Sunday, June 26, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 42: A Bandit Accountant, 7.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Fourth Prime
Scene Three: Lessons from the Master

The group passed through a town called Haph Bad that seemed no larger than four houses at the intersection of the road and a stream. Haph Bad had a mayor, though, and a welcoming party of more than twenty, most of them children. Denario filled his canteen and lay down on a flat, warm rock to rest while everyone else conferred with the mayor, a tall man with a short, rather severe-looking wife who followed him around everywhere, arms folded as if she disapproved of everything anyone said.

At some point, Denario must have dozed.  He awoke when shadows passed across his face.  He squinted at them.

“Are you sleeping?” shouted a silhouette. He guessed from the voice that it was a young girl.

“Not now he isn't, dummy,” said a boy's voice.

“Why are you sleeping?”

“Are you still a boy?” the male voice continued. “Because if you are, how come you have a bit of beard, then?”

“Are you a girl?” asked the girl. “Girls grow beards.”

“No, they don't.”

“Yes, they do!”


“Uh huh! They do!”

The two children went at it for half a minute while Denario stretched and sat up. He got a view of the girl, who was maybe seven and wore a simple, brown dress and quite a lot of mud. Her brother, probably, looked about ten years old.  He was dressed in pants and a linen shirt like a young man. They both had dark blue eyes, a pointed nose, and straight, black hair cut above their shoulders.

The girl huffed, “Aunt Mimi! So there!” and the boy was quiet for a while.

“Maybe some do,” he allowed. “But this one's a boy or a waldi. Aren't you?”

He gave Denario a respectful yet demanding look.

“I'm not a waldi,” groaned Denario.  He rose to his feet.  He was only a head taller than the boy.

“Then why don't you have any markings?  Aren't you old enough in your clan?”

“Oh.”  Suddenly Denario felt he almost understood.  “Is a waldi someone without a clan?”

Both children bobbed their heads.

“That's me, sorry.”  His gaze searched for their parents.  The mayor and his wife were still conferring with the Mundredi.  However, the other town adults had gone off somewhere.  The kids were on their own.  Vir's scouts, Klaus and Piotr, had re-packed their equipment.  They looked ready to march away.

“How do you live without a clan?  How do you know which gods are watching you?”

“I know,” answered Denario with a certainty that surprised him.  He hadn't thought of himself as particularly religious.  When the wizards claimed that gods were nothing special, just bits of magic with a personality, Denario believed them.  But he also believed that those bits of magic cared in their own way.

“But how?”

Denario couldn't think of a rational answer.  Gods were like the numbers pi and the square root of two.  They seemed unsettling at first blush.  Ultimately, though, they proved satisfying in the spirits.  A full explanation as to how they came to occupy their place in the world would have to wait for a wiser age.

He glanced right and left to make sure none of the remaining adults were watching.  The children noticed.  They craned their heads around to help him check.  There were smiles on their faces.  They knew they were about to be let in on a secret.

“I do have a tattoo,” he whispered.  “But just one.”

He wasn't sure why he wasn't comfortable telling most people.  He'd shown it to Pecunia.  And he hadn't been able to hide it from the other apprentices in Winkel's office.  Plus Winkel had known, of course.  But he had never shown the accountants outside his home.  They had learned about his former slavery but he didn't think they were entitled to the details.  He'd never let anyone in Ziegeburg besides Pecunia see the symbol either.

He crouched.  The children knelt at his feet.  Slowly, because his legs were stiff and swollen, he pulled up his left trouser to the shin.  At the same time, he pulled down the left front of his shoe.

“It looks like a bee, almost.  They marked you on the foot?”  The lad whispered.  His eyes were wide with amazement.  The Mundredi apparently didn't consider the tops of feet as appropriate places for tribal marks.

“The original sign looked like this.” Denario let go of his pants and shoes.  He grabbed a stick.  After a moment to pick the softest ground, he drew a rectangle and a semi-circle in the dirt.  “See? A helm over a block.  It showed that I was the property of Baron Blockhelm.”

“Who's that?”

“He lives a long way off.  That's why you haven't heard of him.  Anyway, after I was free, my teacher had a man tattoo this number eight through it.  Watch.”  He drew the number eight sideways through the helmet figure.

“Oh! You made an angel,” said the girl.

“The number eight is sacred to our guild,” Denario explained.  “It was a funny accident.  The man doing the job turned me around and wrote sideways.  No one asked him to do that.  He was supposed to cover the old mark.  But instead he made my slave tattoo look like a winged messenger.  When my master saw that the mark hadn't been turned into an eight, he was upset at first.  Then he got worried.  He said we mustn't change the tattoo any more or we might offend the god.”

“I know that one!” shouted the boy.  “Is he watching you?"

“He's the most important one to me.”  Denario smiled.  He'd been pretty sure that the children would understand.  “You see how I know?  It came from an accident but it's the symbol for the god of accountants.  He's known as the winged messenger in some lands.  He runs around the world and measures it.  That's my profession, in a way.  I'm an accountant.”

“You're a kind of ant?'” muttered the girl.

