Thursday, October 15, 2015

Not Even Not Zen 13: A Bandit Accountant, 2.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Root Two Squared
Scene Two: Speak to the Point

“Sixty to thirty-eight!” shouted the short mercenary.  He jingled his money purse meaningfully as he headed to the gambler's table after the first round of throws.  He was about to win his bet and the foursome of gamblers weren't looking happy about it.

Tim, the wizard, waved his hands and summoned the golden darts.  They wriggled like fish on hooks for a moment before they worked themselves free.  He'd plunked them into the 20 wedge, which closed it out and meant that Denario couldn't score there.  The next best thing was the 19 wedge.  After a wayward first shot that nearly hit a bystander in the toe, to the laughter of all, Denario had landed a pair of 19s.  The three men dressed as mercenaries clapped.

As he retrieved his darts, the first one from the floor, he thought about the wizard's horrible throwing style.  Was Tim really as bad as he appeared or was it a deliberate ploy?  Maybe it was his way of showing off his magic.  There was a possibility, however slim, that the wizard was genuinely a bad darts player, though.  Denario allowed himself some hope.

He pondered the possibilities for a moment.  It would be smart for the wizard to close out 19 on his next turn, so the best Denario could do was close out 18 (minus three pennies for the round), then 17s for the wizard and 16s for Denario the next round (minus three pennies again), then the wizard would close out wedge 15 and that would be the end (another 45 pennies lost but Denario would only pay the maximum of 40). Hold on, what if Denario didn't close out 16?  That would mean losing by 17 pennies on that round but, in the next round, if he closed out he'd only be down another 3 pennies for total of twenty.  So it paid to miss on the 16 wedge!  He'd save twenty-five pence.

While he pondered that, he turned around.  His hesitation nearly cost him an eye.  He noticed as the phoenix feathers adjusted and directed the needle tip to the left.

“Score!” shouted Tim.

Denario heard him but he didn't see anything for a moment and it wasn't because he'd taken the needle in his eye.  It was because he'd thrown himself backwards on the ground with his left arm covering his face.

There was cheering around the bar.  Everyone on the wizard's side got a laugh.  Those few who had bet on Denario, though, didn't like to see him nearly killed and said so.  One man, who'd bet on Denario making 80 points, sounded like he would refuse to pay up.

Denario just lay on the floor and shivered.  The magic dart had swooped up above his head on its way to the board.  He took a few deep breaths, trembled, and re-lived his near death experience with the added bonus of smelling the beer-stained and pee-stained hay that covered the dirt floor.  After a minute, a pair of large men lifted him by his shoulders and tossed him back to the throwing line.

“You're a bit slow there, accountant,” sneered Tim the wizard.

Denario didn't say anything.  He just sat, hands by his sides.  His eyes focused on the board.  For a moment, he couldn't comprehend why he was seeing something odd.  His opponent had shot an 18, not a 19.

The men lining both sides of the path to the dartboard jeered and guffawed at the contest but they hadn't noticed what was wrong.  They jostled one another.  They jostled Denario.  But he didn't move.  He watched Tim whisper to the magic dart in his hand.  His words seemed plain.  He told it to aim for the 18 wedge again.  Yes, it was true.  The wizard was aiming for the wrong number.  And no one had noticed.

When it was his turn, Denario hopped up and threw a 19.

“Can he do that?” asked the wizard.  Suddenly, everyone realized that he could.  The wizard's friends were livid.  The darts felt like old friends in Denario's hand.  He'd had exactly enough ale to relax his muscles, which was tricky considering how little muscle he had.  His throwing motion felt smooth.  Now that he'd closed out the 19, he hit hit next two shots on the 17 wedge for a total of 53 points.  The score was 114 to 91, although the gamblers didn't know it yet.  They were furiously tallying, one side with a crude abacus, the other with slashes and crosses.

