Sunday, December 25, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 61: A Bandit Accountant, 10.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Binary Two
Scene Three: Lost Children

Outside the mine entrance, Denario met Senli. The short, brown woman only came up to Denario's chin. Her hair had been cut carefully an inch below her shoulders. It looked like it was combed daily but Denario couldn't really tell about that sort of thing. Some people just had nice hair. Her robe was plain, as was her shawl. In general, she seemed to keep herself fastidiously clean. Her sandal straps were polished.

He tried to remember the point that Vir had made over and over in their discussions about this town. 'It's not just about the math. It's the people.' Senli was one of the important people, at least to Denario.

“You were looking for me?” she said, hands folded in front of her. She seemed alarmed.

“Yes.” Small talk had never been his best skill, as Pecunia had pointed out several times. He liked discussing math. He tried to concentrate on the other things about this book keeper that he should know. “What's the rest of your name, Senli?”

“That's it.” Her expression calmed. She felt more comfortable knowing the answer.

“No last name? No town or profession name?”

“I was born a slave, sir. Not taken.”

“Ah.” That explained some things about her mannerisms, then. Both her wariness and a sullen sort of subservience had been beaten into her throughout childhood.

“You heard that the head foreman isn't your supervisor anymore?”

She nodded cautiously.

“But you went to see him. Do you like working for him? Do you get along?”

Her expression got even more neutral. She wasn't giving away anything.

“That's fine. But if I'm in charge of you two in the counting house, I need to make sure you have everything you need. I'd say that one of those is separate rooms. I saw the hut they've given you behind the counting house. The town is trying to room you together, aren't they?”

Senli's nose wrinkled. “Hummel smells. And he has lice.”

“I'm not surprised.” Denario sighed. “Where do you really sleep, then? In the counting house behind the goat skins?”

The book keeper gasped.

“There's a wool blanket folded nearby. It's not hard to figure out.”

“Yes.” Her lip trembled as if she were about to cry.

“That must have been awfully cold in the winter. Where would you rather sleep?”

“In the winter, I have other arrangements.” Her gaze flickered back to the mine house.

“Ah.” Denario understood. There was a man involved, possibly the head foreman himself. “And are those arrangement acceptable to you? To everyone?”

“They won't last.”

“So it would be good to have a place of your own, then, or at least one with other women who would be friendly. And what else? You're doing a good job. I can see that in your books. What do you need? And what more do you want?”

“What I really want to do is to find my sons.” She put her hand over her mouth as soon as she said it. She hadn't meant to trust him with that thought, apparently.

“We'd better sit down and talk for a while.” He sighed to himself. These problems beyond the decoding looked more complicated than he'd thought. “Is there an inn around here?”

She hesitated. “Yes, but it doesn't allow women.”

“One of the temples, then?”

“Oh, good.” At that, she gave him her first smile. “I go to the Church of the Small Gods every day. The priestess will serve us tea if I ask.”

It wasn't far to the temple. But it took three servings of tea to hear the entire story. The priestess was suspicious of Denario at first. Only near the end of the session, after overhearing as much as she politely could, did she favor him with a loaf of sweetened bread and a pile of butter. He wondered if he should offer a donation to her church. Given his current situation and the lack of money around here, he'd have to give something from the counting house inventory. And then he'd record the transaction, of course.

It turned out that Senli had only lived in one other place, a town called Bumpili, far away in Wizard Valley She had grown up as a Kilmun tribal slave. Her grandparents had been captured along the borders of Wizard Valley and the magical lands directly to the east. They'd been either impressively brave or desperately foolhardy because they had taken their wagon without any guards through those hills. Denario guessed they'd been more to the foolhardy side since they'd been taken within a week of the natives realizing that their little caravan had no weapons.

The merchant tradition of book keeping had passed down through the generations. Her grandparents had done the job for their new town. So had her parents and uncles. All the while, they'd been tattooed as slaves and traded between the neighboring towns whenever such arrangements suited the Kilmun leaders.

That was how Senli had lost her children. They'd been traded away from her about a decade ago when they were seven and four years old. They'd been growing so tall and so strong that a traveling farmer decided he wanted them for field work. The town had obliged him.

“Four donkeys,” she sighed. She wiped her nose on her sleeve. “That's all it took. Because one of the burghers wanted breeding pairs.”

“Senli,” said Denario after some thought. “Your official last name must be Keeper.”

“Or it could my owner's name. What's yours?”

“Oggli. I would never use a former master's name.”

“Is this important, your thing about names?”

