The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 39)

The copper teamsters were waiting for him in the upper yard, two of them wrestling a weighty oxhide ingot off the first pair of mules. Another, their opteon, stood some distance away, surveying the second and third pairs of mules, all four still burdened with their ingots, but dipping their heads to crop the lush green grass.

The sun had cleared the wall enclosing the yard, and morning light cast long shadows from the various artisan lodges. Scullions dodged in and out of their doorways, a few fetching water from the well, others carrying bundles of wood. One boy approached with a full bucket to water the mules.

Gael ambled down the ramp from the annex, shading his squinting eyes against the brightness.

The teamsters’ opteon, Emon, moved jerkily to meet Gael at the bottom of the ramp.

Emon was a small, wiry troll with a quick, anxious manner. His wizened face showed a mass of wrinkles, darting eyes, and was very tan. He wore the undyed suede tunic and trews of Belzetarn’s miners. Gael could smell the rock dust caught in the nap of the leather. The teamster greeted Gael—typically—with his latest worry.

“Ah’m not sure ’bout that new seam, Secretarius. It’s narrowin’ fast. Ah think it’ll play out soon. Ah think th’ magus was a wrong ’un ’bout his seam.”

Carbraes had sent Nathiar to the copper mine two moons ago at Gael’s recommendation. The old seam of ore-laden rock they’d been following since before Gael arrived at Belzetarn had been plunging ever deeper into the earth. Deep enough that the poor air supply was killing as many miners as the exploding rock—produced when they directed a stream of cold water on the fire-heated working face. Mining was dangerous, no question. They had to have the ore-rich rubble for shoveling into the furnace. Thus the heat, the sudden chill, and the resultant explosion were necessary. But poor air . . . would eventually extinguish the fire, as well as the miners.

“The magus traced the new seam precisely,” said Gael. “The map in my tally chamber shows it narrowing at the current location of the working face, but it will widen again once we get to the waxing moon.”

Emon shook his head. “It don’t have th’ look of a meander,” he insisted. “It’s thinnin’ down fast, like it’ll go to a trickle, then a thread, then nuthin’. We’ll have to go back to th’ old seam.”

“The magus won’t have been mistaken, Emon. But if this seam plays out, Carbraes will send the magus again to find another seam altogether. I’m not willing to sustain the casualties that the old seam produced.”

Emon nodded, reassured. “Wull, that’s good hearin’, Secretarius. But th’ new seam’s weaker than th’ old seam. And if th’ magus’ next seam’s weaker still, you’ll be gettin’ one oxhide ev’ry other day ’stead o’ three.”

Emon was definitely a worrier. His face was creased with it as he finished his pessimistic forecast.

“The magus did mention that this narrow neck in the seam was less rich than the wider areas before and after it,” Gael reminded him.

“But it isn’t. It’s narrow, but the rock is just as rich as rich. We should be gettin’ four ingots, not three!” he burst out.

“Surely not,” said Gael.

“The magus took a long look at our furnace,” said Emon. “Spent all day at it. But it’s workin’ worse than ever.”

“When?” asked Gael, surprised.

Emon frowned. “When what?”

“When did Nathiar examine your furnace?”

“Last waxin’ moon.” Emon was calming, even as Gael grew . . . concerned.

“A deichtain ago?” Gael probed.

“Aye. But it weren’t nuthin’. Just a clogged tap, and th’ magus worked out a plunger to keep it clear. Just after th’ slag rises to float on the molten copper, th’ furnace troll opens the slag tap to draw it off, then works th’ magus’ plunger—one, two, three—and then opens the oxhide tap.”

“I didn’t know the magus had visited the mines last waxing moon,” probed Gael.

“Oh, aye. We sent word for ’im when th’ tap clogged. And he fixed it good.” Having discharged his anxiety, Emon was wholly relaxed.

Gael was not. Nathiar’s second trip to the copper mine—unauthorized by Gael—would bear looking into.

The two teamsters wrestling the first oxhide ingot had finished rubbing down the pair of mules that had borne it. They hoisted the heavy metal to their shoulders, one fore and one aft, and started up the ramp to the annex. Gael followed in their wake, pondering the surest way of detaining Nathiar.

He was tempted to bump the interview of the magus ahead of the one he planned for the castellanum.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 40)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 38)

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