Sunday, September 15, 2019

Not Even Not Zen 177: A Bandit Accountant, 30.2

A Bandit Accountant

Chapter Don't Trust Anyone Over

Scene Two: Drinking It All In

That evening, Denario ate his meal in the common room of his inn. He sat facing the door.

In an anxious way, he looked forward to the arrival of the wizard. Part of him wondered if he should go out into the streets and search for the fellow. Another part of him wondered why he liked the drunk at all. There was no good reason for it and quite a lot to be said against keeping his acquaintance.

Nevertheless, it was a relief to see a silvery-blue robe in the common room doorway. Denario's moment of doubt about the robe color was followed by recognition as Dumford poked his face into the relative gloom and glanced around. The accountant sprang to his feet.

“Dumford!” he shouted. He pushed aside his bench and thumped across the floor to give the wizard a brief hug and a shake of the arm. The wizard, who had looked wary coming in, relaxed. He chuckled and returned the greeting gesture.

“You know,” the wizard said. “I was hoping to find you here. This is usually my night to have a drink farther down the street. After you finish your dinner, do you mind a walk to there?”

That sounded dangerous. It was Oupenli at night.

“Not at all!” he heard himself say. So began another evening of drinking.

This time, he let the wizard get a head start. The young fellow, who was probably several years older than Denario but who seemed the same age or less since he was bereft of responsibilities, drank his mix of fortified wine and beer. Den stuck to a mild ale. His brew was so light that he could see through it to the bottom of his cup. Plus, he was careful not to look at the bottom of his cup too often.

The two of them started in about schools again. “They encourage people to be lazy and not learn for themselves!” they concluded more or less together. From there, the conversation took a mathematical turn and ended up in the area of maps. Although Dumford was not a map hobbyist, as other wizards were, he was an enthusiastic amateur. He understood the term 'topography.' He had tried his hand at chartomancy and, although he had been rather bad at it, he had seen that it was similar to other forms of magical tracing. The main differences were the use of geometry, which he had liked, and the extensive calculations based on geometric perspectives, which he had not.

Denario took mental notes. His guild had barely considered chartomancy. Yet he could see that there was an opportunity for surveyors and calculators to join in, at the least, and perhaps true accountants as well.

“And how are you feeling, today?” Dumford jostled him, elbow to elbow. His grin looked impish. “You were a bit wobbly yesterday. Did you manage to book your coach trip?”

“Four days out.”

“Ah, well. That's not too bad. Any more letters from your girl or from your apprentices?”

The accountant leaned back. So he had told the wizard about Pecunia. Or had he? Perhaps he had mentioned Carinde instead. She was the one sending letters, after all. It was a pity that she was practically a child. It was also a shame that Pecunia, a mature and beautiful woman, had ceased writing to him. Either way, Dumford probably had gotten the wrong idea.

“Nothing.” He put the ale to his lips. A thought re-occurred to him. It had been bothering him all day. “I've started to get nervous about my apprentices.”

“So you've said.”

“No, I mean, worried that they might hate me.”

“That's crazy talk.” Dumford waved and arm and sloshed his drink. “After all you've been through to get back to them?”

“They don't know any of that. All they have to think about is that I have returned months late. I have failed to send a third of the money from the job. It could look like I've robbed them or that I've eloped with my lady. Maybe they've gone hungry because of me.”

“Don't think like that,” Dumford ordered.

“I can't help it. And what about Spioniladro or Filchi? They are the current masters of my guild and they are against my counting house, I think. Maybe the masters have stopped teaching my boys. I was railing against the school, I know, but the youngest one still needs it.”


“And maybe Master Winkel’s cousin has dropped by and found that my boys have been living in what is no longer Master Winkel's property. Maybe he would threaten my apprentices with eviction. A lot of bad things might have happened. And they would be all my fault.”

“All yours? Don't you have a partner?”

Denario finished his drink. He sighed and thought.

“I do. Curo is okay. Still ...”

“Don't think too much. Apologize when you get there. Then tell them a bit of your story. I haven't even heard the whole thing, myself, but when you tell it, they'll soon be the ones apologizing. To you.”

