Sunday, August 25, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 175: A Bandit Accountant, 29.4

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Prime and Sum of Three Primes

Scene Four: The Math of Happiness

At some point during the evening, Den wandered out through the front door of the inn. Black storm clouds roiled in the sky. Although only a light breeze pressed against his face, the smoky tendrils above swept over the moon at a storm’s pace, lasting for a few seconds before they were gone. Moments later, more clouds encroached.

Torches lit the avenue on either side. They fascinated him for a moment. As bright as they were, they didn’t show off the buildings and tents. This wasn’t Oggli, where the good side of town had lamp lights, policemen, vendors with hearth fires in wheelbarrows, midnight cookeries, water fountains, parks, fires in barrels, and wire cages of will-o-the-wisps. At home, on some streets, there was enough light in the evening to see where you were walking. There were enough regular people awake to make it safe to go places.

Here, there seemed to be a professional warrior of some sort in chain mail and a breastplate. He strode quickly between the torches, heading southeast with his hand on the pommel of his sword. In a few seconds, he was gone.

Den gazed up at the moon again. A cloud swept over it. The wind swept the swirling darkness away. He wondered if he really knew what he was doing. Was he really ready to return to the bustle and confusion of a big city?

“How did we get here?” he wondered.

“Parents.” Next to him, a funny young man in a brownish-purple robe hiked up the sash he used for a belt. “That’s what they say, anyway.”

“Oh, wait.” Denario’s hand wavered as he gestured to the fellow. “You’re Dumford.”

“And you’re the accountant.” The fellow chuckled. “You didn’t drink very much. But you’ve been walking as much sideways as forwards. I don’t think you’re used to good wine.”

Denario remembered his taste of the horrible blend that the wizard liked. He shuddered.

“Haven’t had the stuff we were drinking before.” His voice sounded husky. “I suppose it’s strong.”

“You won at darts anyway.” The wizard grimaced.

“Did I?” He didn’t remember it.

“Then you announced that you could prove Alquerques was always winnable by the second player. You bought a game board from the innkeep. We started playing and you made one move, only one, no jumps, and you stopped. You stood up to say that no, you were wrong. It’s the third player who wins.”

“Alquerques is a two player game.”

“Yes, I tried to make that point. But you told me the game wasn’t winnable at all. That seemed right. In fact, your explanation made so much sense that I felt we should come out for a breath of air.”

Denario huffed. There was a chill coming on and he could see a bit of breath in front of his face.

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be. I haven’t had an educated conversation in half a year, I think. All the same, I think you should slow down a bit. You have to look up the coach schedules in the morning.”

So he had told the wizard about that. Well, it was true. The thought sobered him. A little.

“You seem to miss your apprentices very much.”

“The closer I get to home, the more desperate I feel. I want to see the youngest, Shekel and Mark, the most. But all of them, of course. And I want them right now.” He took a step toward one of the street torches. Dumford was right about his moving sideways as much as forwards. After the stride, he halted. Best to save his efforts for getting to his room. “I don’t know if this makes sense but, when my wits were focused on keeping me alive in the hill country, I didn’t have time to worry. Now I’m in a city. I’m relaxed. The boys are what I think about most.”



“I think I'm jealous, a little. You've got good friends, from the sound of it.”

“But you're a wizard!” The idea of anyone envying him rock him. Of course, it didn’t seem to take much to rock him at the moment. “And you're not just any wizard. You're a great one. You could be rich, I think. You could have a really good life.”

“Is that how you think of it? Being rich makes a good life?”

“It's better than starving. I slept on the floors of peasants, in these past two months, who had nothing to eat except for the onions they'd pulled out of the ground that morning. They'd been living on onions and tree bark for a month. Some shared their stewpots even though most of their meat was from earthworms. Some commoners were well off, of course, but even those sometimes had to burn dung for the fire because their knight had chopped down all of their trees.”


“I would say that you have the power to live a happy life.”

Dumford gave him such a lost look that Den tried to reach his shoulders for a Mundredi-style hug. He stumbled. The wizard backed away.

“Not everyone can,” Den continued. “Plenty of people are slaves or serfs or peasants. You are free. Even if you're not rich, you have power.”

