Sunday, March 26, 2017

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Eleven 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

Chapter Binary Two

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Eleventh Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 72: A Bandit Accountant, 11.9

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Scene Nine: It Has To Be Done

“You can't be finished already!” exclaimed the mayor. “It's been less than two weeks.”

It was late in the morning. The air was warm. The sky had blown away a single, gray cloud. All that was left to mar the perfect blueness was the sun and a few wisps of white mist. At his breakfast, Denario had learned from Hummel that there was a warm spring at the edge of town. It was just a pool of water next to the stream. But in it, the water fizzed up from underground. The temperature of the water at any time of the year was tepid. Water in these hills that was warmer than liquid ice was a miracle.

Denario had wanted to try dipping his feet or even his whole body in the pool. But he'd had to rush through his work to meet Jack Quimbi during his lunch hour. Denario hadn't even completely re-packed for the trail yet. He wanted to. He felt like he could run all the way to Oggli in an afternoon. But he suspected he needed a letter of transit.

“I agreed to stay until I fixed the tile system,” he said, “and I reconciled the three sets of books. Now I've done all that. I was up most of the night and all of this morning getting the accounts straight.”

“All three? Done?”

“You'll still have two systems running at once but that's no problem now that Senli and Hummel have the right numbers. And they're talking. You've got to keep them talking and checking on each other. That's important.”

“That's ... that's wonderful.” The mayor's words sounded happy but his facial expression had fallen. His smile had become a grimace.

“Is there a problem?” asked Denario.

“You finished so quickly. It's unexpected. Look, I'll need a day or two to verify what you've done. Surely you'd agree that's reasonable.”

“It is but ...” No, this was a trap, Denario realized. This was exactly the sort of thing the mayor of Ziegeburg had said to him. Everything sounded reasonable. But the train of thought ended somewhere bad. “You should come look at the books right away. There are a couple of surprises for you.”

“There are?”

“Didn't you wonder who owed what? It turns out that about two thirds of the traders told the truth. But a third of them didn't. They owe the town quite a lot of goods.”

“That's wonderful!” The mayor rose to his feet and clapped his hands.

“No, it's not.”

“It's not?” Jack Quimbi's expression fell again. Then he seemed to doubt his reaction. “Yes, it is! It's a great thing. We've got food coming to us, I'll bet. And cloth. Maybe some silk? My wife would love that.”

“I'd better explain as we walk.” Denario should have seen this coming. The town leaders didn't understand trade the way Bibbo Clumpi had or the way his Mistress Clumpi did, for that matter.

“But ...” The mayor dragged his feet.

“You'll see that 6 bolts of silk are owed to us in the accounts, among other things.” That was the lure to bring Jack along, he supposed. Sure enough, the mayor brightened his step and followed Denario a bit closer.

At they turned onto Mine Street, they met Vernon Dumm and a farmhand coming the other way. Vernon had worn two yellow shirts today. An older, flimsier one was visible beneath the short sleeves of his newer one. The farmhand next to him was dressed in dark, heavy clothes. He looked about fifteen. His jaw was sharp. His teeth were white. He was a head taller than Denario and, in this land of metals, he carried four wooden slats and a wooden hammer. That was odd but Denario wasn't going to tell these folks their business. The farm boy walked in the careless, precise manner of someone who knew what he was doing.

Denario simply nodded in Vernon's direction. It was the mayor who stopped their progress.

“Vernon!” The mayor waved to the burgher. “We've got a problem, man!”

“I've got a footbridge to repair,” said Dumm. He paused. With a sigh, he gestured for the farm boy to go on ahead. “But I suppose they can do the job without me. What's the problem?”

“The accountant has finished.”

“What? Already?” Dumm put his hands on his hips. His gaze shot back and forth between his mayor and the accountant. Then he frowned. “I'm feeling puzzled, Jack. How exactly is that a problem?”

“It's ...” Jack Quimbi stole a sidelong glance at Denario. He chuckled unconvincingly. “Oh, it's not a problem, of course. Not exactly. It's just ... what were you saying about the amounts owed, accountant?”

“About a third of the tradesmen lied to the town. Now that I've brought all the records together, you can see the true accounting.”

“Aha!” Dumm rubbed his hands together. “Are we rich? Any big debtors?”

“Yes. But that's bad.”

