Sunday, April 28, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 162: A Bandit Accountant, 27.3

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Three Cubed

Scene Three: Threat of an Audit

“They will get wind of this in Oupenli, you know,” Brand murmured.

“This what?” Denario lifted his head.

“This accounting trick.” The tall man crouched on a stool in the front room of the town hall. Since he sat taller than anyone else, it put him at roughly the same height as the dwarf next to him, Ulf. “In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they learn about your rebellious views on slavery.”

Other men huddled together on benches along the walls. A few stood next to the sconces. A handful more, including the dwarf Ragna, found spots on the floor and leaned their backs against the wall. Ulf stood and waited, hands at his belt. His gaze drifted from Brand to the accountant.

“Well, I should hope they are well acquainted with my views,” Denario explained, “as they are also the official views of their nearest neighboring city.”

“Oh, yes.” Brand opened his mouth to say something more. After a moment’s thought, he closed it. Perhaps he had forgotten that Oggli proper was a free land.

Despite how the oil lamps had been turned to full wick, the hall seemed dark. There were so many people in the room that they couldn’t keep from blocking the lights. The town citizens, mostly farmers, peasant laborers, and boys, had filed into the main hall to rest and await the decision of the judges. A few farmwives accompanied them as well as Lady Ragophile and four of her staff. One other gentlewoman looked in on Samuel Brumsbeard. She soon retreated for her home. The place smelled of fear, blood, and sweat.

“What accounting trick do you mean?” Denario asked.

“Has an auditor from the Ogglie and Anghrili Guild ever enforced his decisions this way, in battle?” The question made Denario think, Isn’t there something in the guild history? But an incident didn’t spring to mind. His pause made the big man grin. “That’s the trick, you see. It’s a good one, but the knights around here will not favor it.”

The knights were a problem, it was true, prone to violence and suspicious of anything that threatened their place in the hierarchy. In many cities, Oggli included, there were restrictions on who could own weapons. Accountants weren’t forbidden, exactly, but they didn’t have a professional reason to wear them so sometimes they were challenged to explain themselves as they headed out on a survey with a load of equipment.

“Sir Negri never seemed to give a damn.” Denario nodded to himself as he reached the conclusion. “He doesn’t trust men like me, it’s true. But he doesn’t fear me, of course. Why would he? Anyway, we came in on the side of his sheriff and his mayor.”

Brand grunted.

In the window to his side, the sun had barely begun to glow in the east. The raid on the Grimsli mansion had been conducted in the cold of the night in the rain. Every breath of every man had steamed from his body as he marched. Only after the fight had the misty air cleared. The good folks, or at least the best peasants and the nearly-good gentlemen, had been able to see the results of their violent scrambles and know that they had won. In truth, the weather had helped them get inside the walls of the Grimsli estate. It turned out that the man at the gate had opened up for the sheriff. He hadn’t noticed the rest of the troops. That seemed incredible but, since the others weren’t visible in the fog, the man had assumed it was about a cow that had escaped the eastern fence.

Four gentlemen had come along for the raid. They’d marched at the edges, leery of the crowd, and each had kept a servant between himself and the peasants. They were the youngest of the landed gentry, the allies of Jakob Seidel. Denario didn’t know them, really. They didn’t talk much. But they’d come to the town hall along with everyone else now that it was over. The exception among them was Friedrich Muller. He was the eldest of the gentlemen and he was lame, useless with his polio-wracked body, but his father, the previous mayor, had been hung. Friedrich sought revenge against the families who had committed the deeds that had, in their way, killed his father.

“The cripple keeps trying to catch your eye,” Brand said.

“I’m aware of that.” Denario kept dodging. He didn’t have any news yet for Friedrich.

“He’d be fine with you enforcing the audit, I’d say.” The tall man’s smirk was accompanied by a raised eyebrow.

“Aha,” replied Denario as a memory stirred. “Master Magister Numat. He brought the double-entry system from Muntar. When he arrived in our city, he imposed his rules on the local accountants. Then he imposed them in Anghrili. In fact, by the force of his personality and integrity, he started the guild.”

“A campaign against other bean-pushers? That is not the same at all.”

Denario rubbed his chin. “The other best example is Master Jon Contanti. After he gained influence in the court of the Duke of Greater Ogglia, he led two raids on tax-cheating knights. He caught them selling barrels of pickled meat from herds they’d hidden from their duke.”

“That sounds more like it.”

