,” he said. “Yar deadly enough with yar weapons.”

It was nearly the first complement Denario had received about his fighting prowess. He hoped that meant he was getting better, albeit in the eyes of a non-expert. The sword felt more natural to him nowadays and he didn't end his drills as soon or as exhausted as he once had.

“Comin' up on Barrel Bad soon,” muttered Jack. “It's three bends away just past the old hitchin' post.”

“Barrel Bad? That's a town name?” Denario chuckled. Then he sighed.

“Sure, used to make the best barrels there. Still make good ones.”

“Doesn't the name strike you as funny?”

“How do you mean?”

“I've passed so many places with ridiculous names. In Oggli, I heard foreigners mock them. I mean, 'Barrel Bad?' Doesn't that sound like they do something badly? Although it's nowhere near Pharts Bad, I admit. I never did figure that one out.”

“'Taint much to figure. A lot of old names sound silly. There are good reasons behind them. Like for Barrel Bad, well, 'bad' means 'bath.' There's a freshwater spring near the town. I've seen it. Come to think of it, the spring is oddly round, shaped a bit like the bottom half of a barrel. Maybe the town gets its name from that, not from the cooper.”

“But it's not just that our towns have funny names,” Denario said. “I think we haven't been respected for hundreds of years even when our names were picked for us. Take the city of Anhgrili, for instance. That's across the river where I came from. As you might point out, 'anhgre' is the old, old word for 'anchor.' But that city was named by the Muntab navy, which means it got approval from the emperor himself. The name got passed up the bureaucracy.”


“So in Muntar, they never had the old, old tongue that we used here. So anhgre sounds like 'anger.' I'll bet the clerks who saw that thought it was a hilarious name. But they still approved it.”


“Because they like laughing at us? That's just a guess.” Denario raised his small fist. “With the gods as my witness, someday our people will be respected.”

“Hah.” The boatman leaned back and laughed. “Who are yar people?”

“I don't know. My apprentices come first. A girl in Ruin Thal, maybe. Then it's folks like you and Vir. Maybe a witch in Ziegeburg. Then everyone else who's decent.”

“Not a bad answer.” Jack was grinning and nodding. “Don’t know if those folks care what they’re called, though.”

“Would any of these towns consider changing their names?” Denario asked. “I mean, Barrel Bad could just as easily be Springtown or Barreltun.”

The boatman looked dubious. “Those 'ton,' 'town' and 'tun' names sound foreign to people who were born here. If it didn't end in a 'li' sound when our great-great-grandfathers came, it ends in burg or bad now. Sometimes it's a 'thal' if you live in the cleft between two hills.”

“I think Ruin Thal is cheating, then. It's at the top of a hill. Well, it's between larger hills but still it's on high ground.”

“Don't know that one. If it's at the top, it should more rightly be an ephart, peak, or scarp Not too far north is a place called Willow Peak.”

“Ah, so Mount Ephart means 'cliff mountain.'”

“Wherever that is, sure, it sounds right.”

“Oh, no.” Denario slapped himself in the head.

“Forget something?”

“I just figured it out. Pharts Bad ... gods, what a terrible name ... that means 'spring by the cliff' or something like that, which makes perfect sense.”

“Told ya they have reasons.”

“They're awful names, Jack. Come on, you've been around. You know people poke fun at names all over the Complacent Sea and on up through the rivers, too.”

“They do. Can't say it ever bothered me. I don't think it bothers most folks, just a few young men like you who don't want laughed at.”

“Just me? Really?”

“Look, there's a town on the Riggle Kill called Druli.”

“I know it. I've passed through.” Denario saw Jack's point immediately.

“The sort of folks who are content to let their town be called 'drooly' for a few hundred years ...”

“It's built next to a marsh, too, and it's always wet.”

“Yah. They aren't going to change that name for whatever foreigners say.”

Denario shrugged. Jack was probably right.

“And Pharts Bad had a rockfall that exposed a seam of sulphur,” Denario said. “It smelled awful near the eastern side of the mine.”

“Heh.” It took the riverman about five seconds to get the joke. Some people never got it. The accountant felt that made Jack seem reasonably clever. “Pharts Bad, indeed. Funny.”

They docked the rafts at a strip of sand in a strong current.

Denario could tell the river had moved away from Barrel Bad, which lay in a sprawl of farms and houses entirely on the west bank, the Mundredi side. The change had rendered the town's old hitching post unreachable. It was too far from the sandy shore. Further downstream, someone had created three new hitching posts, all birch stumps. The stumps lined a shelf of sandbars and reed-beds. The reed beds looked like homes for all sorts of biting insects but Denario didn't suppose he could do much about it.

Jack stepped off the boat first. He hopped over the reeds and quickly handled the tie-down at the middle stump. Denario tried counting the seconds under this breath and got as far as one before Jack was finished with the first knot. He guessed he would have had a harder time of it himself. Denario's raft would have sped on past Barrel Bad in this too-swift current, assuming he'd gotten it moving.

After they tied the corners of both rafts down to the other stumps, Denario paused, hands on his knees, to look around. A road ran alongside of the creek. Like the creek, it trailed from northeast to southwest in both directions as far as anyone could see. Patches of dirt road had filled with grass, which made it appear seldom traveled. Up the slope away from the water, Denario spotted another trail. This one was wider. It led to the north by northeast. The two dirt paths met in a Y shape at the spot of the old hitching post sixty yards upstream.

“Is there supposed to be someone here, Jack?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” Jack answered cryptically.

“I see rooftops.” Denario pointed to the gap between groves of trees straight ahead. There was another, larger building with wooden shingles visible over the next rise to the right. “Do you want me to hike up the road?”

“You can go as far as you can carry the rafts.” Jack tossed down his coil of rope. He'd left his punt leaned against the near corner of the gunwhales. So he grabbed his hat off of the top of it, jammed it on his head, and hiked away.

Denario shrugged. It seemed to be his job to guard the cargo.

After about a minute, it occurred to him that there was no reason the Raduar assassin couldn't march to Barrel Bad. Although the creek's current was fast where they'd landed, it was slower than walking speed everywhere else. If the assassin had been willing to travel at night, he could be lying in wait somewhere close by.

The accountant scrambled into his armor. Even at a hurried pace, it took him five minutes to get his chain mail on. His greaves took longer. He gave up and tucked them back into his pack. The hauberk, too, seemed ridiculous for the effort it took. He decided to settle on picking up all the weapons he had. But he only had two hands. He couldn't fight with everything at once. The bow, he set aside. He hadn't practiced shooting anyway. He kept his sword in his scabbard and his eyes on the roads in front of him. In his left hand, he gripped the spear. He figured he could use the spear's huge length to keep the assassin away while he untied a raft. If he had to fight with the spear and broke the theolodite, he could repair it with the spare copper and tin in his money pack.

“Hoy!” About fifteen tense minutes later, Jack appeared on the northeast road. He passed through the gap in a grove of maple trees, spotted the accountant, and waved.

The boatman was a long way off. A few strides later, he passed behind a shrub. Behind him in the gap appeared a boy, then another boy. They were pulling leather straps that appeared tied to a wooden cart behind them. The cart's boards had turned grey with age.

