Sunday, April 29, 2018

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Eighteen Chapters

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter 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

Chapter Square Root of Gross

Chapter Baker's Dozen

Chapter Pair of Sevens

Chapter Fifth Triangular Number

Chapter Twice Eight

Chapter Seventh Prime

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Eighteenth Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Third Semiperfect

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 119: A Bandit Accountant, 19.6

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Six: A Deserved Break

By the end of their afternoon in Killim Thal, Denario had loaded forty barrels of salted port. The breeze along the creek felt too mild. The sun beat down on him as he marched back and forth along the rocky landing. He lugged the barrels from the cart to the boats. His breath grew ragged. Sweat dripped from his eyebrows..

He wished he could take off his chain mail. The metal rings lay between his shirts. But he'd never been good at getting the armor on or off and he didn't want to draw attention to himself. He'd caught the hog farmer's crew staring at him. Whether it was his stature, his odd mix of clothing, or his weapons, he couldn't say. Maybe their lives weren't very interesting and he was just something to look at. Strangers who passed by stared at him, too.

A couple of the farmhands were lazy and hardly moved a thing, so Denario looked like a good worker by comparison. Together with Jack and the farmer, Steffen, neither of whom carried anything from the cart, the loaders made a team of seven. Olaf and Achim were the slow ones, worthy of a barrel loaded every five minutes or so. Tobias, the biggest farmhand, and Simone, the farmer's oldest daughter, did about half of the work by themselves. Simone was a strong young lady, solid in her waist and hips and with a pretty face. Tobias kept throwing glances her way every time he lifted a pork barrel over his shoulder. Once or twice, Simone met his eyes. Denario wondered if there was something going on between them but it wasn't his place to ask questions like that.

The accountant, when working by himself, couldn't lift a single barrel from the cart. He had to accept them from Achim. He managed, at great effort, to lower each of them softly to the ground. Then he rolled them over the rocks and sand onto the docking planks. That was his method. No one seemed to mind.

At the landing where Jack had tied down his rafts, the riverman took charge of each barrel. He wouldn't let anyone else position their weight on the decks. He had very firm ideas about where each load should go. The accountant watched Jack's decisions and listened to the comments that passed between the riverman and the hog farmer. The riverman placed slightly more weight to the back of each raft than to the front. Otherwise, he kept both rafts evenly balanced.

Toward the end, Jack asked Denario to come aboard and move a few barrels. The accountant took two tries to confirm his understanding of the method. The job was a combination of arithmetic and geometry. Jack nodded, satisfied by what Denario was doing. He stopped barking commands. He and the farmer sipped beers as they watched the accountant place the last four barrels.

“Head to the Drowned Sorrows for a pint and a meal, Jack?” said Herr Steffen.

Jack nodded. Off they went and they took everyone with them except for Achim, who was assigned to watch the boats. The pub was only a crossroads away from the water. Herr Steffan promised to send Achim a couple of pints.

The Drowned Sorrows turned out to be a cheery place despite its name. Fresh rushes lay on the dirt floor. Shutters on the windows had been thrown open to let in a breeze. The barman kept his beer in a cellar beneath the bar and his wife kept the food, two plucked chickens and four dressed frogs, turning on spits above the hearth fire. The frogs looked as big as the chickens. All of them smelled good, partly from the hickory in the fire but mostly from Denario's hunger. His lunch had been a cold sausage. He had downed a beer while loading the rafts but he was thirsty again.

Herr Steffan paid for Denario's meal. That was a welcome surprise. The farmer bought a round of drinks for the entire table. He asked polite questions about accounting, grew interested in debtor sticks for a few minutes, and then moved on to what he felt were the more interesting topics of armor and fighting. The farmhands and Simone, too, were more eager to hear tales of battle than of math.

“You could enlist, you know,” Denario remarked after no one had picked up on his hints. He'd been sending Mundredi boys to the army for so long that he'd started to take it for granted He could recite his speech half-asleep because he often had. “The Mundredi army needs men. And if the fighting comes here, it will be good for your town that you joined.”

“Nah,” replied the farmer. He smacked the table but he grinned with confidence. “These boys know what's right for 'em. Ain't never been no fighting here, not even between houses of the Kilmun and Mundredi.”

“Do I understand correctly that both tribes live on both sides of the water?”

“That's right. Nice and peaceable, too. We haven't seen a knight or a baron or even a man in armor, excepting you, in ... what, how long, Jack?”

