Sunday, March 25, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 115: A Bandit Accountant, 19.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Two: Finding the Creek

From Small Ephart to Lacti Thal and then from Lacti Thal to Dam Hollow, I lightened my pack. That was done by failing to earn food on the way.

Denario continued in his journal, The problem seems to be that folks on these farms and in the towns are becoming less like the Mundredi and more like traditional peasants. They are distrustful of the merchant classes. To the peasants in Easy Valley and Long Valley, I was merely a man who liked math. At the foot of the Long Valley hills, I was a novelty. Here, I have come so close to civilization that I am truly known by profession as an accountant. People expect me to be disdainful of barter. Many of them don’t want to talk with me. The only news they have of accountants comes from their taxes.

At Dam Hollow, I did at least find a small point of interest, a holy mound. The place stands at the border within the north wall. It is devoted to five gods. Already I've forgotten the other four but the fifth is Melcurio. His shrine takes the form of the number eight laid out in rocks. I decided it was in poor repair, so I did what I could by setting stones back to right, packing them in with earth, and watering grasses around the edge to hold the shape together. While I was working, a woman came to observe me. It turned out to be the Priestess of Haph-Penny.

The priestess offered me a job translating her oldest temple documents. The most important document she had in mind, unfortunately, was a ledger, which showed that Melcurio owed the Haph-Penny temple either 400 tuns of barley, which is a ridiculous amount, or '4 flying dogs.'

I admitted to the priestess that I might have mis-translated that last part. She said no, her temple had received a flying dog about twenty years ago and it was rumored that Melcurio had sent it. She felt the words made sense. Did I have another flying dog? she asked. I said no and I was sure Melcurio didn't mean to send any through me. She fed me anyway. It was the first meal I’d earned since Ruin Thal.

The priestess didn't recognize the amulet of the Old Muntabi Empire around my neck. Nor did anyone in the next town, Dam Shallow, which sits on No Map Creek so firmly that the oldest part of town is in the middle of the creek. The riverbed moved there, over time. Water cut a channel where the main street ran. Now, just after the spring thaw, it is deep enough that the citizens of Dam Shallow have to use a bridge to get to the town hall. By midsummer, they told me, the stream will run a few inches deep, twenty feet wide, and it will be filled with tadpoles. Children will play in it and young men and women will run across when they are in a hurry.

No one offered me work in Dam Shallow. Nor did anyone offer me a room except the brewery, which doubles as an inn, and they charged me two coppers for the night. The guards at Ruin Thal seem to be correct. The blue coin of the Muntabi royalty is not likely to help me further unless the Kilmun tribesmen on the other side of the creek acknowledge its authority.

Meanwhile, my supplies are dwindling. 

Next: Chapter Nineteen, Scene Three

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 114: A Bandit Accountant, 19.1

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene One: On You It Looks Good

At the gates to Ruin Thal, as at the gates of so many towns in Denario's recent memory, the guards were happy to see him leave. The carters coming the other way were happy. The mayor's nephew had strolled along to make sure the accountant headed off. A tattoo artist had come, he said to check the art on the accountant's buckler. Of course, Karla and Addler Vogel had come because Udo didn't want to close his store. They were all happy to see Denario leave.

Everyone seemed to feel the same way with one exception. Carinde wanted him to stay.

The girl was as resplendent as she could be in her green-and-white temple dress. She'd taken off her bonnet and didn't care about the rain. Karla, beside her, wore her shop dress with a gray shawl flipped over her head. Addler wore a hat and leaned on his cane. He cursed the late-morning drizzle and the pain in his knees. He kept stopping to rest. If Cari hadn't paused now and then to point out geometric shapes along the way, Addler couldn't have kept up. Fortunately for him, his grand-daughter's mind seemed to be exploding with ideas about shape and structure. She'd noticed how the domed buildings in her town weren't as curved as they first appeared. They were built from triangles latticed together. Cari had twice asked Denario how it was done but he'd been forced to admit he didn't know.

“I've been spoiled,” he said. “One of my apprentices, Buck, used to tell me about the details of carpentry and engineering. He knew some of the secrets. But I must not have paid enough attention. I remember the geometry, not the methods.”

Karla stooped to pick up her two year old, who was too tired to stand or perhaps just felt a lack of attention. The guards beside the gate smiled at the suddenly happy little girl. They knew the Vogel family. They knew the mayor's nephew. They'd heard that Denario the Dramatic was leaving today and they seemed relieved.

“Good day for it,” the younger, darker fellow said. “We've got news from Small Ephart. Two carters came from there, the first travelers up from the south in weeks. They say that the town managed to kill off some mercenaries who'd surrounded it. You won't have to fight your way in like you did here.”

“Great.” Denario hadn't realized such a problem was possible. Were the baron's damned foot soldiers everywhere now? On top of praying that Small Ephart would let him pass, he had to hope there weren't stragglers from mercenary troops who would be out to murder and rob every traveler they could.

“That's why the accountant waited,” chortled Addler. He knocked Denario's elbow playfully with his own.