“No, it isn't!” Dumm insisted.

“See?” the mayor said to Denario.

“Being owed little sums is good,” allowed Denario, “especially when it's the local hunters and farmers who owe. But being owed big amounts of material has hurt this town already. It could get much worse.”

“I fail to see why,” said Dumm.

Denario sighed. “I'll show you.”

At the counting house, the accountant ordered a desk and three chairs set up in the front. The chairs posed a bit of a problem. He could see that Olga and her friends were occupying everything available. That meant that Hummel and the guard had to go across the street. Denario told the ladies not to get up, much to the surprise of the burgher and the mayor.

Nevertheless, in a few minutes the staff assembled the desk, seats, counting tiles, and an extra stool. Senli and Hummel brought their recently re-finished scrolls. In fact, they marched them to the desk, heads held high. They knew their books were perfect by now. They'd corrected for the thefts. Mistress Clumpi carried the brand new scroll that Denario had made with them this morning. She also brought a bottle of ink. Senli saw what was missing and ran back for the pen.

“Let's start with the names of the traders,” said Denario. He pointed to the leftmost column on the scroll. “Some of them in the tile system were unfamiliar to Senli and Hummel. But Mistress Clumpi was able to help us.”

He led the town's leaders through the list of merchants row by row and detailed where each one had cheated the town or had been cheated by Vernon Dumm or Mark Haphnaught.

“I can't read any of this,” admitted Vernon. “But I recognize a lot of these names. I had pretty long arguments with a couple of the caravan drivers.”

The burgher gestured vaguely to the scroll.

“I believe that only one of the caravans that you dealt with is still doing business with the town.”

“But we don't know that for sure,” said Vernon. “They may be back.”

“It's possible,” Denario agreed, although he thought there was no chance.

“The remaining caravan is the best one, fortunately.” Denario pointed to the name on the paper. Figures for the caravan occupied every possible column in the row. “It's the one owned and operated by Master Baggophili.”

Behind him, Olga Clumpi hissed.

“He's the one we overpaid. He got double the usual rates!” She crossed her arms as she stepped back from the group. “Then the old crook came back around as fast as he could and got paid double again!”

“Yes, that's about right.” Denario had to smile. So did Senli, he noticed. All of the book keepers had stories to tell about Baggophili and not all of them were bad, either. “You said he was a smart one.”

“He ... if I read this right, those deals were based on lies. So he owes us more cloth than he can carry,” the mayor observed. His finger was on the correct column. “The next time he comes in, we can ruin him.”

“That would be foolish.” Denario put his hands on his knees and braced himself to explain.

“I thought we were coming to this,” Jack sighed. “Why?”

“We can seize his entire operation!” Dumm chortled.

“If you do that, you'll plunge your town into poverty. Look, do you understand your situation or not? Master Baggophili is your most profitable trader by far. He's the only one who brings you cloth anymore.”

“There are other cloth merchants around.”

“They don't trade with you. Some of them didn't make enough profit last year.  Some want money that you don't have, don't they?”

“That's a complaint, yes. They don't like raw ore or even finished brass. They want gold or silver coins. We don’t have those.”

“Well ...”

“Look at this.” Denario pointed to the staggering surplus in the dried meats column. “Baggophili supplies about a fifth of the town's food. If you arrest him, what are you going to eat?”

“But he has to pay!” Burgher Dumm wailed.

“It's my understanding that he has a lot of caravan guards, too. Do you really have the force to take him on? Can you pay the Mundredi army to do it?”

“That would ruin us.” The mayor let out a bitter chuckle. “No offense, Denario, you come from the army. But Captain De Acker and his men eat too damn much and they want too much metal. We'd have to come up with a whole flock of sheep, probably more, and they'd do us out of brass on top of it all.”

“What are you suggesting?” asked Dumm.

“Forgive his debt.”


“That's outrageous!”

“Oh, you can let him know that you're aware of what he's done. I've seen this issue arise before. The accounting guild has records of similar situations. I know what will happen. He can't pay. And you can't ask him to pay you off bit by bit, either.”

“Why not?”

“Because Baggophili needs an incentive to return. You can't make it unprofitable for him. Every trip he makes to you needs to be rewarded. That will keep your town successful. In the meantime, you throw him a dinner.”

