Monday, June 25, 2018

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Nineteen 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

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Being Geek in a Warrior Culture - Nineteenth Chapter

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Normal Magic Hexagon

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 123: A Bandit Accountant, 20.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Four: Water Screws

I have seen these machines in architectural drawings, Denario wrote. They were commonplace in ancient times. They are not popular now so I suspect that only a few accountants would understand them. Apparently, great-grandfather Bodker built them for his irrigation system ninety years ago. I don't know if he was a solitary genius or whether he learned of the concept through traders. At any rate, he used six machines and a series of wooden aqueducts to bring water from the creek to his fields, forge, barrel works, and home. In Anghrili, these machines are known as 'water screws.'

That name did not come to me when I walked to the northeast edge of Barrel Bad and saw the wooden tubes. In fact, nothing helpful came to my mind. I didn't recognize them as man-made. The first one was broken and overgrown with moss. It looked like a dead tree, fallen over. Where the surface of the thing wasn't supporting wildlife, it was half-covered with tar.

What I saw looking into the cracked barrel of the water screw was this: 

The slope of the outside of the screw's helical blades with respect to its sides is 2. 

This requires that the slope the screw makes with respect to a horizontal line be less than 2 (an angle of 63°) in order for pockets of water to form. Upright, the screw does not function as intended.

The blades of the screw were carved from spruce. The core was oak. Between them, attachments were made from screw to core. They do not appear beyond the skills of an ordinary carpenter.

The outer shell was formed from oak staves banded together by iron rings. The cooper used a process similar to barrel making. The tube was a cylinder but, by using different lengths of wood, he formed it as one piece made as if from five barrels laid end to end. The slats interleaved, held together by iron. He must also have used a kind of glue or resin. Even where the iron had rusted away, planks held together.

From the first tube, I comprehended some basic mathematical concepts of the screw. What I didn't understand was what it was doing there at the edge of a field.

'Well, the creek moved, dinnit?' was the answer from Marcel.

So the barrel had sat in the water when it was made. Changing sands had pulled the river bed out from under it, now fifteen yards to the southeast. Local men chimed in with descriptions of how they thought the devices had once worked. From them, I gathered that these devices were pumps.

Clearly what lay before me was not a pump. I tried to understand how these fellows could have mistaken it for one.

'There's a pump what still works some,’ said Marcel. 'It draws up a bit of water from ol' No Map. Otherwise I wouldna thought you could fix any.'

'Aha!' With those words I began, for the first time, to comprehend what I faced. I counted the screw blades I could see. They were all almost exactly eleven inches apart. Given an eight-foot length, mostly covered and hidden from my view, I reasoned that there were nine helical blades pieced together around the core. The pitch of the blades measured at roughly forty-five degrees. They seemed to be about eight inches in radius from the core.

I took all the measurements I could, knowing I would not want to hike back to this broken pump.

About eighty yards further north, Marcel showed me another wooden tube blackened by tar and pitch. This one was in good shape and stood nearly straight up from the creek to the wooden aqueduct that was meant to carry water from it. Although I couldn't see inside, a handle at the top seemed to turn the core smoothly. I heard the blades move. Nevertheless, the machine did not lift any water up to the aqueduct. Since I had no idea of how it was supposed to work, I was not troubled.

How could a screw lift water? Yet somehow, I felt that it once had. At an intuitive level, I began to realize that Marcel was right. I could fix these or, at least, learn the correct geometry of them. I didn't have enough information yet.

The next pump we came to, again traveling to the northwest, lay along a sandy bank. It was quite nearly flat to the ground, which allowed me to see into it from underneath. The end that hung out into the creek had visible, intact wooden blades, apparently part of the same helical arrangement as the one that lay broken. This one spun. I could see it work. The blades touched the water. But the machine picked up nothing and seemed to have essentially no effect.

'Is this broken?' Marcel asked me.

'The mechanism seems to work,' I said. 'I don't know yet why it's stopped pumping. As far as I can tell, it should never have done anything.'

'Well, the next one picks up water.'