“Not that you couldn't do it,” said the guard. But the guard had to squint as he said it. Apparently, it was hard for anyone to gaze directly on Denario and state aloud that he was a fighter. “I mean, you're Denario the Dramatic and all that.”

“He's got the gods on his side,” Addler asserted.

“He's got magic!” Carinde chimed in.

“He's got a bandit coin on his neck,” said the second, taller guard. He leaned against his pike and gazed on the blue medallion. “That's not going to do you any good along the creek, you know.”

“It might,” said the first guard.

They fell into lazy argument about the Kilmun tribesmen who lived along the creek. The issue in their minds seemed to be whether or not the Kilmun observed the sanctity of the royal Muntabi. They said they did. But they actually disrespected all royalty. Addler, the tattoo man, and the mayor's nephew joined into the debate.

Carinde turned and grabbed Denario by his left hand.

“Don't go,” she whispered. A few feet away, her step-mother took a deep breath, as if about to issue a reprimand. But she pressed her lips tight and refrained.

Denario understood something about heroic poems and about how people behaved in them. He knew this was where, as a departing warrior, he was supposed to say something noble, like 'But I must go, for I'm on a mission,' or 'I'll return when I'm most needed,' but he knew those were lies. The first one was even technically true but to say it like a hero would still be a lie.

What actually came out of his mouth was, “Forty triangles.”

“What?” said Karla, not quite under her breath. She had maintained a polite distance from her step-daughter, far enough to appear disinterested but close enough to hear what Cari said and Denario, too. Now she seemed bewildered.

“You mean in the last dome?” Cari gripped his hand even tighter. Her gaze rose to the cupola atop the tower slightly behind her and to her left. “Yes, I figured it was that many, too.”

“You did?” He gaped at her. “Really? No one ever notices. I've never met anyone else who counts shapes within shapes.”

“I saw you looking at the triangles earlier. Your lips move when you count. Did you know that?”

“No, I didn't.” He put his right hand over his mouth.

“Anyway, you can't see all forty of the triangles. You had to count the half you do see and double it, right?”

“Of course.” He stared into her green eyes. A razor-sharp intelligence gazed back. Of course, it was in the body of a young girl, which might have been why she misinterpreted his momentary astonishment for something else. “Don't worry,” she added with a quick curtsy, “I won't tell any other heroes.”

“About that ...” He really felt like he should reiterate that he wasn't really a hero. On the other hand, no matter how many times he said it, no one paid attention. “Oh, never mind. Just write to me. Write lots. Send me math. Send me your every thought. Do you remember the code I showed you?”

“Yes,” she whispered.

He leaned close, his eyes on Karla Vogel. Karla was trying very hard not to lean forward.

“I can use it to send you another code, you know,” he murmured softly. “So we can say anything. And you can write as often as you like.”

“What if I want to write to you every day?”

Denario opened his mouth. He closed it again. His bags were heavy with money. He knew he was carrying too much. The custom-tailored pack felt better than he deserved but it was still over-full. The problem had been occupying his thoughts since yesterday when he had balked at putting so much copper and brass within the reach of a man as greedy as Udo Vogel. True, Denario trusted Addler. But Addler was getting feeble. If he died or went lame, well, Udo might try to claim Denario's funds as his own. Karla Vogel could keep her husband from outright theft but she might not, too. For one thing, her interests lined up with her husband's.

Udo wasn't here to see what the accountant was doing, though. Denario made a decision. He scrambled out of his pack straps.

The thick ox-hide felt as rough as his armor. His fingers fumbled with the ties to the flap. Like the primitive Mundredi leather doors, his backpack had to be tied and untied. After he got the cord out of it, he was able to survey the contents but only the top layer. Fortunately, he'd packed a money pouch last and it hadn't sunk far. It was almost as if he'd planned for this. He wondered if he had, in a way, with a vague hope in the back of his mind that he'd get Carinde away from her father.

“Here.” He grabbed the sack with his right hand, grabbed the girl's wrist in his left, and put the money in her palm.

“Oh!” The sack was heavy enough to nearly knock her down. He'd forgotten how small she was. He cursed himself but only for a second. Carinde laughed. “Are these rocks or something?”

“Yes,” he replied with the literal truth. “Brass is two rocks melted together.”

Karla overheard that remark. She gasped. Denario hadn't bothered to keep his voice down. Well, it was too late now. He would have to place some faith in Karla's good character.

“Just write,” said Denario. He knelt to re-tie his backpack. It was a slow process. After a moment, Cari set down her money bag. She didn't seem to think that money was precious, not in the way her father did. She scooted between Denario and his work. She crouched on the hem of her dress and took over the re-stitching. Her fingers were more nimble than his. He'd been wondering if he'd been right to insist that his bag be made water-tight. The tailor had given him trouble over that demand. Cari had no problem, though, fitting the fat, rawhide cord through the series of holes. In a minute, she was finished.

As she tied a slipknot in the remainder of the cord, her fingers shivered. She paused. There was water on the back of her hand. A raindrop had hit. A second later, more of them sprinkled the backpack. The rain was starting up.

