Thursday, September 3, 2015

Not Even Not Zen 9: A Bandit Accountant, 1.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One
Scene Two: Something Does Not Add Up

“But Den, darling, you were supposed to find that old John Snouter had done it,” said his fiancée. “He carried the sacks for Burgher Figgins. Everyone knows that.”

“But Pecunia, he couldn't have done it. For one thing, it wouldn't explain the bank draft that Burgher Figgins stupidly deposited in his name. Not to mention the stack of ten Muntab brass 50-piece rings that the Warter farm used for payment. Those are distinctive and they're written in the tax log, both at the farm and in the master record. Burgher has five of them on his mantle. I saw them.”

Pecunia Brightli batted her eyes. She had the deepest, sea-blue irises that Denario had ever seen and he was fascinated by them. They matched the amulet she always wore, an oval stone that hung from her pearl necklace. In the bars, Ziegeburg's local farmers had tried to tell Denario that Widow Brightli was older than she looked. When he said he didn't care, one of them called her a witch. Denario would have struck the man then but he was the size of a cow and Denario couldn't see how that would do anyone any good. So he'd settled for ignoring all those gossiping farmers because, really, it was too late. He'd already kissed her and fallen in love. 
Besides, everyone knew that witches were hags, generally, with warts and bad teeth. Pecunia's skin was excellent, barely wrinkled except around her mouth and eyes. She had all her teeth. She didn't show them much, not even in a smile, but they were there. She was unsure about the subject of children and frowned at them when she saw them playing in neighbors' yards. It was the only aspect of her that gave Denario hesitation.

“I'm quite sure the mayor hinted as to how it should go.” Her tone was slightly disapproving. She pulled, with a white-gloved hand, at the golden ringlets of her hair. “Well, anyway, you've got lots of money. You can just move back to your home city, can't you? Or to another town that needs you?”

“I sent it all.”

“You spent it?” she misheard. Or perhaps Pecunia, who was on the whole much more concerned with spending than with saving, heard what she expected to hear.

“No,” said Denario patiently. “Through the bank here in Ziegberg, which has a staff magician to make transfers, I sent it all to Oggli. My journeyman partner needs it to take care of our apprentices.”

“How can you have apprentices if you're both journeymen?”

“I told you, our master died. We've picked up some of the practice. But frankly, there were more experienced accountants who moved in and stole important accounts away. They were just waiting for old Winkel to die. They hated him.”

“Oh, that's right. I thought it was a good thing because you're established. You've already got a lot of business.”

“A lot, yes, but not enough for two journeymen and five apprentices, one of whom can't really do the math. He's inattentive.”

“Well, why did your master take him on as an apprentice?”

“He was going a bit dotty toward the end. To be honest, I'm not sure he was ever all that great a judge of people. His first apprentice, years ago, stole from him and cheated him and finally raided his accounts and left. After that, Winkel didn't keep apprentices for over twenty years. He only got keen on the idea again when he couldn't lift his books off the upper shelf in his den. That's when he hired Curo.”

“So you're not the senior journeyman?”

“Oh no, I am. I thought I explained this once before. Maybe it's confusing. Winkel didn't really train Curo, you see. He didn't think Curo showed any aptitude or interest. It was only when I came along that Winkel started teaching again.”

“So he taught you first?”

“He taught only me, no one else, for years. That went on until Curo started begging me for lessons and I gave in. Once I started training Curo, Wiimple felt shamed a bit, I think. He gave in and admitted Curo to the practice, too. They never completely made up, Winkel and Curo, but they got along in a polite, distant sort of way.”

“And you left Curo with the accounts you saved from those predatory members of your guild?”

“Yes. Well, Curo couldn't have saved the accounts himself but he can run them. He's good with people. Plus he'll have help with the actual figures, which aren't complicated. But I didn't trust Curo to go out and get any new business by himself. Then there's the fact that neither of us have served out our minimum journeyman term yet. Winkel didn't register us with the guild until a few months before he died.” 

His fiancée leaned back and studied him. Her perfect eyes seemed to penetrate into his soul, his past, his childhood. He felt suddenly aware that she was older than him and she knew more than she let on about accounting. She understood how the world worked. She knew the nearby towns and traveled between them unmolested, one of very few women who could. She was also the only woman in town, aside from the mayor's wife, who carried a silk handbag. A few farmwives wore packs on their back but it wasn't the same. Pecunia had style. 

Years ago, she had traveled with her first husband to the really big cities like Baggi and Tortua. She'd discovered fashion. She'd learned how to deal with cosmopolitan creatures like noblemen, vampires, high priests, tax collectors, and wizards. She'd taught some of those things to Denario. But apparently, he hadn't really learned. 