The next barrel-covered screw sat at about a 60 degree angle from the creek to the aqueduct system. Marcel turned the handle at the top for a while. Finally something happened. Between the handle and the barrel surrounding it, a trickle of muddy water began to pour. It kept coming. I had to dismiss the idea that it was a trick conducted with a small pocket of water stored in the tube beforehand. No, the machine was lifting the flow of the creek.

Water sluiced down from the opening at the top of the screw into the curve of a wooden plank. Marcel had made an aqueduct out of wood or he had repaired an ancient one about five feet tall at its high end. Wood does not seem to me to be the best material to carry flowing water yet clearly it is what a barrel maker would use and it performed well enough. A wave descended gently at a five degree angle for more than sixty feet before it met the ground in an irrigation furrow.

I fell to my knees in the dirt and began to draw the angles and lengths of the 'pump', the irrigation system, and the slope of the ground, which was nearly level. I had no clear reason to do this. I simply saw that at least two triangles were involved and they formed a greater triangle combined. I had begun to guess that angles were important.

'Are you all right?' Marcel kept asking me that question. So did the other men. I couldn't answer. I was busy thinking.

When I realized that the 'pump' was a water screw, I was nearly done.

'Aha!' I jumped up in the air and whooped. Several men started running away, each in different directions. Perhaps they feared that I was doing magic or I'd contracted a disease. Jack had to coax them back by reminding them that his money was at stake.

Now I faced an impossible problem. I shuffled around, hands on hips, muttering to myself. I was racking my brain for information on water screws and finding very little. I'd read about them but I'd never seen any at work, not even during my trips to Anhgrili, where a famous one still exists. What was the difference between the working screw and the failing ones? Was it as simple as the manner in which they met the water?

My feet carried me ten yards before I stopped. I'd begun the dash back to the previous screw without explaining. I made myself wait.

'Marcel, I want to try something,' I managed to call out before I started running again.

I heard a laugh behind me. Jack the riverman blew by my left shoulder, as fast as a storm wind. Marcel caught me before we reached the flat-lying screw. When we arrived, I was out of breath. But my travels have agreed with my health. I recovered in a few seconds and managed to lift the wooden tube with their help. Where the cylinder had once entered the water, barely, at an angle of five degrees, we arranged it with a ramp of earth and rocks to almost a fifty-eight degree angle.

Testing seemed to demonstrate the importance of this geometry. 

Next: Chapter Twenty, Scene Five

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Not Zen 196: World Music

The Skatalites at Brooklyn Bowl November 2015 by All-Nite Images
The Skatalites by All-Nite Images
The smell of the club overwhelmed her for a moment. It felt as if the air had been brushed with the sweat of close bodies and mixed with the breeze. Laura let the door swing closed behind her.

Loud music made the place feel stuffed although it was about half full. The club's walls bore the scent of after-smoke. Shadows adorned black-light posters, tabletops, and recessed lights in the ceiling. The bulbs above were dim, some of them colored orange or yellow. The floor throbbed with a reggae beat or at least that's what she'd thought from outside. As Laura drew closer, she could feel a ska rhythm on top of everything. Then the song changed. The beat drove faster.

"Weird looking band," said her friend, Patty.

"I guess." Laura rubbed her hand stamp and turned. She could barely see the musicians on stage. Dancers in the mosh pit bounced in front of the sound system. Only the heads and sometimes the upper bodies of the players were visible beyond.

There was red hair on the guitarist, far left, kinky and wild. On the far right of the stage, she noticed a rainbow beanie and a set of oily, black dreadlocks that seemed to belong to the bassist. Behind them, the drummer showed as a barely-visible denim beret. Off center, the keyboard player sported a puffy afro. Up front, the lead singer danced and shook himself. He swung his beaded dreadlocks.

The band hustled and twisted. The bassist and drummer were really good, she thought. They carried the rest of the band. Patty skittered into the mosh pit. Laura decided to follow. She wasn't comfortable with the scene, though. Patty had to grab her by the wrist and pull her in.