When the group emerged from behind the maples and shrubs, Denario saw them all together for the first time. Jack had slowed to let a thick-bodied man catch up. That man wore a white shirt and dark vest. Behind him strode farm boys with their cart. On the front seat of the cart perched a girl aged probably eleven or twelve. She was dressed in petticoats, if that was the right term for her ruffled layers of plain white cloth. She held the reins of the cart in her lap. Her face bore the twist of a mischievous grin. Denario tried to read that expression. He thought she was tempted to thrash the reins and shout that her older brother and younger brother were donkeys.

She resisted right up to the time the cart rolled to a stop at the Y in the roads upstream from Denario. Then she gave the reins a flick, giggled, hopped down, and ran for it. Her brothers reacted immediately to the snap of leather. But it was already too late. She was off on a task to their neighbors, apparently. She dashed off along the creek to the northeast and in a few seconds got far enough away that her brothers couldn't give chase.

“So this is yar guard, eh?” the farmer drawled as he got closer. He spoke to Jack Lasker but he jerked his thumb in Denario's direction.

“Yep. He was fighting the Raduar who came down from the mountains.”


The farmer's beard hung to the middle of his chest. He paused to stroke the gray and brown strands of it. From his expression, he didn't approve of fighting. But he made sure that his boys pulled the cart all the way to the creek.

“Hope he's got sense not to drink,” the farmer mumbled.

“So far, so good.” Jack gave Denario a reassuring wink. “A bit of your lightning would teach anyone a lesson.”

That got a thoughtful grin. The farmer had brought something to trade downstream and it was, as he and Jack revealed, twenty-five clay bottles of 'lighting,' that being a type of local drink. They couldn't have been worth much. Jack's pay was two and a half tens of the bottles. They loaded the lighting onto the rafts with the farmer's sons doing most of the work. They also transferred pork from the rafts to the cart; that was the delivery. They stored the lighting bottles according to Jack's preference on the spots along the rafts, fifteen on one and ten on the other. By the time they finished, they could see other folks cresting the rise in the trail farther upstream, eight in all not counting the farmgirl who'd brought them. Those folks had wheelbarrows full of glazed pots.

The new arrivals soon heard the news that Denario was guarding the boat. At least one of them, the oldest, showed a glint of humor in his eyes as he sized up the accountant. He was too polite to say that Denario was the shortest fighter he'd ever seen. He was a genial fellow, though, as were his sons and his cousins. Their pots turned out to be mostly full of pickles.

Denario noticed something odd when he put his hands on one of the pots. They each bore the slanted 8 sign that he associated with Melcurio, god of accounting, banking, and possibly tricking.

“Who made these marks?” he asked a man who handed him the jar to load.

“Potter did. I ordered 'em. Lucky things, these. God marks.”

Denario hesitated. Sometimes religion could be a touchy subject. People got violent. He checked the forearms of the men for tattoos. The two older men had them but they were only for their house and clan signs, nothing to indicate the Mundredi or Kilmun tribes to which their clans belonged. None of the younger men or boys had any tattoos at all. It was hard to tell with what groups they might identify.

“And what gods do you worship?” he ventured.

“Gwydion. He makes the crops grow,” said the pickle man. He had only two tattoos, both bluish and faded like old bruises. “But these marks on the jars ain't his signs. These ya should know, from the look of ya. They're for the god of trade. Traditional, like.”

“These are marks for Melcurio?”

“We call him the Trader. Sometimes the we say the Counter or the Trickster.”

Denario felt closer to civilization on hearing those words. He'd reached lands where Melcurio was regarded as a god of trade. That came awfully close, in Denario's view, to being the god of banking.

He thought of other ways that No Map Creek seemed to be bringing him near to his destination. Old-style barter seemed to be on the decrease. Commodity money had grown prevalent. The pickle man, for instance, had paid Jack Lasker in bottles of his own brand of 'lightning,' which Denario understood was hard liquor. Liquor might be the main form of commodity money here, much as goats or dried fish were in other places. Non-accountants might not understand but Denario knew that staple commodities were related to coins. The relation wasn't in their materials but in their basic concept of reusable value. 'Lightning' could be traded many times before anyone had a sip, much as a coin could be used many times before a smithy melted it down.

“How come ya gots armor?” the farmer asked about half an hour later, as their work in loading was coming to an end.

Denario felt his face go red. He had hoped no one would notice the mail shirt between his layers of linen. Jack saw his reaction and laughed.

“The accountant comes from the Mundredi army!” he jeered.

“Didn't know we still had an army. Do we still have a chief?”

“Of course!” Then Jack launched into the story of Denario running away from the Raduar assassin. The boatman was a natural comedian. Everyone laughed. They oohed over Jack and Denario pushing the assassin down in the water. Then they asked why the man had been angry in the first place. Who had Denario killed?

“No, I'm not a murderer … well, only in self-defense ...” Denario told how he'd met Vir de Acker in foreign lands, how they'd escaped from an Ogglian jail, fought Raduar warriors, and more. He avoided mentioning the poison. What interested the farmers more than anything, though, was the Seven Valleys. Some of them had grandfathers from the valleys and they wanted to hear about the soil, the sunlight, and every other detail Denario could spare. They thought that the mine at Pharts Bad sounded wonderful but impossibly distant. They didn't seem to think the name of the place was funny. No one laughed upon hearing about any battles, not even when Denario admitted he'd been an idiot. These men knew the towns to the northwest of them had seen fighting. Although they weren't too concerned, they understood that organized violence was a possibility. Moreover, although they weren't sure he was their chief, they said Vir de Acker had ambushed a caravan to the south of them a couple of years ago, followed by a night raid against the baron's army. Some of the farmers knew about the fights and the fact that Vir had killed a dozen soldiers, stolen mysterious amounts of armor, and taken army cash boxes.

The accountant wondered if they were making up the part about the cash. It didn't seem like Vir even though the chief admitted to taking in money from time to time. Maybe the southern exploits were exaggerated. If I'd been a caravan leader robbed of warriors and armor, I might claim that I had no money left either, he thought.

It was Denario's stories about accounting, though, that got them the most excited. When he described his geometry and his maps, one of the men, who turned out to be the pickle shipper's youngest brother, started pacing back and forth. He interrupted to ask how Denario would make a wooden cylinder. Denario described the equation and a method for lathing. Then the fellow asked how Denario would make a spiral, which was an odd question. Denario's answer to making spirals was a bit complicated and the men got impatient.

“Look, can't you just come over to my place?” said the young one, still excited. “It's next to the Bodkers.”

“He means the farm next to the barrel works,” the pickle man explained.

“I'll feed you dinner if you look at my geometry problem,” the fellow continued. “I'll pay you in coppers if you can solve it.”

“Oho!” exclaimed Jack.

Those were magic words to the riverman. What followed was a bargaining session in which Denario learned a lot about the exchange rate between liquor and coins. A bottle of lightning was worth about three and a half brassers, he estimated, which meant Jack Lasker hadn't earned much money today except by local standards. He was looking for more. After all, he spent his money in Oupenli, where the prices were high. He wanted his cut of the accounting work.

The accountant wanted to know what kind of problem he was facing and whether a solution was practical or not. He tried to pry clues out of the farmers. They didn't seem to be able to articulate what they hoped he could do. That was a bad sign. The young man who'd brought up the problem, Marcel, worked for the cooper. Two years ago, he'd finished his apprenticeship. Instead of going off to be a journeyman in some other town, he'd agreed to stay and make barrels for Master Bodker. The Bodker place had three full-time coopers. Marcel was the youngest but it seemed to be a plum position since the other two men were old and slow. He'd been allowed to buy land, admittedly the worst around. It was a triangle of scrub brushes, mud and sand that bordered No Map Creek. Once it had been productive. Marcel thought he could make it grow crops again. In fact, he'd gambled on it. The land had come with an enormous debt that his salary as a cooper might pay off if he lived to be forty, which everyone regarded as a even-chance proposition. If he defaulted, the land returned to the Bodker family.