“We have winners already!” someone shouted.  Three men held up their scraps of parchment.  The laughter was different this time, surprised and not cruel.  Someone slapped Denario on the back, which knocked him into the bar.  The bartender shoved him back to the throwing line with a hearty chuckle.

Denario smiled and nodded.  He noticed that the caravan mercenaries were counting their winnings at a table near the door.

“By the gods, Tim,” hissed a gambler to the wizard, loud enough for Denario to overhear.  “Are you taking it easy on that runt?  Just nod.”

“I made a mistake.”  The wizard didn't seem troubled.  He waved and the golden darts wagged their bottoms again as they pulled themselves out of the board.

“Well, if you make too many more, we'll need another game to break even.”

“Go back to your cards.”  Tim sneered as masterfully at his friends as he had at Denario.  Temporarily defeated, the farmhand stalked back to his companions.

Denario got his darts and waited.  For the first shot of the next round, Tim aimed for and hit the 19 wedge. All the men around the bar groaned when they saw it.

“He's closed that, dammit!” shouted several at once.

“Oh.”  The wizard pegged his remaining two into the 17 wedge. But Denario was on his best game.  Before anyone could spoil the moment, he plunked a shot into the 17 wedge to close it out and followed that with two 16s for a total of 49 this round.  The score was 148 to 140. 

“He's winning!” someone shouted as he mis-added his columns of slashes and crosses.

“No, he's not!” shouted a different gambler. 

Denario had drunk at the Proud Pony all winter without hearing this much shouting.  He tried to correct the bad addition but, over the sound of the argument, no one heard him.  He retrieved his darts with an eye on the wizard to make sure no more practical jokes got played on him.  Back at the throw line, in the confusion, Tim the Malignant made exactly the opposite mistake he'd made before.  Instead of hitting the sixteen, which he could have done, he went for the 15 wedge.  This time, though, his friends caught it instantly.

“Wait, Tim!” two of them shouted.  One raised his arm as the wizard lazily took aim for his second shot.  “He hasn't closed 16s yet.  You can hit those.”

“Easy enough.”  He wagged his bushy eyebrows. 

It was the wrong decision.  Denario couldn't believe it but they weren't bothering to do the math.  Sure enough, the next two magic darts scored 16s.  That made a total of 47 for the round.  The score stood at 195 to 140, two points better than if Tim had finished a 15 triplet.  But now Denario could hit 15s.  The wizard could have limited his maximum score to 156.  Now, with perfect luck, Denario could get as high as 201.

Unfortunately, he wasn't perfect.  He missed his first shot at the 16.  His second one just barely caught the lower edge of the line.  His third hit in the 15 but it looked like it was barely hanging onto the cork.  Denario ran to take it before it fell.  Now the score was 195 to 171, although the scoring tables still hadn't caught up.

When the wizard hit a 16 on his next shot, men chuckled.  No one corrected him, though, so he did it again. Someone jostled Denario's arm as he watched.   Denario turned and saw that it was one of the caravan guards, the red-haired one. 

“De ye think his friends will na' see?” he whispered.  But at the same moment, two of the wizards companions leaped to their feet.

“Tim!”  The kept him from making a third mistake.  Still, he only scored 15 points on the round.  That made it 210 to 171.

Denario's hands began to sweat as he approached the line for the final round.  Trembling, he made a terrible shot that hit the 15 and wobbled.  His next was the same.  It landed.  The game was over.  Men began to cheer.  But the dart flopped like it would fall out of the wood.  Denario took his final shot just for practice and it sunk in deeper, right on the outer edge of the 15.  A dozen men rose to their feet.  The cheers grew louder.

“Closed it like that!”  One fellow snapped his fingers.

“Made an extra!”

Maybe they were easy to please but it was a new experience for Denario.  He had been popular before, in a way, but only with other accountants.  Certainly, he'd never felt a crowd of any sort pulling for him to win.

There was a rush between tables as friends collected bets or placed them with one another on the next match.  Denario listened to what was going on with a growing sense of alarm.  He checked his path to the door.  No, there was no way through the farmhands.  The window was closer and only a few men stood between him and the freedom there but Denario remembered that someone was waiting outside.