They danced as a straight-girl couple in a way that Patty was good at. She could keep people guessing. Both of them used their elbows to keep the men away. Laura was glad for Patty's mood. Sometimes her friend got too crazy, she thought. This evening, they hung out at the edge of the dance floor for no more than an hour of the show.

"Okay, come on." Patty grabbed Laura's hand as soon as the music ended. Naturally, her friend had a backstage pass. Patty had seen hundreds of bands and she'd interviewed about half.

They paused at the backstage bouncer's table. Laura spared a glance at the young men and women, mostly women, who were lining up to beg their way in. She felt a twinge of guilt about how some of the girls seemed so open to trading favors for entrance to the party, pulling their shirts open down to the bra line, adding more makeup while waiting, some of them looking bored like they'd been through this hundreds of times.

Patty had worn her usual black fashion ensemble, expensive jeans with pre-cut rips, leather jacket with tassels, studded leather belt, and boots. Only her t-shirt was plain and white.

Laura's jacket was brown, her best one. Patty had rolled her eyes at it but she approved of Laura's style on most nights. This evening, Laura's black shirt and blue jeans had escaped comment.

"You're on the list," said the stagehand. He nodded approval. Patty didn't wait for the big fellow to step aside. She parted the divider curtain herself. The bouncer called, "Enjoy."

Patty told Laura to get them free drinks at the bar while she cornered someone she'd spotted from a record company. Fortunately, the conversation was finished before Laura got back. The man in his suit jacket retreated to a beaten-up, olive couch for a conference with someone else. Patty seized the opportunity to approach a member of the band. She took a tumbler glass from Laura as she stepped up to the red-haired guitar player.

"So," she said. She was as tall as the guitarist was. That caught his eye. "Why reggae? Why do you play that style of music?"

"Uh," he began. The way the paused, Laura could tell he wasn't much of a talker. He'd changed shirts after the concert, she noticed. He was already growing sweat stains on this one. "Because it's fun?"

"I mean, you didn't grow up in Jamaica or anything. You didn't grow up playing this type of music." It wasn't a question. Patty seemed to have something in mind.

"No. I listened to Marley and UB40, I guess." There was that long pause again while he thought. He stared at his half-empty drink glass. It looked like draft beer. It could have been ginger ale if he were going sober. "Everyone does that. Nothing special one way or another. But Winston, our singer, he's Jamaican."

He turned his head toward the band leader, who was approaching with a woman on each arm. Who did that? Laura wondered. But here he was, the tall Jamaican with dreadlocks and he had an older blonde on his left elbow. She seemed slightly drunk and tired but perhaps that was just in comparison to the to the woman on his right, who was younger. Her hair was bleached, not natural, and she was definitely one of the girls who Laura and Patty had passed in the line to the backstage curtain.

"Why doesn't he hire a Jamaican guitarist?" Patty continued. She meant to be overheard.

Winston rose to the bait. He stepped toward her.

"He's the one I want." He shook off the women and put his hand on his guitarist's shoulder. "He's the best. Who's asking? Why are you asking?"

"I write about music," Patty said by way of an answer. "I'm curious. Don't you think it's cultural appropriation for white people to play reggae?"

"That's the new term, isn't it?" Winston nodded to himself. "I take it seriously. I've heard the critics. But I feel the opposite of that. I want to spread reggae and ska and zydeco all around. To shepherd all music to everyone. That is my mission."

The last two lines he delivered as if he were speaking through Patty to her readers. He might as well have been. Patty had a sharp memory and those were words she would remember.

"Zydeco," she mumbled to herself. She looked at Laura.

"He played accordion," said Laura. She hoped it was helpful. "I liked it. You said it was different."

"Right." She turned to the band leader. "Winston, where did you learn zydeco?"

"It's new to me. I like how it sounds with ska beats." He stepped back. He blinked, understanding. "What, now I can only play Jamaican music? No zydeco for me because I'm not French-American?"

The keyboard player, who Laura recognized by his hair, was attracted by the raised voices. He leaned his head forward, halfway across the room, and then he waved off the woman he'd been talking with. He nodded to a short, white man who had been sitting nearby. That fellow rose from a couch to join him.

