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