“Do you just do measuring and numbers?” said the boy, disappointed.  He ignored his sister.  “I already knows my pluses and minuses.  What I need is to learn is how to make a house for our dog.”

“Ol' Enri has fleas again," the girl explained.  “So me mam kicks him out.”

Denario scanned the village dwellings.  He could see three structures from where he was standing.  All three were made of logs laid on their sides with mud between.  They weren't quite square and that was a problem for the roofs.  The A-frame beams didn't quite meet the corners of the walls.  Also, the bales of thatch on the beams were forced to rest at odd angles.  They probably leaked pretty often.  On one of the houses, a wall looked about to fall over.

“Would it help if I taught you how to make the strongest kind of house?  I don't know the wood work.  But I do I know the math for that.”

“There's math to make a strongest house?” the boy seemed leery.

“Absolutely,” Denario asserted, confident about this point of geometry.  “The strongest houses use right triangles and rectangles.  I can draw those.  And I can teach you how to measure for them as you lay the wood.  That's the real trick that folks are missing around here.  You'll have the best dog house ever.”

“Wow!  Yeah, I want to learn that.”

“Can I build the dog house, too?” asked his sister.

The three of them walked around by the stream for a moment as Denario stretched his legs.  He learned that the boy's name was Kurt, which was a funny coincidence.  It reminded Denario of the young man who had helped him get to Hogsburg.  But this Kurt's little sister was named Oleggia, which of course her brother and probably everyone else shortened to 'Leggi.'

They walked to the road to check on the adults but there were even less of them than ever.  Only Vir and the mayor stood together in a clearing.  Everyone else had been given work.

Denario's experience as a slave and an apprentice told him that if he didn't want to get assigned a job he didn't like, he needed to get busy with something else.

“Where do you want to build?” he asked the boy.  The children led him to a spot by the corner of their house, which was the largest structure in the village.

Young Kurt had gathered sticks for the dog house.  Denario promptly threw half of them away.  They were too small, dead, or rotted. Kurt accepted the implied criticism with a hung head and no protests.  In fact, Denario seemed to have the children's respect up until he pulled out his axe.  He tried to use it to notch a piece of wood.  That made Leggi laugh.

“Like I told you,” he explained as he set the ruined piece down.  “It's the math that's important.”

Her brother ran to get his axe and join in. Denario sat crossed-legged in the dirt.   He practiced notching as he waited.  He got better fast, at least to the point of no longer splintering sticks.

He'd done this kind of crude work on surveying trips before.  He just needed to get used to his new, stolen tool.  While he learned, he employed Leggi to dig a rough trench for rain run-off so that he wouldn't get into trouble for letting her use a blade.  In about half an hour, the three of them had made enough progress for Denario to begin his lesson.

“I hope you were listening when I explained what a right angle is,” he started.  He laid down two beams inside the area that Leggi had cleared.  “Because that's the key.  The triangles we'll make have right angles inside them.  And rectangles have only right angles.”

As he expected, he had to re-explain.  This time, young Kurt and Oleggia seemed to understand, although it had never occurred to them that they could make the angle perfect by measuring the logs.

“Have you got our measuring stick, Leggi?”  He reached out for the straight piece in her hand.  He had cut it for her.  And she had seemed proud to hold it.

“I'll make this easy enough to memorize,” he told them.  The boy nodded.  “But it's up to you to remember, okay?”

“Is this a guild secret, Master Denario?”  The boy, for no good reason, had started referring to him as a master.

“Yes.”  The idea made Denario a little uncomfortable.  He had sworn not to reveal this method except when unavoidable in the course of his professional duties.  “I suppose you should have to pay to learn it but I don't think you can meet the price.  Let's worry about that part later, okay?”

If anything, the boy seemed more interested than ever.

“I'll pay,” he swore.  He drew a symbol on his chest to show he was in earnest.

“Fine.  Let's make this spot a corner of the room.”  Denario pointed to where the children needed to lay the first piece.  “This strength building method will work on any room you make, okay?  So from the corner, measure three units in one direction.  That's where the first wall will go.”

“It's important to measure?”  Young Kurt had taken over.  His sister stood an inch away from him as she watched him use the stick.

“Yes.  The numbers three, four, five are important.  If we're going to make this the best it can be, you need to mark three on one wall and four on the other wall.”

“Where does the number five come in?”

“It's the special measurement that makes the corners perfect.  I'll have to show you.  Come on, let's measure four units on the other wall.”

Together with the two children, Denario measured out to four units on the other wall and made a mark.  Then he checked the work at three units on the first wall.  Then he checked the other wall.  Finally, he was satisfied.

“Now comes the trick,” Denario announced.  He measured between the marks.  The distance came to less than five units.  So he knew that the walls were angling too close together.  “See?  We need to move the base of the walls.  Now you try.”

He guided both Leggi and Karl through the measuring and adjusting process.  The boy understood.  He hopped up and down through his sister's turn.  He clearly thought it was one of the neatest things ever.

“It works on walls and roofs?” he asked.  “Just the magic numbers three, four, and five?”

“It works on anything.”


“Yep.  You can make a doorframe that's a perfect rectangle.  You can use the same technique to cut a wooden door to go into it, too.”

