Sunday, February 12, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 67: A Bandit Accountant, 11.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene Three: Made His Bed

By the end of the day, he’d gotten the counter strings about half of the way restored according to the sometimes tenuous memory of Mistress Clumpi. Exhausted after the reconstruction process, which included re-stringing over a thousand tiles, eating a three-potato dinner at his desk, and re-stringing hundreds more, he rubbed his eyes. He rubbed them again. Finally he noticed Olga Clumpi as she donned her shawl. He understood what time it had to be. He'd kept everyone up too late. He told Olga to hold on. That gave him a moment to shake hands with his book keepers and bid them good night. Over the widow's faint protests, he walked her from Mine Street to Willow Street, up to her front door.

When he returned to Mine Street, he saw that the lights in the counting house had gone out.  He couldn't blame them. He steered himself toward the equipment building for the climb up the narrow staircase to his loft.

His bedroom sat above a utility room for mine tools. It held mostly wooden beams, shovels, and pick handles. The beams had been stacked with rocks wedged between them, perhaps so the wood would dry faster. Normally, no one else stayed there. But this night, he saw that someone had moved a dusty mining cart to one corner of the floor. A gangly fellow had fallen asleep there on piles of dirty rags. Two more men had made rag beds in a different corner. They were mine slaves, Denario supposed. He felt a twinge of regret about going up to his fancy room full of downy linens but there was no sense in waking these men to apologize to them. Anyway, he needed to sleep.

He marched up and laid himself down on his covers. He felt rested, full of food, and reasonably warm. But the clues he’d uncovered in the afternoon had set his mind to whirring like a set of gears broken from their shear pin. His thoughts spun out idea after idea. He discovered that he'd memorized the color counts. His mind kept manipulating tiles in his imagination as if they were cold and smooth in his fingers. He shuffled them around in a waking dream. He was getting so close to a solution, he could almost taste the bitter glazes in his mouth. Bibbo had certainly assigned a number to each type of goods: furs, straw, feathers, beets, potatoes, and so on. Denario had been able to chart out some of the types already. Bear skins looked like a number nine. But where had that thought come from? It had made sense only moments ago. Now he questioned his logic.

After a few minutes in the dark, he sat up and re-lit his bedroom candles. He got out his accounting log and made notes about what he’d learned of base 16 mathematics. For one thing, base 16 had many common divisors that people used every day like 2, 4, and 8. But it lacked the divisor of 3 that was an advantage to base 12 systems. From that, Denario deduced that Bibbo Clumpi counted in groups of 4s and 8s when he was young. Olga Clumpi called them 'quads' and 'tets,' which indicated that Bibbo hadn't been alone. A farmer trading turnips and potatoes for furs had used those terms, too. It made Denario think that local farmers, however few there were, must have started the practice ages back.

Denario tapped the nub of the pen against his lower lip, a bad habit. He wiped his mouth, which blackened the back of his hand, and flipped the log pages to old Master Winkel’s description of the Tomaru system. He added his own annotations from what he'd learned while working with Senli. That took him half an hour.

When that wasn’t enough to let him sleep, he dug out his sword, spear, and buckler for some practice. The mindless repetition felt good. He hadn't realized how much his legs had cramped from disuse until he stretched them for a bit.

Part of him was dimly aware that he stank. At some point soon, he would need to go down to the town's spring and bathe no matter how cold the water was.

Even after the exercise, he couldn't sleep. Denario thought about the traps he'd set on the stairs two nights ago. He'd neglected them since. Rationally, he was sure he should be more careful. There were strange men downstairs, after all. He knelt to his travel pack and located his remaining snares, which he'd wrapped neatly, cords around the pegs.

He unrolled all four and tested them. The straps were thin leather, not twine, and they felt strong. Two of the snares had been a gift from Alaric. The other two had been spoils of the battle, part of the common pile the men lugged to the nearest fort. Vir was the one who had insisted that Denario learn to use them. He'd meant for the accountant to keep in constant practice. 'These saved me when I traveled alone,' he'd said. 'Ye need te learn the way.'

The captain hadn't volunteered a story about how traps had saved him.  But it wasn't hard to imagine. The Mundredi peasants seemed willing to rob anyone they deemed weak. The knights in the Ogglian lands weren't much different. Only in the larger towns and cities did the rule of law exist. A traveler alone in the wilderness might starve or suffer attacks by men or animals.

Denario felt there was a chance that the slaves downstairs would creep up to steal from him. Moreover, he doubted they'd stop anyone else from doing it. Denario didn't trust the look he'd gotten from Vernon Dumm. He might come up to do thieving or, more likely, worse. If anyone seemed ready to do Denario harm, it was that man.

The accountant had borrowed extra anchor pegs from the equipment on the floor two nights ago. They'd been lying in a heap of old mining equipment. They'd looked like they might have been used as tent spikes because they had pre-drilled holes for rope. Also, they'd been carved with hooked tips he found useful. Not far away from the spikes, he'd found larger, bent sticks in roughly the same color as the wood of the staircase. He'd wanted those pieces to rock back and forth without breaking and they'd seemed to do the job. That was how he'd set his traps. He still had some spare parts.

He pulled a few parts from the his scrap pile next to his door. He tested the bent pieces by stomping on them. Perhaps they didn't rock as much as he'd like but they didn't break. He tied cord loops to those sticks so that when someone stepped on one, it threw the loop over their foot. And when they took their next step, they'd discover that the anchor kept them from pulling away from the twine.

Tools in hand, he scurried to the top of his staircase.

It took maybe ten minutes to set the additional traps. He tried to watch the shadowy figures of the sleeping slaves beneath him in the gloom. It was impossible, even by the light of his candle. If they'd been awake, they would have heard him. They gave no signs of being disturbed, though, not even when he wedged the anchor pegs between the boards of the steps.

When he was done, he had some energy left and some extra pieces, too. He dropped those next to his bedroom door. He'd already trapped each of the top six steps. That was more than enough. Besides, he had started to feel tired. Maybe it was the sense of protection at work. A calmness crept over his limbs. He pressed his cupped left hand over his mouth as he yawned.

If someone stepped on a stick, the loop would catch them about half of the time, he guessed, and it would make them stumble. Denario would hear it and wake up. At the worst, he ought to hear the wood rockers snap if that's all that happened. He would have liked to tie a different type of snare to the railing but there was no railing. The steps were steep, not much better than a ladder. As he sat down on the bed, he envisioned what he'd done. He felt a brief twinge of worry that someone could trip and fall a long way down.

But his spirits settled. He closed his eyes. He knew that no one had visited him except one Mundredi soldier on his first morning here. This looked like a harmless precaution. Besides, as he sunk deep into the feather mattress, he realized he didn't want to go to the bother of rolling out of it.

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Four

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