“A dinner!”

“And Mayor Quimbi here takes him aside after a bit of wine and maybe walks him down here to the counting house records room. So that Baggophili can see that the mayor knows. And the mayor says, 'Gosh, chum. I understand. It's no problem.'”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes. Then Master Baggophili will understand that he owes a favor. He'll be extra nice to you for ages … maybe the rest of his life. You’ll probably get your money back eventually. Not because you asked for it. But because you didn’t.”

“By the gods, I think the boy is right.” The mayor shook his head.

“Do you know Baggophili?” Burgher Dumm squinted at him.


“Then how come you know so much?”

“I'm an accountant.” Denario shook his head. “Doing business with caravans and shippers was part of my training.”

“Burgher Dumm,” said the mayor. He rose from his chair. “I'd like you to talk with me for a while. Let's stroll on over to that bridge you're repairing.”

Mistress Clumpi watched them go.

“They're going to be a problem,” she said. Her arms crossed over stomach like a shield. She gestured to the men with a tilt of her over-large chin.

“The mayor? Or Burgher Dumm?”

“The two of them together. They don't want to see you leave town, I'll bet. Especially after what you did to Mark Haphnaught.”

“What did I do to Mark? Oh. Oh, yes,” he said before he could think to stop himself. “That.”

Olga folded her arms.

“You're angry,” he said. “I can understand it. But I didn't do much, really, and that was only acting in self defense. He might have killed me.”

She relaxed. “That's probably true. I forgot for a moment. I don't doubt you were in danger. But still ... it looks bad. He's old. And well respected. Don't you care what happens to him?”

“I do. I hope he gets well soon.”

“That's a start.”

“Look, I can see this is bothering you.” Denario rose. “Do I look presentable?”

“For what? You're not fit to go to church.”

“I meant to pay a call on Mark Haphnaught's home.”

“His son might try to kill you. He's sergeant of the city guard.”

“He might.” Denario sighed. He checked himself. No, there was no other way. Every situation that he feared was one he had to confront. Anything less would look foolish to Vir. He opened his hip bag and put a hand on his darts just to make sure they were in easy reach just in case. “But still it must be done.”

Next: Chapter Twelve, Scene One

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 71: A Bandit Accountant, 11.8

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow

Scene Eight: A Pattern of Bartering

The sun turned red.  Purplish clouds sneaked up over the mountains to the south.  There was still enough light for Denario to see the colors of the tiles.  He was surprised to notice a repeating pattern in the beginning of the string he was holding.

Hadn't he seen a repeat in the previous string?  Here it was again.  The beginnings of each tile sequence held repeated colors much more often than in the rest.  In fact, Denario didn't think he'd noticed any repeated colors in the last half of any string, not even in the short ones.

That made him think of Philip Dummpi, who spelled his name with two m's.  Why two?  Was that really necessary?  The question had occupied Denario's mind for a moment as he'd written.  Now he had a different question in mind: why repeat anything at all?

He knew a lot about how old Bibbo had thought.  The man had been devilishly efficient.  Instead of saying that a man was owed 64 pounds of copper, Bibbo would have written 16 once followed by a multiplier to indicate "times 4."

He didn't repeat anything if he could help it.  So why did he have repeating patterns in the beginning of his strings?  Past the first 16 to 24 positions, there were almost no repeating tiles.  In those 16 to 24, there were repeating patterns in about half of them.

“Hummel, can you hand me your scrolls for a moment?”

“Yes, sir.”  The little man shuffled off to get the parchment he'd rolled up and put away.  “Are you looking for anything in particular?”

“The names.  Have you got the names spelled right?”

“I think so, sir.  Some of the traders were very specific about that.”  Hummel found his scrolls.  He minced back to the front desk like someone still working out how to move without chains.  “They said that Bibbo Clumpi had been very precise about everything, including their names, and that's the way they liked it, too.”

“Senli, may I have yours?” he asked without looking.

“She's gone to help Mistress Bobbins make us a dinner,” said Olga.  She put down her bowl of bulgar soup.  “I'll bring it.  And yes, my husband was a very precise man in general.”

“He was a genius, Mistress Clumpi.  Have I already told you that?”

“You've said 'brilliant,' 'wizard-like,' and 'dastardly clever.'  I'll add 'genius' to the list.”