“I remember reading how one knight kept his pigs in a cave that lay underneath a hill on his property.” The accountant could feel the scroll in his hands, dry but not yet brittle. As a child, he’d imagined Master Contanti as a sort of warrior brandishing a deadly, three-foot quill pen. “But he had to process and pickle the flesh. He had to transport the lot of it in barrels. There was no easy way to hide the money he spent on coopers. Once Contanti saw signs of the money, he knew the barrels had to show up. He traced the records to them and found them complete with fresh cooper’s marks in a fair on the outskirts of Oggli.”

“So there is a precedent for an accountant’s enforcement.”


“It sounds more like an accounting legend, really.”

“Maybe it is, just a bit. On the pages of the Book of Contanti, the story is told in epic verse in one column and math in the other column. It’s quite beautiful. At the back, young men have added entries of their own, mostly poetry about Contanti’s deeds. Some of those entries may be romanticized.”

“Accountants writing things untrue? Creating poetry?”

“I know.” Denario felt that the story about Contanti leading a raid on a castle had to be exaggerated. The master’s decoding of the Yulimar mechanical system seemed quite possible, though, as it fit with his powers of deduction. “Poetry leads to excesses, I suppose.”

“That’s quite proper,” piped in Ulf.

“It’s quite dwarfish, anyway.” Brand grumbled. He turned to find out who was else was speaking. Another voice had joined in at the same time.

“Is the accountant still here?” The call came from a shy-looking young assistant. He hadn’t come along on the Grimsli raid. However, the mayor had pulled him into the courtroom to take notes or something and so here he was, on the other side of the courtroom door, wearing a fancy shirt with three stripes of color. His expression seemed good-natured but dazed. He turned his head to the window. “The accountant?”

“Over here,” grumbled Brand.

The fellow perked up. He turned but, when he spied Brand, he leaned backwards for a moment. Then his gaze fell on Ulf. Unlike about two-thirds of the town, the fellow reacted like he’d never seen a dwarf before.

“Good lord,” he huffed. An instant later, he stood up straight and put on a polite but wary smile. He strode forward, right hand extended. “Are you the man I’m looking for, sir?”

“I’m not a man.” Ulf’s chest got bigger. “I’m a dwarf. Can’t you tell?”

“Ah. Aha.” The right hand hesitated. It fluttered near the fellows face as if he were caught between fanning himself and waving hello. “Sorry. They told me we had dwarfs. No one quite explained everything, though. Sorry.”

Ulf nodded benevolently.

“Well, are you ...” The young man leaned toward Brand but he couldn’t finish the sentence. The caravan master leered at him.

“They told you the accountant was a short man with a scar and a beard. And in armor, right?” Brand chuckled. He couldn’t help glancing at Denario if only to then roll his eyes at how ridiculous this young man was being.

Finally, the fellow turned in the right direction. A light dawned. His eyebrows went up.

“Oh, are you …?”

“Yes.” The accountant thrust out his right hand. The other man touched it in a gesture that was so far removed from a hearty handshake that the words ‘hearty’ and ‘shake’ needed to be sent back. The other man’s attitude seemed to be that their fingers hardly needed to get acquainted. He dipped his shoulder in a sort of apology.

“Wonderful,” the fellow breathed. “You’re quite wanted for the judgment.”

“Quite,” Brand mocked.

“Yes, quite.” The fellow insisted. He seemed unaware of the fun at his expense.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to come along?” Brand raised his eyebrow, then a hand in Denario’s direction. “I’m feeling judgmental.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” The accountant nodded. Rationally, he knew it was a terrible idea. Irrationally, it was tempting. He was feeling ready to condemn these townsfolk himself.

At the door to the courtroom, they paused. The young man rapped the wood so politely that he barely made a noise. He did it again. Behind them, a farmer who had leaned against the wall and started snoring half an hour ago, finally woke with a cough. On the other side of the door, the conversation stopped.

“Is that the cat?”

“Hubert? Is that you? Hubert, are you knocking at the door?”

The young man leaned down to the latch, which had a handle made of low-quality brass. The metal had dents in it, probably from too much tin in the mix, not to mention rude handling by the townsfolk. Hubert’s fingers pressed on it. The door made a gentle pop as it opened an inch. Several people around them, who previously seemed to be asleep, unlidded their eyes. These folks had participated in the raid. Now they waited for justice. Many of them were barely conscious, some not, but they all knew that the mayor, the newly-appointed sheriff, and the priest had gone into the courtroom to act as judges. The court was the jail, which was convenient for the judges but not for the audience, who had to wait outside.