“Probably. I've seen the pay records for the mine slaves. Everyone in it has a full name.”

“That's different. Lots of folks in this town are descended from mine slaves and most of them still work around the mine. The mine shift foremen are all free men descended from mine slaves. The head foreman is only a generation removed.”

“They get respect. And you don't.”

She nodded. That wary look had come out again. She didn't want to give away her thoughts. He didn't blame her.

“Slaves get paid. But you didn't get paid because you're a woman, right?”

She leaned closer.

“And then Hummel didn't get paid because ... I'd guess because you weren't getting paid and because, well, he's Hummel.”

That twisted a wry grin from her lips.

“I'm going to enter you in the slave mine log sheet. And I'm going to pay you from our inventory.”

She opened her mouth. It was a long time before she made a sound.

“I thought I had the mine supervisor to do that for me,” she confessed. She must have worked hard to get that concession out of him. “But when he asked the burghers, there was an argument. His wife didn't like it, either. So he backed down.”

If she was bedding with the mine supervisor, as Denario suspected, that man's family would go against Senli when they saw the chance. It was foolish of them, though, as they'd have known if they'd ever thought about the economics of Senli's situation. The best way to get her away from the mine supervisor was to pay her well and set her free.

“I'm not going to ask permission,” he said as he realized it.

“But ... can you just do that?”

“Yes.” Suddenly, he was sure. This is what Vir had been talking to him about, in his weird, gruff way. He'd said that Denario shouldn't stand in awe of the mayor or anyone here. He had to take care of his people. Vir hadn't meant Senli, of course. She barely qualified as human in the captain's eyes. But to Denario, right now, Senli was his best book keeper. She was an important person. “They pay other slaves. So they're going to pay you. If they want my help, that's how it's going to be.”

“But you said you're going to solve the tile system.”


“It can't be done.” She echoed his thoughts exactly but they were the ones to which he didn't dare give a voice. “What will they do to you when you fail?”

“It only can't be done without Mistress Clumpi,” he corrected. If there was any hope, it lay with the old tile keeper's wife.

“That's why it's impossible.” Senli clenched her fists.

Next: Chapter Ten, Scene Four

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 60: A Bandit Accountant, 10.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Binary Two
Scene Two: The Old System

By that evening, the Mundredi troop had been hours gone and Denario had talked with everyone of importance in the town except for Mistress Clumpi.

First, he'd found out why the second book keeper hadn't dashed over to greet him when he entered the main doors of the counting house.  The fellow wasn't capable of running because the burghers had slapped him in leg irons.

His name was Hummel and he was the quiet, resentful sort.  Denario saw it immediately; he'd met many middle-aged men like Hummel among the accountants, physicians, priests, soothsayers, hand-servants, and noble attendants in the Court of Oggli.  They were the folks who felt keenly every slight or insult although they never said a thing about it.  They just got more quiet, more surly, and slower to offer assistance.  This was a classic case made worse by slavery.

Hummel had been an unlicensed accountant in Muntar, the old capital city of all places, before he'd been kidnapped and sold to pirates.  They'd shipped him all the way to Angrili, where it was legal to sell him at auction.  Fixed up with a haircut to look presentable, he’d fetched a fair price.  That had been six years ago.  Now he had a thick, curly brown beard, bushy eyebrows, and a mop of tangled hair.  His clothes had been nice last year, probably.  He'd allowed them to go shabby.  Denario suspected that Hummel would do that to anything, even silks.  He simply didn't care.  He neglected his body, too, which is why he had even less muscle than Denario and a good sized pot belly to carry around.

The man liked to suck on candies at his desk.  Gods knew where he got them but the licorice flavors had stained his teeth nearly black.

“This is for otter.  This is for yeti.  This is for cow.”  Hummel's accent was thick.  To make it worse, he mumbled.  He pointed to his rows of numbers without much interest.  Despite how he'd taken charge of the fur and skins trade, he'd clearly done as little work as possible since then.  He'd listed twenty-two different types of pelts on the scroll in his tiny, nearly illegible scrawl.  “Got another page for the skins.  Alligator, giant frog, snake ...”

“You're using the Yullamar accounting system, I see.”  Denario tapped the scroll in approval.  It was too easy to criticize the man.  He needed to find something good to say.

Hummel's eyes opened fully for the first time.

“You know Yullamar?” he said.

“Yes, it's a very sophisticated framework, excellent for valuations.  Of course, it shows comparative debts, which is nice.  I see that we owe considerable sums to a few of these fur traders.”