“You've never been that good with people, have you?” She tapped her gloved finger to her chin.

“Well, I think I'm okay. Thanks to you, I'm better.”

“Plus your master wasn't good with people.”

“He was decent. Well, in a sense he was. Well, no.” He scratched his head. “He wasn't any good with people. Not in the sense you mean. Not any good at all, really.”

They stared at each other for a few seconds, long enough for Denario to grow self-conscious and stop scratching his head. A bird screeched at them from its nest in the cornice on the wall of the temple next door. Song birds, yellow and black, swirled around one another in the midday sky. It was a beautiful, late spring day. The icy breeze blew down the mountain pass and cooled the town. It was especially strong here on The Ziege, which was a rise of land that included several low hills, all of which took on a shape, as seen from above, of a goat's head. That's what the locals said, anyway. Denario wasn't sure who could possibly have seen The Ziege from above. Wizards? Gods? Anyway, Ziegeburg was centered on the right 'eye' of The Ziege. It was the highest hill near the Rune Kill stream.

The old Temple of the Goat, across the street, occupied the defensible ground. The place looked like a fort, which it once had been. Where its roof had fallen in, anyone could see there were ramparts to be used by archers defending the congregation. In the past, the entire town had been able to fit inside the building and defend itself, first from barbarians, then from the conquering troops of Muntab, then as Muntab citizens from various other invaders. All of that had happened in the distant past. No one was sure when the temple had first been constructed. It had been re-built a dozen times.

The granite blocks had fallen, only to be propped up by patchworks of shale. At some point, quartz had been cheap, probably mined from a large hill nearby named Runetop. The village built a new outer wall for their temple from the vein of quartz and it must have been beautiful, the color of milk. All but the bottom two feet lay in rubble now, the result of a long-distant siege. The survivors had rebuilt with wooden beams and bricks. The first layer of bricks was poorly baked, so they had contributed to the temple's demise. For a century, they'd formed part of the foundation but they'd crumbled.

Finally, when the Temple of the Goat had decayed beyond rebuilding, the citizens of Ziegeburg constructed a Church of the Goat opposite the original. It was done in the modern style with spires rising from the corners, a central basilica, and carved figures of arboreal vines, nymphs, and goat-headed gods around the edges.

Pecunia had inherited the house next to the church. Her place had been done in a similar, modern style, right down to the carved vines above the front door. Although it was a narrow place, it was tall. One could, without trying hard, get lost in its many rooms. There was an upper story and a basement, both rare in Ziegeburg, a town that had the word 'architecture' only because the outside world had brought it. Pecunia decorated her halls and stairs with mirrors. She filled her cabinets with glassware. Each bottle, if not empty, held a homemade concoction. That was one of the things that had impressed Denario early on, when he’d just arrived in town and met Pecunia. She spent many hours of hard work cooking, canning, and bottling.

“Pecunia,” he began. But she had come to the conclusion of her thoughts at the same time.

“So what will you do next?” she asked.

“Pecunia ... oh, right. The barman at Proud Pony thinks I should take the stagecoach out of town.” He gestured in the direction of the stables. They occupied the east side of this section of town.

“I'm sorry to say it but, from everything you've told me, I have to agree. The mayor's men will come for you tonight and I doubt I can talk them out of lynching you.”

Denario found that the idea of her even talking to a ruffian was disturbing. Pecunia was so feminine and so delicate, her conversation with anyone less than a bank clerk was unthinkable. He reached for her. Her limbs were lithe and graceful. He felt privileged to know the touch of them. His fingers grazed the lace of her sleeve. Her hand turned and caught his. 

“Oh, Den,” she murmured as she squeezed his hand. She was the only person in the world who had ever called him by a nickname. He savored the sound of it on her lips before he spoke.

“Pecunia,” he breathed. “I don't know how to say this. You had wanted to be married and, well, this is sooner than planned. But we could wed in the next town, Angstburg, I think. Would you like to tour the Blue Hills with me? The coach follows the river path until those magical creatures show up where Rune Kill and Bad Kill make the Lamp Kill. We could stop at dozens of towns on the way to Oggli.”

“Most men would be concerned with escape.” Her laughter rang as clear as a bell. “Do I have that much affect on you? I'm flattered. But you have business and I mustn't be a distraction.”

“You're not coming.”

“No. It's sweet of you to offer but you're forgetting so many things. By the way, you don't have the money for two fares, do you?”

“I hadn't thought of that. Actually, I don't have money for a single fare, not all the way to Oggli. I think I could go as far as Wortsburg. That's probably it.”

