The Tally Master, Chapter 13 (scene 62)

Chapter 13

Keir woke early and went immediately to check on her patient, but Gael had already departed his chambers.

This was a good thing, she decided, indicating that his recovery was proceeding well. She wondered if she would encounter him during the routine of checking out metals to the various smithies and lodges supplied by the tally room, but she did not.

Another ingot of tin went missing from the carry sack of the privy smithy’s scullion somewhere between the vaults and the forges. Keir had almost expected it, especially as she didn’t keep the boy in sight for every moment of their descent down the Regenen Stair.

She darted aside to the tally room, hoping to find Gael—where was the man?!—and only caught up with the scullion just in time to supervise the unpacking of his sack. She fetched Martell another ingot of tin to replace the missing one—he needed it for the work he had planned—and tallied it properly on her parchment, making a note of the new theft.

By the time she finished ensuring that Martell gave his notary the chance to make his own tally of the privy smithy’s disbursement, she was . . . not truly worried about Gael, but concerned. Ordinarily, she’d trust him to be sensible, more sensible than she herself would be in like circumstances. He was the one who’d taught her that prudent rest and nourishment ensured accurate work, well done.

As a healer, she’d tended to focus on her patients at her own expense. Pater had chided her for it, but Gael had induced her to take the matter seriously, even though—or perhaps because—it was tally sheets, not the ill and injured, under her care.

But Gael had been less measured lately. The discovery that someone or some ones were stealing tin and bronze out from under him had unbalanced him a trifle. And then learning that his friend Arnoll was one of the thieves had knocked him further from his sensible ways.

She’d have felt more comfortable, if she’d seen for herself that his internal injuries were continuing to heal and that he’d been resting properly. Early rising was not a good idea in his present circumstances.

On her way back up the Regenen Stair, after delivering Martell’s replacement ingot, she chewed the dried cherries she’d wheedled from Barris. Tart and sweet at once on her tongue, they spurred her slowing steps and flagging thoughts. What would she do, if she again failed to find Gael in one of the usual places? Go searching for him, asking all and sundry if they’d seen him?

As it chanced, Gael was not in the tally room when she arrived there.

She considered summoning a porter and asking him to question all of his cohorts, as well as the messenger boys, to learn where and when Gael had last been seen by one of them.

No. She refused to imitate a mother hen, as though the secretarius were her lost chick. Clearly her dip into her old profession of healer had unbalanced her as badly as the ingot thefts had unbalanced Gael. Wrinkling her nose at the absurdity of it, she opened the inner casement shutters. The eastern sunlight streamed in to warm the air as she got out ink pot and stylus, and settled to tallying within the shelter of her cabinet-wrapped desk.

An indefinite time later, the latch of the tally room door clicked as it lifted.

The familiar act of transferring the smithy tallies to a master list had restored her usual tranquility. When Gael stepped beyond the cabinets flanking the doorway, she neither demanded to know what he’d been doing, nor that he allow her to examine his injuries. Such tactics had never worked well on Pater, who hated coddling, and they weren’t in keeping with her nature anyway. Senseless to begin unpleasant and needless nagging now.

“Ah. Keir,” Gael said, as he glanced her way. “Perfect.”

He looked trim and fresh, color good, moving easily. Buoyed by these observations, she sedately reported her own doings: checking out the metals, supervising Martell, noting the fresh theft, and beginning the day’s usual tally work.

Gael drew up his chair while she spoke, and nodded when she finished.

“I’ve tracked down another of our thieves,” he announced, “although this one stole directly from the mines, before ever the metals entered Belzetarn.”

“The magus?” guessed Keir. Gael had spoken of the magus poking illicitly around the mines.

“The magus,” he confirmed. “Performing illicit experiments to determine if it were possible to create weapons in Belzetarn that resembled those wielded by our Ghriana foes.” Gael frowned slightly. “Nathiar succeeded in forging a sword energetically and imbuing it with a living heart node. I don’t know if the blade would hold up under the stresses of battle.”

“Mark of Gaelan,” Keir exclaimed, blankly.

“Indeed,” agreed Gael. “I’d thought the rumors of extraordinary powers attributed to the Ghriana weapons were just that: rumors.”

“Hm.” Memories of the warriors of Fiors and the weapons they carried nibbled at the edges of her thoughts. “My people wielded flint knives, threw spears and shot arrows with flint heads.” Why did she speak of them as past? Surely they did those things yet. But they lay in her past.

“Yes?” said Gael.

“The flint knappers imbued the flint with nodes and arcs of energea,” she said.

“Interesting.” Gael’s left eyebrow lifted. “I wonder if secluded tribes throughout the north have developed such methods all unknown to the rest of us. Nathiar observed the Ghriana blades in action via his inner sight and confirms that they are indeed energetically enhanced.”

“You’ve spoken with him?” blurted Keir, startled.

“Confronted him at daybreak after I’d watched him at work in the receiving room of my official quarters,” said Gael.

Sias in paradise! Had Gael gotten any sleep at all? He must have, to look so spry.

“He admitted his guilt?” asked Keir.

“He did,” said Gael. “Furthermore, he’ll be admitting it to Carbraes himself. Likely has done so already, as he entered for his audience with the regenen just as I was departing.”

“You refrained from telling Carbraes?” questioned Keir.