“Yes, sir,” said Hummel in a voice approaching enthusiasm, albeit from a long distance.  “I told the burghers about that.  But they didn't want to hear it.  They won't pay the traders because they remember some of them owing us furs under the old system.”

“Got it.”  Denario would have to solve that quickly.  The town could bankrupt itself if the burghers drove away the caravans who bartered with them.

“Now a few of the ones we don't owe have stopped showing up.”

“Uh-oh.”  The town's bad reputation was spreading already.

“That's what I said, too.”  Hummel sighed.  He'd had time to understand how poor the town could get without traders.

They spent a few hours on the sheets of fur counts and those of the skin counts.  Denario gave himself a tour of the corresponding inventory and noticed a few oddities.  Most of the bins and stacks were short by a count of one or two.  A few small boxes had extra pelts from rabbits or squirrels, which made the problem seem less serious.  However, one of the bear skins had been split in an attempt to make reality match the false tally of skins.  Denario tried not to suspect Hummel.  The culprit could have been a fur trader who was responsible for slipping that one by the miners.  But Hummel's vest looked like bearskin.  And the bearded, shabby man had not shown interest in checking his inventory.  In fact, he'd seemed alarmed to have anyone look through it.

After Denario verified the Yullamar system, roughly, minus those few items, he helped himself to one of the shoulder-high tubes used by the old tile master.  At that point, Hummel decided it was safe to join.  They sat on the floor to take one apart.  The ends were sealed with wax plugs. Denario knifed one out.  A few beans spilled onto the dirt floor.  Immediately, he saw there were a wide variety of beans, peas, and berries.  He sifted through until he'd found thirty types.  That was more than enough for Bibbo Clumpi to match the contents to furs and skins.

Reaching a conclusion about the man's private accounting system took longer.

“Is Senli still at the mine?”  Denario rubbed his jaw and looked around.

“Yes, sir,” said Hummel.

“She and Mistress Clumpi said these tubes were part of the old master's system, didn't they?  But I don't think are.”

“Sir?”  Hummel put his hands down on the floor like a drunk trying to regain balance.  “What else can they be, sir?”

“They can be temporary count holders, parts for a manual math system, or raw pieces held in stock for a hidden bean-based system somewhere else.  But they aren't used for the fur or skins systems themselves.  Didn't the women open these and count the beans?  Didn't you?”

“They did, sir.  And me too, yes.  We all spent quite a long time on it.”

“Well, there are too many beans. I just noticed another type, so that makes thirty-one kinds of beans, berries, and peas here.  That's a good number for what you do, isn't it?”

“That's what made me believe it was the old master's count of furs, sir.”  Hummel's tone was cautious.  He seemed to doubt Denario's quick conclusion.

“Right.  But the total numbers are wrong.  There are thousands of these little brown bean, these little spheres.  No trader has got a thousand skins here.”

“Could mean something else, then.  A super-total?  A weight owed?  Senli thinks it's a weight.”

“No, I don't think that's right.  The scales and the stacks aren't that big.  What's worse, with the number of counters a factor of a hundred too high we could spend a lot of time trying to decipher this when there's nothing to decipher.”

“We already have, sir.”  Hummel slumped, visibly depressed.

“That's okay.  Time spent getting into the mindset of old Master Clumpi isn't wasted.  But I'll need to talk to his widow.”

“Better you than me, sir.”

“Really?  Maybe I'd better talk with Senli again first.  She's using the Tomaru system, a single-entry tally.  But she's put her own spin on it or she learned it a bit differently than I did.”

“About Mistress Senli ...”  The curly-haired man shook his head.  “Be careful, sir.  She's got them bewitched.  The burghers, I mean.”

Denario thought about his earlier interview with Senli.  She seemed quiet and introspective.  She clearly knew her business but she had a just-doing-the-job attitude that was much like Hummel's.  That was part of being a slave, Denario knew.  If Senli had seemed to bewitch anyone, it was by explaining things better than Hummel could.

“Why are you in leg chains, Hummel?” Denario asked.

It took a long time for the little man to respond.  That's interesting, Denario noticed as he gave Hummel time to think, I'm acting like he's shorter than me.  He's taller.  But he's acting like he's small.  Maybe that's why he keeps crouching and hanging his head.

Given that thought, Denario had no more doubts about who had crudely mis-counted and rearranged the fur inventories.

“They might say I tried to run away, I guess,” said Hummel.  “But I didn't, not really.  I had chains on from the beginning.  Never been out of them for more than a few minutes at a time.  I just sort of ... wandered around at times.”