He hoped to pay them off earlier by farming his land or working some other kind of profitable business there. He was toying with the idea of carpentry or better, smithing. He liked working with metals. He knew a dwarf caravan leader who would sell him raw materials. But for smithing without children or apprentices, he needed a steady source of water close to hand. That was where Denario came in.

“You want me to site a well for you?” Denario asked at one point. For a property adjoining the creek, it wouldn't be hard.

“No,” Marcel waved his hands emphatically. “There's old cooper machinery on my property that I want you to fix. Look it over. You'll see what I mean.”

Machinery? Denario wondered. Barrel makers used a lot of tools but none of them were complicated. He wouldn't call any of them machines.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 121: A Bandit Accountant, 20.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Two: Embarrassed Cough

To my dismay, I discovered as I rinsed my clothes that I'd lost my sketch of No Map Creek. It probably fell out during my encounter with the Raduar assassin although it’s possible, barely, that it could have happened earlier. Regardless, I took Jack Lasker's advice and used an 'even smaller scrap' to make its replacement.

Jack is crazy. He thinks something is wrong with how I'm mapping but he won't tell me what. Crazy or not, though, he is decently educated. He reads well. He writes a little. He understands math, geometry, and even cartography. Jack's father sent him to a school in Weighbigh, a town just west of Oupenli. It seems that Jack lived at the school from the age of six to nearly the age of twelve. His experience there gave him traits I would normally associate with city men. He can recite poetry, for instance, and he owns a toothbrush.

But before he turned twelve, his father took him out of school and raised him to be a riverman. Jack knows a surprising amount about magic for someone who seems otherwise unconcerned about spells or charms. For my sake, he pointed out magical animals such as the flying frogs in the trees along both shores. They're hard to spot but Jack has a knack for seeing their shapes. He says the frogs get as heavy as wolves farther downstream. I don't like the sound of that. He says they're big enough to share the sky with flying alligators.

He could also identify the sounds we heard during the night. A loud screech came from a type of bat, not an owl as I'd thought. A splash downstream turned out to be a gar, which is a kind of small alligator, I think.

At dusk there was a keening noise. Jack said it was the mating song of a male siren. It didn't seem to worry him so I didn't ask more about it. We slept in shifts and took turns keeping a small fire lit on our main deck. Jack visited the other boat a couple times during the night. Around dawn, both of us slept at the same time. But then we heard the keening again. It sounded rather like a sad, young man who was wandering the opposite shore, singing to himself. But the song had no words. Other than that, he could have been a drunk human.

'Aye, that's the siren male again,' he told me, instantly awake and observing that I was, too. 'They're a danger to the women around here.'

'Not to us?' I asked. I remembered the blonde-haired, strong-armed Simone. I found the thought of anyone doing harm to her distressing.

'A male that small, no, he'd ignore us while we were in his territory. He's looking for a mate. Too bad for him. It's the end of their season, maybe a little past. And there are no siren females hereabouts.'

I wondered how women could live near No Map Creek if the sireni were dangerous. Jack explained that the individuals can be lethal but that the sireni on the whole are dying out. They live in the waters from just north of Shore Kill to a place called the Invisible Temple. At the Invisible Temple, background magic gets too strong for the sireni to set up permanent homes although a few siren heroes go hunting in the area. As to their biology, they appear to be men and women with thick, green skin. They have webbed feet and hands. For tools they carry primitive spears and a little in the way of clothing. Either the sireni breathe water or they hold their breath for so long as makes no difference. The larger magical river beasts like flying alligators, hippopotami, nessi, and bishopi are dangers to the sireni, which is why even the un-mated males don't wander far into the Riggli Kill.

Local lore tells that the sireni hunted the alligators in No Map Creek until there were none left except around the Invisible Temple.

'Me great-grandad was a boatman,' Jack told me. 'But he had a weak moment and got et by them sireni. Their women give out a mating call, ya see, and some men just can't help it. They gots to go to 'em. Oh, he'd heard them sireni before but not out of season and not so far upstream. This one, she was early and she was out of place. And her draw was too strong for me great-gran. So he went. He ran into other fishermen and boatmen from the nearest village. They fought. That's what the song does to ya.'

'And the other men killed your grandfather?'

'Nah. My great-gran beat those other human men. But a male siren, he killed granddad. Drowned him. It probably didn't even mean to do it, just thought it was fighting another male siren for the right to mate. If it wasn't for the male, the female would have drowned granddad anyway. She wouldn't mean to do it. It's just the way they are. They're okay when it's not their mating season. Ya can talk to them. They don't say much but they know words.'

'Amazing.' Then I asked, 'When did it change and get more dangerous for women?'

'Two years after great-granddad died. A wizard came through. Don't know his name. But he wandered right into the heart of mating season and almost got killed. It scared him something awful. So he cast a curse against the sireni. About half of their females got sick and died.'

'How long ago?' It was a question I had to ask several times.

'Nearly sixty years, give or take. The next generation of sireni didn't recover. Nor the next, nor the next. The disease they've been cursed with, it takes half the girls right dead before they can swim alone. I gather that if a girl makes it through her first year, she's almost always going to be okay. But that year is hard on the parents, especially the mother. Their dads is worse than human dads. They spends most of their time away, hunting or fighting with alligators or cougars or hippos or magical water creatures for territory.'

'But the females still sing their mating songs. Isn't that dangerous?'

'They don't have to sing for long to attract mates now, do they? And the lonely males started to sing in response to their situation right away. It was in the very year of the curse. The story goes that they sung mostly sad songs, at first, but then they noticed that they were luring human women. They ain't stupid. Pretty soon, all the losers of the mating fights would start singing songs while the scent of their females was still in the air. And our women would go over to them.'

'And the sireni males would drown them? Why?'

Jack cleared his throat. He gave me a sort of embarrassed cough.

'Ya know,' he choked. 'It's the same reason the females drown our men.'

I was slow to draw the full picture in my mind.

'Fighting?' I said.

'Mating.' The boatman's voice dripped with disdain. 'Not everyone drowns, of course. Most do. Not everyone.'

'Oh.' For a moment, I was afflicted by the same, embarrassed cough.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Not Even 'Not Even'

Not everyone likes a story about the limits of inner peace. No matter how in touch with the De, no matter how observant of the way of things, we still find that the world moves as it does. Cruelties reach us. Mental illness affects our loved ones. Tragedies continue to happen in their ordinary and inevitable way.

We die. Saints perish; Daoists and Buddhists pass on; the stoicly virtuous come to their ends. Not everyone is tested the same but bodies and spirits are put through their hardships and no one is physically immortal. There is not coming or going, as they say, but all pass away.

Not Zen 195: Times of Madness

Not Zen 195: Times of Madness

Beheading 1894
"The gate guard surrendered!" cried the monk. He pointed to where the short fellow in front of the monastery had put down his ceremonial staff. He'd stood aside from his usual position and had opened the gate. His red pennon flapped in the breeze beside him. In the distance, invading soldiers rose up out of the fields. The crests on their helmets bent in the mountain winds. They advanced on the gate.