For a few minutes, the moisture had slowed. The droplets had grown so small they were like a mist, easily ignored. Now it appeared that the clouds were about to let loose another volley. Dark, wet dots peppered the accountant. He felt them on his head. He'd taken off his hat during the dry spell, just as Carinde had removed her bonnet. Now he dug into his belt and found the floppy brim again.

As he jammed the hat back on, he saw Cari patting her waist. Where had she put her bonnet? Denario didn't remember. Then Karla stepped forward and pushed the bonnet into Carinde's hands.

“Herr Vogel,” Karla said to her father-in-law. Her gaze stretched up to the high, purplish clouds above. “This is looking bigger than I like. I want to head back.”

“Does this seem magical to you?” Addler wondered, ignoring his daughter-in-law. He raised his good arm above him to catch the rain.

“It smells funny,” said the taller guard.

Karla snorted. She shifted her toddler from her right hip to her left. Addler scowled. The other guard and the mayor's nephew did, too. After a few seconds, Addler brought his hand down and checked what he'd collected in the cup of his palm.

“It's green,” he croaked. He cleared his throat, coughed, and bent to smell his hand. Denario glanced at the water. It did, in fact, have a mossy tint to it. “Smells like pickle brine.”

The accountant looked at his own hands. He sniffed. Sure enough, there was the vinegar odor of sweet pickles. He grabbed his pack and hoisted it over one shoulder. Carinde finished tying her neck strap and stooped to get the money pouch she'd left on the street. Denario held out his hand while she was down there. She took it to help herself back up.

“Thanks,” she breathed.

She felt so light that Denario nearly pulled her off of her feet. Her mind was so impressive, really, that he kept forgetting it belonged to a child. She was small for her age, too. Even when she grew up, she wasn't going to be a tall woman. She was probably lucky that she didn't have to fight anyone for her inheritance. Or did she?

“Could be a carry-over from the shaman's work last week,” said Karla. She cast an eye to Denario but managed to keep from blaming him openly. “We did ask for rain. And we got it.”

At that moment, Carinde tried to get a glimpse of the magically purple cloud. A spot of green rain hit her right between the eyes.

“Oh!” She began to laugh. Denario did, too, but he was concerned. Cari squeezed her eyes shut hard.

“Does it sting?” Denario tried to clean off the brine.

“Uh huh.” For a moment, she raised a hand to clean herself. But she let Denario wipe her with a dry corner of his sleeve.

“I don't think it's a good idea to look straight up at the moment,” he said.

“I figured that out, thanks.”

“Right.” He gazed at her white bonnet, already half-wet with verdant droplets. “At least, on you, green looks good.”

She laughed again. It was a ringing sound that seemed to go straight through him and made his ears and toes tremble. Her face was clear. She blinked, squinted, and gave him a brave smile. A moment later, she leapt up and snagged her right arm around his neck. Denario hugged her back but he heard Karla Vogel make a clucking noise. So he let go. Cari did, too, as if she were suddenly aware of the other people watching.

“Every day,” the girl said. Denario knew exactly what she meant.

“As often as you can,” he corrected. He knew that it wasn't possible to get a letter sent between towns on most days. He didn't want the poor girl to burden herself with an impossible promise.

“Every day,” she restated in a voice that brooked no argument.

Next: Chapter Nineteen, Scene Two

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 113: A Bandit Accountant, 18.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Scene Five: The Value of Holiness

“So ...” said Denario. He hesitated, goblet in hand. He felt a bit lost in the dinner discussion about Mundredi customs. The problem wasn't eating different cuts of meat with three different knives. It was the relationships of tribes to clans and also of clans to houses. The combinations were worthy of their own subset of math. “You belong to the Mundredi Tribe, Clan of the Spears, House of the Goat. But the Clan of the Spears is also known as the Kallikar?”

“That's right,” Addler nodded approvingly. “It's like the Raduar you bin fightin', the Killimar and the Juttari. Men there belongs to clans with names and tattoos that any waldi can understand but they've got the old clan names, too. The old names don't always mean what the tattoos say.”

“Then what do they mean?”

“Mostly, no one remembers,” Udo announced dourly.

“We know the Raduar Juttari are the biggest clan,” said Addler. “And they wear the sword crossed with an axe. The Killimar clan wears the sword crossed with a spear. We don't know what those names mean. Everyone has guesses.”

“I'd guess that the old, old tongue for spear could have been something close to 'kallikar' or 'killimar,'” said Denario.

“You and everyone else.” Udo spoke into his cup. His eyes never rose to meet Denario's. “But it's just a guess.”

Addler grinned and nodded. Denario let his gaze drift between father and son. Udo's nose had the same slight hook as his father's. They held their cups the same, too, in both hands. But they were quite different in temperament. The father, Addler, had dominated the dinner conversation. The curly-headed Udo had limited himself to snide remarks. Yet they both seemed to be selling something to Denario and he couldn't figure out quite what it was.

