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.”