Den laughed. It seemed so impossible. But it was a happy thought and Dumford chuckled at it, too.

Not much later, as they strolled from inn to bawdy house, the accountant patted his vest. He felt a lump and remembered that he had brought his blue coin with him. He had pocketed the magic darts, too, with the idea that he could show them to the wizard and explain. Since it was getting late in the spring, there was still daylight left, even after supper. It would not be a bad time for it. But as he fumbled for the coin, he lost his nerve.

He wanted Dumford to take it away. If anyone could cast a Send spell, this was the man. Captain Vir deserved to have his proof of royalty returned to him. A wizard like this one could surely do it. Then the matter would be off of Denario's conscience. But to explain his reasons would be to confess to treason of a sort or, at least, to his association with a known criminal. There was also the fact that he would appear to be waving around a coin on a darkening street.

Even more important were the darts. He didn't try to reach into his pouch for them. Showing off gold seemed worse than showing money. The tale of the how he had come by them would take a while, too, especially with the drunken, happy interruptions.

He got around to it eventually. He sat in what Dumford had described as a bawdy tavern and found that it was, to his relief, not a whorehouse but merely an overly-jolly bar where the servers were wenches in suggestive clothes that showed not only their ankles but a glimpse of their bodices. Fires burned in three hearths and torches sputtered on the walls. Two men at arms patrolled between the benches. They seemed to have their eye on a pair of unruly but unarmed knights. This was exactly the sort of place that Master Winkel had forbidden his apprentices to go. It wasn’t that such establishments were dangerous. The food was expensive.

Winkel didn’t even like these taverns when someone else paid. Years ago, one of the duke’s men had treated everyone in an officer’s tent to drinks and food in a place like this north of the city. Winkel hadn’t been mad about the red-head wench flirting with Buck, who was only thirteen at the time. That had seemed harmless enough. But Winkel had winced every time a round of drinks got paid. He really had not been able to enjoy himself seeing someone spend four times the price he thought was proper.

“What’s so funny?” Dumford asked.

“Didn’t know it showed on my face. I was thinking it was too bad that my old master isn’t here. Do you ever wish for things like that? To see old wizard friends?”

“A few, actually. The best ones were the misfits and oddballs. In fact, I’ve been thinking about Tim since you mentioned him. He was an odd duck and he was angry an awful lot of the time. But I liked him.”

“Oh!” Denario stood so fast, he sloshed his beer. “That reminds me!”

“You lost something? A coin? Your pants are on fire? I assume we are playing charades by the way.” Dumford kept guessing while Denario set aside his cup, patted himself down, peered into his pouch, didn’t find the leather case, patted down his other side, and looked into the same pouch again.

“This.” He thumped the white leather case onto the tabletop between them.

“You keep a pouch inside your pouch? You must be an accountant.”

Denario knew the reputation of his profession as far as being fastidious. But he didn’t know what to say about it. He decided just to move on.

“I’ve got a set of magical darts,” he whispered.

Dumford set down his drink. It took a lot to do that. Maybe he had a premonition.

“I need to return them. Did I get to tell you how I met Tim? I think I tried.”

“No. I didn’t hear.” Showing more self-awareness than Den had expected, Dumford added, “I may have interrupted.”

“It was in a tavern with a dart board, a bit like this one. A bit rougher, though. Dirt floor.”

“No bar maids?”

“Uh.” Denario managed, with a few stops and starts, to unload his jumble of a story. As Dumford later told him, the pieces came out in the wrong order. It took a different kind of wizard if to reassemble them mentally but, in a moment or two, Dumford started to chuckle ask the right sort of questions.

“Do you think Tim understood the math?“ he said.

“I’ve often wondered. Sometimes, no. But at other times, he gave me this look.“

“I think I know it.”

When he got to the end of the story, Denario stressed that the cases had looked identical. It was something that he and Tim had both been nonplussed by. It was a confusing and almost but not quite amusing detail.

“It sounds like Tim saved your life, maybe.”

