A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Half Dozen
Scene Three: The Attack
The light was different in the cell after dusk than it had been on the night before. Then, Denario had barely been able to see his hands in front of his face. Tonight, maybe due to a bright moon outside or maybe just a clear sky, he could make out the features of his fellow prisoner, the bars on the window in the cell door, and a moving shadow outside the door, near the food slot at the bottom. It was probably a rat looking for scraps.
“If ye keep walkin' back and forth, we'll have a first class trench by the end of the night.”
“Sorry,” Denario replied reflexively. “Sorry, I just ... sorry.”
He flopped down on the straw floor next to what he'd started to think of as his wall, the one next to the adjoining cell. The shadow outside the door skittered away.
“Can't rest, eh?” Vir said in his quiet but clear whisper. After a moment of thought, he added, “I thought ye would do math in yer head or some such.”
“Usually.” It was alarming how often the big fellow guessed Denario's thoughts and habits.
Vir scratched himself. Denario guessed that Vir liked the stool because it kept him away from the fleas that a previous prisoner had brought in. Still, there was no escape from them, not completely. Denario had accumulated a dozen little welts. Vir had one or two.
“Ye ever train yer body the way ye do yer mind?” the big man grumbled.
“Uh, no.” The idea sounded ridiculous.
“It's too late for practical use, maybe, but it'll pass the time for a while and settle ye down. I'll show ye how to get stronger over time.”
“Really?” For a moment, he felt some hope. “I have to warn you. Before I left Oggli, I paid a man to teach me basic swordsmanship. He said I was hopeless.”
“Ye can't even lift a sword, can ye?”
“No, not really. That was his point.”
“Would ye start out teaching ...” The bandit struggled to find terms for higher mathematics but apparently he didn't know any. “Teaching, uh, hard counting stuff to a man who don't know his numbers?”
“Oh no, of course not. You've got to have the right foundation before you can start to learn.”
“It's the same with a body,” concluded Vir. “Anyone's body. Ye have to get it to the point where ye can learn.”
Denario softly chuckled to himself. “Probably not my body, though.”
“Anyone's body.” Vir stood. It was like a black tower had suddenly loomed above the horizon. Denario found himself getting back to his feet.
“This is how the emperor's own troops did it, many years ago,” said Vir.
In the dim light, Denario watched a complicated manoeuvre. For an older man, Vir crouched with fluid ease. He let himself noiselessly fall to the floor. Only his palms and toes touched the ground. He sucked in his stomach. Then he gently pumped his arms so that his chest nearly touched the ground and lifted his body up again. After a few repetitions, Vir pushed himself back to his feet.
The hand gesture from Vir's wasn't clear but Denario thought he should try the same thing.
“I saw a dock worker do something like that, once.” Denario crouched. “Does it have a name?”
“It's called a 'push-up.'”
That seemed so obvious, Denario shook his head. But he'd never seen anyone do more than a few of these push-up things before. The dock worker had been showing off. From the way Vir acted, he did stuff like this every day as part of sword practice or something.
Denario fell on his face when he tried to duplicate Vir's start. But he didn't hurt his nose too badly. When he got himself on his hands and toes, he found the first push-up wasn't too bad. He figured he'd do a dozen to start with.
Doing three in a row hurt his arms and his back. On the fifth one, his left arm began to twitch like a cat's tail. By the seventh push-up, his entire body was shaking like a dog drying itself. Except, instead of feeling dry, he felt damp. He'd started to sweat.
He gave up after he failed twice on the ninth push-up.
“Don't think I've seen anyone's whole body do that,” his fellow prisoner mused.
“Ugh.” Denario had to roll onto his side before he could push himself to his feet again. Well, he thought, that must have worked off some nervous energy.
He was right. Nevertheless, it wasn't long before he found himself listening for the sounds of battle again. Those bandits had to attack tonight. But all that Denario heard were the guards in the front room of the guard house. They were making a conspicuous amount of noise but still, there were only two voices involved.
“How many of these push-up things do you need to do each day?” he asked after he stopped feeling his heartbeat through the veins in his forehead.
“How many you do depends on how strong you are.” Vir got down and did more as they waited. “My habit is forty at a time, five times each day. That keeps my arms at the ready without making me tired. But I do other things, too.”
Denario asked what other exercises there were but he didn't get an answer. The big man finished his regimen in silence. Then he sat on his chair and listened.
They listened for so long, Denario ventured another two push-ups. That did it for him, though. He relaxed as much as he could and waited for the fight to begin.
To his surprise, the cell was a bit darker when he next opened his eyes. Vir's silhouette loomed near the door. In the distance, Denario heard the sounds of metal striking metal. Someone shouted the word 'ambush' and the word seemed to be repeated. There were other angry cries, too, all of them unintelligible.
The noises, distant at first, grew louder and closer.
Someone pounded on the front door of the guard house. Denario jumped to his feet.