The boy looked over at the door to his home, which was a rough shape just tall enough for his father and wide enough for his mother.  It was nothing like a rectangle and the door was fox hide.  Getting in and out in the winter must have entailed tying and untying knots in the cords that held the skin taut.

“Ahem.”  A deep voice rumbled behind them.  It was one that Denario recognized.  He spun around.

While he'd focused intently on the ground, Vir had approached with the mayor, the mayor's wife, Yannick, and a rail-thin village girl.  Behind them, Denario could see other adults approaching.  The scouts, Piotr and Klaus, had returned with short, recurved bows that they hadn't been carrying before.

A few feet from Denario, the mayor knelt to the rough beams laid out for the doghouse.  He ran his fingers over the marks on the wood.  He took the measuring stick from the unresisting hands of Leggi who, Denario now recognized, must be his daughter.  Young Karl visibly held his breath while his father measured the south wall, three units to the mark.  Then the mayor measured the west wall, four units to the mark.  He measured the hypotenuse of the triangle, the imaginary line that showed the distance between the marks.

“Three, four, five?”  He looked up to Denario.  “This smells like a guild secret.”

“Um.”  Denario hesitated so that he answered with the children when he finally admitted, “Yes, it is.”

“Are you going to get in trouble with your guild?  This looks useful.  It's how the houses in town are made isn't it?”

“Definitely.  The carpenters and masons know the secret, too.”

“They charge money.  Money that we don't have.”

The mayor stood.  It reminded Denario of how very tall the man was.

“I know!” shouted Leggi.  She ran off before anyone could stop her.  Really, no one cared or paid her much attention.

“Can we barter for it?” the mayor asked.  “Your secret, I mean.  You've already given it away but ...”

“No, sir. I offered to pay him.”  The ten year old boy stepped forward.

His father scowled.

“With what?” he finally demanded.  His son seemed unprepared for the obvious question.  Denario tried to think of something to say so that Karl could save face.  After all, they hadn't really negotiated a bargain.

The boy shrugged.  He moved his mouth for a while without making a sound.  His father remained admirably patient.

“Here!” shouted Leggi.  She came running from her house towards Denario. “I've got it. Here!”

Out of breath, she slammed into Denario's leg.  That slapped a new layer of mud and dirt onto his pants, not that it mattered.  She pressed a small figure into his hand.  Denario turned it over.  The statuette was a pretty little thing, a carving of Melcurio or The Winged Messenger or whatever he was called around here.  The material looked like deer bone.  It was worth practically nothing.  Besides, the Oggli and Angrili Guild of Accountants didn't accept barter.  The very idea was odious to the members.

“It's wonderful,” he said.

“It's not legal, though, is it?”  Vir stepped forward.  Again, he seemed too shrewd a judge of Denario's face and posture.

“Not exactly.”

“Hey, now,” said the mayor.  He folded his arms, much like his wife behind him.  “That's an important job, carrying idols to the temple.  Folks pay us in copper, sometimes.  There have been a occasions when the gods granted favors for it.”

“Really?” Denario smiled as an idea occurred to him.  But he wiped that from his face.  The other adults were taking the situation seriously.  He knew he'd better not mess around.  “I think ... I really think we can solve the guild problem, then.  Have you got any birch paper?”

“Well, somewhere.”  The mayor eyed the trees.  He strode over to a young birch. “It's all in use or gone to rot, though.  I'd better just make you a scrap.”

“Right.” The accountant found a sharp rock.

When the bark was ready, Denario wrote a promissory note.  It took him a few minutes.  One or two of the Mundredi behind him grunted with impatience while they waited.  Denario had to push hard with his make-shift stylus to gouge out the marks.  But when he was done, his words on the birch bark were visible in good light.  That would be enough.

“Maybe you don't know what this is ...” he began.

“It's an I.O.U. isn't it?”  The mayor cut him off.  “I can't read it, though.  It's that waldi writing.  I know some of the old letters but that's all.”

“Oh, well, you're right or close enough.  This is a legal promissory note.  I've written here that you promise to pay me forty silvers for the secret of making right angles in walls, doors, and ceilings.  That's the guild rate.”

The tall man made a rude noise.  “I haven't got it.”

“You won't need to.  Do you trust me?”

“Should I?”  The adults behind him had started whispering.  If Denario let himself listen, he knew he'd start to panic.  He was already close.  He talked over his own sense of doubt.

“If you sign with an X and Vir signs as a witness, it's legal.  You'll really owe the money.  You'll buy the secret for the town of Haph Bad.”

“What are you up to, accountant?” Vir growled.  But he grabbed the rock and signed against the side of the tree.

The mayor shrugged and signed, too.  He handed the piece of birch paper to Denario.

“Am I foresworn?” he asked.  “I told you, we don't have the money.  We just don't use much.  For sure we never see silver around here.”

“How much is a gift from the gods worth?”

The mayor shook his head.  “Who knows?  A lot?  A little?  Sometimes the gifts can be burdens.”