“I don’t think I was quite certain of it at the time, but yes.”

“And you picked up this dart case of his anyway.” Dumford leaned his head in the direction of the wrap. The dwarfs had oiled all the leather in his gear including this, so it was probably cleaner and glowed brighter in the candlelight than it had ever when it was new.

“I passed by it. Then I recognized it a second late and realized that I must have forgotten my darts like a fool.”

“Like a panicked fool.”

“So I circled back to grab them. Tim saw me do it. He nodded. I’m sure he thought the same thing that I had.”

“But he had managed to put away his darts? That is the part I don’t quite understand.”

“I didn’t explain it to you. But I have thought about it. They are magic, as I said. I wonder if Tim could have trained them. They are nearly alive.”

“Oh, I doubt he could teach them anything. They don’t work quite like that.”

With a flash of irritation, Denario paused, hands on hips. The wizard was probably right, though. The ways in which magic seemed to give inanimate objects a sort of anima, a spirit, was not a matter than accountants could even guess.

“When he grabbed his staff to do his real magic, he didn’t have the darts. Whatever he did was very quick. I’m sure he didn’t have to think about it. The darts obey commands. So I think that he threw them back into the case. Do you know what I mean? It would be almost a reflex for him. He would know what he meant. The darts would understand and go.”

Dumford was silent for a moment. He took a swig, noticed that he had neared the bottom of his goblet, and waved it high for the barmaid to notice. The plump woman nodded at Dumford from the other end of their common table.

“That is a shrewd guess,” he said. He tossed back the rest of his drink. “For a dabbler in numeromancy, you have a good sense of how magic should work.”

“Thank you, I think. Anyway, I was going to show you the darts but I suppose that's not necessary. Plus, it's a bad idea to show them in public.” He lowered his voice. “I suspect that they are made of gold.”

Dumford snorted. “Robbery? Is that your worry?”

Den nodded.

“I could kill everyone here by accident.” The wizard's left hand stretched out, clasped down on the leather case, and pulled it close.

“Wait!” Den hissed.

“Oh.” Dunford‘s fingers found the correct end of the wrap and flipped it open. “Darts. Not what I was expecting."

Den leaned closer. Dumford’s hand obscured his view. “What do you mean?”

“Nice darts.” The fingers completely unrolled the leather. “Eagle-feather flights. Steel tips. All very expensive, I’m sure. But not magical.”

Denario slapped himself on the forehead. “I brought the wrong ones.”

“On the plus side,” Dumford said as he rolled the case back closed, “I find your confusion about the cases to be even more believable.”

“I’m very sorry, Dumford. I didn’t mean to waste your time. I only wanted to know if I could hire you to do a Send.”

“Good gods! That’s a very expensive spell.”

“I’m sorry to hear it. But the darts aren’t mine. I’m sure that Tim misses them terribly. It’s worth something to me to return them.”

“You said they were gold. It’s worth more for you to keep them.”

“But they’re not mine.”

“You are not even tempted by them?”

“Not really, no.”

The attendant, Sally, filled Dumford’s goblet from a glazed stoneware pitcher that seem to be reserved strictly for him. She glanced at the accountant's nearly full ale and gave him a knowing wink. Then she shook the pitcher and, noticing that what remained would not fill the next goblet, she carried it back to the bar.

“I am finding the honesty of an accountant to be disturbing.” The young wizard bent his head so that his expression was hidden from the candlelight.

Den put his fists on his hips. “Why?”

“No idea.” The curly hair shook from side to side. “Anyway, there was no need to show them. You were right about that. I was well acquainted with their appearance from your story. Gold all the way through. Even gold flights. There's a bit of impurity pushed out, by magic, to the tips. But that just makes them more durable. And each one is stamped with a D in the shaft.”

Denario hadn’t mentioned all that. Maybe he had said more than he remembered last night.

“Yes, D for darts. I thought that was the silliest part of the magic, although it is really very clever aside from that.”

“No.” He lifted his head at last. He gave Den a sad smile. “D for Dunford. You see, I made them.”