They strolled over, the short guy half a step behind. It took Laura a moment to realize that he had to be the drummer. He had a pair of wooden drumsticks in his hand. His beard looked rough. His expression wasn't friendly even though he had no reason to be upset. Apparently, he was one of those men who is always on edge.

"I don't know," Patty said. She didn't look at anyone but Winston and she didn't seem much bothered by his question. "I'm wondering what's authentic and what's appropriated."

"Ugh," he said. "We just like what we like."

The keyboardist leaned over to the drummer. They had a side conversation for a minute while Patty talked with their band leader. Laura sipped her drink. It was too sweet. She'd ordered what Patty liked but Laura preferred plainer drinks. She'd rather have them with no alcohol at all, usually. The red-head guitarist glanced at Winston, then at Patty. He looked lost. After a minute, Laura touched his elbow. She was sure she'd rather be talking with him than anyone else. But she couldn't think of anything to say.

"Are you a music writer, too?" he asked. Even his eyebrows had red hairs.

"No, just a friend. I've known her since grade school."

That made him smile, for which she was grateful. She grinned back. But Patty and Winston returned to the subject of cultural appropriation. Patty took the side of her readers, which Laura recognized as not being exactly Patty's own side. But for a portion of music fans, being authentic was important.

"What about me?" The drummer stepped in. He was so much shorter than the others that Winston and Patty each backed up a step and created more space between them rather than look at the top of his head. He folded his arms. The drumsticks were still in his left hand. "My parents are fucking racists. Am I supposed to go back to them and be part of their culture?"

"Not that, probably." Patty looked slightly alarmed.

"Chill, Tommy," murmured the keyboardist. He stepped up behind the drummer.

"Well, then I've got to pick some other culture," the drummer continued. "Someone's going to complain. It might as well be these guys."

At that, the keyboard player laughed. Winston shook his head but he was smiling.

"What about the white folks that grew up in the inner city and act like American blacks?" Winston asked. Laura realized that he'd posed the question just before his drummer interrupted. He hadn't been heard so he'd asked again. "Are they authentic? Or not?"

"I suppose they're authentic. Not everyone would agree, though. And I'm not sure whether agreement or not should matter."

"I think it does matter," Winston said. He tapped two fingers on his chin as he thought. "People are upset about others pretending to be from different backgrounds, putting on ethnic clothes, listening to different music, watching their films, talking like them."

"Yes. I hear it a lot. It's on my mind."

"But in fact, that is how empathy is created," Winston said. "When you can see yourself as that Jew or that Jamaican down the street, then you can start to side with that view of the street, you know? The danger comes not from pretending to be someone else but from not being able to imagine yourself in someone else's place."

"What about the art critics? And the fashion critics? They're trying to protect cultures from appropriation."

Winston put his arm around the drummer's shoulder. The shorter man didn't seem moved by it one way or another, not shrugging it off, not relaxing.

"Maybe," said Winston. "They haven't imagined being someone who has to leave behind his native culture. Yet everyone has to do that. That's how it goes for each generation. We leave behind the bad parts. And that's progress."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Not Even Not Zen 122: A Bandit Accountant, 20.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Score
Scene Three: Bad Barrels

Mosquitoes discovered Denario during the night. In the morning, when he wasn't helping to steer, he itched the back of his neck until it was bloody.

Life beneath the canopy of cedars, birches, and willows was cooler than Denario had expected. Unlike Jack, who sometimes went bare-chested, Denario needed a shirt. The current was slow, so he didn’t heat up from work. He had time to relax. Within a mile of their launch, the creek grew too deep for the punt. In the sections where the water had turned a deep blue-green, Denario could push the rod all the way down until his hand touched the surface. The tip still didn't hit bottom.

He stopped playing that game when a shape bigger than his legs rose up from the depths. It looked like a small alligator with a fish tail. Crazy Jack said it was harmless and would go away. But Denario didn't like the look of the creature's long, tooth-filled mouth. On his next break, he stayed away from the water and cleaned his accounting gear. He followed that by oiling his short sword to remove a spot of rust. Then he practiced his sword drills, which made Jack laugh.