The table had been laid out with comfort foods, solid fare like turnips, fried oats, stewed meats, and cheeses. Karla and Carinde had performed the serving but, Denario noticed, had done very little of the talking. It wasn't like the young girl to keep quiet but she had done so in a determined way. She'd put her hands in her lap when she wasn't eating. Karla, even when seated beside her step-daughter, had been aggressively maternal with her serving portions. The only times she'd spoken were when she'd urged the men at the table to eat more lentils or, once, when she'd given an order to Cari to fetch another ladle. Karla's toddler was asleep, thank goodness. For her part, Cari had volunteered to serve the wine. She'd seemed poised and nearly adult. But as Denario had thanked her, she'd looked directly into his eyes and spilled a fingers-width of the beverage onto his leg. He had to pretend not to notice. Cari had acted as if everything was fine, too, or she'd tried. She'd turned her head for a moment so her parents couldn't see her.

The dining room and kitchen looked neater than usual. Normally, a few items from the store inventory cluttered the table. There was usually an abacus next to Udo's chair but it hadn't survived the cleaning. Udo had kept wads of imported sharkskin nearby that he normally sold to the woodworkers for their use in sanding but which he also used to repair nicks and bumps in his merchandise. Those were gone. So was the pot of hardened shellac that had been gathering dust for months. One of the window shutters had been replaced, probably yesterday.

They'd cleaned up for him. Addler had trimmed and shaved a bit. What were they thinking? The mystery put Denario on edge.

“The mayor asked about your health,” said Udo. Again, he spoke to his cup rather than look across the table to the accountant or at his father.

“Is that a hint?” asked Denario. “He gave me a letter to carry. Does he want me to move out tomorrow?”

“No. It's not that kind of a hint.” Addler's eyes crinkled. He rubbed his close-cropped beard, now mostly grayish stubble, neatly trimmed. “See, the carter's guild has gone to him about you. So have the carpenters. They want to bring accountants into town. I'd like that, too.”

“Do you mean my apprentices?”

“No! Idiot!” Udo snapped. He pounded his fist on the table. “They want you to stay.” In a smaller voice, he added, with a glance to his oldest daughter, “So do we.”

“You'd do well here.” Addler shrugged as he weren't committed one way or another. “It seems to me that you already have a thriving business.”

“And you don't need to make yourself any competition from your apprentices,” Udo said.

“Now ...” Whatever Addler tried to say, his words were drowned out by his son.

“Besides, you could have an apprentice right here if you're serious about letting Cari work. You could have others, too. Folks would pay you to learn.”

“I'd like that. I think the world of Cari.” Denario tried to remind Udo of what the man should already know. “But I've sworn an oath to my previous apprentices in Oggli. You wouldn't think so well of me if I broke my word to them or their parents. What worth would my word have anywhere then?”

“Um.” Udo hesitated. Promises didn't seem to mean much to him but he understood Denario's point. Most of anyone's business was done on trust. Even Udo, who relied on the mayor and the local priests to enforce his contracts, also relied on his craftsmen, carters, and caravan masters to keep their commitments. He couldn't fight legal battles over every little thing. He set down his wine cup.

“Of course we don't want you to foreswear yourself,” Addler jumped in. “But there's a place for you here. If you're gone too long, some junior book keeper will fill it. We want to make it easy for you to come back to town.”

“How?” Denario didn't need to tell them that it was a long trip. Addler already knew.

Denario didn't intend to come back to this area, regardless. He tried to imagine the consequences of bringing journeymen accountants with him. It would be a disaster, possibly with fatalities. Even a marginal success would come at great expense. He'd need to pay a caravan or he'd have to arm and march his apprentices for a week upstream without suffering ambush. The trip might take longer than a week. He wasn't sure how far northeast he was or how difficult the paths beside No Map Creek might be.

Addler grunted. His left hand patted his chest. Denario wondered if the old fellow were feeling indigestion. Then he wondered if he could be suffering something worse. The fellow's pale, trembling hand drifted down to the side pockets sewn into the lower half of his shirt. After failing to find what he wanted there, he put his hand to his belt. He had a pocket belt similar to the outfits worn by wealthy merchants in Oggli. Denario had never owned a pocket belt himself. They were made of fine leather. It took a skilled tailor to design hidden compartments on the inside. Someone with problem hands, like Addler, could barely use them. The accountant knew Addler had trouble with his left hand in particular, which curled semi-permanently into a half-fist. The fingers on that side were pale and cold, nearly blue-green at the tips. It took the old fellow's gnarled digits half a minute to open the hidden nook.

In stages, Addler eased his treasure out of the belt. Whatever it was, Denario could tell the shape was rectangular and not much more than two fingers wide. The accountant’s eyebrows went up when he saw that the piece shone like steel. It had been stamped or inscribed. The elder Vogel palmed it. He turned over his trembling hand. With pride, he presented the piece to Denario.

Steel was so rare here that it was probably worth quite a lot just for that. The inscription showed four donkeys in a row. The accountant had never seen anything like it before but it teased at his memories. The icons recalled something important. Winkel had mentioned an artifact like this but Denario couldn't bring the name of it to mind.