Denario sat down. He closed his eyes, fingertips pressed against his eyebrows and temples. It all made sense. He had already been sure that Tim had hired someone more sophisticated to cast the spell.

“He was rich, at the time, for Tim.” The wizard leaned back in his chair, the foot of the goblet propped against his stomach. “His caravan had come in safe. His boss had paid Tim with two real gold pieces and then he let Tim choose a bonus from the mule bags. Tim chose a granite slab that the caravan had carried for two trips without finding a buyer. The problem was that it pinged to the touch like it was hollow. So it was probably a sort of secret box, except no one could figure out how to open it.”

“He worked out the puzzle.”

“Not really. He’s too impatient for that. Fortunately, the slab gave way to the simplest opening spell there is.” A slight incline of his head acknowledged an unspoken point. “Obviously, he hid that from his supervisor.”

“And inside there was more gold?”

“There was a flat sheet of it. Tim hired me to make a magic cup out of the sheet. You know the type. He wanted the cup to always refill itself. That’s a fairly easy spell but it takes more power than Tim can manage.”

That seemed right except for one detail.

“You were hired to make a cup,” he pointed out.

“We had a few drinks.” Dumford shrugged. “While we did, we traded ideas about the vessel, whether it should have a handle like a beer stein or whether it should have etchings like a chalice. He decided no to both options. Then we considered the commands it might need to take and how Tim could transport it without getting his bags all wet. The problems that arise from having a constantly filling cup seemed to get more complicated the more we talked. Also, we both knew the spell would unravel if he hit a low-magic area. Would that be dangerous? We didn't know. That's why we usually leave such spells to the unseen professors.”

“What if it fell on its side? Would it flood the room?”

“Like that, yes. The magical cup needed more safeguards than we had originally thought. We shot a game of darts while we talked. Then we shot a few more games. Tim kept losing. He got mad about it, too.”


“You can see where this is going. We got sloshed and Tim demanded magic darts.”

“And you created them on the spot? Just like that?”

“No, I got blindingly drunk first. We argued about the darts over a pair of bottles of wine, I remember.”

Dumford cast his gaze upward for a moment, as if trying to recall anything more about that evening. After a minute, they both realized there would be no such revelation.

“You know, I’ve got the darts,” Denario offered. They were not with him, unfortunately, but he did have them. He pointed in what he believed was the direction of his inn. “I’ve got some money, at least for a while. Do you think you could Send the darts to Tim?”

“No, absolutely not.”

“Why not?”

“That’s a spell that doesn’t work right. For anybody.” He made a rude noise with lips. His head shook. A curly locked dangled down below his eyebrow. “Only the most sophisticated of wizards even come close to getting it right. It might as well be a non-functional spell.”

“Then why does it exist?” Now that he had a better feeling for the algorithmic nature of magic, his sense of outrage about any deviation from its logic was strong. “Why would anyone write it down?”

“It must’ve worked for one wizard, once. Or for a witch, I suppose. Whoever it was, they thought they understood something about how the world moved. Maybe they didn’t. Or maybe the world started moving differently since then. Anyway, it doesn’t work.”

“But banks use it.”

“They’re faking.” Dumford leaned back on his bench. He slumped with his right elbow on the table.

“How could they? Why?”

“The how of it is easy. There are any number of ways. Message spells work. So do drawing spells. I am sure that some bank wizards, who tend to be very specialized, are good at illusions. They can create the illusion that your precious painting or your lucky crystal has been Sent. If it’s important, and you have paid enough, they can even put your item on a coach to be delivered to a different bank branch in secret. What they actually transmit is the illusion. Then, if they need to, they make good in reality.”

Den thought about the why of it. The problem was, there were too many reasons including simple human stubbornness. But the principal reason, surely, was that no one wanted to admit a weakness.

If Dumford was right, the Send spell had stopped working. However, banks had advertised the service for twenty years. If some of the businesses thought that others could still Send objects, they would naturally want to cover up their deficiency. They would pretend to offer what they thought any other lender could offer.