Gael’s lips stretched in a wry smile. “I permitted Nathiar that honor,” he said.

Ah. No need to ask if the magus would follow through. With that smile, Gael was very sure that he would.

“The tally room was always so peaceful.” Keir sighed. “Now it feels like it’s under attack.”

“It is. It has been,” said Gael. “We just did not realize it until the day before yesterday.”

Keir bit her lip. That was true, of course, given that the magus had arranged to steal his metals at least a moon before, but she didn’t like accepting that her prized peace had been an illusion. Or admitting that she made her own contribution to disrupting that peace. But she wasn’t going to think about that.

“Which is why,” continued Gael, “I should particularly prefer not to be away from Belzetarn right now.”

A sinking sensation pervaded Keir’s middle. “You’re going to Olluvarde,” she said.

Gael nodded. “I must. Carbraes insists on all speed in resolving the risk presented by the cursed gong.”

“But did you tell the regenen of the ingot thefts?” asked Keir shrewdly, guessing that he had not.

“I did,” said Gael, surprising her. “He’s concerned, naturally, but feels the gong to be the higher priority.”

“He’s so certain you’ll sort out the thefts, he’s not worried,” Keir speculated.

Gael’s lips quirked upward. “Exactly.”

“Don’t you find the thievery disturbing?” she probed. “Too disturbing to let it be?”

“Were it my own choice, I’d settle the thieves before I departed,” Gael conceded. “But I’ve always preferred my tallies to match, whether in the tally room or in life. I don’t like anomalous loose ends.”

Keir frowned. She agreed with his personal assessment. His calm and ordered way of proceeding was one of the things she liked so much about him. Especially within the aggressive milieu that was the troll citadel of Belzetarn.

Gael continued, “I suspect that any sovereign—whether he rules over a kingdom of men or a stronghold of trolls—possesses more loose ends than resolved situations.”

Keir’s lips pressed together. “In other words, Carbraes is used to it,” she said, “and expects you to take it in stride.”

“Perhaps not quite that,” said Gael, “but he certainly expects me to attend to the more dangerous issue rather than the one that makes me personally uncomfortable.” Gael smiled at her, his expression unforced. “Which means, Keir, that I’ll need to get clearance to travel from either you or the physicians in the hospital. I do intend to guard my health.” His eyes warmed as he repeated her advice from the previous evening. “Do you have a preference as to which?”

And so she had her reward for fending off the lure of mother-henning that had assailed her so oddly.

Did she have a preference? Silly man. Of course she wanted to examine him herself and assure herself with direct evidence that he was healing well.

She led him into the room beyond the tally chamber—a generous space where they compounded inks and glues, as well as adhering the edges of individual parchments together to form scrolls—and gestured for him to lie on one of the large work tables.

She checked his innards with touch and sound first, auscultating his chest and abdomen carefully, relieved that her firmer taps produced no winces in him. Opening her inner sight, she noted that while his arcs still shivered a hint too rapidly, the pulsing of his nodes was steady and strong. Good. She sent a trickle of energea into his pale green plexial node and along the arcs radiating from it, before she closed her inner vision.

“So?” asked Gael, swinging his legs around so that he could sit.

Keir nodded. “Don’t fall off your horse, and you’ll be fine,” she said. “No jumping, running, or fisticuffs, of course.”

“Of course.” Gael smiled. “I’ve arranged to leave today, shortly after noon,” he said. “The scullions are packing for me now.”

Keir gulped. She’d been envisioning the morrow for his departure. “Taking things a bit for granted, aren’t you?” she chided.

“I felt good,” he answered simply.

Keir’s lips twitched up. “You’ve healed more swiftly than I thought you would,” she admitted. “You’re tougher than I realized.”

“Or you’re a more skilled healer than you realized,” returned Gael.

Keir sniffed, disdaining the compliment.

“The regenen has named you Secretarius pro tempore while I am away,” said Gael, “and Arnoll to serve as your opteon in potestas. You may choose your own messenger to accompany you about your duties.”

Keir felt her eyes widening. “This is all very official,” she murmured, resisting the sensation of uncomfortable responsibility descending. She didn’t want to rule Belzetarn’s metals. Someone who hated trolls shouldn’t rule Belzetarn’s metals.

“You’ll be fine,” said Gael.

“Do I really need a messenger?” she protested. “By my side at all times?”

“Couldn’t you have used one yesterday?” asked Gael.

She had to admit it would have spared her a few trips up and down the Regenen Stair.

“I’ve had you to run my errands and carry my messages. You’ll need someone. And we should probably keep him, even after I’ve returned.”

Keir nodded. “I’d best choose carefully then,” she quizzed, “if we’re to be stuck with him.”

“You’ll do fine,” repeated Gael.

“I suppose the regenen believes too many trolls are likely to step on my toes or crowd my prerogative. Thus Arnoll,” she said.

“You’re quite skilled at exerting authority, Keir. I’ve watched you,” said Gael. “And the regenen sees it too.”

Keir’s face heated.

“But I requested Arnoll for you, because I’d like you to have immediate recourse, should you need it.”

Keir straightened her shoulders and looked Gael directly in the eyes, pushing down a thread of unease. “I’ll keep the tally chamber sacrosanct for you,” she promised.

*     *     *

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The Tally Master, Chapter 13 (scene 63)

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The Tally Master, Chapter 12 (scene 61)

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