“Well, you need to spend it.”

“Pecunia, I hate to ask ...”

“But you want the money you gave me.” She nodded. Her left hand dipped into her handbag.

“Well, yes, part of it. Do you have any left?”

“I've got a silver and six pence. You can have it all.”

“No, no.” He waved it off. That little an amount wouldn't help him. He was disappointed because, in Ziegeburg, that many gold pieces was more wealth than most farmers ever saw in their lives. It should have lasted Pecunia for months even with her lavish lifestyle. Apparently, she'd spent most of it in just three weeks.

“Den, darling, I'm sorry. You gave me those eight golds simply ages ago. Of course I spent it all on my cooking and my clothes. I never hold onto money for long.”

Pecunia dressed well, it was true. Today she'd chosen to wear an elaborate gown, pink and white, with cupped skirts. There were pearls in her high collar and on the top of her sleeves. Silver floral glitter adorned her satin front panel. Her bodice, cut from pink velour and trimmed with blue satin, pinched her waist and accentuated her ample bosom. 

Denario ached to undo the bodice laces. But he realized what he was thinking and blushed. 

“Yes?” She had caught him looking.

“I'm terribly sorry, darling.”

“Don't be. I'm flattered, I think. But you need to catch that stagecoach. Do we have time to stop into my house for a minute?”

“A minute?” Denario felt confused. “Wouldn't it take us longer?”

“Not that, silly.” She elbowed him in the ribs. “I just wanted to give you a little something, a sort of parting gift that's occurred to me.”

“Oh.” He tried not to sound disappointed. 

On the second floor of her home, between two hallway mirrors, Denario waited for his fiancée to come out of her bedroom. The reflections of his face, the reflections inside the reflections, and the endless recursion of images between the mirrors made him uncomfortable for a moment or two. Then he realized, when he stepped to one side, that he could draw a line from the bottom left corner of one mirror to the mirror image of it inside the other. The same curve, extended, would continue to pass through the other, smaller corners in what seemed to be a hyperbolic path.
It reminded him of a problem he'd been working on in his idle time, a way to divide by zero. 

Infinitesmals were his favorite trick for getting around the impossible, although there were other methods. All of the methods seemed to involve recursive functions in some form. He needed to approximate the solution by approaching zero, he found, rather than by actually reaching it.
As amounts of anything changed over time, the way they changed often approached a limit. It took on a function, although describing that function took a series of approximations, so that was what Denario practiced while he waited. He was measuring the mirrors with his hands and then measuring the images inside the mirrors when Pecunia came out of her room.

“Darling,” she breathed in a husky voice. “More math?”

“Well, yes, but it's magic.”

“It is?” She seemed so startled, she almost dropped what was in her hands, some kind of locket on a chain. She grasped it again, as if it had slipped, and a moment later, she laughed with relief. “Funny you should say that.”

“How funny?” he said, not sure.

“This locket,” and as she introduced it, her left hand fluttered over her heart, where she held the tiny bauble, “has a charm on it.”

“Are you sure? Did you have it verified when you bought it?” He peered closer. The engraving on the flattened cylinder reminded him of a number eight or an infinity sign but it was stylized and incomplete. It took him another moment to recognize one of the sigils he'd seen engraved on the old bricks in the Temple of the Goat. “It's beautiful. But I don't know anything about magic except that Master Winkel always advised me to get a reputable wizard to verify charms before estimating their value.”

“I'm sure that's quite wise for accounting.” Something about her tone warned him that he was saying the wrong thing but he couldn't figure out what it was. Her hands lowered to her waist. “Magic, at least some particular charms and spells, can be more common out here in the smaller towns. I suppose that makes it less valuable.”

“It would depend on what is does, wouldn't it? I mean, a life saved is the same here or in a large city.”

She brightened. With a nod, she pushed the trinket toward him. “Here.”

“Pecunia, are you sure? It looks like gold.”

“Of course it's gold. Darling, some charms don't work without the right materials. But take it. I have a lot of them. Wear this one to remember me.”

“I'll remember you regardless, Pecunia.”

“I know you will. You're young. Humor me, Den. This one is supposed to give travelers luck on the road. I always wear one or two like it when I leave town.”

“Oh, all right. It'll feel a little funny to be wearing a necklace, though.” The chain was too small to fit over his head. He tried. Then his thumbs fumbled with the clasp but it defied him until Pecunia took a section of chain away from him, unsnapped it, and nodded for him to let her put it on. He crouched and bent his neck.

“Just about right,” she announced. She tugged on the chain when she was done.

Denario tucked it beneath the collar of his accountant's vest. It hid the necklace from view. Aware that he might be doing something wrong again, perhaps rude, he looked to his fiancée for approval.

