A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Root Two Squared
Scene Five: Another Plan
“Two silvers!” Stanli Wiesenheimer thumped his money down on the table in front of a startled farm boy while Denario gazed on in horror. A young gambler at the next table gasped at the amount. “To win!”
“We can't accept bets to win.” The bet taker frowned. He lifted one of the silver pieces with angry suspicion. “Everyone knows who will win. We're only betting on the points.”
“You already know the accountant will win?”
“What?” The farmhand turned gambler had been studying the back of the silver piece as if he'd never seen one before, which was possible. He set it down. “The magic darts are going to win. Are you daft?”
“Two silvers on the accountant to win.” Stanli leaned closer. “What kind of odds will you give me?”
“Two to one,” was the automatic answer. But the man taking bets at the next table rose from his stool.
“Here, I'll give three to one,” he said. “Bet with me.”
“Seven to two!” another gambler shouted. He ran forward to join the brewing argument. Denario immediately pegged him as someone who understood numbers. Most of the gamblers didn’t. A few didn’t even seem to realize when they were losing money.
It was an auction. Denario had seen cattle auctions in Ziegeburg during the winter. He'd witnessed similar sales of fresh slaves in Sikkli and Oupenli during summers there, although not in his hometown of Oggli, where slavery had been outlawed. This was like any other occasion for bidding. Hands went up. Voices grew loud. A knot of five of six people seemed to talk all at once as the bet collectors raised their odds higher for Stanli Weisenheimer.
Other bettors got in on the deal. The old man who'd won big on the wizard last time decided to take a chance on Denario at the odds of five to one. One of the mercenaries joined in at nine to two odds – he was the tallest one, who Denario hadn't met. He put down a silver piece. Stanli placed his bets, a silver apiece with two different gamblers because both of them were afraid to cover for the whole nine.
When the wagering was done, Tim the Self-Proclaimed Magnificent glared at everyone, one hand on his staff, the other resting on his hip.
“Is he angry?” whispered Stanli as he walked back to Denario.
“Yes.” Denario tried not to stare at the wizard.
“Good,” said Stanli.
Denario didn't think it was good. On the other hand, he knew what Stanli meant. The wizard had been rude to the four tradesmen and, although they were accustomed to a bit of condescension from their social betters in town, there wasn't much difference between them and the upper class. Gordi owned prime lands. Stanli had skills no one for miles around could duplicate. Elgin and Kingli catered to the local nobility. Their servitude was a matter of tradition and physical force but not of wealth. In fact, Elgin and Kingli had married distant relatives of Baron Ankster over in Angstburg, although Elgin's wife Gretel, by all accounts, treated him like her tailor and Kingli’s wife Berta clearly liked to eat lots of Kingli's food.
“Is there any chance of you winning?” Stanli asked hopefully.
“Not much,” Denario admitted. “But I've got an idea.”
“I hope it's a good one.” Gordi shook his head. “Two silvers, Stanli! I don't know what you were thinking.”
“Yes, you do,” replied Stanli, his arms folded. “You were thinking the same thing.”
Gordi darkened but he didn't deny it.
Denario unslung his accounting bag. The oblong, wooden case the poisoner had given him was too big for his waist pouch and too uncomfortable for his shirt or vest pockets. So he’d slipped it into his buckskin satchel with his accounting tools. Some of the tools, of course, were those carried by every accountant: a slate, chalk, blank ledgers, parchment rolls, inks, and quills. Others were more advanced tools that Master Winkel had insisted on, such as graphite, protractors, compasses, a straight-edge, logarithm rods, and the ingredients for making his own inks. Winkel had taught him how to make ink once, years ago. Denario had never touched the ingredients again but he still carried them around.
He fumbled behind the slate and found the cherrywood case. He didn’t want to let the wizard and his friends see that he’d chosen a new set of darts. The right thing to do would be to put the steel tipped set into the same goat-leather case he’d been using to lose to the wizard so far. He looked for a place to make the switch.
“Cover me for a minute,” he said. The wizard had his back turned but his gambling friends were watching.
The four tradesmen followed Denario to a table. Without him saying anything more, they gathered around on all sides. Everyone but Gordi was taller than Denario. They blocked him from view effectively while he laid down his wooden case. A moment later, from his inside vest pocket, he pulled out the set of copper darts. He laid them down next to the others. He opened both cases at the same time.
“What are you doing?” Gordi whispered.
“Switching to steel tips.” Denario put his forefinger across the flights of all three copper darts and slipped them out of their leather pocket. Then, with care, he plucked the new, brass shafts from their notches in the wood.
“Will that help?” asked Stanli.
“Maybe.” Denario slid one of the steel tips into the leather pocket. “If I can hit one of his golden darts, it will.”
“You mean, break it?” asked Elgin.
“No, wait,” Stanli breathed. “I think I see ...”
“What’s that vial right there in the case?” Gordi pointed to the poison in its glass and wax. As usual, he had spotted the one thing Denario didn’t want anyone to notice. The farmer had a knack for it. He noticed every booger on any face, politely but pointedly looked away when Denario readjusted his pants, and knew when Pecunia had kissed him goodnight or hadn't. But there was nothing Denario could do. There was no time. Denario slid another steel tip into place and then another. He wrapped up the leather case while his friends waited.
“It's poison,” he admitted. He didn't have time to think of a believable lie. Anyway, he didn't want to mislead them. They had come out of their way to lose their money on him and, although they were decent tradesmen, they didn't have too much money to spare. They deserved a little honesty.
“Oooh,” Elgin sighed. Kingli, who knew a bit about poison because he had to avoid it in his food, pressed his lips shut.
In the silence, Denario finished up by pressing the copper bolts into slots in the wooden case. He slammed it shut.
“I'm sorry,” he said. His gaze fell on each of them in turn. Their faces looked shocked and a bit grim. “I bought it after I realized the coach was gone. I thought I needed something to protect me on the road. Couldn't think of anything else.”
“No, no,” said Gordi. He touched Denario's forearm. “It's fine. Probably smart, you know. I just didn't think.”
“Yep.” Elgin nodded.
Kingli clapped Denario gently on the back.
“Damn right, he's smart,” Stanli drawled. “Now let's see just how smart. I've got two silvers riding on this, mind ye. Not to put any pressure on but I'd like to see that wizard knocked down a peg.”
“So would we all,” said Gordi, who finally felt free to admit it.
“Fine,” said Denario. He dropped the wooden case into his satchel and picked up his leather one. “Now I've just got to talk to his darts.”
Chapter Two, Scene Six