“It's beautiful,” he said. He wondered how anyone had managed to make such detailed pictures on steel. Perhaps the tablet had been stamped into a die while soft and blazing hot. “What is it for, Herr Vogel?”

“This, accountant, is an Oupen Teamster piece. It's a token of transport.”

“Oh.” Suddenly the memory came flooding back. He rubbed his fingertip around the edge and felt a sense of awe. Yes, Master Winkel has mentioned these. Accountants couldn't get them. Even upper class travelers couldn't get these. They were only available to the wealthiest of the wealthy.

“It should suit you and your apprentices when you come back here. I meant to sell it to our local caravan masters but they never gave me the price I wanted. You can have it. If there are mule teams hauling rafts back up the Riggle Kill, the teamsters will honor this. So will any Uberwaldi mule-led caravan.”

Addler Vogel must have been as rich as a prince, once. It changed Denario's opinion of Ruin Thal. He was closer to civilization than he thought.

“This ...” Denario tried to put it back in Addler's palm. The old fellow had anticipated the move, though, and he jammed his hands into his pockets. The accountant was left dangling the steel wedge in the air. “This is more than my accounting practice could ever afford. We do well. But not this well. How ...?”

“I did a mule captain a favor. He paid me in this.”

“Must have been an amazing favor.”

“Saved his life. He felt it was worth a pair of these.”

“He gave you more than one?”

“Long story ...”

“Dad!” said Udo. Next to her grandfather, Cari groaned. Apparently, they'd heard the story more often than they liked.

“Anyway,” said Addler, not much bothered by their reactions. “They are good forever. This is the one I kept. It will help you get back up here. I know all the boat masters to take you down to Oupenli, too."

“Long ago you did,” corrected Udo. “Da, those fellows are dead. Well, most of them.”

“I know families doing business on the creek. I get news from there. I know that you can catch a ride down No Map straight into the Lamp Kill.”

“Who among the boatmen take passengers?”

“All of them if they're not full to the brim with cargo. The best is the Bowman family. Hans Bowman's son is Otto. Otto goes all the way down the creek like his dad did and sometimes he goes all the way down the Lamp Kill into County Oggli. Then there's Ingemar Scheller. He's a great raft maker. He's old now but when he's on a run down to the Lamp, you can't do better. It's just that he doesn't go all the way down to the end of the creek anymore. He's gotten superstitious. Doesn't like to pass by the forgotten temples.”

Karla took the lid from her table stewpot. The rich scent of venison wafted across the table. She dutifully spooned out a tiny morsel for the accountant although he hadn't asked for another helping. He was the guest and therefore was always served first. Then she scooped up a much larger portion for her husband, who patted his belly and bowed his head. Fatty juices from the meat had gotten on his hands, lips, and beard. That gave him a moist smile but a genuine one. He seemed pleased to have his wife anticipate him.

“Forgotten temples ...” mumbled Denario. “Those sound like sources of magic.”

“Hah. The whole creek is lousy with magic. That reminds me. There's a crazy man you could try named Jack Lasker. He'll be making the run to Oupenli if he hasn't gotten himself killed. He takes too many chances. That's how he gets in three or four rafting runs a year. In the spring and fall, he gets iced in upstream but he breaks through it with rocks tied to ropes.”

“Like anchors?”

“That's what he calls those things.”

It didn't sound foolish to Denario but he didn't know much about icy water except that the Mundredi feared it. They tried to ward off magic, too, and he was pretty sure they were wrong. Magical light was practical. So were flying carpets. If you feared such tools, you might as well fear math, alchemy, or engineering.

“So Helmut Zimmerman told me you were packing to leave,” Addler ventured after a rather long silence.

“There's no reason to linger except to teach Cari some more,” Denario admitted. She smiled at hearing her name and that made him feel warmer. “I had to unpack my supplies and take a full tally of what I've got and how long it'll last. Also, I had to weigh it. Now that's done.”

“I'll bet you've got at least ninety pounds of stuff.”

“I weighed out one hundred seven pounds in eight bags.” Denario shook his head at the craziness of it. He had fifty pounds in cash alone. “I need to lose about thirty-seven pounds and get down to four bags. If I don't catch a ride at No Map Creek, I'll have to leave equipment there.”

“Can't you take less food and money?”

“If I can keep working for food, yes. In fact, I wondered if I could leave some money with you.”

“There's a holding fee,” said Udo.

“Now, now,” Addler drawled with a smile. “You can leave anything with me, personally, no holding fee.”

“Really?” Most tradesmen charged holding fees. Even the Oupenli-Oggli Bank charged fees. Next to the accountant, the women of the family blinked. Their gazed drifted between the elder and younger Vogel men in confusion. Karla's face seemed to resolve in an expression of suspicion towards her father-in-law.

“You have to come back within two years to collect, though.” The elder Vogel leaned back in his chair, hands over his stomach. Karla nodded at his remark. “I'm not getting any younger.”