“Caravan guards.” Jack tapped his forehead as he remembered. “We get those every year.”

“Bah, those are boys. They've got swords sometimes, staves more often, but no armor except jerkins. I mean, when is the last time you saw someone in Killim Thal wearing chain mail or better, like our accountant here?”

“Never.” Jack leaned back on his bench. A moment later, he sat bolt upright and spat out a mouthful of beer.

Denario followed Jack's eyes. At the front door of the Drowned Sorrows stood a dark-headed man. His long, knotted hairs reminded Denario of the Mundredi fighters. He looked rough-bearded, liked he’d traveled for a month. His boots were caked with mud. His arms were thick as the boughs on a willow tree. Near his wrists, his bare skin was covered in tattoos. His chest was as broad as a barrel. Hoops of armor lay strapped horizontally across his torso. At his side hung a curved sword.

“Ah've got a message for Denario the Accountant.” he said. His gaze swept the room but he passed over the accountant without any sign of recognition. “Ah was told he's here.”

Next: Chapter Twenty, Scene One

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 118: A Bandit Accountant, 19.5

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Five: Creek Map One

Within the hour, Jack had disassembled Denario's raft. It lay in poles strewn about on Jack's second boat. All the while, the boatman hopped from deck to deck. Sometimes there were three or four feet between the decks when he jumped but he didn't seem to mind. Jack had to steer the front boat, too, because he didn't like the way the accountant poled the creek bed. So he leapt across the gap, showed Denario what he was doing wrong, and hurdled back to the trailing raft to return to his work. He seemed to think Denario's rope was worth saving. He didn't cut it.

Once, Jack jumped with an axe in his right hand and a some kind of boating hook in his left. If he'd missed, he wouldn't even have been able to grab anything to save himself. Of course, Jack didn't miss. The accountant considered making the jump himself just for fun. He crept to the rear of his raft. His legs knew better, though. They told him, remember how in Ruin Thal a little girl who had been born with a broken leg could outrun you. They locked him up at the knees. In armor, in the middle of the stream, Denario would surely be dead if he missed. Even an experienced riverman wouldn't be able to save him.

The accountant steered the front raft as best as he could for almost two miles before a rivulet from the other side in Kilmun territory joined the flow. The creek widened. The center got deeper and slower.

The riverman skipped lightly from the trailing boat to the fore. He'd stacked a dozen pieces of kindling wood together on the rear deck but otherwise he showed no sign of building a fire. He didn't seem impatient to get the work done. Like Denario, he seemed to view the calm section of the creek as a chance to rest.

He held out his hand. Denario put the pole into it.

“What's this called again?” said Jack. It was a challenge.

“Um, the punt.” Denario still thought of it as a stick or a pole. No one used them on the Complacent Sea.

“Right. Yar done punting for now. Take some armor off.”

Denario had sweated through his shirt, chain mail, and second shirt. He took off his outer layer, the hauberk. It was the hottest part. He let the heavy leather thing flop next to his main pack. Then he sat on the deck next to his accounting bag, from which he pulled a pen, ink, and a fresh scrap of parchment. The nib of the pen was bent. He got out his knife to re-cut it. When he was satisfied with the shape and feel of the nib, he grabbed his ink bottle and shook. He wanted to hurry up and capture in writing the bends in the creek that he'd just seen. He had been memorizing them and sighting distances with the punt as if it were a theodolite. That was how he'd estimated their travel so far at about two miles. If he waited too long, he'd forget the details and the map quality would suffer.

He made his first marks on the scroll. They looked good. He nodded and studied the tip of his pen even though he already knew it was fine. Denario had kept good track of the south-by-southwest direction of the raft's travels. It was no problem for him to do the next part, filling in the compass star and the distance key. Then he had to transcribe the nine bends he'd seen in the creek into shapes on the page. He got out his ruler and his protractor.

“Yar keepin' a map?” said Jack. He grinned incredulously, as if in anticipation of a joke. He craned his neck to see what the accountant was doing.

“Yes. Vir, the Mundredi chief I told you about, he said this water had never been mapped.” Denario marked where they were on the top third of the scroll. Then he began to draw backwards up to their launch point.

“Huh. Wasn't sure I believed about the chief.” The riverman pulled the punt out of the water. He held the pole, which was as long as two tall men, as lightly as Denario would hold a yardstick. “I do recognize the coin on yar neck, though.”