"I told him not to lay down his life," replied the lama. He commanded the monastery. He had expected the walls to be breached in a few minutes one way or another. "Come on, this way."

Together, the lama and his assistant trotted through the stone-walled courtyard. They walked under an arch built with grey marble blocks and turned into the now-empty halls of the monastery. As they progressed, they passed tapestries on either side. They saw plaster cracked where someone had removed a piece of artwork during an earlier evacuation.

At an intersection between hallways, the lama came to a fallen table. He sighed when he saw the playing cards strewn next to the table top. Card games were against monastery rules. He knew which monk had been caught with them before.

"All have left," his assistant observed as they kept moving. "Why must you be the last?"

"Because the army comes for me," said the lama.

"Why? No one said."

"That is because they do not know. I am not sure, myself. The monastery was until a few days ago at peace with the local warlords."

"Do you have a guess?"

"I'm told that members of the court convinced a warlord that I have conspired against him."

"Have you?"

He shook his head no. "Only in his imagination. He has grown old and afraid, perhaps, and he indulges his passions for jewels and drugs. Now he lashes out against the monastery and its lack of drugs, its lack of attachments, and its lack of fear."

"Is he against the monastery or just you?"

"By the reports we received, I'm the one he wants to kill."

"What insanity could make him want to commit murder?"

"Beneath violence lies fear, usually, and perhaps a touch of insanity. I knew the warlord when he was a young man, tortured and abused by the previous lord. He led a rebellion. Now, perhaps, he dreads that he will be overthrown in his turn."

The lama turned the final corner in the last hallway on this side. He stepped left into the northeast corner meeting hall.

"There is no exit from this room, master," said his assistant. A note of worry crept into his voice. They could hear shouts from the invaders in the courtyard. A voice deeper than the others rang out. The warlord himself had come. He ordered his men to search for the lama. He ordered a search for treasures, too, although he should have known better.

"There is a way." The lama bent to the fireplace in the east wall. "Help me move the wood."

"Why are these logs here?" his assistant asked. He accepted an armful of sticks. "We won't use the fireplace for another month."

"I brought them in yesterday." As the wood was set aside, the lama placed most of the pieces into an iron hearth. That, he pulled aside to get to the grate. Beneath the grate, he revealed a steel door. "They better hide the tunnel. See?"

"Ah." His assistant relaxed for a moment, relieved.

"I was not able to crawl all the way through this path yesterday. But it looks like it still exists. If it does, our escape route should come out in the forest."

The tunnel was more than two hundred years old. It had been created under the direction of the original lama of the monastery. Unfortunately, no one had tested it even in idle curiosity for twenty years. When they had last done so, the lone explorer noted that part of its ceiling had fallen in. The lama was aware there might be no escape. The last man had dug his way around the obstacle. The path he'd cleared might hold. But there might have been another collapse, too.

The lama stepped down into the tunnel. He ushered his assistant to one side, replaced the grate, reached through the bars with a stick, and pulled the hearth of fireplace logs back over the grate.

"There." He smiled for his assistant, who again seemed nervous. He closed the door beneath the fireplace grate.

The solid door cut them off from what little light had remained. They were cast into complete darkness. The lama reached out and found that his friend was trembling.

"Come," he said. "Although we can't see, there is only one way to go. I will lead you."

He turned and preceded his assistant through the blackness. For a few steps, he could shuffle forward with a hand to the wall. Soon, the ceiling lowered. He stooped. A moment later, he bent further. Finally, he scraped his head. He crawled on his hands and knees.

After a few minutes, he found piles of rubble on the floor. They were composed of rocks and loose dirt. The mounds grew larger, filled with heavier stones, and joined in an upwards slope. The rising floor reduced him to worming along on his belly. The man behind him whimpered. After a while, the floor fell away by a few inches. Two body lengths later, it sloped downwards by another foot. The lama found that he could crawl again. They'd made it through the collapsed part of the tunnel.

A few minutes after the worst section, the lama glanced forward from his crouched position. He could see the shape of the walls around him. Light was coming into the tunnel from someplace ahead.

He reached back to touch his friend. His hand landed in the right place, near the shoulder.

"I can see the outline of you," he announced.

"Well, I can see the hand in front of my face," his friend said. "It's getting better."

"Not much farther to go."

The path, at its end, opened into a hole in wall of a vertical shaft. They had made it to an old well that sat at the center of a clearing. The clearing was deep in the woods. This, at last, was their exit from the monastery grounds. But they would have to climb up the side of the well.

"Is that water below us?"

"Yes," the lama answered. He glanced down at the faint shimmer. "Let's keep conversation to a whisper. I know where we are. Sound will carry upwards."

"Right." The other man's voice grew low and soft. "I'd always thought that, at this depth, the well was in shadow even at noon. But it is bright here compared to the cavern-blackness of our escape."

"Had you ever wondered about the raised tiles on the inside of this well? They lead from here all the way to the top."

"I thought they formed a pattern."

"They do."

"Then I considered them to be a decoration. But it was hidden beauty, subtle and and spiritual. No one could see the design except for those who made it."

"We are seeing it now." The lama smiled and began his climb.

The brick pattern became a set of handholds and footholds for them. The lama took two minutes to reach the top. His arms trembled by the end. If he were older, he realized, the climb would have posed a serious risk. As it was, the only danger came from outside the well. He heard the noise of someone pacing back and forth.

Above him, over the stone rim, he glimpsed the top of a person's head. He paused to be sure. As he did, the person turned. She leaned over and proved to be, as he'd hoped, the senior nun from the convent. Her grey hairs shone in the sun of the clearing, even with most of them tucked under her hood.

"Thank you, sister," the lama said as he accepted her hand. She helped him over the lip of the well. He rolled down to let his feet touch the grass. He bowed.

She put a finger over her lips and pointed in the direction of the monastery. He nodded, understanding. There were soldiers in the woods. Together, he and the nun helped his assistant from the well. Then, as quietly as they could, they marched through the forest. Once they had to hide to let a pair of soldiers pass. Soon after, they found an animal trail. When they left that, they exited the cover of the trees. They discovered a footpath to take into town. Only when they'd reached the edge of town did any of them feel safe to speak.

"The abbess says there have been about forty men killed, perhaps twenty women raped," the nun announced.

The lama paused. He scanned the town below and noticed the burnt remains of a house to the south.

"Town leaders expected the troops would refrain," he said.

"The warlord led the murders. He shouted to anyone who could hear that he blames you. He said he was killing your village supporters to hurt you."

"Did I have supporters? Or were they simply good people?"

"He says you molested children. Did you?"

"Of course not." He studied the nun's face and reminded himself not to be insulted. "Haven't you known me for almost forty years?"

"But I don't know you well. You are the lama, after all."

He sighed. "If you find it believable, then others must. There are always some who believe a thing simply because it has been said."

The lama bowed his head and marched on. The journey across town took him longer than he'd planned. Soldiers stalked the streets. He had to avoid them. The nuns and the monks from his temple, together, had arranged for a safe path. Nevertheless, it was difficult because many of the streets were empty. The lama and his assistant felt conspicuous in their robes.

Where ordinary citizens worked in the alleys, they pretended not to see the lama as he passed. They turned away. Before they did, their eyes widened in recognition. The looks they gave him, in those brief moments, were usually loving and reassuring. But sometimes their expressions turned suspicious. The warlord's campaign against the lama had already taken effect. A few of the younger faces seemed resentful. They couldn't blame the warlord, not without being beaten, so they blamed the lama. The lama nodded to himself. He knew that people worked this way.

