Chapter Seventh Prime
Scene Six: Warning About Poems
A figure moved through the darkened office. Denario squinted. He concentrated harder on the shadow. Then he realized he was dreaming. If I'm not really here, his sleepy logic told him, I should be able to see better. A moment later, he could. He watched the figure move from bookshelf to bookshelf. There was barely a sound in the room.
As soon as Denario got a view of the visitor's hair, he knew it had to be Winkel. No one had a mop of dark curls quite like his old master. The movement of elbows and hips gave it away, too. Winkel had once admitted that, even as a boy, he had walked with a distinctive gait.
The venerable fellow had dressed in his best, nearly-white tunic and his favorite sandals. He wore a master's robe over the tunic. The sash had come untied so that his torso shone white in the darkness. The double-weave cloth on his arms and back had browned from its original red, as Denario knew from experience. In the shuttered office of the mayor, the robe looked even darker. Master Winkel stroked his beard. He leaned over to read an open page. From his closed mouth came a soft, humming sound as he studied a livestock tally that was a dozen years old and had been of no use in the audit.
For a while, Denario watched the spirit of his former master. Winkel seemed to know he was being observed. He cast a glance in Denario's direction. He made his way toward Denario, in fact, but the haphazard town accounts were his main interest. His long-fingered hands caressed a leather scroll on the top of a pile on the second shelf. He surely wanted to read it but he couldn't move anything. The long-dead man ambled from place to place. He locked his hands behind his back. He found open scrolls and read them. Every now and then, a page rustled as Winkel succeeded in inducing a bit of motion in the records although the sounds were so faint that Denario wasn't sure if they came from him.
Winkel's touch drifted lovingly over a curled page. It traced the pictographs for wheat and for barley. Tallies made him smile. He smacked his lips. After a while, he wandered closer, only a few feet from the desk where Denario had worked all day.
"Shouldn't you be haunting the counting house?" Denario found his voice. "I mean, if you're here at all, I would think our practice is where your duty lies."
Winkel hesitated. A light glinted in his dark pupils.
"Your work is more interesting," he replied. He rested his hand on the top of the farm records stack.
"No it isn't. This stuff wasn't even sorted when I started out."
"Yes. That reminds me." The master nodded to himself. "I have something to tell you."
"Aha," Denario tried to lean in. It didn't work. After all, he was asleep. "You're about to give me a warning."
"What makes you say that?" Winkel backed up.
"I don't know." He threw up his arms. "Because it's what ghosts usually do, I suppose."
"You've been reading too many epic poems. Or is that Kroner?"
"It's Kroner." His master had always been hazy on details like who liked beets and who had living parents. Who liked poetry was one of those things.
"He's been telling you about them, hasn't he? Putting all those ideas about heroism in your head. You shouldn't concern yourself with emotional things. I've told you before, you must concentrate on the math. It's where reality begins. It's where it all ends, too, I'm sure."
"I'm also sure," Denario answered.
"Anyway, I have a warning for you."
"I thought you said no."
"Your assistant, Willhelm ..."
"Such a careless young man." Winkel shook his head. He turned and place his right hand on top of a records stack. "Here, this scroll with no name, the one you deduced must to belong to the Harfelt family."
"Oh, yes. It matched so well with the amounts in the previous year that it could only belong to them."
"He put it in that year!" The words came out in an exasperated sigh.
"In the wrong place?"
"As he was leaving. You told him where to set it down. He dropped it into the wrong stack."
"That's my warning?"
"No dire portents about my journey?" The accountant gazed around at the secret office. Records of truth and lies rose in columns to the ceiling. "No caution against taking a wrong path? No doom of diseases on the waterway or murderers in the forest?"
"How would I know about any of that?" The silhouette scratched his head.
"Can't ghosts predict the future?"
"Not even in epic poems, I believe. You might be thinking of scryers or oracles."
"Perhaps the ghost of an oracle, then ..." His mind couldn't help seeing the potential.
"Den. What did I tell you about the afterlife?"
"That it's probably a scam." He'd memorized that one.
"I did? Yes, I suppose so."
"Also that ghosts are a figments of our imagination."
Winkel opened and closed his translucent mouth as he pondered his past aphorisms.
"Anyway," he muttered. "I had to warn you."
"About a math error I might make in the morning."
At that, the master smiled with relief. "Precisely."
With that, Denario woke up. He rolled onto his side and wiped his mouth. His gaze drifted around his bedroom, which was the altar room at the north end of the meeting hall of the Hammer Clan. His candle had burned out. The lamp in the foyer, beyond his door, still shone.
"Ugh." He flopped back onto his bed. Why can't I dream about great ideas? he wondered. If he were a hero in a poem, he would have been haunted in a dramatic way. His mentor would have been murdered, of course, not fallen ill. The ghost would have warned Denario about a terrible plot against him or something similar.
There had been a terrible plot, of course, but it was done. It would have been foolish to warn him after it was revealed. Anyway, portents and divine epiphanies weren't Winkel's style. For a moment, Denario cursed the unjust lack of poetry in his life. Then he got more sensible and cursed his lack of sleep. He pulled the cover up to his chest.
Next: Chapter Seventeen, Scene Seven