“More than once?”

Hummel played with the dirty ringlets at the top of his head.

“No,” he said after the pause.  “I go down to the creek now and then.  But I'm allowed.”

“Who's responsible for you?”

“The mine headman.  Except, this morning, the mayor said no, not anymore.”

“Not the mine foreman?  Who, Senli?”

“Of course not!”  He looked at Denario as if he couldn't believe anyone could be so stupid.  “She's a slave, like me.  But the headman can't order us around now.  It's you.”

“Me?  I'm responsible for you?”

“Of course, sir.”

Next: Chapter Ten, Scene Three

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Not Even Not Zen 59: A Bandit Accountant, 10.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Binary Two
Scene One: A Token of Affection

Denario woke up in a panic. He'd had a dream that Pecunia and Curo had seen him trapped in a giant fishing net. They'd looked right at him and turned away. Then he lifted his head in real life and found he couldn't move. It took him a second to remember that he'd dozed off in a feather bed. The mattress was pinning his arms. He was fine. With a grunt of effort, he kicked up his legs and rolled out of the linen-covered pile of feathers.

The fact that he'd remained in armor made the job difficult. It was good, he realized, that the mattress wasn’t thicker. The bedding was too lavish. It was as well constructed as any he'd slept on, even the best in Oggli, even the cushions in the Marquis' palace. Barter and slavery worked well enough for this sort of thing, he supposed, although the idea of slaves being forced to stuff the pads of his room made him sad. He rubbed the quilted cover and hoped it wasn't true.

The depression he'd felt at being left alone in this strange, violent land left him as tiptoed across the chilly floor to unshutter the window. He looked down from his apartment atop the mine warehouse onto a crossroads below. There, in the pre-dawn light with an ox-led cart and crates of new baggage piled in the back, stood the Mundredi army.

Well, it was fourteen men. To Denario, that seemed more like an army than it would have three weeks ago. Vir hadn't joined his troops yet. There was just sergeant Alaric, his battle-tested platoon, and the new recruits.

Last night, Vir had hunkered down to a long discussion with the mayor of Pharts Bad. At the conclusion, he'd traded Denario's services “as an accountant until yer records get fixed” in exchange for supplies, two healthy slaves, and “a criminal to be named later.” That gave Pug some men to tease or at least a couple of draftees to deflect the worst of the army's abuse. There was no one lower in status than a slave recruit.

Now that he looked closer, Denario saw that there were only thirteen bodies milling around on the frost and dirt. Someone was missing. Behind him, he heard footfalls on the staircase. A floorboard creaked.

“You're up?” a second later, the Mundredi corporal opened the door without knocking. It was a real door, too, with a metal hinge. It reminded Denario of how well the whole town was built. “Good, the captain wants you. Come on.”

Denario turned and took in Gannick's new apparel. Phart’s Bad had given the bandit army a pile of cast-off clothing. It was quality stuff. Under his chain mail, Gannick wore a heavy linen shirt. He'd laced on a pair of new breeches, too, dyed black.

“Just let me get my hat.” Denario was in his armor but this seemed like a good time to put on a red cap with gold braid. He wanted the men to think about who he was. “My snares on the staircase didn't bother you?”

“Neh. There's light.”

“Oh.” Vir had insisted that the accountant set snares to guard himself. Apparently they wouldn't do much good here in town.

“Good that ye keep in practice. They look well pegged.”

Near the bottom of his pack, Denario found his accounting gear. His hat had taken a beating in recent weeks but the dye was bright. It told everyone that he was a professional. He felt he needed some prompting in that way himself. His guilt over leaving the dangers of bandit life to work in the counting house made him feel like a traitor. He wasn't even one of the Mundredi. He was an accountant. The mark of his guild, a yellow number eight stitched diagonally across his hat brim, reminded him of the duty to his apprentices.

The corporal nodded in approval as Denario put it on. He was familiar with the idea of a uniform. Good.

“Did ye understand the captain's advice last night?” the corporal asked as they descended the narrow staircase. They stepped over the loops of leather cord and the snare pegs.

“I think so.” There had been a lot of it. Denario couldn't absorb it all at once. For instance, he doubted that he was going to use his hunting bow or his non-existent trail-reading skills. He sure hoped he never needed his armor. He had every intention of wearing it, though. It took no expertise and therefore, he'd decided, it was perfect for him.