“Sorry for the 'dastardly' part.  I think we've fixed most of these amounts.  The  beads that aren't red or black seem to indicate the type of debt.  I've got a chart.  Green is vegetables, mostly onions.  Blue is stone.  The dotted beads mean linens.  But the identification of debt owners looks like it was from memory, I'm afraid, and that's been tough to deal with.  Sorry about the 'wizard' part, too.  I've known some wizards.  They mostly weren't as smart as Bibbo.”

That got a crinkled smile from Olga.  “Apology accepted.”

“You've known wizards?” said Hummel.  “They keep to themselves in Muntabar.  I never saw them.  What are they like?”

“Very full of themselves.  Still, for people who can throw fire from their hands or turn other people into frogs, they're nicer than you'd think.”

“Like witches,” said Olga.  She came over with Senli's wrapped-up scrolls.  “I was always sorry this town turned away witches.”

“Really?” Denario didn't have a good impression of them from the tales he'd heard.  What’s more, most churches seemed to fear them and Olga was devoted to her church.  Logically, she should loathe them.

“Oh, they aren't decent folks, not like priests and priestesses.  But still you need a few around, you know.  They're useful.”

“Like accountants?”

“Are accountants useful?” she jabbed.  She smacked him on the head with a roll of parchment.  When he didn't react, she placed it more gently into his waiting hand.

Denario had only known her for a few days but he didn't take offense, as he might have done earlier to such a remark about accountants.  He knew that Olga Clumpi couldn't spend more than half an hour at a time being nice.  The complaints and the teasing remarks seemed to leak out of her even when she was on her best behavior.  Her friends had grown used to it, apparently, and sparred lightly with her from time to time.  Edna Bobbins had whispered to Denario that her friend Olga needed a roaring argument from time to time or she felt like no one was paying her enough attention.

Life with Bibbo must have been a multi-decade battle of wits.  And both sides had been heavily armed.

“I'll make myself useful with these tiles for a little while more,” he allowed.  As he checked the patterns against Hummel's ledger, he continued, “You did a nice job dealing with that man from False Beard, by the way.”

“I'm not sure if he was really owed that much.  But I see your point about how we have to pay up to keep them coming back.  And he did have two oxen to sell.”

“Mmm.” But Denario had stopped paying attention to the conversation.  He suddenly felt he was close to an understanding.

He stared at Hummel's parchment.  He stared at the strings.

Something about the patterns seemed similar.  A few minutes later, he got it.  The revelation came like a lightning strike.  And the shock made him try to stand up.

In Denario's hand was a string of red, blue, green, orange, white, yellow, purple, and plain brown tiles.  The pattern of colors in the first twelve was: blue, purple, blue, red, blue, yellow, red, blue, yellow, purple, red, yellow.  Then came four brown circles.  But it wasn't the repeat of brown tiles that was important.  It was the repeated pattern of red, blue, and yellow.  That pattern, he realized, could be the letter 'm'.  No, it had to be.  He knew it because if that was true, the entire pattern would match the name Dummpi letter for letter.

The beginning of each string was a code, not a calculation.  The code stood for the name of the trader.  That meant Denario could read the tile system – all of it, not just the types and amounts.

String of tiles in hand, he tripped over his stool.  He fell backwards on the dirt floor, hopped back up, and started skipping around the room.

“Ha ha ha!” he shouted to the stares of Hummel and Senli, who had apparently returned from her new home.  Denario ran to find Olga outside of the front door talking with her friends.  “Mistress Clumpi, your husband was a genius!”

“You've said that al ...”  She stopped speaking and stared.

He grabbed her hands and twirled her in a circle.  But he remembered to be gentle about it.  Then he danced with her for a moment before he pushed him off, looking like she'd remembered her dignity but was otherwise pleased.

“You solved it, didn't you?”  She gave him her hands-on-hips turtleneck expression but with a smile on it.

“Dance with me!” said one of Olga's friends.  And Denario did.

“The first 16 tiles on each string is the name.”  His voice sounded to him like he was singing.  And why not?  He let the older woman steer him.  His feet felt light.  The string of tiles, which was the account for Philip Dummpi, bounced in his hand as he swung around.  “Sometimes it's only part of a name.  Sometimes it's a name with some brown tiles after it for padding.  But it's always a name.  Always.  And now I can read the names.”

