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

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