"Over here." The nun crooked her finger to him. He followed her through the doorway of a house as they dodged the eyes of more soldiers.

In the house, his eyes adjusted to the dim light. The lama noticed the inhabitants, a mother and her son. Like the other residents of the town, they recognized him in a second. Then, with a sad look, the mother turned away. The boy took a moment longer.

"Is this one of the safe houses?" his assistant asked the nun.

"Yes. Ssh." The nun put a hand over her mouth.

The three of them remained silent until a pair of infantrymen outside passed the shuttered window. After the footsteps faded, the lama approached the mother of the house.

"May I ask a question?" he said. She nodded. "Thank you. Have you heard the warlord's slanders against the monastery and against me?"

She nodded again. "Yes."

"Do you not believe them?" He gestured to her son. "Are you not afraid of my behavior towards your son?"

"We were told that you molested girls."

"Ah. I have not been fully informed. But the campaign against the monastery is likely to continue for some time. The army will say many more things, especially if they discover what people are willing to believe. Do you think your friends will be persuaded?"

She thought about this for a long time. "Some of them."

"Why do you care?" the nun asked.

"I'm not sure," said the lama. "But the monastery relies on the good will of the town. Should that be lost ..."

"We will fight," his assistant volunteered. "We have truth on our side."

The nun made a disparaging noise.

"The lama is possessed by demons and abuses children," she said. "All monks are possessed by demons. The monastery is rich but keeps the warlord poor. The monastery is in a league with the warlord's enemies. The monastery is poisoning the town wells. The monastery is poisoning the warlord and making his hair fall out. Those are all things that the warlord's men have said."

"That's quite a lot." The lama raised his eyebrows.

"Getting old makes hair fall out," his assistant responded.

"Careful." The nun narrowed her eyes. "Men were killed for saying those words this morning."

The lama bowed to their host. He bowed to her young son. He was feeling flustered by his confrontations with violence and insanity. Nevertheless, he was not so confused as to fail to realize that he must continue on his way.

The journey across town took two days. What was normally a stroll of a few hours was constantly interrupted and re-routed by soldiers on patrol. The lama saw the insides of many homes, some rich, some poor. The nun knew which were safe. No matter whether the house was great or small, the people who lived inside were hardly ever home. When they were, they failed to notice the presence of uninvited guests. Sometimes they had to go into other rooms in order to not notice.

"This is very wise," said the lama when they were inside the garden shed of a rich man's estate.

"I know," said the nun. She caressed the clay jars on a low shelf against the wall. "This fellow is an ally of yours. Yesterday, he stored clean water in these pots."

"But no food," complained the lama's assistant.

"Food would be hard to explain," said the nun, "if anyone else should have walked in."

"Let's call this an evening of fasting," said the lama to his friend. "Anyway, we should rest."

"Good idea. This is the best spot to spend the night." The nun pointed to the closed shed door and beyond, to the border of the estate. "There is a curfew in town. We saw the soldiers lighting torches at intersections. We can't travel while the torches are burning."

"Let's wait until just before dawn," suggested the lama. "In the weak light, we will appear to be early-rising citizens. Very few people will be inclined to look closely. At the least, the villagers will be able to plausibly deny that they noticed us or gave us shelter."

"That is good." The nun smiled. "If we are lucky, we can make it to the bridge above the river before the light grows strong. That is a hard path, I know. But if there are no soldiers on it, it works to our advantage. No one uses those stairs but the trail goes up to the mesa and the convent."

"Are the stone steps still hidden by bushes near the bottom?"

"Somewhat," she allowed. "Even if we are spotted as we reach the bridge, the people below will need half an hour to climb up the winding path to reach us."

During the night, the lama's assistant awoke several times. He kept a heavy shovel by his side and clutched it when he stirred. He had been troubled by the signs of murder and torture during the day. At the last safe house, he had stepped in a pool of blood outside the back door. During their long night, he rubbed his foot. He shivered in his sleep. Groans escaped him each time he awoke.

The lama sat in meditation for a while. He held his friend's hand and wished for him to have peaceful dreams.

Only once did the nun cry out in her sleep. The sound seemed to the lama like the weeping they'd heard behind closed shutters as they passed houses in town.

In the morning, on little rest, the lama roused his companions. Together the three strolled out into the twilight before dawn as if they were trudging to work. The lama's assistant insisted on carrying a shovel. He said it helped disguise them. Perhaps it did. There were few tradesmen out but the farm laborers dared to go to work. The lama passed soldiers without drawing attention. In only half an hour, he and his friends reached the southeast edge of town. They crossed the stream and clambered up into the bushes that hid the mountain staircase. No one stopped them.

It was only when they stepped out onto the great bridge at the top of the stairs that they were spotted. The winding path was long but it didn't take them very high in the end, really, just above the buildings and trees. The lama's assistant leaned against the rail to take in the view. He gazed over the town and pointed out signs of the occupying army. He gestured to a pair of soldiers. As they noticed the motion, the soldiers raised their heads. They pointed to the lama.

The bridge was not so high that they couldn't hear the voices below. The lama felt that he had been recognized because the soldiers shouted something about hills. They didn't seem to know if the monastery was to the west or the east. Nor did they seem aware of the convent in any way. A moment later, the two guards spotted a group of officers and hailed them over to look at the bridge and the people on it. The officers ambled forward. The lama and the nun did not try to hide.

After a moment, the nun gasped. The pointed to the center of the group below.

"That is the warlord."

The lama narrowed his eyes. He studied the uniforms and saw that, yes, with bright medals on his chest and armor on his head and legs, it was the warlord himself. He was the leader of the officers.

"Laborers!" the warlord shouted. His men parted for him to be seen better. "How did you get up there?"

"We climbed," said the nun, but she did not raise her voice. She gave the lama a sidelong glance. Her expression told him how humorous she found their situation. But her quiet voice let him know that she didn't not want to be well understood by the men on the road.

"Do you not recognize me?" called the lama down to the warlord.

"You are a peasant." A guffaw shook his chest. The men around him dared to smile.

"Am I not the man you are looking for?"

"No, I seek the lama." Again, he shook with a derisive laugh. "You are not he, you worthless farmer. You are not even a pretender. The lama travels in rich robes."

The lama looked at his assistant. His assistant shrugged. Neither of them had ever worn other than plain robes.

"But I have a message for the lama," bellowed the warlord, "should you happen to see him. You may catch up with him on some back trail, laden with his jewels, money, and drugs."

"He has drugs?" the lama cried in disbelief.

"All of the poppies they grew in the monastery. Just because those monks carted them away doesn't mean I don't know about them!" The warlord wagged his finger. "That's my message for the mighty lama. We will find him. We will take away his opium. We will make him suffer before he dies."

The lama slowly nodded.

"But ..." The assistant turned to him, confused. "But master, this man was in our monastery. He knows there was nothing. He admits it. How can he not see the truth?"

"We will carry your message!" the lama shouted down to the officers.

The men below chuckled. They cried out rude names to the peasants. These same people had been polite visitors in the town only a few months before. Now their warlord spurred them to acts of cruelty. They had killed villagers for pointing out baldness. They had searched for drugs that they knew didn't exist. They met the object of their hatred but didn't understand it because they were so mislead by their master's expectations. Only one of the men in the group seemed to hesitate. Instead of shouting, he leaned forward as if trying to see the lama better. He shook his head.