“Ya should work on bein' a better boatman,” he said. “Yar deadly enough with yar weapons.”

It was nearly the first complement Denario had received about his fighting prowess. He hoped that meant he was getting better, albeit in the eyes of a non-expert. The sword felt more natural to him nowadays and he didn't end his drills as soon or as exhausted as he once had.

“Comin' up on Barrel Bad soon,” muttered Jack. “It's three bends away just past the old hitchin' post.”

“Barrel Bad? That's a town name?” Denario chuckled. Then he sighed.

“Sure, used to make the best barrels there. Still make good ones.”

“Doesn't the name strike you as funny?”

“How do you mean?”

“I've passed so many places with ridiculous names. In Oggli, I heard foreigners mock them. I mean, 'Barrel Bad?' Doesn't that sound like they do something badly? Although it's nowhere near Pharts Bad, I admit. I never did figure that one out.”

“'Taint much to figure. A lot of old names sound silly. There are good reasons behind them. Like for Barrel Bad, well, 'bad' means 'bath.' There's a freshwater spring near the town. I've seen it. Come to think of it, the spring is oddly round, shaped a bit like the bottom half of a barrel. Maybe the town gets its name from that, not from the cooper.”

“But it's not just that our towns have funny names,” Denario said. “I think we haven't been respected for hundreds of years even when our names were picked for us. Take the city of Anhgrili, for instance. That's across the river where I came from. As you might point out, 'anhgre' is the old, old word for 'anchor.' But that city was named by the Muntab navy, which means it got approval from the emperor himself. The name got passed up the bureaucracy.”


“So in Muntar, they never had the old, old tongue that we used here. So anhgre sounds like 'anger.' I'll bet the clerks who saw that thought it was a hilarious name. But they still approved it.”


“Because they like laughing at us? That's just a guess.” Denario raised his small fist. “With the gods as my witness, someday our people will be respected.”

“Hah.” The boatman leaned back and laughed. “Who are yar people?”

“I don't know. My apprentices come first. A girl in Ruin Thal, maybe. Then it's folks like you and Vir. Maybe a witch in Ziegeburg. Then everyone else who's decent.”

“Not a bad answer.” Jack was grinning and nodding. “Don’t know if those folks care what they’re called, though.”

“Would any of these towns consider changing their names?” Denario asked. “I mean, Barrel Bad could just as easily be Springtown or Barreltun.”

The boatman looked dubious. “Those 'ton,' 'town' and 'tun' names sound foreign to people who were born here. If it didn't end in a 'li' sound when our great-great-grandfathers came, it ends in burg or bad now. Sometimes it's a 'thal' if you live in the cleft between two hills.”

“I think Ruin Thal is cheating, then. It's at the top of a hill. Well, it's between larger hills but still it's on high ground.”

“Don't know that one. If it's at the top, it should more rightly be an ephart, peak, or scarp Not too far north is a place called Willow Peak.”

“Ah, so Mount Ephart means 'cliff mountain.'”

“Wherever that is, sure, it sounds right.”

“Oh, no.” Denario slapped himself in the head.

“Forget something?”

“I just figured it out. Pharts Bad ... gods, what a terrible name ... that means 'spring by the cliff' or something like that, which makes perfect sense.”

“Told ya they have reasons.”

“They're awful names, Jack. Come on, you've been around. You know people poke fun at names all over the Complacent Sea and on up through the rivers, too.”

“They do. Can't say it ever bothered me. I don't think it bothers most folks, just a few young men like you who don't want laughed at.”

“Just me? Really?”

“Look, there's a town on the Riggle Kill called Druli.”

“I know it. I've passed through.” Denario saw Jack's point immediately.

“The sort of folks who are content to let their town be called 'drooly' for a few hundred years ...”

“It's built next to a marsh, too, and it's always wet.”

“Yah. They aren't going to change that name for whatever foreigners say.”

Denario shrugged. Jack was probably right.