“I found him,” Hubert said through the crack.

“Well, come in. Come in.” That was Jakob Seidel. There was a sigh of disappointment from the crowd behind Denario as he stepped through. Hubert gently pulled the door closed behind them.

Inside, the mayor had turned up all of the lamps. He and Sheriff Voight looked extra alert as if it would not occur to either of them to rest for another day. The sheriff was standing, in fact, on the balls of his feet as if he’d been pacing the floor. In contrast, skin sagged around the priest’s mouth and eyes. He leaned back against the bars of the jail cell. On the other side of the bars lay two of the Grimsli sons-in-law, both wounded. One breathed shallowly, his eyes closed, his right arm at an odd angle. The other looked bruised, his face bloodied although he appeared to be conscious. Neither had been bandaged. The one who had trouble breathing seemed the worst off, as Denario looked closer. Something with his ribs or lungs was wrong.

The Grimsli men occupied the benches. On the floor between them waited the former Sheriff Fischer. He knelt, head bent. His arms trembled. The floor was wet below him. It took Denario a moment to realize that the fellow was crying again.

“Fischer to hang?” Denario asked. He pointed. The priest lifted his head from the bars and turned to squint at the figure behind him.

“That’s what we need to decide.” Seidel motioned to a chair left empty for the accountant. “Father Lutz takes the view that hanging is the normal penalty for those who have stolen from our knight. That includes Fischer. Sheriff Voight would like to see mercy for our former sheriff. I’m wondering how it seems to you. Since you know Sir Negri, I’ve decided that your voice should count double.”

Denario accepted the chair. He sat in silence for a while, elbows on his knees, face in his hands. He thought about how many of the other gentlemen in the town had done what Grimsli did. The accountant had picked out Abelard as the worst of the bunch but he wasn’t the only one. At least, he realized, the other gentlemen who should hang aren’t delivering judgment.

“Sir Negri would chop off Fischer’s head, probably,” he concluded after a moment.

“Ah.” It was a very uncertain reply from the mayor. Both he and Denario stole glances at Voight’s anguished face.

“It’s not just Voight. You both want to spare Fischer.” It was obvious, if unfortunate. There were other cases here in contrast. His right hand swung toward the others in the jail cell. “What are you going to do with the Grimsli sons-in-law?”

“Hang them.”

“Did they commit crimes like the rest of the gentry?”

“Maybe.” Jakob Seidel said it definitively, as if it were the word ‘yes.’ He brightened for a second. But his expression grew more severe. His shoulders rose and fell. “We’re not as sure of them as some others. Mostly, we’re doing it because we think Sir Negri would like them hanged.”

Denario nodded. “He probably would.”

“But the sheriff is the executioner, usually. I’m not sure that I should make Voight hang Fischer. Do you see what I mean?”

“Fischer let an innocent boy be beaten and threatened with death.”

The mayor’s face darkened. He held the accountant’s gaze for a moment, then looked away.

“The boy was an instrument of evil,” said the priest. His fingers went to Denario’s chest. “He would hang if you hadn’t asked the mayor to pardon him.”

The accountant started to rise from his chair. Whatever he was going to say, the mayor and sheriff beat him to it. They shouted Lutz down. Sheriff Voight, at least, had seemed offended by the idea from the beginning. He leaned over into the older man’s face. Lutz shied away, his bleary eyes coming open much wider. When tempers calmed, though, Voight turned on the accountant.

“Please,” he said. He didn’t need to add anything more.

Denario spent another moment rubbing his forehead.

“I’ll make a deal,” he said eventually. “Fischer to live. But only if he takes a severe corporal punishment and a pilgrimage.”

“A whipping, of course. We’d counted on it. A journey as well? That may be good. What kind? For what god?”

“Lutz has a stake in it.” The accountant nodded to the nerve-wracked priest. It seemed wise to give him something. He would be staying, after all, and Denario would not return. “He should decide on the god. I have a say in the rest. Fischer allowed a boy to be tortured. He should have the same done to him, blow for blow. Then, wherever he goes on his travels, he will defer to children. He will protect them. He must swear to his gods to do it. I will make him swear. The priest will make him take similar pledges.”

Seidel rose to his feet. His fist pumped the air.

“This could be it,” he said. “A pilgrimage on foot, yes, begging for alms. The march must go right to the doorstep of our knight. Fischer must visit the Temple of Law. There are four lawgiving gods there, I hear. A spot for Contadin is among them. It’s perfect.”

