The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 59)

As Gael opened the door onto the antechamber shared by the apartment of the magus and that of the secretarius (were he in residence there), a scullion emerged from Nathiar’s quarters. Carrying an empty tray, the boy took two casual steps toward the Cliff Stair and then stopped dead, eyes wide, at the sight of Gael. Unsurprising, given that Gael had never before spent a night (or even a day) in his official chambers.

“S-secretarius,” the boy stammered.

“Are you tower staff under the castellanum?” asked Gael, “Or one of Nathiar’s?”

“T-tower, sir.” The boy bobbed a bow.

“Could you fetch me a basin and a ewer of water?”

“Y-yes, sir! Right away, Secretarius!”

The boy started to scurry away.

“Will you have to go far?” asked Gael. “All the way to the well in the yard?”

“N-no, sir. Th-the castellanum insists that service be prompt. I’ll go to the closet on the next level down. And there are cisterns that supply water up here. S-sir.” The boy looked scared.

“What’s your name, son?” Gael made his voice gentle. He hadn’t meant to alarm the boy so.

“Alton, s-sir.”

“Well, Alton, there’s no need to be afraid. Are there more than merely basins and ewers in the castellanum’s supply closets? Could you fetch me a tooth twig and powder and jar in addition?”

“Of course, sir!” Alton looked surprised. Apparently the closets near the tower’s top held almost anything an important troll might desire. Gael wouldn’t know, since the chambers he occupied were considerably lower.

“What of a fresh shirt? Fresh socks and caputum?”

“I’ll get them right away, sir,” gasped the boy.

Well, those were welcome words. “Are you on an urgent errand for the magus? Or someone else important?”

“N-no, sir. I mean, yes, sir.” Alton didn’t seem to be sure if he were on his feet or on his head.

“Don’t neglect your other duties to administer to my needs,” said Gael.

Alton swallowed, then lifted his chin. “The magus is the only one who needs water so early, sir. I’d never neglect anything for any reason, sir,” he said earnestly. “I’d be honored to bring you whatever you need. Sir.”

Gael nodded. He wanted to get Alton in trouble no more than he’d wanted to startle the boy.

“I’ll await you just inside the door,” he said. “Knock when you return.”

“Yes, sir.” Alton’s stride was brisk rather than fearful as he hastened toward the stairs.

Back in the apartment of the secretarius, Gael scrutinized the receiving room. He’d prefer that the scullion not see the evidence of Nathiar’s illicit doings. He could simply relieve the boy of his burdens in the vestibule, but it would be more natural to allow him to carry the items through to the bastan’s room.

Gael bundled the smithing tools and gloves into the quenching bucket and carried them to the small room on the opposite side of the passage from the bastan’s chamber. It was empty. He left the bucket in a corner and then, returning to the receiving room, covered the biscuit ingot of copper with the leather apron, tucking in the strings so that it looked like a plain piece of hide. Did the ingot seem smaller than it had been? Just as he was checking the sacks of tin pebbles to be sure their openings were rolled well closed, Alton’s knock sounded on the front door.

Gael cast a swift look around—yes, the sacks and the concealed ingot were unremarkable—and went to open the door.

Alton’s eyes widened again when Gael ushered him into the bastan’s chamber to set down his loaded tray on the chest.

“You slept here, sir?”

Gael smiled. “Lord Carbraes urged me to reconsider occupying these rooms, but I haven’t decided if I will, which is why they possess no furnishings. The bastan’s bed was infinitely more comfortable than the floor, I assure you.”

Alton giggled, then flushed and looked at the floor. “I didn’t mean—”

“I intended you to laugh, Alton,” said Gael. “You were not disrespectful.”

“Oh, good,” gasped Alton.

“Is the castellanum very strict?”

“Oh, no, sir. I mean, yes, sir.” Alton pulled himself together with effort. “That is, he’s strict, but he’s fair.”

“Then why are you scared?” asked Gael. “You have done nothing wrong.”

Alton just stared at him, saying nothing.

“Is it because you do not know me? You’ve never served me before and don’t know what to expect?”

Alton nodded, eyes round.

“Have there been others who were unkind to you? Who hurt you?”

“The—the brigenen of the First Cohort. Sir.”

That was Dreben. Gael’s lips compressed, but he stayed silent. Anything he might say would only alarm Alton more.

“The castellanum won’t let any of us boys wait on the First anymore,” added Alton. “They have to manage for themselves. Lord Theron said to tell him if anyone else ever slapped us or threatened us, and he’d take care of him.” Alton’s shoulders had relaxed, and admiration shone in his face. “The castellanum protects us boys.”

Gael was glad to hear it. He might dislike Theron—he did dislike Theron—but he was relieved that the castellanum took care of the trolls under his authority.

“Well, I am not like the brigenen,” he said. “Do you believe me, Alton?”

The boy stood a little straighter. “Yes, sir.”

“Excellent.” Gael nodded. “So. I will perform my ablutions and change my dress and then depart. Do you have a way to enter later to clear away your tray and the chamberpot?”

“I’ll ask the steward for a key, sir.”

“And will there be trouble about it?”

“No, sir. The scullions sweep all the chambers regular.”

Gael had noticed that no dust had accumulated on the floors or in the corners.

“Then I will thank you and bid you depart upon your own business,” said Gael.

“Won’t you need anything else, sir? I can check back again, just in case,” suggested Alton.

Gael’s lip twitched. “You may check back, but do not be surprised if I am not present. My errand here is nearly complete.”

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 60)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 58)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 1 (scene 1)