“Right.  I'll take a gamble then.  Everyone here is a witness.  I want to pay 40 silvers for the right to take all of your carved idols to the temple.”  He handed the birch paper back to the mayor.  “I'll say whatever prayers you want for the village or whatever else you usually do.”

There was a long, drawn out moment of silence.

“Hah!” Vir laughed.  He clapped down on Denario's shoulder so hard that he spun Denario around.  “I like it. Good trick.”

The other adults began to laugh.

“But are we fooling the gods in some way?” worried the mayor.  “Or are we cheating your guild?”

“My guild is a bit tricky anyway,” answered Denario.  “Some of the men in it are overly sly.  My old master wouldn't trust them.  I'm not worried about their opinions.  It was legal and I can swear to it.  That's what matters.  As far as the gods, well, that's a bit tougher, maybe, but it's on me.”

“You said you're an accountant?”


The mayor rubbed his chin.  “Do you have enough apprentices?”

“Five.” Denario shrunk back a bit.  He knew where this was leading.  He couldn't afford to take on more.  Just supporting this many boys had driven him into the wilderness after Ziegeburg's crazy offer.  “I barely support them.”

The mayor grinned rather sheepishly.  He didn't seem offended.

“Go get the other idols, then,” he told his children.  “Magda, will you get the one of Glaistig?  That one came from the river temple.  I picked it up from the Hogsburg priest, remember, and I've got a feeling that it's special.”

She snorted.  But with an oddly triumphant smile, she flounced off, her children in tow.

“Are you always going to be like this, accountant?” Vir said.  Suddenly, he was leaning over Denario's right shoulder.

“I didn't mean to cause trouble.”

“Five apprentices?” he hissed.

“They're great boys.”

“And your master died.  So now you provide for them.”

Denario nodded.  Vir had a way of summing up situations a little too keenly.

“The fee that Ziegeburg paid must have been so high you couldn't refuse.”

Since Denario didn't know what to say, he held still.  In fact, the whole group stood in awkward silence for a while.  Another adult and two children wandered in to join the crowd but they kept quiet.  Magda appeared at the door to her cottage.  She held aloft a vase of some sort.  People clapped.

Then Magda proceeded towards them, her children coming up behind.  All of them carried an idol of some sort.  Leggi held a shabby bird woman, probably a tribute to Naakia.  The boy showed off a crude but heroic figure of the local lightning god, Leir, who bore the enraged expression that law givers so often have.

The sealed vase that Magda carried in front was something different entirely.  It was not a totem.  In fact, it looked like it must hold something.  As she presented it to Denario, he felt immediately that it was too light.  How could such a precious vessel be empty?  It couldn't.  Yet it felt even lighter than its clay.  As he bowed his head and thanked her, he guessed that she and her husband were right.  The vase was special.

The scene painted on the outside of the vase, even over the clay seal at the top, was full of Makari.  There were swimming fish-goats everywhere.  But there was more than that: a priestess, a storm, a mysterious set of horns and eyes.  One of the Makari figures seemed more alive than the rest.  It looked ready to jump out from between the great horns that framed everything else.

“It's beautiful,” he whispered to Magda, who curtsied as if he'd complimented her.  Perhaps he had.

Vir raised one hand and announced that they were leaving.  The rest of the travelers started saying their goodbyes.  Denario found himself presented with the remaining two icons.  Leggi gave him a hug after she gave him the Naakia doll.  Young Karl bowed after his gift.  Soon Denario followed the crowd to the hay cart, where he was told to stow his belongings.  He put the icons into his travel bag.  Then he made a nest for his two bags in the hay.  It would be a relief to not be forced to carry them for a while.

The ox lurched forward.  Next to Denario, Yannick turned to wave.  Denario did the same.  There was a tall woman in front of Denario.  She was, perhaps, the mayor's sister from her height and features.  She had a pretty nose and beautiful green eyes.  She also had a light-colored, downy beard that ran from her chin right up into fuzzy sideburns at her ears.  You wouldn't notice unless the sun caught it just right.

“Aunt Mimi!” he blurted in a moment of revelation.  She put her fingers to her lips and blushed.  Along with everyone else, she waved goodbye.

Chapter Seven, Scene Four

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 41: Sonnet Umpteen (for Father's Day)

Sonnet Umpteen

Shall I compare this to a Mother's Day?
I am more more grumpy and intemperate.
Rough farts do shake the aging wife today
And the car lease hath all too soon a date.

Sometimes too loud the debt collector rings
And often is the call collect from thrift
And half the time it's you, you momma's thing.
By chance, no fucking chance, again no gift!

As bitterness gives way to bizarre glee
I vow to not let Death call me collect.
Nor will I lose hold on my damn car key.
You're calling for favors!  Show some respect.

So long as men can curse we're not quite dead.
So give me a hug, brother knucklehead.

  - Secret Hippie

-----[ the actual Shakespeare ]-----


Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer's lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm'd;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature's changing course, untrimm'd;

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow'st;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow'st;

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 40: A Bandit Accountant, 7.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Fourth Prime
Scene Two: Lessons from the Butcher

“It was the damn Raduar who started it,” drawled Yannick. He strolled behind the cart instead of riding in it.

