Chapter Seventh Prime
Scene Eight: Deal with the Devil
“Then what happened?” said Torsten, head of the Hammer Clan. He had been interrupted as he was training a pair of hunting hounds so he was dressed in his heaviest pants and a light tunic over top, covered in dirt. His arms were shielded by heavy leather gauntlets from which he'd untied the gloves. His left hand rested on his hip.
Beside him and on all sides of Denario stood the other senior men of the Hammer Clan and many of their women. They were in the main hall of the clan, surrounded by whitewashed walls with ample windows, two doors, and armaments that hung from hooks. The late evening sun glowed through the western windows. Even with over two dozen people inside, there was a lot of room, too much for Denario's comfort as he stood alone at the center of attention.
“Well, he was just so ... I'm not sure exactly ...” Denario put his hands to his temples and held himself still. He tried to collect his thoughts. His right hand came away bloody when he removed it. The scar on his head had re-opened. “I-I told your mayor that I'd uncovered accounting errors, as we'd expected, and he laughed at me.”
“And then you pushed him?” The headman strolled over to a tall chair. One of his sons held it out for him. Everyone in the room shifted positions.
“No! I would never do that,” Denario protested.
“But you did.” Torsten hesitated. He put his hand on the back of the chair but he didn't take the seat.
“Yes.” The accountant felt his face flush. “I didn't mean to. I asked where Friedrich had been. I could hear those bodies swaying in the breeze outside my window all day. He'd hung them up. For nothing. For mistakes that amounted to a few pennies. I asked him why. I asked why he'd done that. On top of the killings, he'd left me there as the townspeople were getting ready to rise up for revenge. I could hear them as they shouted.”
Torsten traded glances with some men off to his left. They nodded.
“And what did Friedrich say?” he asked Denario.
“He said those men were dirty and disrespectful and they had it coming. Besides, Sir Fettertyr wanted some Mundredi men hung.”
All around the room, people gasped.
“He admitted it?” The headman almost smiled. A dangerous glint passed through his eyes.
“That's what he said.” Denario lifted his arms. “Is that admitting something? I don't know. But then he said those men were stupid and I was stupid, too.”
“Is that when you pushed him?” said another voice. Denario turned to face it. This was a burly fellow. Next to the burly fellow stood Hermann Ansel. Behind Hermann stood his wife.
“No.” Denario pulled his gaze from the Ansels and back to the fellow who had spoken. “Friedrich said I had hung them, not him. That's ... that's when ...”
“You picked a fight with the mayor.” Torsten snorted. Denario turned to his right in order to face him again.
“I didn't mean to!” Denario wiped his eyes. “I know you must think I'm a fool but I didn't kill those men. I would never have wanted to see anything like that happen. Those men were innocent.”
“Well, I don't know if Zyrich was completely innocent. But the other one ...”
A murmur swept the room as people conferred with their neighbors. Several men spoke quickly and in quiet tones.
“He just came in last year. Lived on the back of the west hill. Good fellow.”
“One of ours?”
“No, Goat Clan. All on his own except for six goats.”
“Ah,” said Torsten, having overheard it all. “Accountant, it's awful of the mayor to kill men to send a message. But still it's a damned lucky thing we had our men coming to pick you up. We need you. The mayor's guards might have killed you.”
“Yes. Thank you for the rescue. It was funny, though ...” Denario rubbed his sore chin. “Those guards let the mayor and I yell and punch each other for a long time before they did anything. They only stepped in when Wilfried started yelling at the mayor, too. Him, they knocked down. When I came to his defense, finally they came after me. That's when I got beaten.”
“You never pulled your knife?”
“No. I wasn't thinking like that. I could tell they weren't trying to kill me.”
“Maybe it's just as well. You didn't do anything too serious. You can go back to work tomorrow and finish.”
“Are you saying the mayor will accept me back?”
“Of course. You're young. And I can see you don't know Friedrich the way I do. He's the forgiving type. Compared to a Hammer man, he’s damned easy. He really had to work himself up into a foul mood to hang those men. It's not something he's done before. Oh, he's hung a few thieves and murderers but that's it. These are the first innocents he'd killed for Sir Fettertyr. So he's furious and he took it out on you.”
“But I gave him a bloody nose. He's going to be angry ...”
“Good. He did worse and he deserved worse.”
“Damned right!” someone shouted.
“Shame on Friedrich Jolli!” said a woman. To Denario's surprise, he recognized that the voice belonged to Valentina Ansel. “He's a coward, having those men hung and then hiding. And then blaming this naive fool as if he'd given the order. Shame!”
A few other women took up the cry of 'shame' and several people talked at once.
“I really would have liked to see the fight,” one of the men drawled, loudly above the noise. A few folks chuckled.
“I would have disappointed you,” Denario said truthfully. Everyone acted like he'd meant to be funny. There was laughter around the edges of the room.
“Just as well, just as well,” the headman bellowed with a grin. “As I said, you'll go back to work tomorrow. I'll make sure of it.”
“That will take some persuasive talking, I think.”
“Hah.” Torsten waved off the problem. “Friedrich needs you more than ever. He's killed innocents to try to protect his reputation with Fettertyr. If he can't get you to sign off on his tax report or even if you die and Sir Fettertyr can't talk with you to vouch for your report, what good is your work? Friedrich needs you and your reputation intact. Nothing less will work for him.”
Denario was sorry that Mayor Figgins in Ziegeberg hadn't thought the same way. But Figgins had been a criminal from the start. He hadn't intended to prove his loyalty to his superiors. He'd planned to cheat them.
“My letter to Fettertyr isn't finished,” Denario said as he recalled that he had at least half a sheet of vellum to go.
“Yes, I should talk with Friedrich tonight. The time has come to raise our price.”
“Really?” Denario paused, mouth agape. He'd just reported that the Hammer Clan hadn't paid enough taxes. He'd just gotten into a fight with the mayor. He'd worried about escaping this town with his life. And Torsten was going to demand more money. All he could think was that he didn't understand how negotiations worked.
“Yes, you won't sign off without extra money from him. I'll see to it.”
“But ...” Denario could never have done it himself. He bowed his head. “Thank you, Master Torsten.”
The head of the clan gave him an indulgent smile.
“Oh, the pay from the mayor will pass through my hands,” said Torsten. “You will be thanking me. And the mayor will pay his thanks to me as well. The Hammer clan will come out on top, as it should.”
“As it should,” several of the men and women repeated as if it were a litany. To them, it was.
Denario was still standing in shock when Valentina came forward, her husband half a stride behind. Her expression was so teary-eyed and fierce that his vision flashed back to the moment four days ago when she picked up an axe. She raised her right arm, exactly as she had when she'd looked to him then. But this time she grabbed his shoulder, pulled him close, and hugged him.
He was more beloved for fighting and losing than he was hated for being an accountant. The Mundredi didn't understand math. But they understood honor.
Next: Chapter Eighteen, Scene One