The banging continued. There were footsteps to the rear of the guard house, too, and a bang on that door. Denario had trouble keeping track of the noises. He thought he heard a crossbow bolt whip through the air, followed by the clank of metal against stone. The only metal on metal noises came from the front of the building. They broke off abruptly.
There seemed to be footsteps and shouts from everywhere. The front door to the guard house opened. Denario froze.
The heavy footfalls of the fighting men had receded. One side had proven victorious. Which side? Who had entered the guard house and why? Denario was afraid that he knew.
The boots grew closer. There might have been softer footfalls alongside.
The door to the jail hall slammed open.
This is it, Denario thought. At least there had been Pecunia. At least he had taken care of his apprentices. He'd done his best. He'd done his duty. He'd had a pretty good run before he died.
The intruders came running down the corridor. They were carrying a torch or a lantern. Yellow glows sprung up on the far wall. One or two prisoners shouted as men passed their cells. The rest turned silent, probably in fear of their lives. Denario shrunk into a corner. He expected Vir to grab him at any moment. He knew the big man would try to dodge the crossbow bolts.
A stranger appeared at the bars. Even in the odd light, Denario could tell the newcomer's eyes were blue. His long, narrow face looked familiar. He smiled. To Denario's surprise, he showed crooked, gapped teeth.
“Good to see you, chief,” whispered Yannick to Vir, who hadn't moved.
“How much time have we got?” His boss didn't sound grateful. He didn't seem surprised, either.
“A couple minutes.” There was a metallic rattling sound. It was followed by a hushed 'uh oh.'
“What?” said Vir.
“I've got the key,” Yannick answered. “But just this one. No one mentioned anything about a combination.”
“Don't worry.” Vir snorted. “It's not important. The math teacher here knows the combinations for all of these locks.”
Denario glanced at the big man in awe. How had he known? He stepped out of his corner.
“I never said I did,” he replied as he dared to approach the front of the cell.
“But ye do.” Vir's grin was visible in the dark.
Vir stepped aside to make room for Denario to talk to Yannick. Denario nodded and moved up to the musty, old oak door.
“Hi, Yan,” he said as he looked up through the bars.
“Right.” It didn't even take a second for Denario to adjust to the fake name. He pointed to the lock or what he could see of it from his side. “This one is five, twenty, five. That's right, left, right. You have to spin the combination with the key in place. When you hear a loud click, turn the key counter-clockwise and pull down on the handle.”
Behind him, Vir chuckled.
“You really are a math teacher, aren't you?” said Yannick. He knelt to look at the numbers on the dial. Next to him, a man in chain mail held the lantern for him. Was this the guard from the north gate that Vir had mentioned? He didn't make a sound.
“I'm an accountant,” Denario corrected. Yan turned the dial slowly right, then left. His brow furrowed.
“He's a wanted man,” gruffed Vir. “This numbers fellow. Ain't that funny? He's a killer.”
Yannick stepped back as the lock clicked. The door swung open into the room. But the gap-toothed man had stopped smiling. He surveyed Denario with greater respect.
“Good man,” he said. “I've never done that.”
“It's over-rated.” Denario didn't know what else to say. “Anyway, it was me or them.”
“He's not Raduar, then?” he said to Vir. “I was a little worried. We don't have to kill him, do we, boss?”
“Nah. He won't talk. He's got to leave town anyway.”
A delayed jolt of electricity shot down Denario's spine at the thought of these folks casually executing him.
“He might as well leave with us. In fact, I'm going to a place he can't follow, not right away. So I'm sending him with ye, Yan.”
“If you say so, sir. I've got your stuff from the evidence box.” He handed his chief a steel disk on a strap. It looked like a badge of some sort. The painting on it showed a crown crossed by two spears. The appearance was similar to the Mundredi tattoo except with better detail on the spear points, a fringe of laurel, and some Old Tongue writing around it that Denario couldn't read in the wavering light.
There were vambraces of studded leather for Vir's thick arms and greaves, too, that were meant to tie into his hard boots. Denario noticed that the vambraces bore the scars of edged weapons that must have nearly sliced apart Vir's forearms.
“Our cousin here found your sword. It wasn't with the evidence. It was sitting on the captain's desk.”
The big fellow buckled on his badge. The strap went from shoulder to waist across his body. Then he tackled the rest. When he finished by tying on his scabbard and sword, he looked like an even match for Captain Eberhardt despite the lack of chain mail.
“In the evidence box,” said Denario as he turned to Yannick. “Was there an accounting bag? You saw me with it. Would you recognize it? It's brown with a yellow and red sigil on it.”
“Yep, it's still there.”
“Move,” said Vir as he started to walk through Yannick as if he weren't there. The men in front of Vir started to run.
“Keep moving,” Vir rumbled. Denario ran to keep up.
Chapter Six, Scene Four