“Is it all right to wear it out of sight?” he asked.

“The locket needs to stay close to the skin.” Her voice rang with authority. A moment later, she inclined her head to one side slightly and added, “Or so I'm told.”

He put his hand on his vest, over the locket. Already, the metal felt warm. He wondered if it was an effect of the magic or if this bit of jewelry, like so many things his master had seen during their years of estate valuations, was simply a cheap imitation designed to fool innocent but well-to-do people like Pecunia. 

Her blue eyes bore into his. One thing he'd learned about Pecunia was that she had a sense of certainty like no one else. It made everyone around her hesitate. But when she wanted to, she could inspire Denario with a confidence almost the match to her own.

He tingled with alarm at her intense expression. She leaned closer. The ringlets of her hair swung forward, blonde curls framing her elven face. Her jawline came nearly to a point at her chin. Her lips parted. Her gaze never wavered. She continued to stare at him with an anger or a passion that he failed to understand until she leaned a little farther and her lips touched his. Suddenly, he was drowning in her embrace. 

Her mouth covered his and then covered it again as she changed positions. Her arms flailed behind his back, up between his shoulder blades. He did his best to respond but he was swarmed. He’d never seen this side of Pecunia. She was usually demure. Her previous kisses had been delicate. She had always leaned back to pull him in. This time, she pushed hard against him and knocked him into a wall. Her fingers wandered over his body as the kiss went on for a minute. Fifty-nine seconds of that minute were devoted to learning experiences for Denario. 

When she was done, she stepped back and took a deep breath.

“There,” she said. “Now you'll remember me.”

Her eyeDenes, long and black, fluttered. Denario's heart did, too, or maybe that was the muscles around his diaphragm. He gasped. 

“I don't want to leave,” he replied.

“Of course not.” She snapped her gloves against his chest. “That's because you're a darling. But the stagecoach is your only option. What's the schedule?”

“It rides out at sunset, apparently.”

“Have you checked?”

“No, but ... well, no. I haven't checked.”

“Run down to the stable and ask Mister Conli how much time you have. That's the first thing. I'll go see if I can talk some sense into Emmie Figgins. It's likely enough that I can, you know. She and I aren't friends but we've known each other for a long time and we aren't enemies. Often, that's enough. The problem is that Emmie doesn't have much sway over her husband nowadays. It'll take her a week or so to turn him around.”

“She can do that?”

“After she does, it should be safe for you to return. But don't try to re-enter Ziegeburg until you get a note from me, Den. I'll send it through your bank courier. Does that sound all right?”

“It sounds perfect.”

“Of course, if Jim Figgins has friends at the banks, and he does, he'll spy on any note that I send. Maybe it's best if we have a code.”

“Wouldn't he just have his friend tear up anything written in cypher?”

“Oh, no. I didn't mean anything that obvious. Look at my desk. I have pink card paper and blue paper. If I write to you on a pink card, that means it's still dangerous here. If I use a blue card, you'll know that things are patched up or settled one way or another. I suppose you've sided with old Baron Ankster. That one way things could settle. If the baron brings his men in to enforce the tax collection, you'll be fine. It doesn't seem likely, though.”

“Why not?”

“I think most of his troops are assaulting Fashnaught, wherever that is.” She snapped her gloves again.

On the way out, Pecunia led him through her kitchen, which was filled with shelves of various concoctions, all laid out in neat rows in stoppered, glass jars. The glassworks wasn't cheap, either. Among the colored potions kept in glass, she kept soups, jams, and other mixtures in clay canning pots. Some of them were quite intricate and a few weren't ordinary fired clay but carved porcelain. One or two jars, he thought, had naughty pictures engraved on them but he always felt it would be rude to look too closely. Pecunia might not realize what the fig leaves or ivy vines weren't quite covering.

She had quite a few paintings, too, on the few patches of wall that weren't covered by mirrors or shelves of glass and pottery. Some of the pictures were old and cracked, now but the rustic scenes of satyrs and nymphs, goats and sheep, mountains and sky, had a local look to them, as if they'd been painted from life around the Ziege. 

Pecunia plucked a vial of purple fluid from a shelf next to the arch of her foyer.

“A gift for Emmie Figgins,” she explained.

In front of her door, almost in the street, she gave him a kiss almost as forceful as the one inside. That wasn't like her because Pecunia normally concerned herself quite a lot with what other people thought. He supposed that was why she was so much better than him at judging everyone's intentions. 

“Wish me luck,” he said.

“I don't need to.” She laughed and waved. “Just keep the locket on.”

Scene Three

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