Sunday, February 19, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 68: A Bandit Accountant, 11.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scene Four: A Bump in the Night

“What?” Denario sat up, startled. The room was so dark that he could barely see his hands on his sword. It was the middle of the night.

He immediately regretted saying anything. He was sure he must have heard a noise. Yes, there it was, a board that creaked. The sound came from outside his bedroom door. Was someone on the stairs? He held his breath and listened.

Another creak. Then, abruptly, there was the noise of a stumble. Someone muttered a curse but too softly for Denario to hear the words.

Alarmed, he pulled his baselard from its sheath. The blade made a noise which, after a moment of consideration, Denario admitted might not be all that bad. Did he really care if someone knew he had the sword drawn? He didn't want to fight. That would probably mean he'd die, given his lack of skill. He'd be safer scaring off the intruder.

On that principle, Denario rolled out of bed. He didn't care about the loud thump he made when his boots hit the floor.

Someone else cared. A second later, there was a gasp from behind the door. That was followed by what could only have been the clack and clatter of a large man falling backwards down the stairs. It lasted for a second or two and ended with a bang against the bottom board. At least the intruder didn't fall head-first off of the second floor, Denario thought. Then he'd have a dead body on his hands and a lot of explaining to do in the morning.

“Ooow!” The cry of pain had been knocked out of somebody. Was that the voice of Vernon Dumm? Denario couldn't tell.

The clatter woke the mines slaves.

“Shut up!” shouted one in a thick accent.

Another called out, “Who is it?”

Denario didn't see any point in staying in his room. He lifted the latch and swung open his door. His sword tip remained at eye level as he moved. That part of his training had been effective, it seemed. He had the reflex. No one rushed in to attack him. There wasn't a second intruder, as Denario had feared for a moment. All the action sounded like it was taking place downstairs. Rag blankets, furs, and straw beds rustled. The bottom stair board creaked as someone rolled off of it.

“It's the middle of the night!” complained the slave with the accent.

“Are you all right?” said a third, more thoughtful voice.

With a horrible groan, the person at the bottom of the stairs started to move. He dragged himself across the straw-covered dirt floor with a heavy, limping gait.

“I'm coming down!” Denario shouted. Powered by fear, his voice sounded like the bellowing of a bull – or maybe a bit more like the bleating of a newborn calf for its mother. His words came out with a lot more volume and a higher pitch than he'd meant. His throat felt as tight as his arm muscles.

He was so nervous that he stepped into his own trap.

When the loop of twine slapped him on the back of the leg, he let out such a curse that the intruder downstairs, whoever he was, began to run. It wasn't that Denario had been hurt. His ankle had twisted a little but no more than that. Instead, it was the thrill of fear making him loud again. How could he have been so stupid? He'd almost tumbled down the steps himself. He was lucky that he wasn't any better at setting traps.

Vir had shown him how to make a holding snare, a flip snare, and a trip snare but this was the first time that any of Denario's traps had worked. And now this, nearly the second time, had happened with him as the victim.

His left hand trembled. He hastily yanked out the remaining snare anchors on his way down to the equipment room. There was one anchor that he couldn't budge because its hook had gotten caught. He ignored it.

As he came to the last step on the staircase, a light flared. One of the slaves lit a rag torch.

He stopped as his eyes adjusted. The thin slave, who had provided the firelight, had already clambered to his feet. In the other corner, a chubby, stoop-shouldered fellow was rising. Still on the ground, shielding his eyes from the light, lay a man with more tattoos on him than Denario had ever seen. Those included a slave tattoo on his left cheek.

“What happened?” asked the chubby fellow. Even at full height, he was shorter than Denario and that didn't happen often.

“Intruder,” said the man next to the mining cart before Denario could open his mouth. He gestured to the accountant with his torch. His words proved him to be the source of the belligerent accent. “So ... you're wearing armor and a red vest underneath. You're the Oggli man we've heard tell of?”

“That's right.” Denario nodded. He ignored the knowing smile. He knew that 'Oggli' sounded funny but just now he didn't care.

“You're the one what got the book keepers paid?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” Denario gestured to where the intruder had fallen. “Someone was just trying to sneak past you to do who knows what. Probably something bad. And you're thinking about pay?”

The standing slaves cocked their heads. The one on the floor grunted and rose to his feet.

“Folks don't like that.”

“What folks?” Denario raised his voice. The slaves backed away. Abruptly, he realized that he must look threatening. He turned his baselard around. It took only a moment of awkwardness to get it sheathed.

He turned toward the front cargo doors of the equipment room. Maybe there was still time to chase down the intruder. But then what? Was he going to attack someone in the dark? Maybe kill a grandmother by accident who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?

He sighed. He turned back to the miners.

“Why? Why don't folks like it?”

“Yer paying women. That’s the big problem. Could be that's why you got a visitor tonight.” The thin man shuffled forward at step. “It weren't us, ye know. Not one of us.”

He got lots of nodding from his fellows about that point.

“How can I be sure?” The idea hadn't entered Denario's head until now but it had a certain appeal. A slave only needed to run to the front door, which was still open, make some noise, and creep back to where he'd been. The thin one could have done it.

On the other hand, all of the slaves rattled when they moved. Denario glanced at their ankles. Each man had brass fetters attached to keep him from running away. The chains between the footcuffs were thin. The links were dirty with red and gray shades of mud. Surely these slaves could have broken out with their mining shovels or picks. But why would they bother? Where could they go?

More to the point, how silently could any of them climb stairs with those chains on? Denario had to guess that it wouldn't be easy.

“None of us owns a cudgel,” said the thin one. He gestured to a spot on the ground next to the stairs. “They don't let mine slaves walk around with something like that.”

Denario knelt to touch the dark shape. It was a wooden mace about two feet long with a knob at the end. The material had been seasoned until it was as tough as iron. It was not the sort of thing brought by someone with nice intentions.

“Who carries a cudgel?” he wondered.

“That's for the foremen and aldermen.”

Denario scratched his head. “What's an alderman?”

“He means the burghers,” corrected the short, round fellow. He indicated the man with the accent with a jerk of his thumb. “He's a foreigner, like you, so he don't know nothing. Like you.”

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Five

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