“I've been planning to make the first map of this place ever since I realized I had to go home this way.” He dipped the pen into the ink again.

“Did ya talk to anyone about it?”

“Not particularly.”

“Didn't anyone tell ya why this place is called No Map Creek?”

“Because no one's ever mapped it?”

“Huh.” The boatman stood back and looked sideways at the accountant. “Well, no harm giving it a try, I suppose. Everyone's got to learn.”

With that cryptic remark, Jack Lasker fell quiet for a quarter hour while Denario mapped the bends in the stream. Denario included the major landmarks, mostly the largest of the trees and a trio of boulders that had looked nothing like trolls, thank goodness. There was also what the riverman described as a swimming hole, which was a wide bend with slow currents. The bend was occupied by a goat on a long tether tied to a tree growing on the Kilmun bank. The goat waded up to its knees.

A Kilmun boy rested uphill from the goat. He had laid down a pair of stilts beside him, which seemed odd. Denario associated stilts with traveling circuses and Oggli parades or street fairs. He stopped thinking about that, though, when he noticed the spear laid across the boy's lap. That made the accountant nervous about what might be in the water that required a weapon. Another half-mile passed without any signs of large fish or magic, though. Denario finished his mapping and laid out the scroll to dry.

“Coming up around the next bend is Killim Thal,” Jack announced. He took his punt out of the water and pointed to a farmhouse visible through a row of willow trees along the Mundredi side. Denario strolled to the front of the raft to get a better look. He noticed a house on the Kilmun side, too. Apparently the town spanned the creek.

Before they could round the bend, which took some poling because of a sandbar in the way, Denario heard a loud flutter of wings behind him. He spun, half-expecting to see a magical creature like a griffin. It was a hawk. It wasn't even a big one, no larger than his arm. Its beak looked deadly, though. Denario tried to avoid alarming it. The bird had landed on the gunwhales of the raft. Denario judged that it would probably go away as soon as it saw there were no mice or rats on the deck.

For a moment, it focused its yellow eyes on Denario. Then it lost interest. The brown hawk gazed around in the jerky, instantly-focusing way that predatory birds had. It hopped down from the gunwhales. It hopped again. Finally, without looking around, it hopped twice more and then took off.

“Hey!” Denario shouted. On the last hop, the hawk had grabbed his map in its claws.

He lunged forward and drew his sword. But the hawk was no longer even visible. The map was gone. If the hawk let it drop right now, wherever it had gone, the parchment would probably fall somewhere in the boughs of the trees.

“Damn it,” he swore. “That piece was expensive. Now I'll have to redo the drawing.”

“Make sure to use a smaller scrap next time,” said Jack. He'd paid more attention to punting around the sandbar than to the hawk.

Denario took his advice and hastily re-drew the map from memory on a cheap fragment of calfskin. He stuffed it into one of his pockets so no bird could get it.

Next: Chapter Nineteen, Scene Six

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 117: A Bandit Accountant, 19.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Four: Crazy Jack

“I might barter passage for work,” said the well-tanned riverman, “but ya don't look like yah'd be much of a boatman.”

“Probably not,” admitted Denario.  He had made the mistake of trying to build a raft.  No one in the area had wanted his work, not even as a geometer.  He'd taken the advice of the farmers and cut down a few scrub mallow trees with his axe.  It took him three days but it had seemed worth it.

The mallow trunks were the lightest pieces of wood he'd ever moved although they were still heavy enough to crush his toes.  By themselves, the logs floated better than oak.  More than half their diameter stayed above the surface of the water.  His experiments with the logs along the banks of No Map Creek seemed promising.  But then came his attempts to lash the stripped-down saplings together.  After a day of bruising his fingers, ripping the bark that was supposed to keep his wood waterproofed, breaking his rope, and losing one of his hard-cut saplings to the mid-stream current, he gave up and paid a couple local boys to help him.  They'd demanded two coppers each, math lessons, a scrap of parchment, a pen nib, and a handful of honey drops from Vogel's General Store.

In return, the boys made a raft that would just about lift Denario and his baggage but not quite.  The level at which it floated was above the creek bottom but below the surface of the water.  When Denario stood on it fully loaded with his gear, about an inch of water drifted over the tops of his feet.  The raft was as steerable as a cart with a broken wheel.  Basically, it was useless and he'd wasted the better part of a week and a sixteenth of his precious supplies on it.