“And Pharts Bad had a rockfall that exposed a seam of sulphur,” Denario said. “It smelled awful near the eastern side of the mine.”

“Heh.” It took the riverman about five seconds to get the joke. Some people never got it. The accountant felt that made Jack seem reasonably clever. “Pharts Bad, indeed. Funny.”

They docked the rafts at a strip of sand in a strong current.

Denario could tell the river had moved away from Barrel Bad, which lay in a sprawl of farms and houses entirely on the west bank, the Mundredi side. The change had rendered the town's old hitching post unreachable. It was too far from the sandy shore. Further downstream, someone had created three new hitching posts, all birch stumps. The stumps lined a shelf of sandbars and reed-beds. The reed beds looked like homes for all sorts of biting insects but Denario didn't suppose he could do much about it.

Jack stepped off the boat first. He hopped over the reeds and quickly handled the tie-down at the middle stump. Denario tried counting the seconds under this breath and got as far as one before Jack was finished with the first knot. He guessed he would have had a harder time of it himself. Denario's raft would have sped on past Barrel Bad in this too-swift current, assuming he'd gotten it moving.

After they tied the corners of both rafts down to the other stumps, Denario paused, hands on his knees, to look around. A road ran alongside of the creek. Like the creek, it trailed from northeast to southwest in both directions as far as anyone could see. Patches of dirt road had filled with grass, which made it appear seldom traveled. Up the slope away from the water, Denario spotted another trail. This one was wider. It led to the north by northeast. The two dirt paths met in a Y shape at the spot of the old hitching post sixty yards upstream.

“Is there supposed to be someone here, Jack?” he asked.

“Sometimes,” Jack answered cryptically.

“I see rooftops.” Denario pointed to the gap between groves of trees straight ahead. There was another, larger building with wooden shingles visible over the next rise to the right. “Do you want me to hike up the road?”

“You can go as far as you can carry the rafts.” Jack tossed down his coil of rope. He'd left his punt leaned against the near corner of the gunwhales. So he grabbed his hat off of the top of it, jammed it on his head, and hiked away.

Denario shrugged. It seemed to be his job to guard the cargo.

After about a minute, it occurred to him that there was no reason the Raduar assassin couldn't march to Barrel Bad. Although the creek's current was fast where they'd landed, it was slower than walking speed everywhere else. If the assassin had been willing to travel at night, he could be lying in wait somewhere close by.

The accountant scrambled into his armor. Even at a hurried pace, it took him five minutes to get his chain mail on. His greaves took longer. He gave up and tucked them back into his pack. The hauberk, too, seemed ridiculous for the effort it took. He decided to settle on picking up all the weapons he had. But he only had two hands. He couldn't fight with everything at once. The bow, he set aside. He hadn't practiced shooting anyway. He kept his sword in his scabbard and his eyes on the roads in front of him. In his left hand, he gripped the spear. He figured he could use the spear's huge length to keep the assassin away while he untied a raft. If he had to fight with the spear and broke the theolodite, he could repair it with the spare copper and tin in his money pack.

“Hoy!” About fifteen tense minutes later, Jack appeared on the northeast road. He passed through the gap in a grove of maple trees, spotted the accountant, and waved.

The boatman was a long way off. A few strides later, he passed behind a shrub. Behind him in the gap appeared a boy, then another boy. They were pulling leather straps that appeared tied to a wooden cart behind them. The cart's boards had turned grey with age.

When the group emerged from behind the maples and shrubs, Denario saw them all together for the first time. Jack had slowed to let a thick-bodied man catch up. That man wore a white shirt and dark vest. Behind him strode farm boys with their cart. On the front seat of the cart perched a girl aged probably eleven or twelve. She was dressed in petticoats, if that was the right term for her ruffled layers of plain white cloth. She held the reins of the cart in her lap. Her face bore the twist of a mischievous grin. Denario tried to read that expression. He thought she was tempted to thrash the reins and shout that her older brother and younger brother were donkeys.

