Practical Exercise

Precisely on time, the Lecturer arrived.  He was a short, thin man with an unconventional heavy beard.  “I am Master Accountant Hartpence,” he announced. “Welcome to the mandatory course on Estate Management.  Even if you are leaving here as an ornament to your House, you need to be able to read ledgers and manage accounts, lest you end up like House Crummell.”  I had been warned about Crummel.  Once upon a time, that House had the not brilliant idea of using unmen servants to manage business operations.  Unmen are as smart as real people, after all.  Actually, the folks who were placed in charge of the Crummell accounts were absolutely brilliant.  They invented scams never before seen by man.  Of course, they finally got caught, so they were fed to a hrordrin, slowly, but House Crummell was reduced to its unalienable acres, and huge debts.  I can contrast with home.  House Triskittenion trades with unmen.  We sometimes employ them as skilled labor, mostly in fine construction.  We very much do not use them as servants.   “Your textbook, which you should read carefully, covers financial records.  We will discuss those, but we also discuss more practical issues in estate management.  I’ll put a sample ledger page up on the screen.  What do you see odd about it?  You have five minutes to make a list.”

Several of my less bright classmates tried to borrow paper and lead pencil from neighbors.  I was the only person in my row, so I could lean back and look at the display without being disturbed by neighbors.  Was there anything on that ledger, I thought, that was not a mite odd? I was way too young to be trusted with the House accounts, but I’d done a month apprenticeship with our Master of the Coins, not enough to learn how to do it, but enough to learn what I needed to learn someday.  After five minutes, I’d covered a page with notes.  I’d only spotted two points where unmen were skimming accounts, but I was sure there were more.

Master Accountant Hartpence collected our pages and sorted them into stacks.  “I see, he said, that some of you have never been near your house finances, some of you know what a ledger is, and some of your Houses have done a good job of preparing you.  Those of you in the last group may be in trouble here.  Some words may be subtly different than the usages you were taught.”  Hartpence then launched into word definitions, most of which I recognized, and some of which I didn’t.  Even writing very quickly, I mostly only took down the words themselves, not all of their definitions. OK, that’s why we have a library.

My third class was General Magic-Construction.  It looked to be dull.  Perhaps it would become more interesting when we advanced.   Master Gilbert’s first lecture set a very low level for a Gentleman’s Pass.  There are spells for creating large quantities of simple goods?  I know that.  He then listed several classes of spell that are commonly used in Construction.  I’d used four of them in working for my House, and had heard of the other two.  OK, I needed to read about the last two.  On the bright side, more or less everyone came back into the lecture hall after the recess.  After all, this subject taught you about doing things that would make money.  The rest of Master Gilbert’s lecture was taught at a modestly higher level. I very much had to look at the types of magic I hadn’t used.

In History and Ethics, I started out on the worst possible foot.  Before classes started, Serene Master Brennan had given us something short to read and had us identify the improper acts. He called out names and handed back papers.  From my point of view in the back of the room, I could see he had been thorough about making comments.  At least at first, many of them were positive. “Best in class!  You caught both the false invoices.  Very observant!” For people not in the front row, he’d fold over the paper, hand it to someone in front, and let my fellow students pass the papers back. His stack of papers waiting to be returned got thinner and thinner, my name not being called.  He seemed to have handed back all of them.   Where were my results?

About George Phillies

science fiction author -- researcher in polymer dynamics -- collector of board wargames -- President, National Fantasy Fan Federation
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