Volfie's bride to be had insisted that Yannick clean his face before they started out. Vir had been off conferencing with the scouts and there was no way to appeal Elsa's demands. Yannick had wasted a handful of precious water in cleaning up. Despite the effort, he'd missed spots, including a large fleck of crusty, brown-red gunk on his left ear.

Denario had been out of Oggli for so long that talking to a man with a bloody ear seemed normal. It seemed like ages since he'd met with the Marquis de Oggli, who insisted that all of the men who worked for him be free of visible deformity. To meet with the count, in fact, his employees and visitors alike had to bathe, comb, and dress in clean clothes. If you couldn't afford clean clothes, they said, you couldn't step foot in his court. By that standard, none of these bandits could enter the marquis' castle in Oggli except as prisoners to be executed.

The day had turned windy but it wasn't cold. The trail had leveled off and widened. The ox seemed to know where it was going. Everyone seemed to be in a good mood except for Vir, who lagged behind Yannick to glance at the road behind them now and then.

“Why did they attack?” asked Denario, mostly to keep the conversation going. He guessed that there must have been a first bandit attack on other bandits at some point.

“Who knows?” Yannick rolled his shoulders. “They just started driving out the Mundredi men, farmers and craftsmen, from all of the hill villages.”

“Raduar and Mundredi lived together in those villages?”

“A lot of places had been like that for more than a hundred years.”

“Until now.”

“They got the idea from Ankster,” growled Vir. He was close enough to overhear. “The baron and his knights decided they could kill us or drive us out when it suited their purposes. The Raduar don't have any towns bordering on West Ogglia but somehow they heard about what was happening. It gave them the idea that they could do the same thing.”

“There are a lot of Raduar living in our lands but we haven't driven them out,” Yannick spat. He seemed bitter about it. “Of course, some say that would be murder. But I say that some of the Raduar are spies.”

Behind them, Vir grunted.

“Anyway, up in the ridges, the Raduar bands kill the men,” Yannick continued in a more muted tone. “Then they tattoo the children and women as slaves.”

“Can they do that?” Denario felt a hitch in his step.  Up until now, he'd never considered the possibility of becoming a slave again. He'd been born to it and he thought that was how it always happened.

“Vir says it's always been like that when the clans fight. War parties from one side raid a hill town, kill a few men, take their women, and rip down the tribe totems. The next year, the gods get worked up. The survivors take revenge. Then everyone in all of the nearby tribes is angry but folks generally spend a few years praying to the gods and putting up new totem poles before the next bunch of young fellers goes out to murder again.”

“So there's peace in between? No killing the tradesmen or traveling merchants from the wrong tribe?”

“Oh, that stuff don't count.”

Wonderful, Denario thought. I'm heading to a land where killing travelers doesn't count as murder. Of course, behind me is a land where I'm wanted for murder and it does count there. There's no turning back.

“What about Easy Valley?” he asked. “If I were traveling alone, would I be safe there?”

“Well, that's a funny question.” Yannick looked at him with a sideways smile. He glanced back to his boss before he answered. “I reckon you'd be safe enough in the middle of the valleys. But in the border hills between the valleys, well, I don't know. People get suspicious of strangers there.”

“Aren't we going to a village between the valleys? What makes you think it's safe?”

“I don't. But that's the closest fort.”

“Do you have a lot of forts? From what Vir said, it sounds like you've got about a hundred men in your army. How can you have more than one fort?”

“It's not what you think. Vir's men are in the Army of the Mundredi. It's free to sign up. Of course only the poor and the desperate join. Even someone like me can belong. Most of the folks in the clan don't care. They only notice Vir because he's the first captain in a hundred years who's made them pay the army tax. They don't like us.”

“If they don't like you, aren't you worried they might turn against you?”

“Nah. They need us to stop the Raduar. Vir has beaten them back across four hills, you know. He's the first chief we've had who could do anything like it.”

Denario nodded to himself. The news didn't surprise him.

“Our last three chiefs have ended up dead,” Yannick whispered. He carefully did not look behind him. “So no one but Vir wanted the job. It was a spy who did in the last one, Captain Daric. Some traitor soldier put a spear through his back. Got clean away, too.”

“No wonder Vir worries about spies.”

It was the taller man's turn to nod.

“None of this explains the numbers,” Denario observed. “How can you have a bunch of forts with only a hundred men?”

“It's less than that, really. Vir can probably get a hundred together just because of who he is. But if you mean the men who are fighting for us full time, we've got about thirty-five.”

“And how many forts?”

Yannick counted on his fingers for a while. “About eighty?”

“What? Less than half a man per fort?”

“Well, we've only got one big fort, you know, and that's ol' Forte Dred. There's over a hundred women and children in that town. There's always a dozen soldiers on the walls, too. But the smaller forts is just fighting men. And the really small ones go unmanned most of the time.”

“They're abandoned?”

“Not exactly. Shared, more like. In fact, most of those places get used by the Tortuar and Raduar, too, if we Mundredi ain't in them. That's why Vir makes us patrol so much nowadays. He's caught the other clans there in twos and threes. We've been able to handle them easy.”