As they walked through the farms on top of the mesa, taking the best path to the convent, the lama's assistant complained that the warlord's men did not rebel against him.

"He is insane," the man breathed. Their travels seemed to have winded him although he was full of anger. His arms swept the air. "You could see it. From the way they moved, you could tell that his men have doubts about his behavior."

"Did not your own teacher, the lama, tell you exactly this?" The nun stopped. She put her fists on hips for a moment.

"I had not seen it for myself," the fellow explained.

"We have not given him the response that he wants," the lama mused. "I wonder if that is a problem. He attacks us in the hope of provoking a hatred similar to his."

"Should we hate him, then?" asked the nun. "It would not be hard."

"I don't know that I can. Well, I suppose I could pretend. But then there is the fact of my presence. While I live, everyone is at risk."

"You could raise an army to oppose the warlord," said his assistant.

The nun gave the lama and his assistant a skeptical look.

"That is one way," the lama admitted. "But I was thinking that once I've seen you to safety, I will turn back and give myself up. That should prove there was never a conspiracy."

"Bah. Don't bother," the nun said. "It won't stop the beatings. They'll just kill you and move on to more torture and more beatings."

"What else, then?"

The nun shrugged. "Am I a lama that I should offer a lama advice?"

"Are you without confidence in your own wisdom that you can't bestow it on someone who asks?"

For a moment, the nun blushed.

"That's not been said of me in years," she said as she nodded to herself. "My reputation is for impudence."

"Or determination," he offered. He knew her from many conversations.

"I will consider the situation, worthy lama."

"That is all that I ask." He raised the walking stick he'd picked up after his ascent to the bridge. He gestured to the fields. "Tomorrow, I am scheduled to teach the precepts in town. Instead, I feel that I should teach the farm children here. They must work but I can toil alongside them as I speak."

"Lama," said his assistant. "This is not a time for lessons."

The lama did not even bother to reply.

At noon, the men arrived at the convent and were promptly denied entry. The nun stepped inside to converse with her peers. She raised her voice once or twice. Soon, the abbess came out to greet them. She escorted them to a small chapel where male visitors could stay.

"Teaching tomorrow seems like a good plan," she nodded. "However, I can see that it worries one of you. Should I arrange for you to visit with the most trusted families and the most gentle children? That is a sort of compromise."

The lama gestured polite refusal.

"My assistant should stay inside tomorrow," he said. "For two years, he has been promising you translation work. He knows the old languages. Get him your ancient manuscripts. Give him tools to write."

"And you?"

"Any children, any fields."

The abbess blessed him with a smile. She vowed to make the area as secure as she could. Her attendants came to feed them. Others came with bedding, drinks, and guests from the village, a few people who had seen the lama and wished to speak with him.

That night, the lama slept in peace, content in his heart. His assistant kicked and cried out in his dreams.

At dawn the next day, the mesa swarmed with soldiers. The warlord's officers had discovered the convent and the fields. Although the military men bore weapons, they did not seem to have a goal beyond exploring the area. They did not stop the farm children from working. They saw the lama from a distance and did not rush forward to arrest him.

The lama knelt in a field and began to speak about the second precept, which is that no one should take what is not freely given. It was, as usual, an attractive lesson for children. Several of boys and girls began interrupting with questions. Another offered an example of her older brother taking something without asking her. The lama offered his own examples and stories.

Thus the conversation proceeded for most of the morning. Two children showed him how to separate the two-row barley and six-row barley spikelets. In the two-row barley, an old crop that their parents grew for malt, only the central spikelet was deemed important. The six-row barley had been introduced recently by a large farming organization. Its spikelets were all big. It was superior to the old crop as a cereal or for animal feed.

One boy asked for math lessons, so the lama taught that subject for an hour. Even the children who at first weren't interested had questions.

"Such earnestness," said a stranger's voice. It was the nun who had guided him up the path to the mesa. Today, a fine hat hid most of her silver hair. It could not hide the lines in her face. Her smile seemed forced. "Your time is almost up, lama. The soldiers know who you are. They have been watching you in rotation."

"Like those two over there?" He let his gaze drift to the main road.


"If my time is up, then it is." He rose from his knees. His hands brushed the dirt from the front of his robe.

"Are you at peace?"

"Well, I suppose. But a quiet life does not always grant one a peaceful death."

"I always wondered if your inner calm was an illusion caused by your isolation from evil people."

"Perhaps." He laughed. "But not entirely, I find. When you speak to the peace of my heart, you go straight to the issue. This is when my understanding of the way of life is shown. In this moment, I feel that my path is good. Will you guard the children for me?"

"Must you leave them?"

His spirit felt as wholesome as ever but it would not protect him from death. It had not even protected him from the confusion of dealing with insanity. That would be a hard lesson, however, for his students. It seemed wise to spare them too close a look.

"This is the middle way, I think."

With that, he strode across the fields towards the soldiers in the dirt road. They saw him coming. Immediately, one of them turned his back. Such an odd gesture, the lama thought. He kept on. It wasn't far. Soon, he looked the nearest soldier in the eye. To his surprise, he recognized the young man. This fellow had grown up in the village. He had received lessons from the monks, including the lama.

It answered any doubts about being recognized.

"My friend," he said as he grew close. "I have come to make this easier. I give myself up to you."

The soldier turned slightly. He watched the children at work in the fields, some of whom had stopped to regard the meeting in the road. He considered the farmers nearby. He gazed at the nun, who kept her arms around two of the girls as they observed the soldier. He studied everything except the lama himself.

"I want to help," the lama continued. "But I cannot make things right for you. I can't undo a general's madness. I can only do what one person can do."

For a moment, the soldier glanced in his direction. An instant later, he looked away, down the road toward the convent. A crow landed in the road. He studied it.

The lama walked over to the other soldier, the one who had turned his back. He didn't recognize this man. That didn't mean the man didn't know the lama, however. As the lama started to speak, the stranger turned his back again. He wanted to pretend not to see.

"Ah," said the lama. It was funny, he thought, how he had realized that his inner peace did not protect him from violence or confusion. Here he was again, in another moment of confusion, hesitating between the soldiers.

He turned and saw a figure farther down the road, not in the direction of the convent but back towards the village. It seemed likely to be another soldier. With a sigh, he headed that direction.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 120: A Bandit Accountant, 20.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score

Scene One: Theolodite Work

Mundredi army. That was Denario's first thought. This fellow could be a mercenary of some stripe but that didn't seem likely. He'd come without a caravan. It was hard to imagine, too, that he would take orders from refined, well-groomed Ogglian officers. Denario tried to read the tattoos on the man's arms but the fellow kept moving. Half of the marks were under leather greaves but they seemed to be clan and house markings of some sort.

Everyone looked to Denario. The stranger did, too. There seemed to be no point in trying to hide. Denario rose. He smiled. Although he didn't salute, it occurred to him that he'd heard rumors about one of Vir's sergeants leading troops through Long Valley. Killim Thal wasn't too far southwest of the mountains around the valley. This fellow might be a messenger from Sergeant Kaspir. He could even be the sergeant himself.

“I'm your accountant,” Denario said.

The fellow took a slow step closer. A grin spread across his face.

“I've got a message,” he repeated.

Denario swallowed. He nodded. He edged his left.

“Ya killed my friends, ya bastard!” The soldier pulled out his sword. Its edge swept free of the scabbard with a ringing sound. The blade was bigger than Denario's arm. “Did ya think ya'd got away?”