“Understood, sir.” Denario brightened at his prospects. True, he didn't expect to return but the option was good have. He slipped the Oupen Teamster token into his pants pocket. “It's extremely kind of you to offer. I accept.”

“Will you stay a few days to teach Cari? She could come to classes with those other merchants if you let her.”

“Some of them have objected to the idea,” he admitted. He could see that Addler and Udo knew about that. One of Denario's worst students, a master carpenter, had voiced his opinion loudly on the proper place for women. He didn't think they belonged in school. “But as far as I'm concerned, she really should come. If another student doesn't like it, he can leave.”

“Heh.” Father and son both laughed. Even Karla and Cari dared to share smiles.

“I'll write to Cari when I'm gone. I'll send more lessons. After all, I write to other folks.”

“So we've heard,” said Udo. “But your messages to our chief won't make it across Sir Fettertyr's territory.”

“I have to try.”

“Why? Why did you send them with a caravan? It marks you as a spy in other men’s eyes.”

“Well, I'm not,” he retorted. Several other voices spoke at the same time, one of them a rare comment from Karla that he didn't catch.

“Look, son,” said Addler over everyone else. “The accountant has the token of the royal Mundredi. That's important. He's got to write to the chief.”

“Dad, all that 'chief' stuff went out a generation ago. This town has a knight, a real, powerful knight with a horse and armor and everything. Our knight appoints the mayor. Believe me, Sir Fettertyr is not going to tolerate any talk about a Mundredi chief.”

“And what a crap-ass job Fettertyr did of appointing our mayor! Not that Tobias Brauer is immoral, mind you, but on his own merits he'd be the hundredth man in line to hold office. His wife would be ahead of him in line.”

Udo had to chuckle at that one. He settled in his seat, content to have made his point. The chief had no power in Ruin Thal.

“Anyway,” said Denario, getting back to what he thought the subject of conversation should be. “I have to lighten my packs. And I want Cari to write back to me in Oggli if she can. She can send to the Bank of Oupenli-Oggli and they'll find me. That's the way it's done.”

“Nonsense,” snorted Udo. “We can't afford it. She's a mere girl. She's got no call to write. The price of parchment is ridiculous.”

“I have extra parchment. I could leave her with blank scrolls and some money to send them.”

“That's a fortune! You could feed forty men for a week on the trade for that.”

“Well,” said Denario. He pulled out the steel Oupen Teamster pass from his pocket for a moment. He turned it over to gaze on the four donkeys. “You've been more than generous yourselves. If I'm going to teach Cari math, I'll want to see that she's making progress.”

“Is this on top of the chalk?”


Udo stood up and stuck out his hand. Denario palmed the teamster token. Without rising, he shook on the deal with the shopkeeper.

“Done!” said Udo. He sat back down with a smile.

“So ...” Denario turned to Carinde. To his surprise, she was biting her lip. He plowed on anyway. “Cari, your grandfather told me you've been keeping up with your geometry. Do you have anything new to show us?”

She nodded. She put the edge of a napkin in her mouth. Suddenly she seemed very childish. She just stared at Denario, wide-eyed. Then she made a choking sound. She spat out the napkin. To his shock, the poor girl burst into tears. A moment later, she hopped off of her stool and dashed out of the room.

“What just happened?” Denario looked to her step-mother, then to her father. Udo looked as surprised as Denario felt. “Did I do something wrong?”

Someone patted him on the knee. He turned. It was Karla. Beneath her braided, blonde hair there was a gentle smile.

“You were fine,” she said. She rose from her stool with a barely audible huff. Her belly was heavy but it didn't seem to inconvenience her much. “You men sit here and talk. I'll come back with Carinde. She's been worked up, Denario, about your accounting, and about everything else you've taught her. She showed me some of her work. Very clever, I think. But Carinde has been on edge for days. She's worked herself into a fit.”

“Over math? Really?” She was more motivated than Denario had realized.

“She'll be back to show you her work in a few minutes. You'll see.”

In fact Karla and Carinde returned in less than a minute. The young girl led the way. She marched from the storeroom to the front of the house holding two slates in front of her. Denario noticed that Udo didn't like that. His daughter must have appropriated the slates against his orders.

Carinde wore her best dress tonight, which was white with green trimmings. It was the one she took on family trips to the temple. She was proud of it because it had belonged to her dead mother and Karla had trimmed it down for her. There was nothing tribal about it. The cloth was linen. The pattern was simple. In fact, the only thing that seemed Mundredi about Cari was the stubborn tilt of her jaw. She gazed meaningfully at her left slate, then her right. She offered the right one to Denario like it was a fragile present.

“Beautiful,” he murmured. He held the diagram close so he could see the details. Carinde had drawn a star with straight-sided rays, one called a mullet in heraldry. This mullet was good enough to grace a herald's shield. It had eight points, each colored with yellow chalk. How had she done that? Then there was the piercing in the center, also an eight-sided mullet. The chalk marks had been removed from the pierce. “How did you color it?”

“We sell sulfur,” she explained. “It leaves crumbs in the bins. I mixed those with the chalk.”