“Wait, wait ... your clans share the mountain forts? That you use to stage raids on one another?”

Yannick grinned. “Yep, I suppose that about says it.”

In Ziegeburg, everything Denario had heard about the bandit chiefdoms seemed insane. And it was all true. He shook his head for about a minute as he walked next to his gangly companion. Then he caught Yannick grinning at him like he knew how crazy it all seemed.

“Don't worry,” Yannick reassured him. “You're with us.”

That's exactly what I'm worried about, Denario refrained from saying. The thoughts in his head must have been pretty loud, though, because behind them the bandit chief chuckled.

Chapter Seven, Scene Three

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 39: A Bandit Accountant, 7.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Fourth Prime
Scene One: A Pleasant Stroll

“I dunno why anyone needs an accountant, really,” said Vir around dawn.  “I do plenty of dividing and I don't use any math.  I takes what I wants from the booty 'cause I'm the chief.  Then the rest gets picked first come, first served by my officers, then the enlisted men.  Sometimes we'll award somebody more or give them less because of what they done.”

They had been marching behind the cart for miles.  At the darkest hour of the night, when Denario could barely see, it had started to rain.  That had made the bandits happy.  It had only made Denario shiver.  He started to worry that all of this cold and wet weather would kill him.  He unslung his traveling pack and dug out everything he thought that would help, even a leather shirt and hat from the dead gamblers.  He didn't think it mattered if these bandits recognized the clothing.

“You don't need me, then,” he replied, a trifle bitter to have been dragged along.  His feet hurt like they had been cut open inside his shoes.  He hitched both of his packs over his shoulders again.  His back bowed under the weight.  Somehow, his legs kept going.

“Nope.  Got no use for nobody what can't fight.”

“How do you divide up coins, then?”  Denario felt exhausted and probably doomed to die on this road.  But he was curious about the bandits.  “Or jewels?"

“Coins is easy.  We don't get 'em and we don't use 'em.”


“Well, sometimes outside the valleys, yeh.  But if we get a stash of brassers or coppers, we divide by weight.  The men don't much want it, though.  Hard to spend back home.  As far as the jewelry, we've never had the pleasure.  There isn't much jewelry in the Seven Valleys.  Fer that matter, there isn't so much in the parts of West Ogglia we can reach.”

“I've seen bits and pieces of jewelry.”  Denario felt the weight of the gold chain around his neck as he alluded to it.  As a gift from his fiance, it felt precious.  He would have to be careful not to show it.  One of these bandits would kill him for the gold.

“Sure, there's a little bit,” Vir admitted.  “But what there is stays hidden or it gets worn by powerful people we don't touch.”

“Aha!  So there are people you don't bother?”

“Of course.  Most of our job is to protect the Mundredi valleys.  We don't touch our own folk.  Except every now and then.”

“Does that mean you sometimes loot from your own?”  Yes, there was plenty that Denario didn't understand about these folks.  His old Master Winkel had heard they were crazy barbarians who didn't have money.  That's why he'd steered clear of them.

“Got to, sometimes, so we can eat.  Most of our mayors don't like to pay the army tax, see.  That's a sheep per month, per town.  Although some of them only pay a goat per month anyway.”

“So ... you get paid in livestock?”  It was a land without money, sure enough.

“We get spear points from the smithies, although those are brass, not iron.  We'll take vegetables when there's nothing else.  There are two months of the year when we take in a lot of moldy potatoes and turnips.  That's when our cooks become important.  Fighters need to eat well.  It takes talent to make soup for forty out of a dozen turnips, lamb stock, and some beans."

"The soups must all start to taste the same."

"True enough.  And sometimes the lads loot a few pigs from a town that ain't paid.  Or we'll grab a mayor and hold him for ransom.”

"What's a mayor worth?" Denario wondered.

"If his folks like him, usually a couple sheep.  If they don't like him, well, usually he's wealthy and his family pays."

Denario took a few minutes to wonder at how much popular support the Mundredi force could have if it raided its own towns.  Were they even a legitimate army?

Possibly because of his talk about food, Vir decided everyone should stop to eat breakfast while the blue glow of pre-dawn light edged over the horizon.  He waited until one of the scouts checked in, as they did every now and then, and told him they would need to camp far away from the road.

“Piotr and I have been thinking about that, sir,” said Klaus.  “He's marked some of the usual spots in case you want to settle in for the morning.”

“No.”  Vir answered before his scout had stopped talking.

Klaus nodded.  He pointed to what looked like a tree covered knoll about two hundred yards distant.  It was barely visible as a silhouette through the nearest grove of oaks.

“It's hard to see in this light, sir.”  His fingers traced the ridge.  “But that's high ground.  There's no water that we've ever discovered and I doubt we can get the cart to it along the animal trails.  But that's sort of the point, isn't it?”

“Not bad.”  Vir nodded.

It was, as Klaus described, hard going to the tree-covered hill.  Within half an hour, they gave up and covered the hay cart with bracken to keep it hidden.  The scouts woke up Yannick and dragged him out of the back.  Yannick hitched up a pack and marched with the Mundredi the rest of the way to the camp.  His face was covered with dried blood but he didn't grumble.