“It's not a matter of money.”

“It's a matter of math, though.”

That made the wizard snort.

“You can find math in anything,” he said. “But even you can't find math in happiness. For instance, how rich is a wizard? You can't measure that in math. Because a wizard is as rich as he wants to be, really. I never wanted want to be very rich. Seemed like too much work.”

“That doesn't sound very sensible to me,” said Denario. Being poor meant being at the mercy of cruel rulers, usually. “And it doesn't sound accurate. Wizards can't make gold, not so that it lasts. That's why there are alchemists.”

“Wizard gold lasts a little while. That's better than the alchemists. They can't make gold at all. They just purify it. You think that being rich means lots of money.”

“Doesn't it?” A moment later, he remembered that he had been telling people that wealth was different. It was not limited to money.

“Pah. Not at all. What is being rich? If you've got all the money in the world but there's no food to be had, are you rich? Wait, don't answer. That's not the best example. I mean, if a king wants a new sceptre made, what does he do?”

“He gives an order.”

“Yes, and about a dozen men, maybe more hop to it. A king has servants. He has woodcutters to make the staff, a smith to pound the steel, a smelter to make the gold leaf, a jewel cutter, a jeweler, an artist, a painter ... and behind all of those skilled servants are less skilled ones, miners to gather the iron, copper, tin, and gold, herbalists to gather materials for paints, probably an alchemist for other dyes and paints, woodsmen who harvest the tree in the first place, carters to bring it all in. You see? What makes the king rich and able to get the food, clothing, and other things he wants is that he can make other people work for him.”

“That's probably true.” Denario sighed. This was leading to slavery, probably, or something close. Lots of unskilled work got done by the poorest serfs and itinerant laborers.

“So you see, magic is the power to make the sceptre or make clothes or make other things. A wizard has the equivalent power of five servants, ten servants, one hundred servants, ten thousand servants or more depending on the wizard's power and skill.”

“All right. I see what you mean. That's a valid measure of wealth.”

“Ah, so you've conceded already.” Dumford lowered his right hand. “I was about to regale you with more examples. Are you sure you don't want some?”

“How many servants does Tim have the power of?” Denario wondered. “Or Tremelo the Magnificent or whatever he calls himself?”

“Not many. He's good with fireballs. So let's say ten. He could hit you with something that's got the force of ten men.”

“That's quite a lot.”

“And he can do it at a distance. Even a bad wizard is powerful when compared to most men.”

“And how about you?”

 “I ... hmm ...” Dumford put a knuckle to his lips. “I may not be good to judge by. Sometimes I feel like I have almost no power at all. At other times, well, I've done some impressive and sophisticated things ... impressive to other people, anyway, and to a few other wizards. A few things I've done were impressive to everyone except my professors.”

“Guess the number.”

“Between a hundred servants and ten thousand servants.”

“Ten thousand? Really? Ten thousand men could build a stone castle in a year, no problem.”

“Have you heard about Grimlore the Dreaded? He built his own Grim Castle of Dread. Took him two days. Admittedly, it was tasteless. But it was impressive and deadly so I doubt anyone told him how ridiculous it looked all in black stone with purple gems, black mirrors in the halls, ebon glassware, onyx candelabras, and so on.”

“He did it in two days? How big was it?”

“About a quarter of the size of the Duke of West Ogglia's castle in North Slopes.”

“That's quite large.”

“You've been there?”

“Once, yes. And it took Grimlore two days ...” Denario did a bit of quick figuring. He had to multiply the ten thousand servants by a year of days, say four hundred, to allow for tricky bits of assembly, but then there was finding all of the black stone. The mining was the hard part. Denario had left that out of his initial calculation. “Around five million.”

“Yes, what?” Dumford set down his mug.

“Five million servants per day. That's about the power your old wizard commanded.”

“Oh, he's not so old. He's still around. Of course he must be about two hundred now. He's found a way to cheat death for a while. Some wizards do that. But no one much goes to visit him out to the east.”

“Why does he live so far away?”

“He likes the country life, I suppose. And he hates other wizards. That's why no one visits him. He kills his guests.”

“That sounds like the country life,” Denario shook his head as he thought about the fighting Mundredi. “In my experience.”

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