The Tally Master, Chapter 6 (scene 31)

Lying on his sleeping couch in his chambers, Gael found sleep eluding him. In his weariness, he’d forgotten to swing the shutters closed, and the moonlight shone brightly on the leather hangings, the scattered small tables and backless chairs. But it was not the light alone that kept his eyes open.

Every inch of him ached, his feet and legs from all the stair climbing of the day, his shoulders and neck from tension, and his head from his repellent discoveries.

Were it not so late, he would have visited the saunas in the yard to sweat the soreness from his body and the churning images from his thoughts: Martell aggrieved that any suspicion rested on him, the simple sweep grabbing for a drop of molten tin, the bullied lunch boy calmed by Keir, and—worst of all—Arnoll holding a stolen ingot.

Gael turned toward the wall, bright in the moonlight, and then got up to close the shutters. His legs protested, and returning to the soft sheepskins cushioning his couch felt good. But still he could not sleep. Even with the greater dimness.

Very well. If sleep refused him, he would think. What did he know?

When the theft of his tin first came to his attention during the tallying, he’d assumed an error had been made. That had proved incorrect. He’d suspected petty pilfering next. Perhaps a miserable scullion, hoping to barter it for better treatment, had impulsively swiped an ingot. Perhaps a simpleton had been attracted by the metal’s glossy sheen.

In retrospect, his suspicions seemed ludicrous. The metals flowing through Belzetarn were far too well monitored—by himself—for a lowly scullion to succeed with thievery. Only someone with more reach, more resources, and more ambition would or could arrange the intricate plans necessary.

And . . . tin was not shiny right out of the mold. It required careful polishing.

No, he was right to bend his scrutiny to the powerful.

And, yet, he’d been wrong in assessing the march as the one troll in the entire citadel who would never steal from his lord. Dreas had stolen tin. And he’d stolen it through Arnoll, the one friend Gael was certain possessed an unbreakable integrity.

Gael turned over yet again, unable to find a comfortable position.

He’d told Arnoll that he trusted him still. He wanted to trust him. But, in truth, his trust was shaken. He understood Arnoll. He suspected he would do the same as Arnoll in a like situation. But . . . he was not sure he could admit Arnoll to his deepest confidence in the immediate future.

Gael adjusted the pillow beneath his head. A stray moonbeam penetrated a chink in the shutters, illuminating a pattern of triangles stamped into one of the leather hangings.

Another unwelcome thought crossed Gael’s mind.

If the march could use Arnoll to steal tin, then surely the magus or the castellanum might also use another’s hands to reach into the smithies. Hells. The regenen himself could do so, although Gael still could not take that possibility seriously. The regenen would not stoop to steal from his secretarius—and thus from himself.

The castellanum seemed the most likely thief. Barris, in the kitchens, had mentioned that the castellanum was inviting many more underlings to the honor of dining in one of the three great halls. Gael himself had noted one of them. Could one of the castellanum’s guests be stealing for him?

The stray moonbeam vanished.

Gael wriggled a heavy fold of blanket off his toes.

What about the magus?

He remembered the rumors that had leaked from Pirbrant before the last battle on the plain between the rivers. Rumors that had subsequently proven true. How Heiroc’s brother Erastys had fallen in love with a very proper lady who spurned him. How the lady had possessed one of the talismans of ancient Navellys. How Erastys and Nathiar together had plotted to obtain what they wanted from the lady: Erastys, the lady’s passion; Nathiar, the lady’s artifact.

Her artifact was not one of the lodestones. Those were long lost, all five of them. The lady held one of the originally more numerous amulets, still very rare in this day and age.

Nathiar had cast the glamor that would steal both the lady’s virtue and the lady’s treasure as one.

But Nathiar’s magery had failed him, bringing the truldemagar upon him.

Nathiar had stolen honor and dignity and innocence before in the court of Hadorgol. Gael had witnessed it. Would he also steal metal, here in Belzetarn? Gael had no evidence to indicate that it was so.

He didn’t truly know much of anything. Suspicions and possibilities were not the same as real knowledge. It didn’t help that two competing concerns pressed him. He absolutely needed to get to the bottom of this thievery, but he also must resolve the dangers posed by the cursed gong brought in by the scouts of the Third Cohort.

As things stood, Gael had given neither problem sufficient attention.

Worse . . . the mere presence of the evil gong seemed to exert an insidious effect upon him. And he was all too aware that it lay close, with merely two doors between it and him.

After seven years of eschewing the manipulation of energea, he’d used his powers thrice today. First to ease the simpleton’s pain. Next to clear the disguised copper ingot of its tin mask. Thirdly to set a trap to catch his thief. Or one of his thieves. And . . . had either the retrieved bronze or the tin honestly given to Arnoll proved to be tainted like that disguised copper ingot, Gael would have cleansed it without a thought.

Was Carbraes correct in his belief that any use of energea worsened a troll’s affliction? Or was it merely the dangerous energea—the searing orange—that did so?

Gael thumped his pillow, irritated with himself. He had to get some sleep, or neither of his problems would receive even so much as the inadequate focus as he’d funneled into them today.

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Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 7 (scene 32)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 6 (scene 30)

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

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The Tally Master