Plus, if you had told a duke that you could Send his octarina across the sea, you might want to appear to do it rather than risk death by saying no.

“Well, if messaging works and casting a Send does not, can't I return the darts to Tim anyway?”

“What does a message spell have to do with it?”

“You could create a message from me to him saying that I have left the darts in a sealed bank box and giving the details about which one. Tim guards the caravan routes, so his job will take him back to Oupenli at some point. Then he can pick up the darts from the vault.”

“I don't trust a bank.”

“Well, I don't either, really. But I need to do something to get the darts to Tim. That's the important thing.”



They drank to the idea. They drank to other things, as well. The accountant knew he wasn't losing track of his drinks, only six so far, but he had to try harder not to lose track of the time. Two men-at-arms in leather jerkins started singing. They kept returning to the same sailing song, which was confusing, especially since along with it, Dumford returned to the same subject of discussion, which was his grudge against alchemists. Denario felt like the evening had started to go in circles.

Fortunately, the bar maid seemed familiar enough with the subjects of Dumford's tirades. She ignored him, filled his cup repeatedly, and in time brought him a note scribbled on a much-abused paper fragment.

While Dumford opened the folded scrap to read, Den caught a glimpse of the writing. He couldn't say why but he assumed the note had been composed by a woman. There weren't many females of less than noble class who were taught to write, of course, but a few figured out the concepts for themselves. There was something about the nearly illegible, looping scrawl that made him think that was the case in this instance.

“What does it mean?” Dumford complained to the bar maid. He carefully folded the paper.

“You know very well what it says,” she answered.

“If these words are her true intent, why won't she come to see me?”

“She says it's nothing against you, love. She doesn't want to be seen by anyone right now, not in public. That means not even with you.”

“Especially not me. It's my fault.”

“Don't be silly. Are you listening to either of us? It's nothing against you. That's what she keeps saying. Ah, I knew that this was going to be the way of it. I knew you would go on. She does not hold a grudge against you. You warned her.”

“But then ...”

The wizard lowered his voice. He hunched in at the shoulders as he drew nearer to the bar maid. Since he seem to want privacy for his conversation, Denario picked up his darts case and pushed it back down into the pouch of his belt. He scanned the room, searching for something to do while his friend chatted, and at that moment he noticed a couple of players at the dartboard.

He took his cup with him to the throwers row, an aisle between benches. On the way, he saw that the players had average skills at best, some good shots mixed in with haphazard ones. The board had been carved out of elm and soaked every night to keep it soft. This was a more traditional board than the cork ones but Denario did not like how elm wood never closed back up. It tended to develop pitting over time, sometimes developing holes as big as a fingertip.

He sat and he watched.

The players noticed Den. The tall one shifted to study him. After all, he was close and wearing his red accounting vest. It would have been hard to ignore him. From their hush conversation, they didn’t take him for a hustler, so they seemed to be discussing whether they wanted to challenge him to a match when Dumford strode up. He had finished his conversation with Sally and no, he didn’t want to play, thank you. He turned down the offer of darts. He grabbed Den by the shoulder and said that he wanted to drink more. Quickly, too.

Back at their table, Den found that he could not keep up. He could not even pretend. Instead, he tried to console his friend over the loss of a sweet girl, “perhaps the sweetest in the world,” no, definitely a saint, perhaps a saint double, no, “at least four times a saint and twice a martyr besides.“ All the while, Den struggled to figure out what was going on. He forgot about games of chess, darts, and cards, forgot about his overdue tax report, even about his apprentices pining at home for him, all so that he could wonder what the world’s most tolerant, sweet girl had done to earn the title of martyr. Definitely, she had not died, so it was something to do with magic.

If the wizard were drinking to forget, it seemed to work. The process got a temporary assist from Sally. She commented that an alchemist had dropped by earlier to demonstrate his fireworks powder. That got Dumford to snipe about how such things were just for show. Sally replied, yes, that was the point, wasn’t it. The alchemist had made two sales from his table, one of them for a fireworks celebration to be held by the Bastard Prince of Four to Six Islands, a kingdom in the Expedient Sea where the islands moved and on occasion, went missing. That was not much trouble by the standards of the area so the island kingdom held a rather respectable place in sea commerce.

