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.”
“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.”
“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