She resisted right up to the time the cart rolled to a stop at the Y in the roads upstream from Denario. Then she gave the reins a flick, giggled, hopped down, and ran for it. Her brothers reacted immediately to the snap of leather. But it was already too late. She was off on a task to their neighbors, apparently. She dashed off along the creek to the northeast and in a few seconds got far enough away that her brothers couldn't give chase.

“So this is yar guard, eh?” the farmer drawled as he got closer. He spoke to Jack Lasker but he jerked his thumb in Denario's direction.

“Yep. He was fighting the Raduar who came down from the mountains.”


The farmer's beard hung to the middle of his chest. He paused to stroke the gray and brown strands of it. From his expression, he didn't approve of fighting. But he made sure that his boys pulled the cart all the way to the creek.

“Hope he's got sense not to drink,” the farmer mumbled.

“So far, so good.” Jack gave Denario a reassuring wink. “A bit of your lightning would teach anyone a lesson.”

That got a thoughtful grin. The farmer had brought something to trade downstream and it was, as he and Jack revealed, twenty-five clay bottles of 'lighting,' that being a type of local drink. They couldn't have been worth much. Jack's pay was two and a half tens of the bottles. They loaded the lighting onto the rafts with the farmer's sons doing most of the work. They also transferred pork from the rafts to the cart; that was the delivery. They stored the lighting bottles according to Jack's preference on the spots along the rafts, fifteen on one and ten on the other. By the time they finished, they could see other folks cresting the rise in the trail farther upstream, eight in all not counting the farmgirl who'd brought them. Those folks had wheelbarrows full of glazed pots.

The new arrivals soon heard the news that Denario was guarding the boat. At least one of them, the oldest, showed a glint of humor in his eyes as he sized up the accountant. He was too polite to say that Denario was the shortest fighter he'd ever seen. He was a genial fellow, though, as were his sons and his cousins. Their pots turned out to be mostly full of pickles.

Denario noticed something odd when he put his hands on one of the pots. They each bore the slanted 8 sign that he associated with Melcurio, god of accounting, banking, and possibly tricking.

“Who made these marks?” he asked a man who handed him the jar to load.

“Potter did. I ordered 'em. Lucky things, these. God marks.”

Denario hesitated. Sometimes religion could be a touchy subject. People got violent. He checked the forearms of the men for tattoos. The two older men had them but they were only for their house and clan signs, nothing to indicate the Mundredi or Kilmun tribes to which their clans belonged. None of the younger men or boys had any tattoos at all. It was hard to tell with what groups they might identify.

“And what gods do you worship?” he ventured.

“Gwydion. He makes the crops grow,” said the pickle man. He had only two tattoos, both bluish and faded like old bruises. “But these marks on the jars ain't his signs. These ya should know, from the look of ya. They're for the god of trade. Traditional, like.”

“These are marks for Melcurio?”

“We call him the Trader. Sometimes the we say the Counter or the Trickster.”

Denario felt closer to civilization on hearing those words. He'd reached lands where Melcurio was regarded as a god of trade. That came awfully close, in Denario's view, to being the god of banking.

He thought of other ways that No Map Creek seemed to be bringing him near to his destination. Old-style barter seemed to be on the decrease. Commodity money had grown prevalent. The pickle man, for instance, had paid Jack Lasker in bottles of his own brand of 'lightning,' which Denario understood was hard liquor. Liquor might be the main form of commodity money here, much as goats or dried fish were in other places. Non-accountants might not understand but Denario knew that staple commodities were related to coins. The relation wasn't in their materials but in their basic concept of reusable value. 'Lightning' could be traded many times before anyone had a sip, much as a coin could be used many times before a smithy melted it down.

“How come ya gots armor?” the farmer asked about half an hour later, as their work in loading was coming to an end.

Denario felt his face go red. He had hoped no one would notice the mail shirt between his layers of linen. Jack saw his reaction and laughed.

“The accountant comes from the Mundredi army!” he jeered.

“Didn't know we still had an army. Do we still have a chief?”

“Of course!” Then Jack launched into the story of Denario running away from the Raduar assassin. The boatman was a natural comedian. Everyone laughed. They oohed over Jack and Denario pushing the assassin down in the water. Then they asked why the man had been angry in the first place. Who had Denario killed?

