Sunday, April 16, 2017

Not Even Not Zen 75: A Bandit Accountant, 12.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Square Root of Gross

Scene Three: Farewell Party

“I hear you went to all of the temples in town yesterday,” said Olga Clumpi.

“Yes, right after my visit to the mayor.” Denario nodded to her over the letter he had just finished. “I figured a few prayers wouldn't hurt. You can never tell when one of the gods might be listening.”

Olga put her hands on her hips but favored him with an indulgent smile. After a brief nod, she marched back to the cargo doors of the counting house. Olga had been raised on Leir, the lightning god, and Bandari, a local god of the mountains, and both of those deities were rule-givers. Contrary to the opinions of her town leaders, Olga sat firmly on the side of the authorities. She just considered herself to be one of them. Fortunately, she also had an enthusiasm for religions of all sorts, so she could easily forgive Denario's wanton affection for the lesser gods and goddesses.

A luminous haze had developed on this warm spring morning. It seemed magical in origin, although that kind of thing could be hard to tell for a non-wizard. After all, it had also rained a bit before dawn. There was a wet mist in the air. As to the magic, Denario saw to the east how the mountains shone with all the colors of the rainbow. Closer up, everything appeared a bit silvery. Looked like magic.

He'd already packed his bags. He hadn't talked to his book keepers about it he but he was sure they knew. Anyway, it hadn't taken him long. He discovered that he'd eaten most of his previous supplies. Now he needed to find appropriate hiking food. Here in a town where no one traveled far except for the caravan masters, there was no way to get wax paper packages of anything. That was what Denario wanted. And there was no dried meat except for the fish in the warehouse. Could he pay himself in stinky fish? He'd already treated himself to ten rolls of parchment. But he needed meat, too.

Denario had spent part of last night and this morning writing additional letters to Yannick and Vir. He couldn't trust the mayor. So this time the messages were in a stenographic code. That hadn't been easy to devise. It was hard to find a code that the Mundredi army could decipher but no one else with half a brain could simply read. Denario had finally settled on a variation of the 'knock' code he'd worked out in the jail cell with Vir.

“Knock on wood for luck. It will take a fistful of good fortune for the caravans get this to you. Make sure they are paid," he'd begun his letter. Then he'd proceeded to highlight every fifth letter of the main message to make the hint easier. He hoped Yannick would remember that the knocking had been decoded in fives.

“Mistress Clumpi? Master Klaistag?” he called. He'd set up his desk beside the front, small door of the warehouse. Behind him and to his left, the leader of a four-mule caravan had arrived to negotiate a trade and, as it turned out, to be paid the debt owed him. Olga had told Hummel to bring out the sheets of fine copper. Then she'd politely asked Denario to agree.

And Denario had. He felt that Klaistag might as well get the best stuff. As they said in Oggli, it was good advertising. The only reason they didn't say the same thing in Pharts Bad is because they didn't have the concept of paying money to maintain a good reputation. Anyway, for all anyone knew about the caravan trade, there might be no one else of significance coming for a while and the copper would go greener with rust than it already was if it sat in storage.

“Yes, Master Accountant?” Olga put her hands on her hips again. But Denario knew her facial expressions now and this was a default one, her squint of suspicion.

Beside her, Klaistag's eyes crinkled with humor. He had been pleased with his back payment. Apparently he knew copper smiths in small towns to the northwest who would pay him handsomely for Pharts Bad's best.

Klaistag wore low-quality leather gear that he made himself, supplemented by small-animal furs. They formed a patchwork brown jacket. He wore that over a similar, patchwork pair of rawhide-stitched pants. More rawhide and string formed his belt. His fur cap looked like it had seen more than its share of winters. He ran a small operation, just him and an armed guard roaming through these difficult and magical lands. Nevertheless, he'd managed to stay in business for twenty years.

“I think,” ventured Denario as he approached, “that Master Klaistag said he was headed west.”

“For a ways, yes.” The bearded fellow agreed. He rubbed his long, gray-brown beard. Perhaps he knew what was coming because he didn't seem surprised when Denario pulled out the letter. He nodded.

“I want to send this to Fort Dred.” Denario offered it to him unsealed. He couldn't spare the wax to close it and, from what the mayor said, that wouldn't do any good.

“Ain't going that far.”

“But it sounds like you'll get better than halfway there. Do you think you can give this to a trader headed up those hills? Fort Dred must barter for quite a bit of food and clothing.”

“They take in goats, sheep, and chickens.” Klaistag's gnarly fingers accepted the letter. “I know herders who do business with that fort.”

“Good. Do you need anything in exchange?"

“My part is free.” The master trader gave him an indulgent smile full of cracked teeth. “But for the next fellow in line, I should have eight pigs' ears or four dried carp.”