“The usual rules of pilgrimages must apply,” said Lutz. “The pilgrim must have a quest. The quest must achieve some manner of holiness. He must wear holy symbols at all times, use a single, simple robe, and must live from the proceeds of begging. If he can’t plead his case successfully as he goes, he must starve.”

“If Sir Negri is at home when Fischer passes through, he can beg for the knight’s forgiveness,” Voight interjected.

“Risky.” Lutz steepled his fingers. His judgment seemed correct in Denario’s view.

“Fischer?” The mayor finished pacing to the end of the room. He spun back in the direction of the cell. He leaned forward and let his hands each catch on a bar. The conscious but beaten Grimsli son-in-law opened his eyes. On the floor, the former sheriff stirred. He lifted his head to the mayor. “Will you do it? Can you meet the conditions of the accountant and the priest? It will save your life.”

The red-nosed man couldn’t seem to stop sobbing. Eventually, he was able to nod. His tears seem to have switched from fear to relief without halting flow. He took two deep breaths, as if trying to prepare himself to speak, but he gave up.

“Fine,” muttered the mayor.

“Let’s begin with the robe. Hubert?” The priest gestured to the young man taking notes in the corner. Hubert smiled in an absent-minded way and put down his quill. Lutz continued, “I want you to find farmer Klempt or his wife. One of them must go to the closet at the back of the church. There are two robes. They are to bring the heaviest, roughest one.”

“Yes, father.” In a sing-song voice, he repeated to himself, “Klempt. Heaviest robe.”

“While our scribe takes care of that part,” Lutz continued as Hubert let himself out, “let’s start on the oaths of pilgrimage.”

In his cell, Fischer made a choking sound.

“I have no children,” he blubbered. How that was relevant, Denario couldn’t guess. But he repeated it. “I have no children.”

“Just as well ...” The mayor began. He stopped himself. Whatever unkindness he was about to impart, he thought better of it.

“Tell me what to swear,” Fischer pleaded.

Denario lifted himself from his chair. He was surprised to discover that his legs were trembling. Why am I tired? he wondered. Then he reflected that he’d spent two nights of bad sleep followed by an evening with none. He steadied himself. The mayor caught his eye. Together, the two of them stepped up to the bars of the jail cell.

The accountant modeled Fischer’s oaths after the ones that he and the dwarfs had elicited from Brand. There was still some magic around here, after all. A promise might be binding even before Father Lutz called on his god to enforce it. Denario rubbed his brow during the process. Partly because he was tired, he made himself very formal and his phrases very logical. It came naturally. Next to him, Jakob Seidel nodded. From the floor, Fischer repeated every syllable. He would have promised anything.

“I’m sorry about the boy,” the older man confessed. They were his first spontaneous words in several minutes. His wits seemed to be returning. “It was wrong to hurt Leonid. I knew it. I’m so sorry. So sorry.”

“That’s another thing.”

“Please!” the former sheriff raised his voice. Perhaps he was worried that Denario would regret his mercy. “I’ll never lay a hand on him. Of course. But I’m going away. When I’m gone, I won’t be here to protect him.”

Denario had included oaths about protecting children.

“Yes. It’s another thing, as I said, but it’s for everyone else. Did you know I was born a slave?” He glanced at Lutz. The priest opened his mouth. The accountant stared him down. Lutz’s gaze drifted to the hands in his lap, either from intimidation or shame. It was hard to tell. “I know how it is. Just in case any of you get ideas about how Leonid is to be treated. Just in case anyone in the town gets the wrong idea. When I return to this area, even as far as Sir Negri’s court, I'll ask about Leonid.”

“Ah,” next to him, the mayor gave a wistful smile. All eyes turned to him. “If you don’t mind, I may repeat those words to some of the townsfolk.”

“Sir Negri knows where I came from.” Denario tilted his head as he thought. The details of his life had never been a concern of the Marquis, of course, but everyone else in his court knew that Winkel had purchased his apprentice from Sir Blockhelm. If Negri wasn’t aware, it could only be because he, like most knights, had never regarded Denario as important enough to deserve attention. “East Hogsli might as well be aware too. Say what you will.”

He didn’t expect that the spectre of an accountant watching over the town would help. It was an especially idle threat when the accountant would be three days away on the fastest coach ride. If the mayor felt it would help to imply a threat, though, he was welcome to try. At the very least, the gentlemen in East Hogsli ought to be frightened by the prospect of another audit.

