Chapter Prime and Sum of Three Primes
Scene One: A Guard Required
For a moment, Denario pictured Carinde as she had skipped through the streets of her home town. She had laughed and pointed at examples of geometry around her. It made him homesick even though it had been her home, not his.
“It’s it true they have no money up there?”
“Ha!” Everyone laughed again. “You’re well escaped, then. Amazing that you made it through.”
He gave a slow nod. Around him, he noticed the imported furniture, the long burgundy rug behind the central desk, the Muntari-style sconces, and the chandelier. He was in the most worldly of places, a city. Even the customers around him were not natives, one of them a curly-haired merchant wearing foreign fashions embroidered in red and gold, the other fellow in a hauberk, apparently a traveling knight accompanied by his two retainers. Oupenli traded people and ideas from hundreds of miles away. Poor Carinde lived in a town whose inhabitants were just about ready to consider the thousand-year-old idea of money and who considered traveling between towns to be heroic.
It didn’t seem quite fair.
He picked up the letter from her and tucked it under his left arm. In his room at the inn, perhaps, he would have privacy to read. With his right hand on the table top, he pushed up from his seat.
“To be clear,” said the bank manager, “young clerk Rutger has your permission to read the journal? Since it is part of your guild library.”
“Yes, yes.” He thought he had made that clear.
“Will you be taking all of your correspondence?”
“Just the long piece for now.” He noticed that none of the clerks seemed eager to leave him for their other work. He tried to give them a smile. “I will return this afternoon for more business.”
“Very well, master.” The manager about his head ever so slightly, enough to allow for the minimal requirement of politeness. The effect was spoiled by his military grade voice. “The bank provides a walking service during nobleman hours.”
“Is it getting on already…?”
“It shall be our pleasure to provide you with a guard back to the inn.” His tone indicated no pleasure whatsoever. He flipped the air with the back of his hand. One of the doormen caught the motion and stepped forward. He carried a rather short pike. They were inside a building, after all, and he had to step through doors from time to time - but the blade on it was not ceremonial.
“Oh, don’t bother, Winnie.” The wizard waved off the guard, who halted his approach in open-mouthed confusion.
“The master is required to have a guard.” The manager’s left eyebrow rose at this example of staff impertinence.
“I will take him.”
“You, Reginald?” For a moment, the older fellow paused to lick his lip. He blinked. “You are not planning to nip off for lunch already are you?”
“No. This will just be a minute's stroll in the fresh air. I had a late night pouring over the spell book. It was a busy morning, as well.”
“Ah.” The manager leaned back, the look of slowly-dawning recognition on his face. “Oh, yes. Indeed.”
Within a minute, most of the clerks vacated the area in favor of their standard morning tasks. The manager eyeballed one man who moved too slowly and assigned the fellow the chore of re-filling the public ink wells. That order cleared out everyone but Rutger. The most junior clerk put Denario's deposit box in order, sealed it with wax, and pressed the seal with his personal, numbered notary stamp. Rutger, the wizard, and Den accompanied the deposit box to the door of the vault. There, only Rutger could proceed. Even for him to move forward, he had to trade places with one of the pair of vault guards. There was a spell in the vault to ensure that two people remained in the room or else it was empty. No single employee, not even a night watchman, not even the manager, could enter the vault alone.
After Rutger had gone, the wizard turned to Den. “Ready?”
“You’ve got a bit of apricot jam on your cheek.” With his left arm, he mimed the act of wiping something off of a spot on his beard. He didn’t react as if he had just spotted the mark. He had known it was there. He had been waiting.
“My breakfast was rushed,” Denario explained. With the back of his sleeve, he brushed his face. The second time he did it, the wizard bobbed his head.
“Looks better,” he said. He opened the door for the accountant. A guard sidled up as if to accompany them. But for the second time, the gray-robed fellow waved him off. “You know, there are lots of bakeries that make blackberry tarts, apple tarts, grape tarts, and so on. There is only one that makes apricot.”
He closed the door to the bank behind him.
“I went to get one myself this morning. Spotted you walking away.”
“I’m glad,” Denario said, aware that this was some kind of subtle hint. He was probably supposed to be subtle right back but he wasn’t good at it. “That you were able to get your business done.”
The wizard nodded sagely but his gaze remained wary. This was the problem with leaving things politely unsaid. No one was ever quite sure what the conversation was about, if they were coming to an agreement or not, or if someone had gotten offended. The only thing that seemed clear to Denario was that his companion had not told the bank manager that he couldn’t turn ash into paper. Instead, he’d found someone who could.
His supervisor had probably paid him a bonus, too, to be able to trumpet that nothing had ever been wrong.
“The other wizard is from Baggi.”
Denario let out a whistling sound, not because he was surprised but because they were being subtle. Anyway, the origin of the wizard explained a lot. U. Bag, as magic-users called the Wizardry University of Baggi, produced the most sophisticated spells ever devised by men. Its professors were too powerful to be compelled to teach, so they left such tasks to assistants. Meanwhile, they strolled off into mystical dimensions, sometimes came back, played with puzzles, and on occasion wrote letters to magazines about why magical cartography was not as good as it used to be, complete with diagrams, equations, and words that had to be redacted in order for their opinions to go to print.
“He came in with a caravan and never really left,” the wizard continued. “He finds more than enough work. One or two people tried to stop him from drinking so much but he turned them into trees. Now, he’s gotten a reputation as being useful but, except for business, everyone steers clear of him.”
“Yes, yes.” He clapped Den on the shoulder. There was a guilty look in his eye as he tried to grin. “We do try to look after him, some of us. Brother wizards and all that. I think he had some sort of accident and was stranded far from home. Yet he doesn’t seem to want help in getting back.”
“I understand,” said Den. He totally did not.
“Good. Ways of the world and all that.” He squeezed Den shoulder again. “See you later. Best to hire a guard, by the way, when you go out for the evening.”
“I’ll stay indoors.”