About the only survival skill he'd picked up from Vir and Alaric was the making and setting of snares. But none of his traps had caught anything. He couldn't light a fire. That last failing was his own because he hadn't dared to tell anyone that he didn't understand how it was done. He'd only ever used pre-packaged alchemy and magic fire-starters before.

Despite the frost on the hard dirt this morning, the wind whipping in from the south felt warm. Spring was a tangible force today. Denario smiled and waved to the soldiers as he approached.

“Do ye remember which towns?” a gruff voice bellowed in his right ear.

Denario spun. The captain stood a few feet away dressed his armor and a fur overcoat given to him personally by the mayor of Pharts Bad.

“Vir!” he exclaimed. He gave the big man a hug and then belatedly realized that these Mundredi didn't do that sort of thing. He had to back away.

“Well, accountant.” Vir gave him a stern look but there was a twinkle in his eye, too. He wasn't mad.

“Yes, sir,” Denario remembered. “I mapped out all of the towns you mentioned last night.”

“Good man.” Vir reached out to clap him on the arm.

Suddenly, all the Mundredi swarmed up to Denario and began whacking him, good-naturedly, on his shoulders and back. Someone plucked off his hat to ruffle his hair and, a second later, someone else jammed it back on. How strange, Denario thought, it's as if they like me.

He heard well-wishes from everyone, he thought, even Moritz and Reinhard, who had openly despised him. It was hard to respond to all of the kind phrases, they came so rapidly. In half a minute, he was left with nothing more coherent to do than saying, 'Thanks, thanks,' over and over again.

“Hush, now,” Vir said eventually. His men turned to him, even Pug and the former slaves.

“The accountant won't get to go home until he straightens out this mess in Pharts Bad.” Vir reached under his armor with his right hand. He fumbled through the layers of shirts beneath. “When he does leave here, though, he's got instructions from me on what to do.”

“Send three recruits!” Denario blurted.

“Yeh. If ye can. No slaves or children, of course.” Vir found a leather cord between the layers of his shirts. With his index finger, he worked it out into the open. “I meant what to do to survive, though. There's one last thing I didn't tell ye. Ye'll need to send this back to me.”

Off from around his neck, the captain pulled a pendant attached to the cord. It was a coin, really, but cast in the strangest of ways. For one thing, it appeared to be made of glassy, blue stone. The surface glowed faintly, as if from magic.

“Now, this isn't magic,” Vir warned him, maybe for the last time showing off his ability to read Denario's mind. “This is one of the tokens of Muntabar that Prince Robberti carried with him from his home in the outside lands to his new home here in the valleys. They were cast in a furnace, so I'm told. I've no idea why they're all blue but there aren't many left.”

“My gods!” gasped Alaric. He stepped between Denario and Vir and stopped just short of grabbing the coin. He touched the cord and then barely restrained himself, it seemed, from falling to his knees in worship. “I had no idea! Your family managed to preserve your coin? They're just a legend anymore.”

“Yeah, well, my family had three, once. I don't know where the others are. I think one's under my grand-dad's shed.” Grasping the cord with both hands, Vir held it aloft for a moment, away from his sergeant's touch. Then he lowered it around Denario's neck. “This is a powerful sign, see? People know about these. Oaths have been passed down from father to son about them. So if ye use this token wisely, other Mundredi tribesmen, even those in distant villages under waldi control, will help ye. They'll hide ye. They'll feed ye. But don't show it off. Hide it until ye have a real need.”

“Yes, sir!” Confused, Denario saluted. He quickly whisked the hand down to his side and stood at attention.

“Vir!” cried Alaric.

“What?” The captain raised an eyebrow, as much as to say, 'What could you possibly have to add, Sergeant?'

“It's just that ... that's an important thing, sir. You can't just give it away. It's your proof of your inheritance.”

“What inheritance?” Vir snorted at his younger relative's simplicity of mind. “Me family was poor. I walked away from our lands. I'll not return. And the coin isn't proof of rulership of the valleys. Even if it ever were, so what? I'm Chief of the Mundredi right now and of all the clans of our tribe. The job isn't doing me any damn good. It's nothing but a duty. No one pays their taxes to me. But somehow I've got to protect ye lot anyways.”

“Well, that's true,” Alaric admitted. “You do it well, too.  But I'd bet you'd get more respect from the town mayors and the other chiefs if you showed that around.”

“Only for a few hours. Then they'd go to bed and wake up thinking, 'Why the hell did he have to show me that? Don’t he deserve no respect without it?' That's the way it works, see. Besides, there must be twenty of these left just in the Mundredi plus more in the other valleys. They were common once.”