He'd been poling himself slowly, carefully, and rather unsteadily along the Mundredi side of the creek when a real riverman arrived.  Naturally, the fellow looked on the accountant with amusement.

“It wasn't my intention to become a sailor,” Denario clarified.  He stood taller.  His shifting weight shook the raft.  His feet started to slip on the wet bark and he almost fell.

The current was gentle and it was only a couple feet deep according to his pole. He wouldn't have drowned.  But he might have taken a serious injury in terms of embarrassment.

“Are ya just playing, then?” asked the approaching boatman.  “Because it's a dangerous game, as loaded with weights as ya are.  In the deeper parts of the creek, ya would be dead soon after ya tipped over.”

“No, I meant to be a paying passenger on a boat.”

“Yah?”  The riverman raised one eyebrow in a slightly skeptical expression.  He wasn't a tall fellow although of course he was at least a head taller than Denario.  He'd gone partially bald, which Denario could see because, under the boughs of the trees lining the creek, the fellow didn't bother to wear a hat.  His remaining hair was mostly black, touched by a line of silver.

The boatman's arms were strong and finely muscled.  He wore only one shirt, no sleeves, so he was dressed for movement, not warmth.  Possibly his constant activity kept him comfortable.  The raft under his feet was a large one, about a quarter of the size of the creek and it was a reasonably wide creek.  In most places, the shores were too far apart for anyone to skip rocks across to the opposite bank.  Or maybe that was just Denario's weak arm showing him up.

More impressive than the size of the raft was the structure.  It was nearly a flat-bottomed boat.  The beams that formed the bulkheads had been made watertight by the fibrous stuffing between them. The lip of the hull was surrounded by what Denario thought of as gunwhales although they were too short to hide behind unless maybe you laid down and used a crossbow.

The craft looked almost seaworthy.  Better, there was a second craft tethered behind it.  The decks of both were largely empty.  The closer raft held the boatman, a deer-hide tent, which was probably where the man slept at night, and two bundles of raccoon furs.  The farther one carried a load of small barrels carefully distributed and tied down with twine and pegs.

“A passenger paying with what?”  The fellow rubbed his stubbly chin.  “I'm always looking to make a bit more profit.  What do ya have?  Smelt?  Pigs ears?  This far into the hills, I don't suppose yah've got any money.”

“Money?”  Denario gasped.  It almost made him fall.  Rather than take any more risks, he hopped off of his raft.  The creek was cold and the silt made for sticky walking but no worse.  He grabbed onto a loose end of his raft's lashing as it bobbed to the surface. “Bless you!  No one's wanted money from me in over two months.”

“Yah're happy that I wants money?  Does that mean ya gots some?”

“Yes.”  Denario's city-raised instincts kicked in.  He raised his guard mentally as he turned his back on the river man and  started to drag his little raft to shore. “Not much but some.  How is it that you use money?”

“Well, now, I'm a professional boatman.”  The fellow put unnecessary emphasis on the word 'professional,' probably his way of reminding the accountant about how dangerous the creek might be for amateurs.  “This is my second trip of the year already.  And I travel a long ways.”

“How far?”  Denario reached the sandy bank and dragged his lash line with him until the edges of the mallow logs met the shore and stuck fast.

“All of No Map Creek plus the Lamp Kill all the way to Oupenli.  Money is all anyone wants, down there.  I don't go past the big city no more because they have a riverman's tax.”

“Pity.”  The two huge rafts looked sturdy enough to take out on the Complacent Sea.

“It's na pity.  That stop is the secret to making runs on this creek whenever I like.”

“Because you don't waste time going to Oggli?”

“Oggli has better prices, I hear.  But in Oupenli I can sell everything, even the rafts.  I make good rafts, as ya might notice.”  The man had managed to hold his flatboats against the current for a minute but the pole-work involved looked tiring.  He took a deep breath and found a larger rock along the bottom to use for leverage.

“I did notice,” Denario admitted.  “So there are people who will buy the raft?  And you can rely on that?”

“Oh, yes.  I've got partners there.  There's a whole trade built on raft swapping.  If ya pole a boat through Oupleni Gates with nothing on it, the tax is only a copper.  But if yah've got goods, the local knights take one out of twenty.”

“I never knew that.”  This was a lesson in economics, Denario judged, if only he could figure out what it meant.  It would be one for the accounting log, anyway.

“It can get worse than that.  If ya don't cooperate, they kill ya or sink ya or take everything. They all claim to be free knights, too, so they don't agree with one another and they don't trust the Oupenli Gates committee, though it's made up of knights like them.  So sometimes they come for their shares all personal.”

