Chapter Don't Trust Anyone Over
Scene One: Independence
“There has been a change in seating.” The manager, a tall fellow with a scar above his lip and a willow stick in his mouth, ripped the receipt from Denario’s hand.
Reflexively, Den tried to snatch it back. He got his fingers on it, much to the manager's surprise as well as his own. When he had it pinched between his thumb and forefinger, however, he was faced with the prospect of tearing the paper in two. The manager's fingers were stronger than his. A struggle wouldn’t do him any good. He let go.
After he did that, the manager's posture softened.
“Sorry,” he said. He leaned closer to speak more softly.
“You just told me that berth,” Denario complained.
“The man behind me,” the manager hissed, rolling his eyes in the direction of a customer wearing a breast plate, a yellow sash with a blue emblem, and sword, “Comes from the Baron of Block Helm. The baron's lesser coach has lost a wheel. He will not wait for the repairs. Instead, I have been told that I must hire out one of our coaches to him. He does not care that many packages and six passengers will be delayed.”
“How was it decided?”
“The baron's man took a look at my list and he scratched out six of the lowest ranking names.”
No doubt the names were of common tradesmen like Denario, the sort who traveled as a consequence of their businesses. The accountant felt slightly better for not having been singled out, at least. He had spent enough time away from big cities to have forgotten this aspect of dealing with nobility. He considered his prospects in a protest.
“Don’t even try to talk to him.” The manager shook his head and grimaced.
“Right.” This is why he still wasn’t good at card games. His intentions had been plainly read. “I’m lucky they didn’t wait until I was seated and then yank me out. I would’ve said something and it would’ve ended badly.”
“I lost a tooth for talking back to a knight, years ago.” That explained the willow stick in his mouth. Most people who chewed willow did it to ease tooth pain.
“When is my ride?”
“The next open seat is in four days. That’s the mail coach. It leaves before dawn. Can you do it?”
He had an alarm candle at the inn. He nodded.
“There will be no nobleman up so early to take your seat. Plus it’s the county mail, so only a duke, marquis, or the count would be able to commandeer the coach.”
“I’m sold,” he said.
The tall fellow grinned. With a come-along wave of his arm, he walked the receipt over to his standing desk, which was a plank fitted between seams in the mud brick wall of the stable. It had a tumbler of ink on one corner and a ratty quill. He picked up the quill.
“Got something to do in town?” He began to scribble.
“I've got a report to finish, yes.” It was for the wrong baron, else he could hand it over in person. But he would have to finish writing it, first. Despite several drafts of the report, every page he had fussed over so far had had unacceptable gaps. Each time he got to his discovery of the waylaid coach, those bodies laying in the road, he had stopped and written no further. Truthfully, he had broken down in tears or in rage. But he felt that he could get through it now.
“If you walk a block south, you'll find the Halberd Inn. They’ve got a desk. Tell them that the carriage house sent you.”
Denario thought that sounded like a good idea. However when got there and he peered through the door flap into the hall of benches, tables, and clean straw on the floor, he saw that the single desk was taken. What’s more, a question to the barkeep revealed that the inn did not keep ink. You had to bring your own.
So he ended up at the bank. There, they had lots of desks. They offered free ink to customers. Plus, Denario had been their highest paying customer this month. He was not of the gentry or noble class, so the clerks could expect to talk with him without a lot of bowing and tugging on their forelocks. Sure enough, the clerk Rutger greeted him warmly. When Den described his project, the young fellow swept a surface clean and fetched a chair. Two other clerks stopped by to chat. One of the senior clerks, taller than most and more elegantly dressed, although in the same black trousers and white shirt, had to pretend he didn’t care. He had to maintain his superiority, apparently. The attitude lasted about an hour. Then he stopped by to have a break. He asked if he could watch the accountant fill out the report. The reading of it interested him enough to keep him in his seat. The fellow left, at last, only when his manager made an appearance.
“This is an independent tax audit?” The bank chief hovered, hands clasped behind his back. “Those are only commissioned when someone needs to prove their good behavior.”
“It was commissioned by the mayor of Ziegeburg.”
“So it is destined for the Baron of Ankster. Very lofty.” He stirred. His hands became visible for a moment. “Will you be leaving a copy on file?”
“Your other branch offers a same-day copyist service.”
“It requires a day's notice in our branch, sir.”
“Very well. I will require the service of a copyist tomorrow afternoon. It is indeed my plan to store the final audit report here with you.”
“You mean the copy.”
“No.” His fingers balled into a fist around the quill. He heard his voice grow a bit stern, as if he were addressing someone who was pretending to be stupid. “The copy will be sent to the baron. The original will stay here. I will leave instructions saying that duly authorized men … or women, if he employs any as clerks … may read the original here. No one will be allowed to take it. Not even the baron, you understand.”
“We will follow your orders faithfully, sir. The baron may protest but I understand quite clearly. The original is for verification. However, will you permit the baron to make further copies?”
“Yes. They are to be made only by a bank copyist or bank wizard.”
For a moment, the manager beamed. It was startling to see his brownish teeth show as he flashed a smile. The expression was gone in an instant.
“If you will permit,” said the man. “I will have one of my clerks draft a letter of instruction for your approval tomorrow.”
“That will be fine.”
In all, Denario thought, it was probably the most satisfying interaction anyone had with the manager that day, perhaps that week.