Chapter Pi Times Seven Approximately
Denario blinked. He woke to the dwarf's face, upside down above him. His visage was lit by a magical glow.
The spell had gone off. Stars twinkled in the air beside him. Denario had fallen asleep with his head near the entrance in order to be woken up by the light if it came. That hadn't worked. He'd slept through it, more tired than he'd realized. In fact, he'd been dreaming that his home was under attack. He'd been roaming through the counting house in Oggli to find weapons with which he might, somehow, defend his apprentices.
“Someone stole from the boat,” the dwarf hissed. “And Ragna's missing!”
“Crap.” Denario struggled to get up. The dwarf backed away to give him room. “Were you still on duty?”
“No. It was Ragna's turn.”
Allowed a second to think, the accountant wondered if Ragna had gone off to relieve himself in the woods. That would explain his disappearance from standing guard. But it wouldn't explain the spell. Ragna would have needed to take something or someone with him when he abandoned his post, otherwise the circle of stones wouldn't have set off its alarm. Denario knew that only Ragna was missing, too, or the other dwarf would have said. Could the trouble be due to the silver token? If so, the accountant could didn't see how at the moment.
“A jug of hard lightning got ripped out of its mooring pegs.” Dodni's brother pointed to the shore side of the raft.
“Who would take lightning?” Denario glanced around in all directions as the answer came to him. He noticed a log floating in the creek. It was a dark, silent silhouette against the reflective surface of the water. He had suspicions about it. “No alligator would want it. Only pirates would.”
“What pirates?” The dwarf let his arms down, puzzled. Denario had forgotten that he'd only mentioned the idea of ship deserters to Jack.
“I mean the Caravan of the Kill.”
“They're asleep, far away.”
“Not far enough.” Denario had been searching for the punt because that's what Dodni's brother thought was important. On further consideration, he fumbled through the pile of clothes and blankets in his tent. He grabbed his sword belt. After checking to make sure the pommel of the baselard was unbuckled from its scabbard, he strapped it on. “Let's move.”
Together, they roused Dodni and Ulf. The four of them, at the next raft, found Jofrid the smithy lying on the ground. Denario crept up to Jofrid in silence. He saw no motion from the fellow. He was heavily armored and had collapsed without a mark on him. Was there blood in the sand? Denario found it hard to tell in the shadows. He feared the dwarf was dead. But no, Dodni hissed. He kicked Jofrid, who had apparently been given a turn on watch at the same time as Ragna but had fallen asleep.
“Quiet,” Denario warned. Jofrid groaned upon waking.
“Why?” said Dodni.
“I'm sure it's the caravan. And you fixed their crossbow.” Denario scanned the southern riverbank. He meant it as a gesture toward a vague, unseen threat but, in fact, he did see something. There was a walking figure, either a crouched man or the tallest-ever raccoon. It moved out from the woods into the moonlight.
Denario reached for his buckler. But he didn't have it. He'd left it in his tent. Instead, he drew his sword. Next to him, he heard a whisper of metal on leather. A dwarf had picked up a weapon. He heard Jofrid stagger to his feet, too, and wished that was quieter.
The intruder emerged from the background of trees and proved to be a lean, armored figure. He wore a helmet that hid his features. When he turned to look at the twinkling lights on the deck of the first raft, the motion revealed a wide, distinctive moustache with the ends curled up. Denario recognized the tallest troublemaker in purple.
The fellow stared at the magic stars for almost half a minute. He was probably trying to figure out what they were. Meanwhile, Denario crept up on him, sword drawn. He had to make a roundabout path of it. The campfire lay between them. Denario tried to stay away from its glow.
“Who's that?” a dwarf shouted, Jofrid from the voice.
The troublemaker turned. He crouched, ready to spring. His legs weren't, Denario noticed, set to run. Instead, they were ready to pounce. The man had come to carry out a raid. Coils of rope dangled from his left hand. The top strands showed up in the ruddy light of the fire. He slunk toward the voice.
“Accountant?” said Jofrid. Maybe he'd gotten confused when Denario tiptoed into the darkness.
So far, the intruder hadn't noticed anybody else. He hadn't looked uphill, Denario's direction. He couldn't see more than one dwarf standing close to a campfire. So he focused on that one, the smithy. Maybe he assumed that everyone else was still asleep. Ragna and Jofrid had been on watch duty together, after all. On top of that, the intruder didn't seem to like the magic on the first raft. He shied away from it as he crept. His path was going to take him only a few yards downhill from Denario.
To Denario's surprise, the man in purple cursed. The words came out in a low growl. The remark was something unkind about accountants.
“But ye dwarfs are soft,” he hissed.
He leaped so fast that Denario missed it. He closed the distance to Jofrid in a single bound, cast a loop of rope around the dwarf, pinned his arms, and started to truss him up like an animal. But he stopped. He cursed as he glanced side to side. He'd noticed the other dwarfs. They advanced on him, hammers drawn. He pulled on the hilt of his longsword.
Denario charged. Well, it was running downhill, and part of it was stumbling, but he closed the distance between them as fast as he'd ever moved. The whole time, he focused on what he could see of the man's sword arm. He didn't want to let that blade come out. He swung. It was a wild stroke. But it hit.
The armored man screamed.
Denario fell to the ground. He rolled and yanked on his baselard to keep it from hurting him. The blade had sunk into his opponent's wrist. It wrenched back out as Denario tumbled into the water. He hadn't considered this part. Failing to knock the bigger man into the creek, which had been his intent, meant that he was bound to get wet. He smashed into the water awkwardly, sword and right arm first. The rest of him followed with a faceplant into an inch of slurry.
The stricken man was still screaming as Denario rose. The accountant blinked away the grit. He lifted his sword to defend himself. Maybe it was time to attack again? He wasn't sure what he should do. Fortunately, it didn’t matter. His opponent dropped the rope attached to Jofrid and fled. His scream lasted into the woodline and beyond. The wailing moved from tree to tree.
Next: Chapter Twenty-Two, Scene Six