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