The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 40)

After locking all three oxhide ingots in their vault, Gael trudged back down to the artisans’ yard. The morning sun had risen higher in the sky while the copper teamsters prepared to depart. The copper mines were close and they’d arrive there by midafternoon. The tin works lay more than a full day’s travel to the northeast, and the tin teamster had to camp in the forest en route.

The copper teamsters finished tidying their mules’ straps and moved off. Passing them, a single mule loaded with two capacious sacks emerged from the gatehouse between the bailey and the lower yard—troll companion striding lazily alongside, but with a slight limp. He wore a tunic of ragged shearling, fleeces outward. His grizzled hair, wild and woolly, fell to his shoulders.

“Fintan!” Gael called, waving a hand on high. He’d been expecting the new chap, not this old regular.

The tin teamster waved back, a cursory swipe at the air. He paused to say something to the gatehouse guard and then led his mule along the lodges lining the lower yard, following the gradual slope up to where the lower yard merged with the upper, and only then turning toward Gael.

A kitchen scullion scampered up the steep stairs between the two levels while Gael waited, but most of the traffic in the yard had ebbed away to a lodge mess or one of the great halls in the tower, there to break the night’s fast.

“Gael!” said Fintan, grinning as he approached nearer. He quickened his stride. His limp grew more pronounced.

Gael stepped to meet him, clasping both of the teamster’s forearms, feeling Fintan’s returning grip on his own.

“How is this?” Gael asked. “Surely the leg needed another deichtain of healing.”

“Nah. I’d coddled it too long, although Lannarc thinks like you.”

That was the troll who’d been accompanying the tin pebbles for the last two moons. Gael raised an eyebrow.

“He wants my job permanent,” Fintan explained, “But he’s not getting it, even if he does prefer walking through the forest over raking the gangue for missed nuggets of pure. The forest’s mine.” Fintan gave a short laugh. “Never mind that. Help me get these sacks off Hoopoh here.”

Gael patted the mule’s neck and then set to work on the straps securing the sack on one flank, while Fintan tackled the other. Both leather receptacles bore intact wax seals over their top folds. Gael braced himself to take the weight as he loosened the last buckle, letting the forty-pound sack slide to the ground.

A scrap of suede, dragged from its spot behind one of the straps, fell beside the full sack. Gael bent to pick it up. As he straightened, Fintan dragged his sack around to sit next to Gael’s.

“What’s that you’ve got there?” the teamster asked.

Gael turned it over in his hands; not a scrap, but a small drawstring pouch, ornamented with rivets resembling rose blooms. He frowned. There was something peculiar about the purse, but he couldn’t place it. “Isn’t it yours?” he replied.

“Nah. Never seen it before,” said Fintan.

Gael compressed his lips, shook his head. He still could not place . . . whatever it was. He whistled a yard scullion over.

“Fetch two tower porters and then water this mule,” he ordered.

“Yes, Secretarius!” The boy bobbed his head and dashed away.

Fintan protested, “One porter would be enough. I can carry my sack.”

Gael held back a smile. “No doubt you could, but I doubt your physician would say you should. How did you break the bone anyway?”

Fintan gave his short laugh. “Fell into a gangue trench like a boot. The medicus cursed me for a fool for climbing right back out again, but the damage was already done. He’d have made me lie abed for a deichtain anyway.”

“He kept you abed that long?” Gael couldn’t see it. Fintan was an active sort who stayed outdoors from the moment he awoke until fatigue sent him to sleep at night.

“Only by hiding my crutches,” explained the teamster.

Gael chuckled.

Fintan’s lips twisted. “I’d have come along with Hoopoh here”—he patted the mule’s rump—“if the magus hadn’t put forward his porter from the tower.”

Gael frowned again. Fintan meant Lannarc, the troll who’d taken Fintan’s place while his injury healed. Gael had forgotten Lannarc was tower, not mines. A porter . . . who had run a lot of Nathiar’s errands. But what had Nathiar been doing at the tin works?

“The magus was at the tin works when you broke the leg?” he probed.

“Oh, aye. Said he might as well check the tributary streams for tin while the regenen had him out of the tower surveying for metals. He’d just been at the copper mines. Said he didn’t care to make two trips. Best get it all settled all in one go.”

Gael nodded. It made sense, but he doubted it. Nathiar was up to something.

“Keep an eye on Lannarc for me, will you?” he said abruptly.

Fintan cocked his head. “Spy for the magus?” he asked.

“Maybe. Maybe not. Just . . . notice what he does. What he says. Who he talks to.”

“Will do,” Fintan agreed.

Gael looked again at the small suede pouch he held in one hand. He turned it inside out. Glints of tin dust sparkled in the leather’s nap. Tin. He turned it rightside out again and studied the decorative rivets, shaped like opened rose blossoms.

Hells!

The pouch belonged to Nathiar.

*     *     *

Next scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 41)

Previous scene:
The Tally Master, Chapter 8 (scene 39)

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

 

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