Next: Chapter Twenty-Seven, Scene Four

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 161: The Beautiful Fuck You

The Beautiful Fuck You

Hiking through a foreign country, farm to farm,
in the crisp morning my feet emerge from frost and fog. 
I raise my head and around me swirls haze and smoke,
a cold mist from my mouth.
Birds swoop up the hill behind as I march, crows.
They refuse to billow steam
although I mentally command them,
a wedge of black locomotives in the sky, headed north.

At the peak of the frosted green, a halt. 
A border wall of brambles between farms,
a thicket of thorns twice my height,
a mile in length over the summit, down the slope,
onto the next hill, beyond,
thick as a car, two cars, a highway,
impenetrable vegetation.

In the valley between hills
lies a stile wide enough for tank
and the only other person in view,
headed for the crossing.

Down, down, a half-stumble, a laugh,
a human voice tiny in the expanse,
unnoticeable, I hurry, I huff,
and winded like a bellows with a hole, I arrive
to meet a grey-shawled farm woman.
Older but not heavy,
her arms are strong and face rosy in the frost.
Her skeptical eye twinkles over me,
raises an eyebrow.
Her pale mouth turns to a frown
that's waiting to laugh.

"This!"  My arm thrusts at the monolith of hostility,
the razor-sharp border of an angry, defensive land. 
"What is it?"

"Landwehren," she says. The laugh begins
in her eyes.  A swing of her arm draws a circle
around the two hills, the wall of rose thorns,
dense underbrush so tall it's overbrush,
two meters thick, ten meters, more.

And six hundred years before, farmers guided the rawness of nature.
They doubled over the beeches, tips bent back and planted
to grow again, unbroken, a skeleton for the central roses.
And thorn trees they became.  The blades grew thick and mighty,
heavy with age, deft with weight,
knives that let you know about your stabbing
only after they pull out
and the bleeding to death begins.

"A border?"  My hand follows hers.  "Defense?"

"Beautiful," she said. "In just one month more.  Beautiful."


"Imposing, yes?" she asks. "Beautiful.  The battle of Hagen.  It did not happen here. 
Not in history books.  For these roses."

"That's not in the history?  Isn't it important?"

"Two armies could not meet!"  She cackles.
Fingertips touch her mouth, hide the smile.

At last, I slowly nod.

"Landwehren," I repeat.  "Beautiful."

These brambles, an ocean of tangled fighting,
clattering in the wind and snow,
piling up strength so that four hundred years before
a battle didn't happen here.
Six hundred years on earth altogether
this creature, this thing, this product of farm and wild nature
ancestor of all such plants of the countryside,
it defended its offspring from the world.
It still holds its position, fights off trees and grass
fends off the hawthorn, the encroaching oaks,
the intimidated cows, the sheep,
It strong-arms the farmers
and the farmers' masters
as when, four hundred years ago,
two armies tried to meet
blocked by the barrier of thorns,
a giant of greenery, unconquerable.

Rain check, flower check, fight you later.

This plant, by any other name, would be
the fuck-you bush,
quietly but unmistakably giving the finger
to the sinners, the saints, the bears, the foxes,
to the grasses, the crops, the privates and generals,
to angels and devils,
to creation itself
a miles-long defense,
a mighty legend in the history of nature, human and not human.

But from a distance it's known, on the written page,
as a hedge of roses.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 160: A Bandit Accountant, 27.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Three Cubed

Scene Two: The Proper Sheriff'

“Justice must be done in front of the whole town. Nothing less will serve.”

Jakob Seidel sat in the church with his night shirt tucked into his trousers. He laid out his open hands as if what he said was self-evident. He had smallish fingers for a man with such strong limbs. They made him look cultured. They revealed that he was a gentleman farmer, able to do a bit of his own work but from a position of ownership. He could leave the dullest, hardest labor to his staff.

“Leonid was told he was a slave,” Denario countered. He sat on the bench opposite the mayor. “He certainly can’t cheat for himself. He has no taxes to pay. He has no private debts. He has nothing.”

That was the central point. It was so completely true that the mayor couldn’t find a direct counter to it. For the moment, his lips moved in silence. He seemed to struggle to find the reasons
why letting the slave boy go unpunished seemed unjust.

“He’s been beaten,” Denario pressed. “And threatened with death.”

“That is his claim,” the mayor corrected, as if the bruises weren’t obvious.

“Look at him.” The accountant gave his counterpart a moment to glance at the still-crying boy. “Do you think he knocked himself blue and green? His limbs were almost broken and with some care, too. I’ll bet someone in Grimsli’s service served as an army interrogator.”