"Not any more, sire. I mean, sir." Alaric caught himself. It was an interesting slip of the tongue, Denario thought. Did the blue coin mean that much? The disc was inscribed with the sign of the Mundredi tribes, a crown crossed by two spears.

He took at moment to lift it closer. As a coin, it seemed fairly ordinary, if ceremonial. It couldn't have been meant for spending because there was no denomination stamped on it, no number. Above the crown, between the crossed spears, were five stars. Denario had no idea what they signified. There were two inscriptions, both of them hard to read in the bluish glass. The top edge said, quinque procer unus imperator which meant in the Old Tongue, he thought, five of something under one emperor. On the bottom, there was just semper promptus pugnare. The old word pugnare meant 'fighting' or 'to fight,' he was pretty sure.

On the reverse of the coin there appeared the parapet of a castle and, over it in large letters, eternus regnum. That phrase meant 'eternal kingdom.' They must have thought so at the time, the forgers of this coin. Their empire had lasted for twenty years. That wasn't much. It was better, though, than any other force that had attempted to establish itself all the way around the Complacent Sea. In smaller letters underneath the castle, the coin-makers had inscribed, usque ornamentum in unus pars, which Denario thought translated roughly as 'all the weapons on one side.' Our side, they meant, Denario realized. That must have looked like a prescription for an empire to last forever. All the weapons had been owned by one side, sure enough. But that side had divided into factions. The empire had fought itself.

“It's beautiful,” he breathed.

“Priceless,” added Alaric.

“I'm not worth this.” He started to remove the cord. His arms were met by the unmoveable force of Vir. Just the touch of the big man's fingertips was enough to prevent him from lifting. “I don't deserve this much trust.”

“Could be,” Vir allowed. His face had that guarded expression he got when something was important enough. “Maybe ye'll never amount to anything. I don't trust slaves, even if they've been set free. But a debt is a debt. I'll honor it.”

“You've saved my life more than once ...”

“After I took ye from Hogsburg. And who knows if I would have gotten out alive if ye hadn't decoded the Raduar knocks or memorized the cell door combinations? So never mind about all that. With my folks and within my towns, this token will make ye safe. People will take ye into their homes.”

Denario turned his eyes to the coin again. With a smile, he decided to give Vir's mind-reading one more try. He couldn't resist.

“Which towns?” he asked.

Vir's face passed through a range of emotions. He'd spent all the night before giving advice and making Denario memorize the towns. And for what? Yes, Denario had never seen the captain's thoughts quite so visibly before. For a few seconds, Vir's ears turned bright red. Then, when he figured out that Denario was joking, he stopped holding his breath. He roared like a lion.

The captain gave Denario such a shoulder slap that, if Denario hadn't been standing so close to Moritz and Reinhard, he would have been knocked to the ground. The two men caught him. Everyone laughed.

“All right, accountant,” said Vir after he finished chuckling. “Stand smart.”

Denario did his best. He only came up to everyone else's chin level, though, even at his straightest.

“Ye came from a big city, sure enough. The fancy tooth brushing and baths and all spoiled ye. But we made a start on fixing ye up for valley life. Ye'll have to do the rest for yerself. If ye don't, ye won't make it back to yer apprentices.”

The words were grim. But they had to be correct. Denario bobbed his head.

“Five boys, sir,” he said.

“That's right.” Vir raised a massive fist. “Don't forget yer mission. Don't let anyone get in yer way. Ye take care of yer own. That's what ye do. Whether yer a low-down bandit like me or a sissy accountant, well, ye got take care of yer own.”

“I will.”

“Even if they're just boys, just apprentices like ye say. I respect that. We Mundredi troops ain't got no use for ye. But maybe, just maybe, that's because yer a good man.”

“Sneaky,” someone said.

“Yeh, sneaky. And that's good.” Vir nodded to himself.

Denario was so surprised that he saluted again. It was a day for that mistake, it seemed. He was doing everything slightly wrong. But Vir smiled at him in a not unkind way.

“Go to it,” he whispered in his voice that carried just exactly far enough.

Next: Chapter Ten, Scene Two

Sunday, December 4, 2016

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Nine Chapters

Thirty-Two Minus Thirty-One

Chapter Root Two Squared

Chapter Pi, Roughly 

Chapter Two Pair

Chapter Full Hand

Chapter Half Dozen

Chapter Fourth Prime

Chapter Two Cubed

Chapter Three Quarters of Twelve