Everyone laughed a little, whether in relief or in sheer joy, it was hard to say.  Much to Denario's surprise, the small crowd began a formal dance.  There were five older women, a farmer who was son to one of them, and even Hummel and Senli joined in.  Somehow, everyone picked a partner.

Hummel allowed himself be to led by Mistress Bobbins.  Senli choose to spin around for a minute with Olga.  A round of giggles spread through everyone, even the farmer, who said something funny to his mother and set off another round.  Everyone laughed for a whole minute, at least, although Olga cried a little as she did so.

She stopped and gave Denario a hug.  She mumbled something about her husband that Denario couldn't understand but he didn't really need to.  He knew she wished Bibbo were here.  Denario did, too.

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Nine

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 70: A Bandit Accountant, 11.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Red, Green, Yellow
Scenes Six and Seven: Hidden Tiles

The rest of that day saw only a single trader arrive at the counting house. His name was Phillip Dummpi and he brought no goods with him. Instead, he wanted to know if Denario was ready to pay him the brass he was owed. He'd heard something about the attempt to decode and correct the store accounts. Denario responded that he was working on it. He asked how Phillip spelled his name in case it became important. Then he dutifully wrote down the amount that the man said he had coming to him.

The remainder of Denario’s time was spent restoring and decrypting the system of strung tiles. He had plenty of help from Olga but still he couldn’t finish before dark. After another potato and cheese dinner, he fell asleep at his desk. He dreamed about counting things by colors and in groups of fours and eights.

He awoke in the dark and raised his head to find two green squares stuck to his cheek. His head had fallen to the desktop. After a moment spent comprehending what had happened, he pried the pieces off. Around him, he saw only darkness. All of the candles were out. Everyone else had gone home. Someone had put a blanket around him. That had probably been Mistress Clumpi. Despite her fearsome reputation, she had been more than decent to Denario so far. He’d made her slog along with him for far too long today, he thought, but he didn’t know what else to do. He couldn't work any less. He hadn't arrived at a solution.

He rose and dragged himself across the alley to the equipment house. On his way, he stumbled past two slaves asleep on the floor. One of them was the heavily-tattooed fellow from the night before. Denario decided he'd better set up snares on the steps to his loft. He was too tired to do all six so he set three in place and hoped for the best. Really, he was worried that he might sleep through the noises made by an intruder even if one got caught. He felt likely enough to remain unconscious with a fire in his room. He set the remaining trap pieces in a pile behind the door in the hope the clatter would roust him or at least alarm an intruder.

When he dozed off, still in work clothes, he dreamed about his counting house in Oggli. He could see his apprentices in a view as if from above. They were running. They were trying to get away from Curo. Denario's partner journeyman was chasing the boys through the halls while wearing a strange, dark brown robe. Curo looked more like a monk or a Muntar merchant than an accountant.

Denario awoke at dawn. As he rubbed his eyes, he reminded himself of his dream, lest he forget. He was sure it was an omen. Things were falling into disarray back home. He needed to get Oggli and help Curo restore order in the house. He needed to guide the younger boys.

“You're still here?” Senli said when she walked into the Pharts Bad counting house. Denario sat on his stool at the tile desk.

“No, I slept.” Denario had realized that sixteen of the green tiles and five of the purple tiles had to be out of place. So he was setting them to the side in careful rows. When Mistress Clumpi arrived, he could go over their placements again. But he glanced up and noticed the suspicious look he was getting from his book keeper. “That is, I went to my room above the mining equipment. How about you, Senli? Twice yesterday I went to speak to the mine supervisor about you but both times he had to run off to the mine.”

Senli scowled. “He almost never goes into the mine. He’s avoiding you.”

“Me?” Denario touched his hand to his chest.

“Well, the things you've done, you know ... you have a reputation around town.”

“Do I?” Now that he thought about it, there had been an awful lot of folks who had waved to him as he walked the streets in the last day. He hadn't known any of them, really. He'd just assumed they were friendly.

“Did you really go pray at Small Gods last lunchtime?”

“Just to leave a small offering. Wait, who told you?” More to the point, he wondered why anyone would care. “Now I'm getting confused. What does this have to do with the mine supervisor?”