“Does that mean you get taxed twice?”

“Could be.  It's hard to stop five or six men in armor when they're already aboard.  Sometimes they don't care about furs or olives or apples or anything else but coins.  Then they take all the silver yah've got.”  He pushed the tip of his pole deep into the creek bottom.  The current was starting to overpower him at last.  His trailing boat had started to flow around him and now it had reached a point almost sideways behind the first.  It would be in front of him soon and carry him away.

“But you still want my money?” Denario said, jumping to a conclusion.  He couldn't take his eyes off of the drifting rear raft.

“Only a week or so downstream, past an old temple,” said the man as he bent down to a coil of rope near his feet, “ya find folks who don't like getting eggs or pigs ears in payment.  They want pennies or elim.”

The elim were coins so badly made, they hardly lasted.  Denario hadn't seen many.  Their metal was the cheapest that could be cast.  Placed in a sack with other coins, the elim developed nicks and scratches and eventually broke up altogether.  But in the Ogglian countryside, an elim could buy an apple.

The riverman lifted his rope coil and tossed knotted end to the accountant.  Denario sighed with relief.  The man wasn't going to leave quite yet.  The end of the rope that was still on the boat was tied off on a stake driven between two bulkheads.  Denario needed to tie off his end quickly.  He ran to a nearby maple tree and lashed the cord around the trunk.  He tied a sailor's hitch but he almost wasn't fast enough.  He barely slipped the end through the crossed loops before the pull of the creek tightened it.  The fibers twisted in his hands.

The second raft had begun to pull the first one downstream.  Fortunately, the lashing held.  The riverman nodded at it.  He hopped off the lip of his boat straight onto the shore.  In his left hand, he held a second coil.  He marched to a different maple tree and looped a single hitch around it.  Then, because the rope still had play, he tied a snuggle hitch farther down on the trunk.

“This line joins by carrick bend to the tether between the boats,” explained the riverman. “So it'll hold the second one even if the first goes.  But I don't think the first one should have a problem.  Yar knot looks fine.”

“Thanks,” said Denario.  He stuck out his hand.  “I'm Denario the Dramatic, Accountant of Oggli.”

“Hah!  That's a hero's type of name.”  The fellow stepped forward and shook.  “Ya don't look it except for the armor.  I’ve never met an accountant before.  Too rich and too free of possessions for a raftsman, usually.  What are ya doing up here?”

“A job went bad and I had to look for another way home,” Denario said.  “I’ve done book keeping and surveying and so on to earn my room and board.”

“Those are different things, surveying and whatnot.”

“Well, certified accountants study the measurement of everything.”

“If ya say so.  Where did ya learn your knots?  Not from counting, surely.”

“I grew up handling the dockyard books in Oggli.  Sometimes that meant working on the docks.  The handlers and sailors always wanted me to make myself useful.”

“Good.  Denario the Drama Tick, I'm Jack Lasker.  Some call me Clever Jack.”

“Ah ... I heard 'Crazy Jack.'”  As soon as the words came out of his mouth, Denario wished he had them back.  He didn't want to drive up the price of his trip.  “But Clever Jack sounds much better.”

“Don't it?”  Jack rubbed his bald head for a moment.  “I've been called other things but I think it pays to tell people yar clever.  Sometimes I put warnings into bottles, something like 'Clever Jack is coming to take all yar whiskey' and set them afloat while I'm building me rafts.”

“Why?”  It seemed like a change of subject but Denario was fine with it.

“It's what I learned from my partners in Oupenli.  It's called 'advertising.'”

“Oh, I get it.  You pick up whiskey on the way.  That is clever.”

“Them notes let folks get ready for me if they notice 'em.  I sent out a dozen out last week during a flood.  No one so far has told me they found 'em but I have hopes for the next place.  It's a big town called Killim Thal a few miles south.”

“I've heard of it.”  Denario had been heading there, in fact, although he wasn't sure if would have needed to abandon his raft and walk.

“Want to come along?”

“The price?”  Denario patted his water skin.  It wasn't where he kept his money but he didn't want to reveal his hiding places.

“We can discuss it as we go,” said Jack with a nod.  “If ya don't like the bargain, well, ya can always get off at Killim Thal.  They might have a use for math.  Like I said, they're big, pretty near six hundred people.”

