The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 15)

Two years earlier, on her last day at home, Keiran’s pater had allowed his daughter to unlace the straps of his peg leg and draw it off—as much a mark of his discomfort as his willingness to pause briefly at their circular reed hut before going to the shore.

The device was an ingenious one. Engis had made it himself.

Laced leather thongs secured a wide leather strap tightly around Engis’ thigh, just above his knee. Two bone braces with ratcheted bone gears at their tops connected the upper strap to a lower one that wrapped tightly around his stump just below the knee. The lower edge of the lower strap was sewn onto a hollow column—also carved of bone—ending in a leather tip covered in felt.

The leather tip and its felt covering were replaced when they wore out.

As clever as the physical design of the peg leg was, its hidden properties were cleverer still.

Engis had drawn on his magical skills for strengthening the flint knives and spearheads of the warriors to reinforce the device that permitted him to walk unaided with relative ease.

Keiran knew that if she looked at the peg leg with her inner sight, she would see a glowing green node within each of the gears beside Pater’s knee, each emanating scrolling arcs of silver that curved through the entire extent of bone and leather.

But her attention was not on the miraculous device this time.

Pater wrapped thin layers of lambswool around his own leg beneath each of the gripping straps of the peg leg. The upper layer of wrapping had developed a crease in its smoothness, creating an angry red line on Pater’s skin. Keiran hissed. No wonder he’d limped.

“Let me, Pater,” she said.

He lay semi-reclining upon the sheepskin on his divan, leaning against the curving wall of their one-room hut. The fire in the central hearth was banked—the earthy smell of the peat tickled Keiran’s nose—and shadows filled the space under the conical roof. Soft light, filtered by the overcast, drifted in through the open doorway. Neither Isolt—Keiran’s younger sister—nor Muirne, their old nurse maid, were home.

Keiran’s long braid fell forward over her shoulder as she reached for the small stone jar of goose grease.

“Keiran.” Pater’s voice held a cautionary note. She knew he wanted her to reserve her energea for the lesson he would give her later at the seaside.

“The skin will break, if all I do is rub ointment on it,” Keiran insisted.

He sighed and nodded, reluctantly.

If the skin broke, he would have to wait for it to heal before he could wear his peg, or else accelerate the wound’s healing with his own energea.

Keiran scooped a dollop of the milky grease from the jar and smoothed it over the red mark, letting her inner vision open. Ah! The silvery arc curling down from Pater’s root node shivered in response to his pain. With practiced ease, she directed energea from her own nodes along the arcs of her arms, out through her fingers, and into the disturbed arc of Pater’s thigh. It quieted in the stream of silvery sparks.


Her own arcs smoothed into more relaxed curves, and she felt her spine take its most natural and comfortable shape, hips slightly dropped, crown lifted. Healing with energea felt as good to the healer as it did to the healed.

“That’ll do,” came Pater’s voice.

Keiran checked the results of her inner work on the outer reality. The angry red welt had faded. So long as she wrapped fresh lambswool over it, the remaining mark would be gone by evening.

Pater dragged his peg leg off the floor of crushed shells, where Keiran had let it lie.

And Keir dragged her thoughts out of the memories of her last afternoon with her father.

Belzetarn, not Fiors, was her home now. And she’d arrived at the regenen’s door—very near the battlements at the top of the Regenen Stair.

Healing with energea felt good, but not so good that she would flout the prohibition against practicing magic in Carbraes’ citadel. Or work in his hospital healing the enemies of Fiors.

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Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 4 (scene 16)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 3 (scene 14)

Need the beginning?
The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)

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The Tally Master