The Tally Master, Chapter 7 (scene 32)

Chapter 7

Keir stood just inside the copper vault, enjoying the flow of cool morning air and the way the clear dawn light poured through the casement she’d opened. This narrow, claustrophobic hollow within the tower’s thick wall was infinitely more bearable when freshened by breeze and sun. Why had she always followed Gael’s lead so precisely in every detail before? He wouldn’t have minded if she’d opened the casement during the checking out of the metals. Not in summer. But because he’d always left the casement shut, so had she.

She double-checked the stacks of copper ingots resting on the ledge by the door. There were the nine for the blade smithy, shiny in the flood of light. And there, the twenty-seven requisitioned by the privy smithy—three stacks of nine—including the ingot retrieved by Gael last night.

She thought again of the note he’d left for her under the three recovered ingots—one copper and two bronze.

Keir, Some of our missing metals have come home. I have not tallied their return yet. As you’ll see from the tally sheets, I have marked the disbursal of one ingot of tin for a special project. Gael.

She’d been up early—determined to fulfill her duties perfectly—and had time to rule and label the sheets for the evening checking in. She’d tallied the two bronze and the one copper ingot in, along with a written comment on the irregularity, wondering all the while how Gael had found them. She hoped he would tell her. She wanted to know.

No, she needed to know.

A footstep in the hall heralded the arrival of the blade scullion, a young troll with ruddy hair and a very upturned nose. Keir quelled an involuntary shudder at the strong evidence of his troll-disease. He grinned at her. “While the lynx lounges, the hare plays,” he teased.

Keir sniffed. “You wish,” she said, lifting an eyebrow. “The secretarius is more forbearing than I, and even he is not tolerant of much regarding his metals.”

The scullion shrugged, and slipped the strap of his carry sack off his shoulder to open it. Keir hefted the nine ingots going to his smithy from their ledge—nine pounds weren’t precisely heavy, but neither were they a feather weight—and lowered them into the embrace of the soft suede. She marked the tallies on the waiting tally sheet and paused a moment to see if the privy scullion would appear.

“You always going to issue the ingots now?” asked the blade scullion.

“No,” she answered shortly. It wasn’t really his business. “Perhaps a deichtain or two.”

“Why doesn’t the secretarius give it to you permanent? I heard he was moving up to the posh suite next to the regenen’s and would leave all his work to you.”

Now it was definitely time to snub the boy. “Then you heard wrong.”

“If he did, you could get a boy to work under you. You could ask for me! And when Gael retired, you could be secretarius, and I could get a boy who did what I said.”

That wasn’t worth answering. “It doesn’t work that way in Belzetarn,” she said.

“I’d ruther be the tally master than the bladesmith,” explained the boy.

No doubt, but he would become neither. And the privy scullion was late again. Keir hustled the blade scullion out and padlocked the vault door behind her. The corridor was very dark with the sunlight from the copper vault blocked, only a few glimmers of daylight from the stairwells at each end filtering through.

After she unlocked the tin vault and swung the door open, the latch clanging against the stone wall, light flooded into the corridor again. Just inside on the ledge, the tin ingots and her tally sheet awaited, readied by her earlier when she’d opened the vault’s casement. She gave the blade scullion his one ingot of tin, tallied it, and relocked the vault. No point in delaying for that late privy scullion.

The armor scullion arrived as she opened the bronze vault. She handed him his four bronze ingots, and he departed as swiftly as he’d come.

Keir wished the blade scullion would go, but he needed to collect a trio of nicked swords resting in the safe repository. That was next, and then she could get rid of him.

“Wouldn’t you like to be regenen one day?” the boy asked. “Tell everybody what to do!”

“No, I wouldn’t,” she answered coolly. “And you shouldn’t say things like that. It will get you in trouble sooner or later. More likely sooner.”

“Why?” he said.

A whole mob of scullions erupted from the Regenen Stair, jostling one another and kidding. Keir winced. Groups of trolls still bothered her, but maybe the blade scullion would shut his mouth now.