“Edna Bobbins took me in last night.” Senli treated Denario to a pleasant smile. She had good teeth, he noticed. She might have lived a hard life but she was still in good health.

“She's one of Olga Clumpi's friends, right? She has a limp. And she came to give us buttered oatmeal, which was awfully nice.”

“Yes, Edna can't get around so well. It could be a convenient arrangement, me staying at her place. I'll get to sleep in her son-in-law's old room. In exchange, I'll keep the place clean, lift a few things she can't, and maybe do some cooking. Although she likes to cook, so I might not do much of that.”

“It sounds ...” It's sudden, he thought. Olga Clumpi might not be acknowledged as a town leader but she seemed to have some power to exert nonetheless. She'd made a difference in Senli's life.

“It's wonderful.” The book keeper nodded in agreement with her own assertion.

Then Denario felt guilty for not doing more himself. He'd paid attention only to the tile system for the past two days. In fact, he'd been entertaining the idea of strolling up the street to the Clumpi house to wake Olga. That seemed ridiculous now.

When Olga did arrive, quite late and looking tired, he got up and gave her his chair. She called him a nice boy. He got her a cup of tea and it wasn't long before three of Olga's friends showed up to offer them hot breakfast. The group didn't include Edna Bobbins, he noticed. He snuck a look at Senli. She stared down the street toward Edna's house.

But Mistress Bobbins showed up in due time. She wobbled a bit on her cane and sat like she didn't intend to move until lunch. Hummel followed soon after in bare feet. His legs looked wet to his knees and he mentioned that the bath was great. That got Denario's interest for a second but he'd re-involved himself with the tile system so he didn't ask any questions. He only wondered about the way he must smell after sleeping in his armor for days. Just because no one had complained yet didn't mean he was a daisy.

By lunch, Olga pronounced that the tile system was 'as good as it's going to get.' That meant that the final hurdles were up to Denario. He would clear them or not.

The accountant stood and stretched. His book keepers had taken a shipment of copper from the mine supervisor this morning. It reminded Denario of how he needed to talk to that man.

“Don't you get a hot lunch from the miners, Senli?” he asked. She and Olga were busy weighing copper sheets. Behind them, Hummel and the part-time guard were re-stacking the accepted copper.

“We can.” Senli stood as if his question was, to her, an order.

“Oh, I was going to make something,” said one of the old ladies. She set down her knitting and started to rise. It was Mistress Bobbins.

“No, no, the mine owes us a few lunches. And I've been trying to catch the mine supervisor. He can't miss his meal, can he? So I can talk to him and bring back some food.”

The old women frowned and fretted about this. They didn't seem to like him doing a chore even remotely related to cooking. But Hummel and Senli smiled at the idea, he noticed, and that made up Denario's mind. He hitched up his pants, slapped on his short sword, and set off.

On his way, he wondered if the fact that he wore armor so often had gotten the miners to worrying. If so, he should find a way to put them at ease. He could dress down a bit. Of course, the miners should have been able to tell at a glance that Denario was harmless but you never knew how mangled the telling and re-telling of the adventures of the Mundredi army had grown.

Overhead, the sky was cloudless. It was almost too bright to look at except around the horizon, which was all mountains anyway. The road to the mine had turned dry and dusty. Denario was glad there were no mules or other pack animals on it with him. He followed the trail until it narrowed and turned up a rise. There, it widened out again into a clearing northeast of the mine entrance. Six rows of long benches sat on the prominence. A hundred men could have sat all together to eat. There were forty-four of them today. Denario glanced under the tables and counted quickly. Thirty-eight pairs of ankles wore leg irons. Six were free men.

The head miner was not a large fellow. None of the free men were. They sat at the head of each table but they didn't look completely in charge. In Oggli, the headmen on any manual labor jobs would have been muscular enough or just evil enough to strike fear into the hearts of the workers. Here in this mining town, the leaders talked shop with the slaves about the 'north seam,' the 'banded seam,' and the 'dubious revetments,' whatever those were. Behind the benches lay a pile of wooden shovels and pickaxes, edges carved from bone. Denario was startled by the sight of those picks. The tools would have been made of better material almost anywhere else in the world.