“Didn’t I do a job for that prince?” Dumford‘s gaze narrowed. “He’s loaded with gold and gems.”

“Maybe. Anyway, love, the fireworks are free and they will be right in front of the Four to Six Islands embassy just two days out.”

The wizard sighed. “She loved fireworks. Loves. She still loves them.”

“It will be dark.”

His eyebrows rose. Dumford leaned away from the table. “Do you think there's a chance?”

“I'm willing to take her a message if you want to try.”

Dumford composed his reply in a scrawl so illegible that it was a wonder that he didn't flunk out the first time one of his professors spied it on his desk. However, he did express himself in less than a minute, not an easy task with a grubby quill. He squeezed the folded paper scrap into Sally's hand. Then he returned to his drinking. After an hour, during which they debated the geometric principles of cartomancy, Den noticed that Sally had changed the mix of beer and wine for the wizard. Dumford's cup got filled with a dark brew that smelled like rye bread.

The young fellow hardly noticed.

He continued to interrupt Den's math with jokes, some of which had to do with how geometry applied to women. Den hadn't heard most of them before. The one about hemispheres made him chuckle.

“That takes multiple spells at once," Dumford explained while he was still on the subject of tracing curves. "Of course, some folks consider it cheating. Not elegant enough. But take a Send, for instance ... I could improve the accuracy ... I would have to cheat a bit ... mash three spells together. Maybe I could do it with two ... yes, I think that would work. It could be that some of the bank pretenders are doing it ... no, financial wizards can’t manage two spells at once. Still, I could do it easily.”

“You could?”

“Am I the only one who could be cheating like this? No, I’ll bet the professors do it all the time. The real ones, anyway, the unseen.”

This fragment of thought got Denario excited to return the darts to Tim. However, when he rose from the bench to get them and start the job, Dumford grabbed his sleeve.

“Don't leave me,” he said.

Den sat back down.

The minutes of talking turned into another hour, then probably another. The boistrous men-at-arms left without causing a fight. The darts players tipped their caps as they departed. Draughts players came, set up a board, exchanged bets, lost and won. A musician sat on a table and strummed on her lute. She led the audience in a dozen bawdy songs until someone paid her two tankards of ale, which was enough to shut her up for a while. Around them, the hearth fires started to burn low.

“So you can't really Send the darts back to Tim." Denario couldn't help thinking about it. "But you made them. And even if you can't quite directly Send, you have a cheat in mind. You have some other way to give them back.”

“Who said I can't Send? That's ridic ... hic ... ridiculous!” The wizard pounded his goblet on the table. “That’s not even a master spell. I'd do it for free but it would have to be when I'm sober.”

Denario thought about this for a moment. Had the wizard already forgotten his method of cheating at the spell or was he referring to it? Did he really need to be sober? How often did that happen?

The next time that Dumford took a pull from his beer, Den's fingers crept across the bench.
He grabbed the wizard's money pouch, which he had left out. It was awfully light. With a sigh, Den dropped it down on the floor between them, out of sight and hopefully, out of mind.

“Aha!” The wizard grabbed Den by the arm.

“What now?” The wizard had noticed, apparently. Maybe the pouch had been protected by a spell. That's what Denario would have done with his possessions if he were able to use magic.

“Darts back to Tim.”


“We have to do it. We agreed.” Dumford's head wobbled. “I've thought of another way. A better way. No casting. Well, yes, casting. Ha ha. But of a different sort.”

That sounded promising even if it ended up being the same cheat that Dumford had invented earlier. “How?”

“Can’t say.” The wizard cast a suspicious gaze at the drunkards and tradesmen around him. “Shouldn't, anyway. I'll have to show you.”

That sounded less promising. “When?"

“Don’t let me forget.” The wizard leaned back and took another long swig.

“Oh, yes.” Den took a deep breath. “Of course.”

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