“No, I'm not a murderer … well, only in self-defense ...” Denario told how he'd met Vir de Acker in foreign lands, how they'd escaped from an Ogglian jail, fought Raduar warriors, and more. He avoided mentioning the poison. What interested the farmers more than anything, though, was the Seven Valleys. Some of them had grandfathers from the valleys and they wanted to hear about the soil, the sunlight, and every other detail Denario could spare. They thought that the mine at Pharts Bad sounded wonderful but impossibly distant. They didn't seem to think the name of the place was funny. No one laughed upon hearing about any battles, not even when Denario admitted he'd been an idiot. These men knew the towns to the northwest of them had seen fighting. Although they weren't too concerned, they understood that organized violence was a possibility. Moreover, although they weren't sure he was their chief, they said Vir de Acker had ambushed a caravan to the south of them a couple of years ago, followed by a night raid against the baron's army. Some of the farmers knew about the fights and the fact that Vir had killed a dozen soldiers, stolen mysterious amounts of armor, and taken army cash boxes.

The accountant wondered if they were making up the part about the cash. It didn't seem like Vir even though the chief admitted to taking in money from time to time. Maybe the southern exploits were exaggerated. If I'd been a caravan leader robbed of warriors and armor, I might claim that I had no money left either, he thought.

It was Denario's stories about accounting, though, that got them the most excited. When he described his geometry and his maps, one of the men, who turned out to be the pickle shipper's youngest brother, started pacing back and forth. He interrupted to ask how Denario would make a wooden cylinder. Denario described the equation and a method for lathing. Then the fellow asked how Denario would make a spiral, which was an odd question. Denario's answer to making spirals was a bit complicated and the men got impatient.

“Look, can't you just come over to my place?” said the young one, still excited. “It's next to the Bodkers.”

“He means the farm next to the barrel works,” the pickle man explained.

“I'll feed you dinner if you look at my geometry problem,” the fellow continued. “I'll pay you in coppers if you can solve it.”

“Oho!” exclaimed Jack.

Those were magic words to the riverman. What followed was a bargaining session in which Denario learned a lot about the exchange rate between liquor and coins. A bottle of lightning was worth about three and a half brassers, he estimated, which meant Jack Lasker hadn't earned much money today except by local standards. He was looking for more. After all, he spent his money in Oupenli, where the prices were high. He wanted his cut of the accounting work.

The accountant wanted to know what kind of problem he was facing and whether a solution was practical or not. He tried to pry clues out of the farmers. They didn't seem to be able to articulate what they hoped he could do. That was a bad sign. The young man who'd brought up the problem, Marcel, worked for the cooper. Two years ago, he'd finished his apprenticeship. Instead of going off to be a journeyman in some other town, he'd agreed to stay and make barrels for Master Bodker. The Bodker place had three full-time coopers. Marcel was the youngest but it seemed to be a plum position since the other two men were old and slow. He'd been allowed to buy land, admittedly the worst around. It was a triangle of scrub brushes, mud and sand that bordered No Map Creek. Once it had been productive. Marcel thought he could make it grow crops again. In fact, he'd gambled on it. The land had come with an enormous debt that his salary as a cooper might pay off if he lived to be forty, which everyone regarded as a even-chance proposition. If he defaulted, the land returned to the Bodker family.

He hoped to pay them off earlier by farming his land or working some other kind of profitable business there. He was toying with the idea of carpentry or better, smithing. He liked working with metals. He knew a dwarf caravan leader who would sell him raw materials. But for smithing without children or apprentices, he needed a steady source of water close to hand. That was where Denario came in.

“You want me to site a well for you?” Denario asked at one point. For a property adjoining the creek, it wouldn't be hard.

“No,” Marcel waved his hands emphatically. “There's old cooper machinery on my property that I want you to fix. Look it over. You'll see what I mean.”

Machinery? Denario wondered. Barrel makers used a lot of tools but none of them were complicated. He wouldn't call any of them machines.

Next: Chapter Twenty, Scene Four