“What about my raft?”  Denario swung his arm toward his traitorous, amateur boat.  It had floated well until he actually stood on it.

“I'd like to pull it up onto my own and have a look.  That's mallow wood, isn't it?”

“So I'm told.”

“Yah, the mallow is worth something in itself.  I'm sorry ya cut it down.  I suppose the farmers told ya to do it but I hate for anyone to waste the trees.  To the farmers, they're useless.  To boatmen, mallow is a friend.  It’s light and strong, a bit like balsa.”

Denario knew balsa wood from the Oggli and Anghrili docks.  Sailors used it to make tools that needed to float despite carrying lots of weight, things like buoys, barrels, ladles, handles, safes, and even types of riggings, rafts and ship decks.  Maybe that explained why the mallow wood had seemed to Denario more buoyant than other types.  He'd thought it was simply because it was old and dry.

Jack held out his hand.  Reluctantly, Denario handed over the tether to his raft.  The boatman pulled it close and knelt.  He lifted a corner of the raft.  His knuckles rapped the bark underneath with a damp, hollow sound.

“These trees were nearly dead.  Not so much a loss.  But ya left the bark on instead of splitting the logs and baking them.  Ya need to cook out water from wood properly, even from stuff that's far gone.  Do that and use a bit of sedge reed stuffed between the bulks.  That would have made this raft stronger, maybe even enough to hold all of yar equipment.”

“That's ... astounding.”  He felt a surge of hope.  Even if he didn't get along with Crazy Jack, he had learned something useful.  The raft might yet take him home before the start of summer.  That would be only two months late from his apprentices' point of view.

“It takes a good fire and a bit of time to dry this out.  It's worth it.  We can take yar raft apart and build the fire on my deck.”

“A fire on your deck?”

“Right now?”  Crazy Jack grinned.  “Sure!”

The fellow wrapped the mallow raft's crude towing line around his hand.  He backed up a few steps.  Then he took a running leap from the shore to his nearest boat.  It wasn't far but he almost didn't make it.  He had to skip for an instant on the edge of Denario's raft before he placed his left foot down on the gunwhales.

Denario watched Jack almost but not quite fall in and shrugged.  He'd been warned that this man took risks.  Well, accountants did, too.  One did, anyway.  And Denario's bad experiences with fires didn't mean much on a creek.  The was nothing wrong with building a fire on a boat, surely.

Next: Chapter Nineteen, Scene Five

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 116: A Bandit Accountant, 19.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Scene Three: Hunger

There are no rafts on No Map Creek. I have been hiking along the banks. But to no avail. I have come at the wrong time of year.

The rivermen who deal in leathers, meats, cloth, and finished goods all sailed down from the northeast hills as soon as the ice melted. They are long gone. The next slew of rafts will not launch until the harvests of spring crops begin in mid-summer. That's two months from now, a wait that I fear my apprentices cannot afford. 

I've written an explanation of my delay to my partner, Curo, but there is no one to take it south. I've also written a letter to Carinde Vogel and sent it with carters from Shore Kill. The contents were mostly Lesson Number 6 from the schedule of the Oggli and Anghrili Accounting course. I dared to include a personal message. Part of that was in code but I expect she'll have no problem reading it.

After two days in Shore Kill, a town that borders the creek, a letter from Carinde caught up with me. It was addressed to 'Denario de Dramatik, Master Accountant, care of the Bank of Oupenli-Ogglie.' I daresay it would have found me even in Oggli. She must have written it the day after my departure. In it, she includes a drawing of another eight-pointed mullet. She describes using algebra in her father's business and refers to the money I gave her as part of her dowry. I suppose that makes sense from her step-mother's point of view. Cari also says, many times, that she misses me and hopes I'll return soon. It makes me feel bad that I won’t see her again. 

She inspired me to seek help. I went to the town hall to plead my case to the mayor of Shore Kill. He advised me to build my own raft.

That is impossible. But as I have debated with myself about the situation, I've grown hungry. I've eaten most of my rations. Shore Kill cares nothing for accounting, geometry, or any other sort of math. The citizens will not let me earn my keep here. Nor will the mayor intervene. He said that the problems of the world beyond his farms are of no concern. Indeed, for hundreds of years, there have been no wars here. His town has no wall to protect it. There are no barriers or levies around the neighboring towns.

I've tightened my belt. I've prepared myself for the hardest journey, the one through the most magical of lands.

Next: Chapter Nineteen, Scene Four