The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 58)



Chapter 12

Daylight seeping in through the cracks around the bed cupboard doors woke Gael sometime after dawn. His mouth felt fuzzy, and the rest of him had that rumpled, grimy sensation that sleeping in one’s clothes always engendered. For a moment, he expected to see last year’s brown leaves beneath him and this year’s leaves—green and on their tree boughs—above him, as he had while wandering in the wilderness before he came to Belzetarn. He caught his hand reaching for Morza’s faithful canine head before he remembered where he lay: in a bastan’s chamber at the top of Belzetarn’s tower after witnessing the magus performing illicit magery.

Swallowing hard, he pushed the painful memory of the landseer down and opened the cupboard doors. The lone window in the room—glass-paned, narrow, and unshuttered—looked north over the lake, so the light flooding through it was cool and diffuse.

Gael surveyed the bastan’s room: stark stone walls, naked stone floor, the chest he’d delved into for the sheepskin, a lidded chamber pot beside the chest, and the cupboard bed in which he’d slept. He hoped these bare bones had been clad with better amenities when last a servant had occupied the space. If his bastan were living here—not that he possessed a bastan, but if he had—and he could have, if he’d wished to—he’d have insisted there be floor matting, wall hangings, a comfortable chair, perhaps a footstool. The unadorned room was very austere.

With effort, Gael recalled his thoughts from an unlikely might-have-been to the present. What would his next step be?

He’d watched Nathiar complete his magery on the energea-imbued sword last night. The magus had allowed the metal to cool enough that it no longer glowed, and then tidied up after himself by cool blue magelight. When the magus turned to depart, Gael had considered detaining him then. He’d wanted answers.

But the middle of the night was rarely a good time for sensible doings.

Just as he’d taught Keir to continue on a fresh sheet of parchment, when he ran out of working room at the bottom of the old sheet, so he’d also insisted on adequate sleep, early rising, and an end to the day’s labors well before the evening meal. Regular habits ensured error-free work and kept the worst symptoms of the truldemagar at bay. The more challenging a task, the more important that it be tackled in the morning, after a good night’s rest.

Tackling Belzetarn’s magus . . . would be a very challenging task indeed.

And so Gael had let him depart unimpeded.

Now, in the clear light of morning, he felt grateful for his self-restraint. In fact, looking back on his evening decision to check the hidey-hole in the latrine, and then his choice to climb nearly all the way to the tower’s upper battlements, he wondered at himself. What had he been thinking? Obviously, he hadn’t been thinking at all. Fatigue and injury had clouded his judgment.

But now that he was here . . . ? Now that he knew what he knew . . . ? What now?

He looked down at himself, assessing what he saw.

His shirt sleeves and caputum were badly creased and sweat-stained. His robe looked fine; suede rarely wrinkled. He’d love a thorough wash with basin and ewer, but they wouldn’t be forthcoming. At least there was a chamberpot. And he would finger comb his hair.

More important than his superficial appearance: how were his injuries?

He probed his ribs and breastbone gently. Tender still, but not badly so.

He stood up. His legs felt fine, ready for as much stair climbing as he might demand. Even better, his gut didn’t twinge at all with the change of position, and he felt no need to guard it with careful movement. No doubt leaping or hopping or falling would be a bad idea, but simple walking no longer posed a risk, even should he put a foot wrong.

So. Chamberpot. Finger comb hair. And then he would go confront the magus.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 59)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 11 (scene 57)

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