“Smart,” he said. Carefully not glancing at her father, he added. “Economical, too.”

“It's the holy star,” Karla added. “The women at temple love it. We're going to have Carinde help us to stitch the design into blankets. We can all have new blankets for winter mass.”

“Could we, um ...” Udo reached across the corner of the table to touch the edge of the slate. “Could we sell a few of the blankets, do you think? To single men and to older women?”

“Of course. I hadn't thought of that. And not just to them. For intricate designs like this, there will be quite a few middle-aged women who need help.”

“Interesting.” The price of blankets in Ruin Thal went up twenty percent on his smile.

The accountant passed the eight-pointed star to Udo, who contemplated it with an air of satisfaction. Denario accepted the second slate from Carinde. The drawing on this one was also colored, probably with rust. The girl had seen the 'flying 8' painted on Denario's buckler and she'd attempted to duplicate it with a compass, protractor, and straight-edge. Her design, in fact, was closer to the official seal of the Oggli and Angrili Accounting Guild than his own.

How had she duplicated the seal so exactly without seeing it? Was it an accident? Was it inevitable? Did Melcurio himself have something to do with it? The rust color couldn't be helped but everything else was correct.

“I will never forget this one,” he said truthfully. If nothing else, it presented a puzzle.

“We, uh ...” Carinde wrung her hands. She glanced to her step-mother. “After I was done, someone, uh, pointed out that, uh, well, it's your god sign, right?”

“For Melcurio,” said her father darkly. “The trickster.”

“The god of accountants, yes,” Denario corrected.

“We were worried that Melcurio would be mad if we erased it. See? But we need the slate back. Could you …?”

Denario laughed. Still, the child was right. The gods took offense to this sort of thing. He'd seen it before in Oggli.

“Here's a penny,” he said. It was a copper piece that he was going to leave with the Vogel family anyway, so it was no loss. Melcurio would appreciate that. “And now, my accounting bag. Can you go get that for me, Cari? It's by your side door.”

When she came back, Denario dug into the bag and found his chalk sack. The dark leather bag, about the size of his fist, opened large enough to fit around one corner of the slate. He tilted the slate in his lap. With the edge of his skinning knife – animals skinned so far, zero – Denario scraped off the chalk and rust. The debris from the drawing fell into the bag. Sometimes he had to nudge it along with the tip of the knife. In all, the process took a few minutes and proved to be a neat solution.

“Back to where it came,” he said when the remains of the flying 8 lay with his chalk shards. He wiped off the pale residue with his bare hands. “Near enough, anyway.”

“And you'll write with the chalk, which is now covered in holiness,” observed Addler. “Nicely done. Cari should be able to do the same with the star and our priest's blessing.”

“That's a relief,” snorted Udo. On the other side of the accountant, Karla smiled and let out the breath she'd been holding. Carinde stopped wringing her hands.

“Geometry does have power,” Denario said. He tied the drawstring on his chalk. “Numbers formed the world. They can re-form it in ways that we don't want if we're not careful.”

“Is … is her math safe?” asked Karla. That was a question Denario had heard from the lips of Shekel's parents and Guilder's parents, too. He replied with the same answer Master Winkel had given.

“All of the math lessons I give will be safe, you may be sure.”

“But ... all the exploring ...”

“Explorations are normally safe, too. I trust that she won't venture far into trouble with you to guide her.”

Karla folded her hands in her lap. She didn't seem completely satisfied but she'd had enough reassurance for now. Denario didn't know the woman well but he could already see more holy symbols in Cari's future, especially whenever her step-mother felt uncomfortable about her step-daughter's work in higher math.

Next: Chapter Nineteen, Scene One

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 112: A Bandit Accountant, 18.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Scene Four: Knotty Problems

An hour after my negotiations with Udo, I thought I'd made myself a bad deal. The breakfast he provided that morning was sumptuous with poached eggs, fried eggs, two different loaves of bread, bacon, onions, and the first crop of tomatoes, which folks farther north and west consider poisonous. Ruin Thal knows how to grow them. I suppose Udo wanted the meal to put me at ease and help him talk me into his idea. Carinde helped. I found it hard to refuse.

So they became my agents. They agreed to sell my services to other merchants in exchange for a cut of the pay. It seemed like poor exchange for my teaching but I didn't care. I would have taught Carinde for free. I couldn't say that but I think Udo knew.

The arrangement turned out to be more profitable than I could have imagined. The money I've made borders on inconvenient. I can't transport my wealth. It would overflow my bags or wear a hole in any sack even if I were strong enough to walk with it. Ruin Thal has no trusts or thrifts, not even a branch of the Bank of Oupenli-Oggli. I'm going to have to leave a portion of my earnings with the Vogel family. That may have been Udo's plan from the beginning.