Denario scanned for exits. There were eight windows. There was a door in the back for those who needed to use the privy.

“Draw yar blade, ya murderin' scum!”

Although the Raduar fellow was trembling with rage, he seemed to be willing to let Denario fight. He wanted a duel. It was precisely the sort of military encounter that Vir had railed against. Ogglian ideas of noble honor had affected everyone who came in contact with them, even this Raduar vagrant. Probably, this fellow hadn't even had direct contact with Ogglians. He was getting his ideas about dueling second or third-hand.

Denario rested his fingers on the pommel of his baselard. His weapon was steel and that made it theoretically better than the brass scimitar. It was too small, though, to go against a heavier, longer weapon.

“How did you find me?” he asked, stalling for time.

“Ah've been tracking ya for days and days.” The Raduar's voice was a growl. “When we heard what been done three weeks ago, we got friends together. We set out to assassinate them Mundredi army men. My cousin led us down from the mountains. We all made our way through the edge of Long Valley.”

Denario drew a map in his head of Long Valley and the places beyond. The Raduar to the northeast in Fat Valley were cut off from the rest of the world by mountains. If they tried to go around the mountains, they would run into their Mundredi and Kilmun neighbors. A small group could hike through the mountain range the long way but it would be dangerous. The end of the range would take them to the headwaters of No Map Creek. There, the group would need to travel through hostile territories and would end up at the wrong place regardless, far to the southwest of where they wanted to be. But it seemed that they had made the trip.

“No one would help us. Everyone shot at us. They killed half my friends. They starved us. I had to steal and murder to survive. And everywhere I went, I heard about ya. I knew ya was close. Yar an Oggli fool! But ya walked in the Mundredi valleys. And the Chief of the Mundredi treats ya like a hero. Ya killed my chief, they say. Everyone says. They sing a song about it.”

The accountant regretted the tribal musical tradition more than ever. Naturally, the Raduar wouldn't think it was funny because the joke was on them. And Denario did kill someone in battle. He'd been told that the fellow was a clan leader of some kind. Maybe the self-declared assassin came from that clan. The math of (many clans = one tribe) came back into his head as he considered the geography of it all.

“And so you came for revenge?” he blurted. That wasn't the right thing to say. He should have found a better diversion, anything to stave off the fight.

“Draw!” screamed the Raduar.

Denario pointed to the figures, silhouettes in the sunlight, that had come up to the front door of the Drowned Sorrows. Whoever they were, they'd heard the screaming from inside and they'd hesitated in the doorway. Denario didn't blame them. But he was desperate enough to use them.

“Do I have to fight all of you?” he asked.

The assassin turned. He didn't just look over his shoulder, either. He swung around so that his whole back faced Denario. If the accountant had been a certain type of man, he could have stabbed his opponent right between the shoulder blades. But he wasn't like that. Maybe. Anyway, the man's back was armored.

Instead, Denario ran. He headed for the back way out of the pub as fast as his tired legs could take him. It was a stupid thing to try. He couldn't outrun this killer. He couldn't hop on a raft. The rafts were tied to the docking stump and they weren't his. His own raft lay in pieces. Besides, he wasn't going to leave all of his accounting gear.

That last thought made his decision. As he headed out of the door, he turned to the right, towards No Map Creek. That's when he heard someone scream. Surprisingly, the killer's roar of outrage shook him to his spine. He found more speed. He was surprised he had anything more. He'd already been moving faster than he ever had in his armor.

The accountant ran around the back of someone's house and straight through a hedge bush. There was no other way to go without doubling back. He had to hope the bush would slow his pursuer down. Behind him, he heard the pounding of heavy boots. Then came the sound of bush branches snapping, followed by cursing.

Denario wheeled to his right, out from behind the house and toward the path that led to the landing site on the creek. To his surprise, he saw someone waiting for him on the path. He tried to draw his sword as he ran. But he held back as he recognized who it was. The man was Jack Lasker. He had the strangest, wildest smile on his face. How had he gotten here so fast?

“Ya crazy little bastard!” Jack yelled. “Hah hah hah!”

Denario didn't waste any of his breath with a reply. He rumbled past the boatman, turned left and entered what he hoped was the final stretch of his escape. Ahead of him, down on the sandy banks, he saw the top of Achim's head. The poor farmhand was staring off into space. He'd taken of his hat and he was scratching himself. His body was pointed in Denario's direction. But Achim didn't notice the accountant pounding toward him in boots and armor. He didn't hear the labored breathing. The young man was lost in his daydreams.

Denario huffed as he leapt from the path to the sandy docking area. There, he slipped and nearly fell. The thought of his attacker jumping on him in the next second lent extra strength to his knees. He had to press down with one hand but he managed to stay upright.

A shadow passed over him.

It was Crazy Jack. The man was laughing and skipping through the sand. He was far, far faster than Denario. He hopped aboard his lead raft. He kicked equipment aside. Then he moved one of Denario's bags with the toe of his shoe. He grabbed a hook and tossed it aside.

Denario ran to catch up.

“Hey!” said Achim. He seemed to be just noticing them.

Jack leaned over and reached for the loop of rope that connected his rafts to the anchor stump on the bank. Don't remove the line, Denario prayed. Don't cast off. Don't leave yet. Don't leave me. I can't jump. I can't.

Denario jumped. It was three and a half feet from the bank to the gunwhales of the lead raft. He almost didn't make it. Certainly he didn't clear the gunwhales. He stepped on them. But he came down on the deck of the boat with his right foot and then his left. He wobbled. Barely, he managed to stay upright.

“Grab the punt!” yelled Jack. He'd cast off. The rope was in his hand, hanging loose. He was looking at someone over Denario's left shoulder. Denario knew who it was.

“Where?” Denario scrambled frantically. He had to remind himself what a punt was. In the second it took, Jack snapped it up from in front of his tent.

“Grab something!” yelled Jack. He turned his punt point-on toward the shore.

Denario bent over and grabbed his theolodite. It had been a spear before. It could serve as one still. He turned.

Over his right shoulder, he saw the Raduar assassin. The fellow had made the turn in the trail where dirt turned to sand. He ignored Achim, who wasn't even looking in the right direction. He sprinted directly for Denario. His legs prepared for the leap.

There was no doubt in Denario's mind. The Raduar was going to make it. He was huge. He was strong. He was faster in armor, holding a heavy sword, even in the sand, than Denario would be naked and running downhill.

Denario had an instant to set himself. He realized he was holding the spear the wrong way around. It was too late to fix it.

“Diiiieeeeeeeeooooww!” The Raduar's battle cry ended in pain.

Next to Denario, Jack Lasker grinned. Crazy Jack had punched the soldier right in the solar plexus with the end of his punt. Even through the banded armor, the knob of thick wood had to hurt. Their attacker was caught in mid-leap. He fell backwards into the water.

It was only a foot deep where he was standing. But the assassin went down hard. He lost his sword.

“Aaaaargh!” He rose back up again, screaming. He charged the boat.

This time, Denario helped Jack. The butt of his spear and the tip of the punt hit the Raduar man at the same time, both near the collar bone. Denario had been aiming at the man's mid-section. He missed by a foot. Jack, though, had probably aimed at the man's throat and had missed by less than an inch.

The man went down without a sound. Jack must have punched some of the air out of him. The Raduar fell into more than two feet of water.