To the west, he noticed, the sunlight had turned that paler, fainter shade of yellow it got just before it went to orange.

“Great match!” someone shouted.

“Well, he couldn't have been much of a wizard,” said a quieter voice.  Denario turned in time to be hit by the dragon's-breath odor of red wine and spiced meats that seemed to be the wizard's diet.  Tremelo the Magnificent raised a mug to his lips.

“What do you mean?”

“You'll see.” said the wizard.  But Denario already knew what he meant.  Tremelo had let the game stay close.  For whatever reason, he had deliberately cost his friends their bets.

He'd probably wanted to see what Denario could do.  Now he knew.  Now he'd get his friends to place their bets again for higher amounts and this time he'd throw perfectly.  Denario wouldn't.  Chances were pretty good that he wouldn't play as well again tonight.

One of the gamblers argued with his customers loudly.  He tossed coins on the floor and threw scraps of parchment.  The farmhands scooped them up.  Then he calmly paid the largest man in the room his five pence.  Other gamblers rose from their chairs and left him to his job.  They had their eyes on Denario.  The blond one dashed up to him.  His nostrils flared as he poked Denario in the chest.

“You owe us forty coppers!” he shouted.

“Nine,” said Denario.

“Pay up!”

Denario reached for his purse.  He was glad he'd separated the pennies from the rest of his money.  Nevertheless, he didn't let the other men see how much he hadn't got.  For their part, the taller two, who tried to peer in, gave up when he caught them.

“We need another game,” said the tall gambler, to Denario's total lack of surprise.  He put out his hand to accept Denario's money.

“Six ... and eight, nine.”  Did they think he was a fool?  And was he?  Only a fool would play another game.  But the wizard was a terrible darts player.  Denario thought that somehow, despite the magic, he could win.

“I don't know ...” he began.

“I'll bet you want to win some coppers back, eh, accountant?”   The wizard leered at everyone and swung his mug in a wide circle.  If he wasn't drunk, he was getting close.

“He's not stupid, Tim.  Look, we could, uh, pay you.”  The tall man said this in such a whisper that Denario had to read his lips to understand.  “A little share afterward, eh?”

“Are you kidding?” roared Tim.  He could read lips too, apparently.  “I'll shut out this little jerk!”

No one had paid much attention to Denario or to the gambling men.  But everyone noticed the wizard.  The room lit up brightly with smiles.

“Come on, accountant,” hissed the tall one.  “What'll it be?”

Denario tried to avoid answering.  Instead, he started reading the numbers on the scraps of parchment at the gambler's table.  Besides those, there was a scrap of slate bearing chalk marks from a stub of low-grade chalk. 

“You're actually up seven coppers?”  He was surprised.  He lowered his voice.  “Well, you were down two before I paid.  But anyway, you're down down six brassers on the other side.  So that's eleven pence to the red for your total.”

A glance at their faces told him that his math might not have been welcome.  But the closest gambler, the tall one, hunched his shoulders and rubbed his stubbly chin.

“That's not as bad as I thought,” he muttered.

“Figured we were out almost twenty,” said his friend. 

“We still want that game.”

“Yes, well ...”  Denario was about to cut his losses and leave.  It was crazy to stay.  But as he turned in the direction of the door to Bottom's Up, a shadow loomed in the doorway.  It blocked the waning afternoon light.  From the shape of the silhouette, he recognized it as Jordin Lamar, the most dim-witted of the mayor's stooges.  Jordin was bearded.  He snarled when he spoke.  He stood at the height of an upright bear.

But even bears have eyes.  Denario hid his face.

“Well?”  The blond gambler tapped his feet.

“I'll play for a canteen,” whispered Denario.

“Done.”  The curly-haired, blonde gambler laughed.  But it wasn't a pleasant sound.

Chapter Two, Scene Three

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