Denario got the impression that no one would complain in front of Vir.  Anyone who tried it would likely be shamed by Elsa anyway.  She was a sturdy girl and Denario had been right about the glint in her eye.  She attacked the slope with glee and, when Vir decided where to camp, she set up the tent with a few, loving glances to her future husband.  For his part, Volfie was so distracted by looking lovingly at her in return that he nearly chopped Piotr's leg off as he cleared the underbrush.

Everyone but Piotr laughed at that.  The tall scout decided to clear an area a bit farther away from the husband-to-be so as to stay out of range of Volfie's backswing.

Breakfast was cold goat cheese and beer.  Elsa laid out blankets under the canvas shelter.  Then, almost immediately, the men lay on the ground and slept.  Young Klaus started to snore in less than a minute.  Denario was surprised at how all of the Mundredi huddled together to take their nap.  Somehow, he got included near the middle.  It was warm, too.  Only Volfie and Elsa stayed off to one side and, no doubt, they would find ways to keep each other comfortable as they dozed off together.

When the sun hit mid-morning, Denario awoke.  He looked around and realized that Vir was missing.  Everyone else lay in their places.  The tent hid most of the hillside from view, so Denario got up and went out.  The morning air felt good.  He wandered the site in a widening circle to locate the Mundredi captain.  It wasn't an easy thing to do but it kept him from getting lost.

“Were we followed?” he asked Vir when he found him.  The broad-shouldered man had found a place to peer through the trees down onto the road they had taken.


They sat in silence for a long while.  Vir kept watching the road.  Denario's muscles ached but he'd stopped shivering and feeling as if he were about to die.

He decided to try one of the push-up things that Vir had demonstrated.  He found a level spot in some rotted leaves.  But his arms collapsed after just one try, which got a laugh.

“It's harder after a day's march,” he explained, partly to himself.  He was surprised at the difference.

“Aye.  That it is.”

“Am I allowed to know where we're going?” Denario asked after he dusted himself off.

“To the closest fort, like I said.”

“But where is that?”  Denario cleared out space in the dirt and leaves as he prepared to draw a map.  “For that matter, where is anything?  How about the Seven Valleys you mentioned?  I've never heard of those.”

“What?  That's ... that's huge!”  Vir seemed scandalized.   “That's everything, really.  How can you not hear about a whole land?”

Denario didn't know how to tell Vir that what the Mundredi considered the entire world was a tiny enclave of unfortunate geography.  On the maps of the Complacent Sea and adjoining nations, this place was a bunch of mountains.  It was such an uncivilized, savage area, too, that there were no scrolls or books that described it except as a place to avoid.  Denario remembered that there were supposed to be magical animals, ghosts, hippogriffs, sireni, werewolves, vampires, trolls, and even worse things in the region.

The Mundredi didn't seem worried about meeting any of them, though.

“Let's see ...”  Denario began with a circle surrounded by a goat's head of hills.  He drew a long line to represent the Rune Kill.  “Ziegeburg is here next to the river.  Hogsburg is up here.  We're headed this way.”

He drew another dot and some hills.  Then he added Mount Ephart, which was quite close on their horizon.

“On the other side of this mountain,” he reasoned, “We must enter one of the Seven Valleys, right?”

“Easy Valley,” Vir grunted.  He folded his arms across his chest and gazed down at the map with amusement.

“Does the valley go east to west?”

“Aye.”  Vir appeared to lose interest.  He checked the road again for signs of travelers.

It took a lot of patience.  Denario had to wait through several of Vir's long, thoughtful pauses to get the man to describe the area.  Over the course of half an hour, though, Denario got rough descriptions of Easy Valley and Long Valley, the two rich lands that the Mundredi tribe occupied.  Vir added bits of information that Denario found reassuring, such as an observation that the beasts which used to hunt humans had been conquered.  The Mundredi had driven out the hostile species except for a few trolls, vampires, and bears. 

Denario had no problem believing that a warlike, well-armed people could accomplish such a feat.  In a way, their success was due to the mathematics of the situation.  Humans could lose many battles to the griffins, dire wolves, ogres, bears, vampires, and even dragons without it mattering much because there were so many human children coming along in the next generation and so few young monsters.

He kept drawing as Vir kept speaking.

“Over here,” he asked, “to the north is Hard Valley, the one that the Tortuar Clan occupies?  While over here are the two largest valleys, Long Valley and Fat Valley, and they're mostly inhabited by Raduar?”

“I don't know.”  Vir cocked his head as he studied the lines in the dirt.  Then he crouched and touched the drawing without disturbing a grain of it.  “I've seen something like this before.  This is a map, isn't it?”

“Well, yes, of course.”

“My granddad could do this.”  He ran his hand over the crude images rather lovingly.

“You can't?  You protect the Mundredi valleys without using maps?”

“Yep.  Probably my granddad was the last to draw these things.  He was so old fashioned.  No one in the Mundredi tribe makes maps anymore.  What's the point?  We don't make parchment.  We never made paper.  And we know our lands by heart, all of them that could ever be mapped.  Why draw in the dirt?  No one needs this.  Although maps seem like an interesting way to look at the world.  They're sort of like what a bird must see.”