From the talk, though, he could tell that the supervisors knew how to run a mine. That was so practical, it would have seemed amazing in Oggli. There, the noblemen in charge had no idea how to do anything except tend to their horses and weapons. They gave orders. Sometimes they gave them to competent people and sometimes not. They couldn't always tell the difference but that was how things worked.

It didn't take long for the mine supervisor to spot Denario, even though his back was turned. The slave next to him tapped his shoulder and pointed as the accountant approached the lunch bench. The supervisor lurched to his feet. He tossed down his bowl.

“Something wrong with the shipment this morning?” he said. He wiped his hands. Then he rubbed his mouth with his sleeve. Senli had been right about this fellow, Denario judged. He looked nervous. “We counted it twice. Almost three times through, really.”

“No. This is about what I've mentioned before.” Denario stopped a few feet away. He watched the alarm in the eyes of the miners. No one seemed to know what he was talking about, not even the supervisor. “I said I'd check on the pay records for my book keepers. Now is a good time.”

“My log books?” The free man looked down at the ground for a moment. Then he nodded and, with a gesture, led Denario away from his slave crew. “Are you in charge of my records now, accountant?”

“No.” Maybe he should have asked for that job, too. But if he understood correctly, it wasn't a duty that the mayor could assign to him. “This is counting house business. I'll enter the pay for Senli, Hummel and Olga if it's not marked down.”

“But ...” The man stammered for a moment. “Look, I tried to do all this before. The mayor and the burghers said that it was town business and I'd get in trouble ...”

“You know that I've already made my agreement with the mayor.” Denario stepped in front of the man. He wasn't leading Denario in the right direction, which was to the mine office. “You know this is approved.”

“But the burghers ...”

“If any of the burghers have a complaint about this, ever, you just send them to me, understand? Ever.”

The man's jaw dropped for a moment. But he closed his mouth and turned. He started leading them toward his two story shack at the bottom of the slope. For a long minute, he was silent. Denario couldn't think of any small talk to lighten the mood, either. He doubted the man would be interested in learning about base 4, base 8, or base 16 mathematics. Or about the limitations of doing base 16 math without 16 different colors of pottery glazes.

“Is it true?” The mine supervisor cleared his throat. He glanced sideways at Denario. “True about Burgher Haphnaught I mean, sir.”

“Did Haphnaught have a problem with paying the women?”

“Yes, sir. He and Burgher Dumm both.”

“I'm going to enter those records. I'll sign my name to them in case you're worried. And then, after I bring lunch to the book keepers, I'll pay a visit to Burgher Dumm.”

“Not to Haphnaught?”

“Burgher Haphnaught isn't feeling well.”

“Oh, yes. That's what I'd heard. Exactly.”

What have you heard? Denario wondered. But there was no good way to pose the question without opening himself up for another round of hints and queries about what had happened that night on the stairs. He felt reluctant to go into detail. It could only turn the town against him. But in the end, Denario broke the silence. It happened because he thought about his boys in Oggli and how they were faring. He couldn't help wondering about the miners, too. They were slaves, like he'd been once, and they might welcome an attack on the town. They might think it meant freedom for them.

“If the Raduar army finds Phart's Bad,” he said, “how will your men react?”

“We've talked about it,” admitted the supervisor. “But the men get three meals a day, fourteen holy days off a year, and an hour rest during each shift as it is. If the Raduar soldiers don't slaughter the lot of them, they'll be lucky not to get worked to death in a few months by their new owners. All of the slaves know it.”

“Even the Raduar slaves?”

“They weren't born slaves. They're here for a reason, each one.”

“Ah.” They were criminals, then. Maybe a few were supposed to be already dead but had been sold into slavery by priests who took bribes to excuse them from being sacrifices.

“How about you, sir? I hear you're headed off toward the Ogglian army. And you're going through the border territories with the Raduar.”

“Yes, well, I've got apprentices. They need me to get home to them. You've got to take care of those you're sworn to, after all.”

“Some don't.” The supervisor sighed as they reached his heavy, leather door. He swung it aside. “But you do, it seems. Go ahead and mark the ledgers. You will be sure to sign, won't you?”

“I said I would.”

“Thank you, sir.” His voice sounded husky. This had been a difficult issue for the mine supervisor. Unlike Denario, he was not on a mission. He wouldn't leave town. He had to stay and deal with the consequences of Denario's actions.

Next: Chapter Eleven, Scene Eight