After a moment, Seidel shook his head. He couldn’t pretend that the facts were other than how Denario presented them. His own sons, slightly older than Leonid, had tagged along. Now, rather naturally, they comforted one of their friends. Did they understand that their father meant to hang Leonid? They showed no sign that they were aware of it.

“He should have come to me,” the mayor finally answered.

“Really? Abelard Grimsli killed two different men over debts. Why would you be different? Being mayor won’t protect you. Master Grimsli told Leonid he would kill you if you stood in his way.”

“He wouldn’t dare.” As he announced it, the calm fellow got an uncertain look in his eyes. “Sir Negri wouldn’t stand for anything like that.”

“When his family does the deed, they’ll blame you. They’ll make your knight think the whole town is corrupt except for them and they’re the only ones who can lead.”

“Abelard has said something like it.” Seidel shook his head at the memory.

“They will come before you know. Before you’re ready. Unless you act. You have to move now, before they’re ready.”

The brown-haired man took a deep breath. He raised his strong shoulders, flexed his limbs. He was in the prime of his life. His gaze appeared to take him into his future. What he saw there bewildered him. He gazed down into his hands, elbows on his knees, and shook his head once more.

“Why him? Of all of these cheaters and thieves, why does it have to be Master Grimsli?” said the mayor. “His family estate is a wooden castle. This will not be simple.”

“Do you think it will get easier if you wait?” Denario asked. “At this moment, the Grimsli family thinks they’re cheating on the taxes one last time. They don’t know that the boy, Leonid, has testified against them.”

“If he’s their slave, he’s not allowed to testify.”

“He’s not theirs. As you were on the way here, I started drafting a report to Sir Negri. It begins with how illegal the kidnapping of Leonid was.”

“Is he Koen’s slave, then?”

“He’s the reckoner’s apprentice. Leonid is free. He was a slave, once. But he was given to Koen. The reckoner gave him the accounting oath, not a slave brand. You should write it out officially. You should recognize Koen’s decision from years ago. Do it in your capacity as the mayor. There will be no question about Leonid’s rights.”

Seidel’s face darkened in shadow. He couldn’t help stealing a glance at his sons. One of them sat on a church bench with Leonid. The older one was talking with them both. The mayor looked down again.

“This is not going to look good to my lord,” he sighed.

“Do you think that backing down like a coward and trying to hang a slave,” said Denario, “instead of the guilty gentleman will look better?”

It took the mayor a while to answer. “No,” he whispered.

“The whole town will know what you do. Everyone will be watching. We have evidence. This is the moment. This is your chance to save the rest.”

“The rest? Rest of who?”

“As I read the accounts, nearly all of the town gentlemen cheated, plus some merchants and peasants. If you hang Abelard Grimsli, you could blame the rest on Abelard’s bad influence. The alternative for Negri is to hang half of the town. He won’t do that if you act decisively. Not if you stop cheating and make the town pay up.”

“Where will we get the funds?”

The accountant had wondered about that himself as he began this argument. Now he had the answer. “The Grimsli estate.”

“Do we steal from his grandchildren? No, I suppose the tax penalty is legal. We are the arm of our knight’s law.” Seidel leaned his head back and beseeched the ceiling of the church. “Oh Contadin! Why does no one keep your precepts?”

“What does the knight’s arm need, then? Or Contadin?”

“More men for this enforcement. As many as we can get. The leadership of a proper sheriff.”

“Yes, well, I can see that Voight is back from that errand you sent him on. He’s got his boss tagging behind.”

Through the wide-open doors of the church, three figures could be seen in the night mist. They wandered into the light of the torch that sat under the awning of the Temple of Contadin. They blocked the candles of the town hall behind them, too, which made their silhouettes clear. The one in front carried a lantern. It swayed unevenly. That was Voight. The man next to him slouched away from the light as if he didn’t want to be seen. He couldn’t drop back any farther. A tall man with a sword walked behind him.

“Your assistant, Brand, seems to have kept Sheriff Fischer from going astray.”

“I would expect no less.” It was the truth.

“Your crew,” the mayor paused to rub the chin of his beard, “is sterner than I would have expected from accountants.”

Denario had no answer so he kept his peace. The mayor did not press him about the nature of his staff. That two of the assistants were dwarfs must have seemed unusual. That the dwarfs did not strike this town’s gentlemen as the oddest part of the crew spoke to the history of East Hogsli.