A few seconds later, Denario's attacker rose again. This time, it was a struggle. The bottom of the creek where he stood was covered by rocks. They were slippery with water-moss. The armor was a deadly weight, almost too heavy for him to move. It took both arms and both legs for him to get back up.

As the accountant watched, he realized how close he'd come to dying on his own foolish raft. He wasn't as strong as his opponent. His chain mail was just as heavy as banded steel. If he'd fallen in a few feet of water, he'd never have lifted his head above it again.

“Once more!” Jack yelled. He laughed like he was having the time of his life.

The riverman was right. The Raduar attacker took a couple more steps toward the rafts. But the rafts were floating away. The back boat had reached mid-stream and was about to become the front one. In a last-ditch effort to catch and throttle the accountant, the attacker lunged.

Denario poked the Raduar in the shoulder. Jack hit him in the eye.

This time, they were farther away and the blows landed without as much force. But the shot to the eye still did damage. It knocked the assassin's head back. A second after, the Raduar staggered and groaned in pain. He didn't fall. He recovered enough to smack the water with his fists. He'd made it up to his waist but he could go no further.

The accountant was strangely glad not to see his attacker go down. He didn't really want the man to drown. He just didn't want to get murdered.

“Sorry about your friends!” he yelled as the rafts drifted away.

The Raduar let out a cry of despair and frustration.

“Sorry! It was them or me.”

Denario turned to find Jack giving him a look of disbelief.

“Yah're crazy!” he exclaimed. Coming from him, that was a strange assessment. The accountant wasn't sure how to take it.

He nodded and turned his attention to staying on his feet. The boats had drifted a long way already. They bounced up and down in the current. Now that the trailing raft had become the leading one, the situation would become a problem. He turned and pointed upstream. Jack clucked his tongue but he didn't seem worried about their prospects. He stirred the creek bottom with his punt. It looked like he could guide both boats from the back, as difficult as that seemed. The front raft turned to the left around a sandbar as the aft one edged its corner in the opposite direction.

“All right,” said Jack. The grin crept back onto his face. On some level, he had loved the encounter with the assassin. Both of them glanced back as they watched the dejected man standing there, still waist-deep. “We got out with all of our goods and all of our money. We're fine.”

“I'm sorry about that fellow.”

“Now I know ya ain't a liar about the army. Ya want to hire on?”

“On your boat? Under what terms?”

“Ya gets some of my cargo money, a tenth of a tenth. I gets more of yar math money, let's say two thirds.”

“Change that to a twentieth of the cargo and half of my math money but you also get half of the money we bring in when we sell my raft.” Denario stuck out his hand.

“Done!” Jack dropped the punt and shook the accountant by both hands. “Hah, I'd of forgotten about yar raft. Good one. And now, if we're going to be partners for this run, there's something I got to say.”

“Go ahead.”

“Bathe. Take off yar armor and wash.”

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Not Zen 194: The Meditation Business

By Bart Van den Bosch - <span class="int-own-work" lang="en">Own work</span>, <a href="" title="Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5">CC BY-SA 2.5</a>, <a href="">Link</a>

"The past is a construct that your mind creates from fragmented memories as it tries to link them into a meaningful story," said the teacher, a woman in a sky-blue robe at the front of the room. "Likewise, the future is a mental construct. It is an extrapolation from the past."

Her class of fifteen students nodded. They sat on blue mats laid out on the wooden floor in front of her. They wore ordinary clothes, not robes.

"Meditation makes you aware of the De," she continued, "of your immediate surroundings, of your body's present condition, your mind's condition, the world inside you and the world outside. When you're advanced, it makes you aware of the flow between what we regard as the self and the not-self."

A handful of the older students smiled.

"Meditation puts you in touch with the present moment. Only the present moment is real, not an illusion of the mind like the past or future."

One student, a young woman, frowned.

"Only awareness of the present moment can make you successful."

Another student, an older man in a white shirt, opened his eyes and scowled.

"You become successful," continued the meditation teacher, "because awareness is your greatest power. It lets you notice things as they are and observe things that less aware people do not. It lets you take action at the right time for the highest level of accomplishment and impact."

The same handful of older students who had smiled, now sighed. The line of the young student's lips pressed tight with impatience.

"Let us meditate again."

The faces in the studio classroom grew calm. For another seven minutes, the class sat in silence, each student in their place on a mat. A timer sounded. The instructor stood, announced a break, and stepped out the studio door. Another woman was there, also in a robe, and engaged in a conversation about the logistics of the next class.

Several of the meditation students walked to the water cooler in the back of the room, farthest from the door. In the line with a cup in his hand, an older fellow shook his head and laughed.

"What's so funny?" said the young woman, Jennifer, who had been the first to frown and grown impatient with the instructor's talk. She occupied the spot in front of him in the line.

"Ah, well." His hand titled to the side. His smile faded. "It's only that I don't think that the practice of meditation should be about material success."

"That seemed ... questionable," Jennifer admitted. She put her hands on her hips. "There was something wrong about the direction she was taking."

"For someone in the meditation business, better meditation is certainly a key to advancement." He shrugged.

"It still seems like the wrong reason. Anyway, the benefit of transcendental meditation applies to everything, everywhere."

"Let's ask a physicist. Madeline," he said to the person in back of him, "has meditation made you successful?"

"That's entirely the wrong question, Jonathan." The woman folded her arms over her gingham blouse. "Meditation has got nothing to do with achievements in physics."

"There you go." The older gentleman, Jonathan, turned to the woman in front of him and laid out his hand as if his friend's opinion was all of the proof he needed.

"But you're here to improve your practice," countered the younger woman. She turned to Madeline. "To what do you attribute your success if not meditation?"

"For me, although this will sound strange," said Madeline as she raised her glass to her lips for a sip, "I would say that drawing well was important. It was a small but critical element in my successes. That's not a skill that was critical for others. But for me, it was."

"Interesting. And I believe you're also a physicist, Donald. Is that right?" Jonathan leaned to address the man in back of Madeline.

"Yes. Math is the key." Donald nodded, as if to himself. He was a short, thin man. He wore an eggshell white, button-down shirt and glasses. "Math plus imagination. That's how you achieve."

"Putting imagination to work can be successful," interjected a business woman nearby. She had been the first to get her cup of water. "But by itself, it's nothing. Work is the key."

By the murmurs of assent, everyone agreed with her point.

"There you go," said Jonathan. "Meditation isn't important to success."

"But our teacher says it is."

"Our teacher is a wise woman. I'm happy to learn this form of meditation from her. But you should be concerned to hear her referring to meditation and success in the same sentence."

"Her words are true for a few people," allowed Madeline.

"But they're not for everyone. More importantly, as you, Jennifer ... that is your name, yes? As you pretty much said yourself, there is something wrong with using meditation for worldly attainment. That is not the point of meditation."

"Does that even matter?" Jennifer wondered if her classmates were simply too experienced. Perhaps they took some of the benefits of their practice for granted. "Does your motivation make any difference to the discipline?"

"What is it that you do for a living, Jennifer?" he asked.

"I'm a surgical assistant." That was her job title. She had learned to do more. And she had discovered that calmness and timing were critical factors in her success.

"When you cut someone," replied Jonathan, "does it matter if you intend to do surgery or to kill them?"


"Yes, good." Behind him, Madeline nodded.

"I think that intent probably matters," Jonathan concluded. "Meditating with the idea of worldly success is a different journey than doing it for enlightenment, peace, or awareness."