Keir opened the safe repository, settling into the rhythm of her work. Eight swords went to the two scullions of the grinding smithy and were tallied. She handed ten swords to the scullions of the annealing smithy. And tallied them. The hilt smithy received its swords, the armorers’ lodge received their scales and wire, the fletchers’ lodge accepted forty-nine arrowheads, and the spearmakers took their thirty-four spearheads.

The blade scullion stacked the three notched blades carelessly atop his ingots in the carry sack and left with the mob.

And still the privy scullion remained absent.

Keir locked the safe repository and entered the Regenen Stair in the wake of the departing scullions. They were headed all the way down to the smithies, but she turned off at the next level, encountering the scullions from the copper and tin smelteries as she did so. They were older than the boys in the other smithies, nearly as capable as their opteons, and serious about getting the partially refined metals from the mines to the peak of perfection required for Belzetarn’s forges.

Keir bypassed the doors to the vestries for the armor and weapons reserved for the legions’ elite.

The pebble vault lay behind the third door. She’d already weighed the irregular clumps of tin allotted to the tin smeltery and recorded the nine pounds and three ounces on her tally sheet. As she tilted the scoop into the smeltery scullion’s carry sack, the scullion—a dark fellow with a downcurving nose like Gael’s—muttered, “You’re overseeing the privy smithy this morning?”

Keir frowned. Not at all surprising that he knew of the arrangement; the scullions talked to one another. But why would a tin scullion concern himself with the privy smithy? What was his name? Ravin? Yes, Ravin.

“I will descend with the privy scullion after I issue his ingots,” she said.

Ravin sniffed. “The boys grow unruly while waiting on their smith,” he said. “Arnoll sorted them out yesterday, but their mischief will increase if it goes unchecked.”

Keir followed him out of the pebble vault, securing the door behind her. The two copper scullions were standing at the far end of the dim corridor near the oxhide vault. She stopped the tin scullion as he made to leave. “You did not mention this yesterday when I interviewed you.”

He shrugged. “It slipped my mind until now, when I realized we’d be treated to the same, unless someone kept those boys in order.” He took a step toward the Lake Stair and the copper scullions. “I suppose Arnoll will do it, even if you don’t. He’s responsible that way. Yesterday he noticed that the privy boys had collected one ingot too many of tin and took it from them. To return it to the vaults, no doubt.”

Wait. What?

Keir thought back to yesterday evening’s check-in. She didn’t remember the armor smithy turning in anything save the bags of scales they’d fashioned that day. She would have noticed—with ingots missing from the tally—if an extra ingot had turned up.

And Gael had recovered copper and bronze, not tin.

There’s something wrong here, she thought, and I don’t have time now to delve into it.

“Ravin, I want to hear more about Arnoll and the boys. Will you speak with me after I finish in the privy smithy?”

The scullion tipped his head to one side, considering. “Aye, that’ll do. The tin’ll still be heating. My opteon can spare me.” He paused. “Unless you need to hear me elsewhere. That’ud take too long.”

“No, I’ll just draw you aside,” she reassured him.

He nodded and continued toward the stairwell, clapping one of the copper scullions on the shoulder as he passed. “Think you’ll drop it today?” he gibed.

All three of them—copper and tin together—laughed.

The oxhide ingots were large and heavy, weighing eighty pounds each and shaped like animal hides, with a leg protruding at each corner to provide a good gripping point. During the trip from the mines to the tower, they were tied to the pack harnesses of two mules, one beast to each side. If four trolls instead of two could transport an ingot from the vaults to the smithies, it might be easy. But the stairwells—generous though the main ones were—were yet too narrow for that.

Instead, one troll gripped a front leg and heaved, while another troll gripped a back leg and heaved. The ingot, held at hip level, hung to below their knees.

As the two copper scullions eased their oxhide ingot through the vault doorway, Keir heard a shrill voice calling her name. “Keir! Where are you? I’m sorry I’m late! Keir?”

The privy scullion. Finally.

Keir locked the oxhide vault and hurried back toward the Regenen Stair. The boy would need copper ingots, tin ingots, and the failed scissors and ladle from the bronze vault. Three doors to unlock—again. Three doors to re-lock—again. What had kept the boy?

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 7 (scene 33)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 6 (scene 31)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)