A moment later, Voight trundled through the door. He set down his lantern and paused to shake his coat. Drops spattered the floor. The young man seemed better dressed for the weather and better equipped for a fight than when he’d left. His boots had been re-tied. There was a loop of rope tucked into his belt. There was a sheathed dagger on the other side above his cudgel.

Next to him, the sheriff stepped in. He hesitated. He only moved after Brand prodded him in the back. When the older fellow saw the mayor, he stiffened. He seemed to recover his courage. But as he was about to turn to Brand and say something, he caught sight of the boy, Leonid. The tears on the boy’s face froze him.

“What’s this?” he croaked.

“Step in,” said Brand. Voight and the sheriff made room for the former caravan leader. That interrupted whatever line of thought had formed in Fischer’s mind.

“Who’s that in the far back?” asked Denario. He squinted into the misty night.

“The reckoner,” Brand replied. He didn’t need to look over his shoulder to know. He must have spied the fellow taking a path to the road that would meet up with his own. “He’s soaked through. Did you send for him?”


“With the master here, I suppose I should take care of Leonid’s status first,” Seidel said. He huffed to his feet. “You’ve convinced me, accountant.”

Everyone shuffled into place. The sheriff and deputy looked uncertain. They moved to one side as Koen stepped into the doorway. They trailed him into the aisle and up to the open space of the nave, where the mayor took a high seat behind the pulpit. Koen noticed Leonid and the mayor’s boys. He waited, hand outstretched for a moment. It was apparent that he hoped the boy would come over to him.

“Reckoner Koen, welcome.” Seidel gestured with his left arm to the position he wanted the reckoner to take. “You look tired. Are you feeling well?”

“I have a complaint to make,” said Koen. He trembled. It could have been from being wet and cold.

“Is this about your apprentice being taken?”

“Yes. Yes it is, mayor.” Koen remembered his hat and removed it. “That was wrongly done, sir, by them gentleman. Seeing as you’re a gentleman, too, and our mayor as well ...”

The reckoner’s speech trailed off. Seidel waited a moment to see if it would resume. When it didn’t, he waved to catch the attention of his sons.

“Boys, come on over,” he called. “You, too, Leonid.”

The mayor’s eldest stepped smartly over to him. The younger one held back enough that Denario glanced up to see what was the matter. He was trying to remain in the company of the reckoner’s apprentice. But the apprentice was slow. Leonid approached the mayor as if walking to the gallows. His friend took his hand.

“Leonid,” said the mayor, “step forward.”

With effort visible on his face, the reckoner’s apprentice increased the pace of his short strides. His breathing grew heavy. His trembling increased.

“You have been beaten into committing a crime,” the mayor began. He waited until the boy would obviously come no closer. “Normally, that would be no excuse. But since you are young and thought yourself their slave, you saw no means of protest or escape. Therefore, as mayor, I pardon you, and you will not hang.”

Leonid bowed his head. Not moving from his standing position, he started sobbing again. The mayor’s younger son opened his mouth, aghast. He had at last realized what had been at stake. In half a minute, Leonid fell to his knees, hands to his face. Seidel’s youngest knelt next to him, right arm around his friend’s shoulder.

“However,” continued Seidel, “you must testify against the men who ordered you to steal from our knight. There must be justice. In our knight’s name, it must be done in front of the whole town. Do you understand?”

The boy started to shake his head no. Then he paused and nodded.

“Very well. Stand up, Leonid.”

That was the process of another half-minute. This time, all three boys banded together. It sort of looked like the sons had sided against their father.

“Reckoner Koen, you swore this boy, Leonid to be your apprentice?”

“Yes, mayor.” Koen clutched his hat, although actually it was Denario’s hat, to his chest. He leaned toward Jakob Seidel.

“That is an implicit announcement that Leonid was set free. Yet you didn’t write the papers.”

“Don’t write much, sir. Didn’t see the need. He was my charge. He didn’t have no slave tattoo. I never gave him one. I swore him to learn my trade. Thought that was enough, sir. One of the gentlemen Grimsli said it was. Master Ragophile agreed, years ago, when he lived.”

“Johann,” the mayor said as he turned to his eldest son. “Go to my office for my book, pen, and seal.”

“Yes, sir.” The boy bowed his head. He left without another word.

