A Bandit Accountant
Chapter Three Quarters of Twelve
Scene Two: Deadly, Playing Chicken
Later that night, Vir threw down Denario's travel bag between his own oversized pack and Alaric's padded duffel. He helped himself to Denario's food, too. He gave two handfuls of Denario's goat jerky to his sergeant.
“Not bad. Putting him between us?” Alaric glanced around at the other bandits as he chewed. “Fair enough, chief.”
“I don't need ye to tell me that. I can see how they are.”
“Yes, sir.” The sergeant stiffened a little.
“Don't get all offended, either. I only got four sergeants and yer the best. When I'm gone, yer to be captain.”
“Sir? I don't ...”
“Seriously, Alaric. There's no one else who's up to it. Can ye imagine Sergeant Kaspir becoming the chief?”
Alaric chuckled. But a moment later, he lay down on his bedroll in silence. The funny thing was, as young as the blond sergeant seemed, Denario had to agree with Vir. Alaric was a man who the other men admired. There seemed to be ample reason for it, too.
Denario laid out three spare shirts as a sort of blanket. He didn't mind using his bag of accounting books as a pillow, either. He felt amazed that he still had all of his tools.
“Why is this place between you two so good?” he asked them.
“So none of the other men get the idea to kill ye.” Vir set himself down without a blanket. He looked weary and, for the first time in all of the days that Denario had known him, not entirely alert.
“Oh.” Denario didn't want to go to sleep with that thought. He lay awake worrying about it for a minute. Then he stole another look at the message from Pecunia. I am fine, Lash. Mrs. Figgins is a darling. I hope you're doing well, wherever you are. Mistress Pecunia De Loreli Von Glaistig, Church of the Goat.
It was beginning to dawn on him that although Pecunia cared for him, she hadn't exactly sent a love note. She didn't mention their prospects of marriage. She didn't talk about him setting up practice near Ziegeburg. She didn't even say the word 'love.' Well, he'd figure out something for her anyway. He folded the pink paper and slipped it into his shirt pocket. Since the pocket was underneath a layer of chain mail, that was a chore.
“Do you really have a betrothed?” the sergeant asked him after a while. “Vir said you did. Was that a note from her that you just read? Did it come to you by magic?”
“Do you like magic?” Denario asked.
“It's useful.” Alaric cocked his head and considered. “I suppose I like it better than most.”
“Hmph.” Denario folded his thin arms. His chain mail made a sound like rough snake skins rubbing against each other. “The wizard in Hogsburg called her a sorceress. But he's wrong.”
He threw his head back on the pillow of books and nearly hurt himself. Next to him, the sergeant half sat up, apparently interested.
“Ach, people always say things like that about older women.” He waved his hand so dismissively that Denario realized Alaric must have heard something similar about an elderly mother or grandmother in his life. Although there was another possibility. Because Alaric was a handsome fellow. Maybe there had been a mature woman interested in him romantically.
“Yes, she is a bit older than I am.” He could admit that. He imagined Pecunia's smiling face, her blonde, curling locks. She still looked reasonably youthful. And her teeth were perfect. “Her first three husbands died.”
“Three?” Alaric whistled.
The sergeant was so silent that it became conspicuous. After a while, he laid his head back down on his pack.
“Are you still thinking about being captain?” Denario asked him.
“Oh, maybe a little.” There was a faint, bitter laugh in the darkness. “It's a stupid tradition to have the chiefs come from the same bloodlines.”
“You could do the job, though, if you had to.”
“Not as well as Vir does.”
“No, but … well, he's something special, isn't he?” Denario listened for a moment, his arms still folded because they were so hard to move in their armor. He heard a deep snuffle, which was a pretty sure sign that Vir was asleep. “I thought he was some kind of ox wrestler or hog butcher when I first met him. But he's so fast. I mean in his mind, not just his body. I don't know what to make of him. He's shrewd.”
“He was a farmer.”
“He was a ox wrestler and hog butcher once. You were right. He had a great way with cows, I hear.”
That gave Denario an idea. He rolled over on one elbow, his back to the captain, his face a foot from Alaric tired, half-closed eyes.
“What happened to him three years ago?” he whispered.
Alaric sounded like he was holding his breath. Denario waited as patiently as he could.
“I'll let him tell ye that,” the young sergeant concluded. “Or not, as pleases him.”
“Okay.” Denario knew better than to persist. “You know, for a moment there, you sounded like him.”
“He's a good man.”
“He thinks no one likes him.”
There another long silence in the conversation. Alaric did a lot of careful thinking, it seemed, or Denario was posing tough questions. Maybe he only had himself to blame for the long wait.
“You're going to leave us, accountant.” It was an accusation.
“I have to. I have to save the counting house.” This time, Denario didn't leave the conversation hanging. “You know, I can't figure out where Vir learned about this military training if he grew up as a farmer. He's really good. He works at it more than the knights in the Court of Oggli. And they're professionals.”
“We're getting to be professionals, too, in our way.”
“I can tell. Say, I didn't get the full story of the battle of Archer's Lament. You told Vir about your men. But you didn't talk about yourself. Someone said you were the last man to pass through into the magic.”
“The lament wouldn't be as much use to us if the Raduar walked in acting all suspicious. So I was trying to lead them in at a run.”
“It must have worked. And then you charged them with your cudgels?”
“Yes. But not me, actually.”
“You didn't fight?” That would explain why he hadn't talked about it.
“My sword turned into a chicken, you know. When I bent down to pick up my stick, I fumbled it because I wanted to hold onto the chicken in case it turned back to a sword during the fight. I didn't have time to chase after my club before the lead Raduar was on me.”
“Oh no. You had to fight unarmed?”
“No, I was still holding the sword.”
“But it wasn't a sword. It was a chicken.” Maybe it was a supernatural chicken but, still, Denario knew that no one could beat a man to death with a bird. Then he doubted his judgment. After all, he was no expert soldier. And if anyone could do it, it was these Mundredi.
“I had it by both legs.”
“You wouldn't really have a chance. Would you?” The count's troops in Oggli wouldn't even have tried, he knew. They had too much pride in their sword play. A good sword was the mark of an Oggli gentleman – not a chicken. Oh, definitely not.
“It was a pretty fair fight.” Alaric held up his right arm. In the ruddy firelight, Denario could make out gouge marks on his vambrace. It looked like a pointed beak had sunk deeply into the leather armor. There had been more than a dozen blows. The two men must have swung hard at each other for a while. “After all, he had a chicken, too.”
Next: Chapter Nine, Scene Three
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