“That's right.”  Denario tried to imagine what it must be like to be ignorant of such a simple tool as an area map.  “It's the view from above, in a way.  But sometimes a map can show more, like what's buried in the ground.  Sometimes just making one can point out a few things that everyone normally forgets.”

He kept drawing from Vir's description.  He filled in the streams, hills, and clan territories that formed what outsiders called the Bandit Chiefdoms and the insiders called the Seven Valleys.

“Where's the Kilmun Clan in all of this?” he asked.  “Out to the east?”

“Yes.”  Vir's eyes widened a little.  The power of maps had already surprised him.  Denario had been able to infer the direction of one clan by the position of the other clans.  “Which way is east on this?”

“To your sword-hand.”  Denario used Vir's terms for a moment.  The old tongue was so barbaric that the terms for 'right' and 'left' were literally translated as 'sword-hand' and 'shield-hand.'

Vir not only looked to his right but he crouched and added, with his thick index finger, more mountains to the drawing.  He filled in parts of the Kilmun valleys.  Then he scratched his head and turned to the west.  There, he added what seemed to be more Mundredi territories.  There were a lot of towns just west and south of the mountains that he knew well, so those had to be Mundredi strongholds or at least places where Vir could travel freely.

Denario began to count them.  He was surprised to find that there were more Mundredi towns outside the Bandit Chiefdoms than inside.  When Denario had guessed that the bandits were expanding, he was right.  There seemed to be several generations of population growth and exodus involved.  After Vir added forty-seven nameless dots along the slopes of the hills and banks of creeks, he hesitated.

“That's all I know.”  The bald man sat back and wiped his fingers off on his knee.

“It's an awful lot.”  Denario knew how the southern mountains lay.  He filled those in to finish the picture of the southern-most Kilmun valley.

“Can you make this map show any place?” Vir asked as he watched.

“Any land that I know, yes.”

The big man's voice got lower.  It was almost emotionless, which Denario guessed only happened when Vir was thinking hard about something.

“Show me Baron Ankster's lands,” Vir said.

“Not Baron Blockhelm?”  The other baron touched upon Mundredi lands, too.

“Ankster,” Vir repeated.

Denario scooted around to Vir's side of the map to do the drawing.  He picked up a thin twig to fit in more of what he knew.  He added the details with care.  He had the impression that it mattered.

When Denario finished, Vir stared at the lines in the dirt, just fourteen inches across, as if he were memorizing the pattern.  Denario almost believed that he could.  Vir put his finger down on one spot.  It was a town he'd indicated between Ankster's lands and the Mundredi lands.

He sat in silence for a long time.  He stared at the spot in the dirt.  Denario felt afraid to speak while Vir's face looked so grim.

“How do you know all this?” Vir finally asked Denario.  “This isn't numbers.”

“Geometry came before math, Vir.  In a way, maps are the reason that people learned numbers at all.  The term 'geometry' means 'earth measurement.'  We needed numbers in order to measure our lands and the things in them, to count the apples on the tree and things like that.  And from those first numbers, we learned to do other things.”

“So this is sort of math before accountants got to it.”

“Yes.  But I want to point out that a fifth of the accountants in Oggli are trained geometers.  My master mapped some of the lands along the river to the east.  That's not very near, I admit, but it's the bottom right edge here, the borders of Blockhelm's lands.”

“Really?”  Vir lightened up a little.  “Who's the best in Oggli at making these maps?”

“That was my old master, Winkel.  He was always the leader.  But he's dead now, so I guess it's Oleg Schlimpt, who works directly for the Count.”

“Not you?”  Vir sounded disappointed.

“I hadn't thought to include me.  Oleg said that I was his best competition.  He laughed when he said it.  But he was serious.  So I guess I'm number three.  No, number two, now.”  Denario felt a sudden wave of sadness.  The black-and-grey-bearded old master would no longer laugh when Denario asked questions about the nature of numbers.  There would be no more talks about the possible shapes of the world, nor long discussions about the orbits of moons and planets.  There was no one to wonder at whether the stars were holes in a sphere or they were their own worlds like the wizards said, and no one to suspect that the wizards didn't really know but were just guessing.

“What makes ye think that Oleg is the best?  Or that you're not?”  Vir stood from his crouch.

“Math and geometry are very definite, Vir.  I'm trying to think of how to explain.  I mean, would you know if you were the best swordsman around?  Fighting seems rather definite, too.  More so than math, even.”

“Heh.  Killed a man who said he was the best,” Vir grunted.  “But that don't mean I'm best.  Still, I reckon I see what ye mean.  I can tell I'm better than most fighters in some things, especially my shield work.  The ones who've fought alongside me, they know, too.  We have a definite idea about who's good at what.”

“It's the same for people who work with numbers.  We know who's good.  We can tell by the answers, right or wrong, and how fast an accountant arrives at them.”  Denario suspected it wasn't quite as definite as sword fighting but it was nice to feel they had some frame of reference in common.  Otherwise, what was an accountant going to talk about with people who didn't have money?

Chapter Seven, Scene Two