Regardless, the work he's provided me has been interesting. Ruin Thal uses a lot of writing, more than any other Mundredi town so far. It has parchment. It has paper and a few books. It has an example of the Yullamar double-entry system at the Church of the Carpenter although here in this town they call it the Oggli System. The town holds several living examples of the Tomaru single-entry system that Senli uses back in Pharts Bad. Most of those are in waldi merchant houses. The mayor uses something called the Old Counting, which is a single-entry system I haven't seen before but I find easy to understand. The mayor even has an abacus made of strings of colored beans. No one knows how to use it but it has been preserved. I'm sure I could figure it out, given time.

For that matter, Carinde may figure it out now that she knows it exists. She helped me decode the knot system in the Small Gods Temple. There, an ancient rope of beaded, knotted strings has sat in the accounts for over a century. For the past forty years at least, it has been accompanied by a scroll initialed 'BFS.' It was possibly written by a master accountant who traveled here before me. His notes proved incomplete. Long after he passed through, the temple discovered more records. Some of those were knotted records but others were parchments with pictures in ink of the knot-keeping method. If anyone before me had understood the math, they would surely have figured out the archive of knots from a comparison with the written records.

That was the job that made my fortune. The knots revealed the locations of buried holy objects.

On five strings in the rope, the distance between the knots was proportional to the center of the temple and the burial spots. Part of the system was, in essence, a map. The temple unearthed one treasure straight away, a wooden chest that had been crushed by the stones and dirt over time. Inside the chest had been five thumb-sized golden idols. Those survived. The priestess was absurdly grateful to me and she proved practically-minded as well. When I said I couldn't carry all of the silver dollars she wanted to pay, she offered me the services of her parish instead. Now I have blank paper. I have parchment. Her tattoo artist painted the Flying 8 sign of Melcurio on my buckler and scabbard. Her tailors fitted me for new shirts and pants. The tanner adjusted my leather hauberk so that I don't look like I'm wearing a bigger man's raincoat. Before all of this kindness, I was worried that the priestess would have a problem with Melcurio but she said he was decent god, kind to the smaller gods like hers. Her holiness was fine about helping me.

The cobbler I worked for later that week paid Udo in coins, I noticed. But he paid me by re-sewing my boots and re-dyeing them. The Goat Clan tanner, not the one at the temple, modified my accounting bag and repaired my vest. With money from other jobs, I was able to trade in my snake jerky, which I knew I would never eat. Instead, I bought dried fish and dried beef. I exchanged three of my travel bags for a single backpack, custom-stitched to fit over my armor. I paid Udo's favorite tailor to repair my accounting vest, which had an arrow hole in it, and to refit two of my hats.

Although I was ready to leave after a few days, I found it hard to do. I kept making money. I moved into an apartment in the center of town above the mayor's office. The local book keeper, a woman, stopped by for lessons with her apprentice, her son. Carinde seemed almost jealous. The greatest reason it was hard to leave, really, was Carinde. She learned her math so thoroughly that I wanted to take her on as an apprentice. Casually, I mentioned it. Apparently that was a mistake. She informed her father. Udo ran into my apartment the evening of my eighth day in Ruin Thal, outraged.

'You want to take my own daughter?' He stormed around the room. 'It's an insult! A crime! Yes, you … y-you're a criminal or a f-fool. Don't you understand her position? She's neglected here, yes, and sh-she's … she's not pretty but she's mine. She's valuable. I won't just give her away.'

'I understand,' I told him. 'But she should have an apprenticeship.'

'You’d take on a girl in your practice? As an accountant?'

'She’s a genius, Udo. My guild hasn't allowed girls but we've come close before. Cari's brilliance would sway the ones who have been reluctant.'

'That’s not a good reason. She hasn’t got many prospects so far, I admit, but we're wealthy. She’s no beggar or whore. What would people say, her living and traveling with a single man? And never mind what they'd say. Would even she make it to Oggli? I doubt it. This is nearly a plan to kill her.'

Then he banned me from his home.

The next day, my business came to a halt except for the teaching. Whatever Udo said about me, it affected his tradesmen but it didn't make me less popular for lessons. I often had three or four of merchants in my house at once learning multiplication and division. A few wanted to hear my ideas about money. One of them, a relative of the mayor named Wilmut Ziegler, asked me about banking. Old Addler Vogel came to visit, too. He sat in on the lessons although he didn't offer to pay and I didn't ask. He laughed at us and corrected other men's mathematics but no one seemed to mind. During the few times we were alone, Addler chatted about his grand-daughter. She had been teaching him algebra. He didn't understand it but he liked it. His problem was that he needed to learn how to multiply. I helped him a little.

After our talk at the end of his third visit, I presented him with a note for Carinde. It was a math lesson. Addler took the precaution of reading it, approved, and said he would deliver it for me.

On the morning of the next day, my eleventh in Ruin Thal, Addler stopped by to invite me to dinner. I said that would be a problem because I was still banned. Addler pointed out that he owned the house. I hadn't realized that. Anyway, he said, if it made me feel any better he'd persuaded Udo to make peace in exchange for math lessons.

I remembered to dicker with Udo that night. I declared that my letter to Carinde counted as a lesson. To my surprise, he and his father agreed.

Next: Chapter Eighteen, Scene Five