“Sure, I'll get ...”

“Be right back, sir,” called Hummel, who had been standing in the shadows of the counting house doors. Denario tried to hide his amazement. When had the resentful man he'd met become eager to please? Even Olga raised an eyebrow.

After Hummel got back with the pigs ears, Olga took her seat. She never stood for more than a few minutes at a time.

“I don't suppose your note to the fort says something about the promises made by our burghers,” she said. She fanned herself with a pig's ear.

“Where would you have heard about those?” Denario asked. He was careful not to answer her question.

“Some promises were made in the South Winds church. A few of us have heard about them anyway.”

The priest must have talked, then, despite his oath to Haphnaught. His mother could have done it, too, though, and she'd sworn nothing to anyone. That seemed more likely. Denario nodded to Olga.

“They say that Burgher Haphnaught got it in his head to renew his oath of office,” she continued. “And then he and his son and a few other folks dragged other burghers over to their temples to do the same. They said that the Oggli accountant was there for start of it all.”

“If he was ...” Denario folded his arms. He glanced to Trader Klaistag, who wore a fat grin and seemed altogether too curious. “Then the accountant would have sworn to the gods to say nothing to anyone in town.”

“Ah.” She shook her head. Next to her, Klaistag's smile faded. “But the Mundredi army folks you're writing to aren't in town, are they?”

“That's true,” he allowed. His hands started looking to fidget so he clasped them together behind his back.

Olga gave him an evil grin.

“I hear yer goin' quite a ways east,” said Klaistag. “Do ye need food? I've got a bit laid in. Some of it's badger meat but it keeps.”

“Oh, I'd be most grateful ...” Denario was reaching to take the man by the arm when Mistress Clumpi cleared her throat.

“The book keepers have made a little something for you.” Olga said. She cleared her throat with extra emphasis in case he hadn't gotten the hint on the first try. “You might want to take a look at what they've done before you make any other arrangements.”

“Really? But we don't have ...”

“It's a travel kit of sorts. Senli has been working on it all morning. She's a bit sad you're leaving but she's done her best. Hummel contributed some things he'd put aside. He says that he knows he'll never use them.”

It was a lot to absorb. Senli was sad he was going? Why? She'd be the most knowledgeable one in the counting house after he left. Her position would become secure. Then there was the donation by Hummel. It had to be whatever material he'd saved up for his planned escape.

“I'm ... I'm astonished.”

“Don't look too astonished,” Olga warned. “It isn't polite.”

“Right, right.” Denario wrung his hands. “That reminds me, though. Doesn't the counting house barter to the churches for holiday meals? And we barter to the mine for lunches. Plus there's the tailor. I want to make sure I pay ahead for all of that. I want to sign for it. The mayor can curse me all the way to No Map Creek, I suppose, but he'll be in a much worse position to argue.”

Hummel let out an odd squeak that Denario interpreted as a sign of approval. Mistress Clumpi and Master Klaistag didn't seem bothered by it anyway. What else would concern Hummel? Oh yes, shoes. Denario made a mental note to pay ahead for the cobbler's services as well. Senli and Hummel both needed better sandals. Olga might not admit it but he'd bet that her fine shoes were wearing thin.

“Heh. You're a good one,” said Klaistag. He patted Denario on the shoulder.

Olga would never have gone so far as to agree with a statement like that. But she sighed.

“I think we should throw you a going away party at the church tomorrow,” she added. “It's traditional. And anyway we can be pretty sure that the burghers aren't going to throw you one.”

“Probably not,” Denario admitted. “They seemed in a bit of a shock yesterday.”

“They're still trying to find a way to keep ye, ye know.” Olga's squint darkened to a scowl. “Despite how yer a nuisance to them.”

“I know,” replied Denario. “But I have apprentices. I have to do my duty.”

“And you do yer duty, don't ye?” Olga's crinkles turned into an approving smile, not very much different from her malicious grin. “We'll do ours, too. We'll have the traditional dinner. We'll invite Master Klaistag here to be polite. And we'll invite the burghers.”

“You will?” Denario's mouth fell open. Next to him, Klaistag's face bore a similar expression.

“Of course. That will send a message to the mayor, too. If the high folks wants to come, they'll come. And they will. If they try to hide from it, well, it'll serve our aims to make sure they can't claim later that they didn't know.”

“I think I see,” said Denario. Next to him, Klaistag nodded. Mistress Clumpi really was quite shrewd. The town leaders couldn't attend a farewell banquet and then come up with a reason to hold him. It would make them squirm, anyway. “It's a very nice thing you're doing, Keeper Clumpi.”

“It's well deserved, Master Accountant.” She inclined her head graciously. It was as much of a bow as she ever gave anyone, he suspected.

Next: Chapter Twelve, Scene Four

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