While they waited in silence, the mayor turned to take notice of his sheriff. Fischer looked like he had been a former village tough. But he had aged badly. His nose had been broken on three occasions at the least. His left ear had grown disfigured, its lobe a bumpy mass of scar tissue. One of his front teeth was missing. Most of the East Hogsli men grew full beards but Fischer grew a patchwork. Swathes of skin showed through it. His eyes were dark, puffy, and small. He reeked of sour beer. Taken all together, he did not inspire confidence.

On top of all that, the sheriff’s glances around the Small Gods church seemed filled with shame. From time to time, Fischer leaned toward the door. He scowled when he noticed Leonid. The more Denario watched the sheriff, the more the direction of the scowl stood out. Fischer averted his gaze when the mayor’s youngest son draped his arm over the apprentice’s shoulder.

The anger and fear in the man’s face let Denario know the truth without being told.

“Sheriff Voight?” he called to the deputy.

“Ah, master accountant.” Voight smiled as he stepped forward. He seemed grateful for the distraction from this awkward pause in events. “I’m flattered but I must remind you, I’m only the deputy.”

“Right.” The accountant took the man by the elbow. He walked them a few steps over to the desk. “Mayor, you ought to appoint Voight as the sheriff. Right now.”

“Now? Why?”

Denario tilted his head so that he could see his murderous assistant, Brand. The caravan master and he exchanged a look. The accountant was never sure what his expression said precisely but Brand did the right thing. He knew that Fischer had participated in the thievery. It was provable tonight, at least, and probable at other times. The big man drew his sword.

Fischer caught the accountant’s expression, too. He understood what was about to happen. When he saw Brand grab the hilt of his sword, he foresaw his death and fell to his knees.

“Oh, my gods! Please, Seidel! Please, Jakob! Don’t let them kill me.”

There was the barest flicker of expression on the mayor’s face as he caught up. It must have seemed as self-evident to him, in hindsight, as it had been to Denario and Brand.

“Did you participate in this tonight, Fischer?”

“They were going to kill me, Jakob.” Still on his knees, he crawled to the desk. He grabbed the mayor’s hand in two of his own. The mayor didn’t pull away. “Please. Please don’t.”

“Fischer, really. I can’t make another exception.”

“Please! You showed mercy to the boy because he was frightened for his life. Can’t you show me the same mercy?”

“You were the sheriff, Fischer. You are a man, not a boy.” He dismissed the officer of the law with a snap of his wrist. It was meant to shake off the pleading hand. But Fischer clenched and remained. His bald spot, when his head was bowed, pointed right to the mayor’s heart. On his hands and on his head, there were age blotches on his weathered skin. He began to cry in a manner not quite like the slave boy, for it was a man’s sorrow, deeper and more self-conscious. After a moment, his chest began to wrack so loudly that even Leonid lifted his head to stare.

The frantic, low noise threatened to go on and on.

“I will think on it,” the mayor conceded. Denario started to lift his arm to object. He felt surprised by Seidel and also by his own objections to mercy. Perhaps his time in the wilderness had hardened him. He had never felt so opposed forgiveness before.

Brand caught his eye. Even one of the dwarfs, Ulf, seemed open-mouthed at this development. The mayor’s words seemed to calm Fischer. The stout fellow started taking longer, deeper breaths.

“Much of what transpires tomorrow morning will depend on how it goes with tonight with Master Grimsli.” Jakob Seidel turned. Fischer’s hold on him loosened. A moment later, the mayor slipped from the older man’s grip. Then he focused his attention on the deputy. “In the meantime, you, Rikart Voight, must be appointed as my new sheriff.”

Voight stood taller, excited. In his nervousness, he glanced to Denario and tried to smile.

“The role of sheriff comes with greater honor and pay but, I must warn you, Rikart,” the mayor said, “it is also a greater responsibility. Will you swear to me?”

“Seidel!” The fellow was too young to have been friends with the popular boys in town who were the mayor’s peers. But he was at a perfect age to have idolized them. “Of course I shall.”

“Step forward.”

The mayor patted Voight on the shoulder. His gaze fell on Denario for a moment, as if to ask, Are you satisfied? His son’s eyes drifted to the accountant, too. For a moment, everyone turned to look at Denario. He gave a curt nod, such as he’d seen Vir do when people waited on his response, but the mayor had returned to the task at hand, moving events ever faster.

Next: Chapter Twenty-Seven, Scene Three

Monday, April 8, 2019

A Nerd in a Warrior Culture - Twenty-Three 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

Chapter Score

Chapter Octagonal Number Three

Chapter Pi Times Seven Approximately

Chapter Smallest Non-Twin Prime