A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Two Pair
Scene Four: Familiar Words
“The wizard's not awake!” said the magical door knocker, a wrought-iron griffin whose jaws opened and shut with a creaking noise. “The wizard's not awake!”
Denario paused with his hand in the iron loop that hung down from the griffin's front paws. So far, the wizards he'd met had proved to be vain, pompous, greedy, drunk, and competitive among one another to a fault. They also, for some reason, tended to be late risers. You hardly ever saw one taking breakfast in an Oggli cafe, for instance. Lunch, yes, that happened for wizards but usually with a patience-strained, it's-far-too-sunny-outside kind of attitude. They had their lunches with heavy amounts of tea, coffee, and hangover remedies.
But I've got to send this message. Denario steeled himself.
The stable master had given him directions to 'the only wizard in town' with a sneer on his face. His opinion of men who didn't do honest labor was plain. Not that he seemed honest himself – all too likely to help himself to saddlebag contents, in Denario's judgment – but at least he hadn't lied.
Next to the wizard's door sat a brass plaque on which were engraved the words, 'Amazing Markar, BThau, Master of Aquamancy, PhD Animage Emeritus.' The fellow had managed to get his degrees from somewhere. You couldn't fake that. Real wizards would object and their objections took the forms of fireballs and lightning. So Markar was probably competent. Probably.
Denario knocked again.
“The wizard's not ...” The wrought iron griffin paused. Its oak panel swung open. The hallway beyond the half-opened door was empty.
Magicians of all sorts went in for this sort of cheap theatre. Master Winkel had theorized that it gave them better bargaining power. Their magical homes contained a fair number of self-opening doors, self-lighting candles, flasks of green ooze, bubbling beakers over flames, pictures with eyes that moved, and books that slammed shut when you tried to look at the pages.
“Amazing Markar?” he called.
“Down here, mate.” A goat strode into view.
“Where?” Denario eyed the horned beast suspiciously. He didn't trust any animal that could knock him down.
“It's me.” This time, he saw the goat's lips move.
“No, no. I'm makari, not Mark. Common mistake.” The animal laughed, which sounded quite a lot like braying. “Mark's never out of bed until the restaurant next door lays on a buffet. I'm just his answering service.”
“You mean, 'leave a message with the goat' and that sort of thing?”
“I'm not a goat, lad. I just look like one.”
“I'm not a lad. I'm seventeen.” Denario's mind raced as he tried to remember what he'd been told about the festival of Glaistig. It was the biggest event of the year, in Ziegeburg. “And makari, I happen to know, have fins and tails like fish. You have four hooves.”
“And makari don't talk. Except Glaistig talks, of course. Are you ...?”
The animal bowed its head for a moment, possibly out of modesty.
“Look a little lower, lad. I'm not a female. Nor am I favored by the goddess. I'm just a poor male from an ordinary makari herd. Not hers. Not from the Lady's herd.”
“All right.” His hands went to his hips. “So what happened to you?”
“I got lucky with the lead nanny. The top bull was going to kill me over it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Goats and makari don't usually go in for that sort of thing. But he'd beaten me half to death already. I was trying to swim away. When I was flopping up on shore, the wizard stepped in. He levitated me. Then he waved his staff and suddenly I found that I could talk. Plus I had hind legs.”
“It was that simple?”
“To me. To hear Mark tell it, no, it was completely stupendous magic, of course, and I should be forever grateful. Anyway, first thing I had to contemplate with my heightened mental powers was my predicament. The figure in orange and blue wizard robes asked me what I wanted. I looked down at that bull in the river, who was still trying to get at me with those horns, and I said, well, that I wanted to be friends with the wizard who saved my life. It was that or death, I figured.”
“Mark sounds like a nice enough fellow.”
“He'd turn you into a carp and toss you in the privy just for laughs, when he's had a few. Just so that you know.”
“That sounds very wizardly of him. But I need him to send a message to another wizard.”
“Messages are two silver quarters per stanza delivered, no message sent for less than two silvers.” The goat sounded as if he were giving the speech by rote. Perhaps he was. But his fee was high.
“That's double the price in Oggli.”
“Oh, so you're Oggli?”
“Ha, ha. I apprenticed there so I'm not falling for that line.”
The goat slumped, disappointed for a second. It chewed on its beard for a moment.
“Well, you ain't back at home in the city,” it said finally. Its ears pricked up. “Two silvers is the going rate here. My master is the only wizard in town, too, so don't waste your time trying to shop around.”
That confirmed what the stable master had said.
“When can I see your master?” asked Denario.
“From the look of the whiskey bottle, about an hour after lunch. But you don't have to wait. You can leave the message with me and I'll make sure he sends it.”
“Can't I ... doesn't he ... I mean, some wizards ...” Denario felt awkward, so he stopped. He thought he was better with people than Pecunia realized but maybe, he was willing to concede, he wasn't so good with talking goats. “What I mean is, doesn't the Amazing Markar have a magic thing that I can speak to and it'll remember the message? That seems like something a wizard would have.”
“Yep, he does,” said the goat with a shake of his head. “It's me.”
Chapter Four, Scene Five